Dr. TJ Vari & Dr. Joseph Jones

September 14, 2021by danagoodier0
Dr. Joseph Jones​ is the Superintendent of the New Castle County Vocational-Technical School District in Delaware. Joe is a former high school social studies teacher, assistant principal, and principal. As principal, he was named the Delaware Secondary Principal of the Year and during his tenure, Delcastle Technical High School was the first high school to receive the state’s Outstanding Academic Achievement Award. He received his doctorate from the University of Delaware in educational leadership and was awarded the outstanding doctoral student award of his class. Currently, Joe works closely with local and state leaders on student achievement and accountability and has spearheaded an aggressive and successful campaign to ensure student success. Joe is also an adjunct professor, teaching and designing curriculum, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels for various universities. He presents nationally on topics of school leadership and is the co-founder of the leadership development institute, TheSchoolHouse302. Along with T.J. Vari, he co-authored Candid and Compassionate Feedback: Transforming Everyday Practice in Schools. And, with Salome Thomas-EL and T.J. Vari, he co-authored Passionate Leadership: Creating a Culture of Success in Every School as well as Building a Winning Team: The Power of a Magnetic Reputation and the Need to Recruit Top Talent in Every School.
Dr. T.J. Vari ​is the Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Schools and District Operations in the Appoquinimink School District in Delaware. He is a former middle school assistant principal and principal and former high school English teacher and department chair. His master’s degree is in School Leadership and his doctorate is in Innovation and Leadership where he accepted an Award for Academic Excellence given to one doctoral student per graduating class. He holds several honors and distinctions, including his past appointment as President of the Delaware Association for School Administrators, his work with the Delaware Association for School Principals, and the honor in accepting the Paul Carlson Administrator of the Year Award. His efforts span beyond the K-12 arena into higher education where he holds adjunct appointments, teaching courses at the masters and doctoral level. He is a national presenter on topics of school leadership and the cofounder of TheSchoolHouse302, a leadership development institute. Along with Joseph Jones, he co-authored Candid and Compassionate Feedback: Transforming Everyday Practice in Schools. And, with Salome Thomas-EL and Joseph Jones, he co-authored Passionate Leadership: Creating a Culture of Success in Every School as well as Building a Winning Team: The Power of a Magnetic Reputation and the Need to Recruit Top Talent in Every School.

Tell each about a time when you were in the trenches and managed to crawl out: Joe: When he was an AP, they were really trying to move the needle for student achievement when he was an AP. He had a caseload of students whose attendance was sporadic. All things there associated with those types of situations these students embodied. How do we end the school to prison pipeline? Joe came out of the trenches, but didn’t use a formulaic approach. Teachers & admin rallied together. How do we make parent feel like they have a welcome place to come to? It’s not just single program; it didn’t take a week and was done. They had a common purpose. They focused on relationships they built with families. TJ- Yale National Initiative to strengthen public schools. He studied in it when teacher. He studied in a seminar and built a curriculum unit. Second time was about building an institute. Dr. Raymond Thilacker. Built an institute in DE like at Yale. Now it’s Delaware’s new teacher institute. Best PD he’s had. They helped build the institute.

Building a Winning Team” is an essential book to have in schools where there is high turn-around. Have many districts/schools reached out to you esp. this hiring season due to increased turn-around due to COVID? A lot of schools are so focused on COVID that there’s been a halt on hiring winning teams (for now). Less and less people are going into the profession. They focus on telling their own story to attract people to wanting to become an educator. They felt at the time it was written a perfect moment because districts were in disagreement with labor. It’s interesting that people in a crisis forget about developing their people. They tend to be attracted to & retain employees because of growth strategies. It’s a great book to focus on. Joe Sanfelippo said people won’t change how they talk about school until educators change their way. When I read it, it seems like a must-have for new principals and ed. hiring managers. You give great examples of how teams can attract great talent, stand out to applicants, and how to cast a wide net in order to recruit the best fit for the opening. The book’s focused on creating a reputation, casting a wide net. It’s about building culture to tell. They have a follow-up book, “Retention for a Change: Motivate, Inspire and Energize your School Culture” coming out March 15, ’21. There is a focus on diversity. Now that you have a winning team, how do you keep those team members?

Retention for a Change”, your Our One Thing Series podcast interviews are often with famous people, industry executives, top educational pioneers, and people we consider to be a leading force in their field. They have been doing it for over a year, about once a month. They publish thee long form blog. Recently, episodes have been about positivity, they had John Gordon on. Podcast episodes publish towards the end of the month about books they think should be published. It’s a quick 30 m. podcast.  They pivot to 5 1 Thing Series questions. Their guests aren’t always educational leaders.

What is the difference between this and the #FocusEd podcast? They run induction programming in DE for principals & AP’s so to get their credentials. They do a live recording of that program called #FocusedEd. It’s not on their site because it’s a live PD recording. 16 episodes are sitting on google search results. They focus on a topic or book. They have 10-12 more lined up for remainder of school year.  How long have you been blogging/working together on The Schoolhouse 302  and what got you started in this collaboration? All of this was very organic. It wasn’t constructed to reach an audience. They went on runs together, saw people fishing. TJ met Joe because he was his brother’s teacher. When they were both principals at the same time, they ran together and talked through problems, they realized they should record their conversation. They run & write together. At the time they were doing it for themselves, in 2015, they started to write a blog post. Led to PD they put on. PD was advertised at the state level. They tried to mirror best practices in the classroom on their blog. Grew to introducing people to a leader. Their One Thing series never focused on just educators. They were offered gig after gig. Books came from that. Their Candid book & Passion & Leadership books came of that. There was an article written for Principal Leadership magazine, so “Building a Leading Team” took place. PD has picket up since early summer. They present 2-5 times a month. Their blog, The Schoolhouse 302 Leadership Blog is about leadership, and each month they dive into the specific of one topic under the umbrella of leading better and growing faster. Their hope is to bridge business management tools with educational leadership so that you can lead better and grow faster.  How is that going so far? They like to build concepts, models, present on that model, they’ll get questions from the audience, voila they have 35K words. They are planners, they believe in mission, vision. They had to put vision on paper for wives.

What kind of schools do you work with? Is it across the spectrum, or primarily schools that are at or near turn-around status? They work with smaller charters, to larger public school systems like 350 administrators or small elementary schools. Sometimes people will gravitate towards a particular topic. Principal EL works in a charter, they all 3 work in different types of schools. The 3 of them are a really nice connection with their ideas. Delaware is a small sandbox, but fairly unique and diverse. They are currently presenting in-person and via zoom. Do all the AP/principal induction program. They are offering a masterclass in candor & compassionate feedback. Master class will take more people. They are also starting a principal and AP Mastermind- that would be open to people across the country all under theme of leading better, growing faster. They support the principal seminar 3 & 3. Open to folks from Canada, S. Africa. Using the power of Twitter, they’re dealing with similar things as leaders in other countries. They need broader conversations, like how to handle diversity, relating to student achievement. Powerful- they want people to be able to build their own PLN. Even seasoned principal & APs need a gathering with like-minded people.

Key Quotes: Joe- “Building a winning team”, he want listeners to marinate, you’re hiring for an archetype. The dynamics extended content, prowess. It goes beyond the subj area you’re hiring for.

TJ- “we gotta keep pushing one another”. It’s better to lift than to push”, it’s the cul-de-sac conversation. It tells a story & builds a magnetic reputation.

Find TJ & Joe online: Twitter @tjvari @TSH302 @supt_jones FB: schooolhouse302 and visit their website: theschoolhouse302.com  View this episode on YouTube: https://youtu.be/k1kSwHjfezU

Around the time the next episode was published, Out of the Trenches hit 1K downloads!

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