September 10, 2021by danagoodier0
Ken is the former principal of The Learning Academy at E. J. Swint in Jonesboro, Georgia, and Damascus Elementary School in Damascus, Maryland.

Kenneth C. Williams shares his experience and expertise as a nationally recognized trainer, speaker, coach and consultant in leadership and school culture. A practitioner for nearly two decades, Ken led the improvement efforts at two schools by leveraging the Professional Learning Communities at Work process. Skilled in joining the why of the work to the how of the work, Ken is known for his powerful and engaging combinations of “heart, humor, and hammer.” He is an expert at helping schools build capacity in the collective commitments required of learning for all cultures. His firsthand experience with transforming challenged schools translates into action-oriented presentations that inspire hope, create a clear vision, and offer practical strategies to those overwhelmed by challenges.  He is the author of Starting A Movement: Building Culture from the Inside Out in Professional Learning Communities, Creating Physical and Emotional Safety In Schools, and a contributor to The Collaborative Administrator. 

His leadership was crucial to creating a successful professional learning community (PLC) at Damascus, a challenged school that needed a new direction. The results of his efforts can be seen across all grade levels. Over a two-year period, the school’s state standardized test scores revealed a significant increase in the percentage of students performing at proficient and advanced levels. The process of building a PLC at E. J. Swint continues thanks to Kenneth’s work in laying a solid foundation in this underserved community. Ken earned a bachelor of arts from Morehouse College, and a master of science from the University of Bridgeport.

Tell me about a time when you were in the trenches and managed to crawl out: His podcast “Bless his heart” is based on those experiences. He cut his teeth as teacher and leader in a progressive, high-performing school district. Couldn’t afford a home in that community so he applied to work in Atlanta. Hired into lowest-performing district in Atlanta. Dysfunction w/ board. Created a trench. It was a real challenge. 95% FRL, young parents. Real challenge to convince staff there was a brighter day ahead. Had to put school culture/safety fires out. Had to rank fires, what were priorities. Extended trench to get culture turned out.

How and when did you start taking an interest in PLCs at work? Took an interest in it at his former district. Hadn’t heard of Rick duFour, but he had Ken’s full attn. within 15 minutes when he attended a conference. He identified areas of culture that needed an A as opposed to a C effort.

 Many schools try to implement the PLC model but not all of them are successful- Why do you think some schools fail at implementing well-functioning PLCs? Ken has tons of experience, made tons of mistakes. He has power of observation. We’re at a phase where we’re trying to implement new things. His theories: 1. Get clear on the why. PLC isn’t the “why”. The “why” has to be learning for all. It’s like coaches selling the win of the games. Get clear on the mission we’re on.

2. It’s about what we do, not the words we craft.

3. The PLC process is rolled out part-by-part instead of looking at the big picture. Like looking at parts of old cars. We don’t start often enough w/ what PLC is supposed to be about. Not all principals & teachers know the real purpose. At its core it’s about ensuring students master essential skills & competencies. Moving needle on student achievement data. At end of 9 weeks, they are close to 100% of kids mastering their skills and competencies. Too often schools have PLCs introduced by parts. We don’t understand it organically.

Give me the background of a turn-around story of a school you led: He kept 3 years worth of journal a mentor challenged him to keep. Putting aside the fires he was putting out, he had to get staff together. They knew where he was coming from, it needed to be our vision. They had to embrace current reality. His podcast is called “Bless his heart” based on community members’ reaction to him being principal there. Social media, people never put the school’s name on their profile, they were embarrassed. Next, he asked “where do you want to be?”. They did a narrative about 2 years from now- what will headline read? Began “vision narrative” they all contributed to, started w/ parking lot. “Hood” vision was that they wanted there to be a waiting list to get into school and people lying about residence. He said
“We become that as soon as we decide”. Went into era of acting “As If”. Small commitment was to speak in civil tones to kids. Talked with elementary-school kids at eye level. Small things that led into hard look at PLCs. He said “we’re high performing in spirit & talent”. Principal can’t tiptoe around it. 31 people left after 1st year. Process began Nov. of 1st year. Mission is about sacrifice. They all commit to doing the 5 things. He used those as a lens from which to communicate everything.

Tell me a little about your weekly Mission-Driven Mindset Message: Changed now to “these 3 things”. 3 things to think about around mission-driven work. Connected to learning for all culture. Theme of “talent is in the room”. Build & nurture the talent w/in staff. He often provokes (pokes the bear), but gives solutions.

What other resources would you suggest to schools who are looking to change their mindset and disrupt the status quo? If you’re in a PLC, Solution Tree puts on conferences, it’s key to remember everything the presenters said “Learning by Doing” is unparalleled and unrivaled. Written in informal language. Use that book if you’re trying to have a do-over or even in the middle of it. “Simplifying Common Assessment” takes complex topics and makes it bitesize and chewable for you. On the video of this episode, Ken shows his copies of “Big Big of Tools” “Time 4 Change”, “Building Behavior”, etc.

Tell me about your new podcast  Bless his Heart– He wanted to try something different. New episodes drop every Tuesday. Honors the introvert inside of him. He has journals, He was a “seasoned newbie” in 2nd principal job so mentor said to keep a journal. He highlights the good, bad, ugly. He reflects then on where his head was at the time, leaves leaders with things to think about. He gets beneath the surface in the podcast.

Key quotes: ”The work we do is about being on a mission.” “Learning for all is tough, so be mission-driven about the work”. Works best when we lean into our collective expertise. To learn more about Ken’s work, visit Unfold The Soul online at, and follow @unfoldthesoul on FB, Twitter or email him. View this episode on Youtube:

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