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145. Be Present for People: Wisdom for APs and All Leaders with Dr. Frederick Buskey

by Lindsay Lyons
January 9th 2024
In today's episode with special guest and author Dr. Frederick Buskey, Lindsay discusses how and why APs and other lea... More
Today, I have a wonderful conversation with doctor Frederick Busy. Frederick helps assistant principals live and lead better by teaching them how to escape the black hole of urgency. Building on 32 years of K 12 and higher education leadership experience. Frederick provides simple frameworks and tools to improve life and leadership. His upcoming book takes school leaders through a journey from spending time putting out fires to investing time in growing teachers. Frederick hosts the Assistant Principal podcast. Love it. You should definitely listen and writes a daily leadership email, read more about Dr Busy on his website and connect with him on linkedin. Let's get right to this episode, which is a wonderful conversation. I'm educational justice coach Lindsay Lyons. And here on the time for teacher podcast, we learn how to inspire educational innovation for racial and gender justice design curricula grounded in student voice and build capacity for shared leadership. I'm a former teacher leader turned instructional coach. I'm striving to live a life full of learning, running, baking, traveling, and parenting because we can be rockstar educators and be full human beings. If you're a principal assistant superintendent, curriculum director, instructional coach or teacher who enjoys nering out about core curriculum of students.

I made this show for you. Here we go. Frederick, welcome to the time for teachers podcasts. Lindsay. I'm so excited to be here and thank you for your patience and getting this arranged. Of course. Oh my gosh, life happens. And so as we, as we kind of dive in, I think life happens is a great like segue into the first question of like, what either about your life or about the world and, and life at the moment. What should folks keep in mind as we jump into our conversation today? What do you want people to know? Wow. You know, I always ask people at the end of my show, what's one thing you want people to take away? So I guess I'll, I'll lead with, with that. Um In one word, it's presence, there's so much going on in the world and you and I have had conversations just how some of the global events and, you know, events in the US have just impacted us. And um, you know, three years ago today, I lost my mother-in-law. Um who is just an amazing, amazing person.

And the gift that she had was to make your world stand still. Every time I walked in the door, she would stop everything and she would look at me and her face would light up and she would say why Frederick and my world would stop. And I knew that at that moment, I was the most important person to her. And I think we all have that ability to give that gift within us. And in this time, trauma just seems to be so common and we never know what trauma anybody is carrying. And, but in a sense it doesn't matter because we can be present for people. And then if they want to open up and share they can, if they don't want to, they don't have to. But I just think that gift of presents. And so if you take nothing else from today's podcast listeners, be present for people, make that your priority because people are the purpose.

Wow. What a great start this conversation. That's incredible. OK. I love this, be present for people. And I also just love this. Maybe one of these is gonna be the title of the episode, I think Make your world stand still. I just, I love that in a and especially in us context, right? Where we are like capitalist go, go, go, productivity, efficiency, all the things, right? It's like we are constantly told to keep moving and to not pause and pauses. I was, oh, I was just recently reading um the book of Delights by Ross Gay and he had an essay about loitering and he was like this idea, this concept of loitering is so like such a capitalist one. Like it's like criminal to loiter to just stand and be still and like, just fascinating that like, loitering or being still or being present is like, almost like an act of rebellion sometimes around the systems that kind of like, shut us down at times. Can we take that one step further? So, you know, I've got a lot going on in my business right now, I'm getting ready to push out a book and I'm doing some courses and it's all great stuff.

And what I find is there's still a lot of processing to do. Right. And a lot of lining up the dominoes and on the days that I discipline myself to leave my phone in my desk and I go into the kitchen to make my salad or go in the restroom or whatever it is. If I resist the urge to put on a podcast, a video, even music. If I just leave things quiet, inevitably, I will get one helpful idea or thought while I'm doing that other stuff. But on the bad days where I just feel like I need to shove stuff in my head and I can't stand the silence. I don't have those thoughts and, and so even it's not just even loitering, it's not, not drowning yourself in external noise. Wow, that's good. Yeah. Yeah, I, I do that all the time. I'm like, oh, I have five minutes.

I should listen to a podcast. I should always be learning. I should always be instead of having the reflection on whatever learning I've already had. Right? Like, wow, this is good. What a great start. This is, this has been a good show, Lindsay, I'll talk to you next time. The shortest show ever, but very powerful. So I think, I think that actually is a, is a great segue to like the larger kind of reason for education and right, and like what we, what we would like students to experience if that's like our dream for experiencing, you know, humanity as just adults, like, you know, what's the dream for, for students? And, and I link this often to Doctor Bettina Love's quote about freedom dreaming where she says, you know, it's dreams grounded in the critique of justice. So just recognizing that there are all these injustices, right? And, and school has historically been a way to like keep that injustice happening, right? Like what are the ways we counter that? Wow, I was afraid you might ask me a question like that. I I'm gonna, I take a really different approach. Um when I landed here in rural Appalachia coordinating principal licensure programs.

I and, and in South Carolina, I work with a lot of educators who don't share my political viewpoints and the way that I see this world. And yet they're all just amazing people, they care passionately about kids, but there are some, some moral viewpoints that, that they reject. And I made a decision 17 years ago that the best thing that I could do was not to try to get people to think like me. But if I could get them to continue to connect to their own humanity, their own best selves, then I was helping make things better because even the people that would issue the idea of, you know, wokeness or, or whatever those people still really care about kids as individuals. So I think it is valuable work to remind people and give people support to be them best their best selves, especially when we're living in a world where there are so many voices trying to make them be their worst selves.

I like that. I think, yeah, this idea of common humanity and, and I think what you're saying resonates. I've heard other folks say this as well. This idea of like the politicized nature of identities and lived experiences, right? Often creates this like polarization where it's like we have to take a stance. Um And humanity is kind of that grounding space to kind of bring us all together in that space where we can say, I do see, I do see the humanity in, in this child. I think there are kind of like multitudes of, of like layers, right to this. Like this is such a complex like that, that individual child like they can see and then when it's politicized, they can't, there's like so many pieces there which is like where a lot of times where my work comes in and then it, and it is fascinating um to, to think about how we get there. But I also think if you're not, if you're not doing what you're saying, right. If you're not seeing the humanity of each child and you're not seeing the community in yourself as an adult, like we can't climb up those layers, we can't get to that next thing um because humanity is essential to everything.

Right. Right. And it's interesting to me, I think that there are people who will, you know, if I say people like Lindsay, uh that will be rejected. But if we get to talk, but if that same person talks to Lindsay, they'll recognize all of those traumas, they'll recognize all the things that that person is carrying around and they will engage with them to, in a, in a positive way to say, OK, how, how can, how can I support you? You singular? They just can't, you know, em, embrace that. But I, I mean, in a sense that's OK. Right. I mean, if that's what we have, if we can get people to that point and I'm, and I'm engaging with the 3025 elementary kids in my classroom individually. I, I still, because I'm a caring person should be building a lot of the supports and things that kids need. Yeah, I think that's such an interesting idea. So I, I think this actually ties into the next thing I want to ask about where there's like all these components, right of education.

And there there's all these things. So the first one I feel like we've been kind of talking about is like this idea of mindset. And so often I think about this as like a culture of partnership with students, like seeing the whole students being able to partner with them. Um It, it just kind of like a willingness to see the humanity, I think in, in to use some of your words. I think that idea of humanity is essential to that mindset piece. So there's so there's that and then there's also like the pedagogies that I have that might be influenced by my mindset, they might be influenced by um other things like my participation in collective action or, you know, a a religious service or like literally any we pull from how my family is organized and, and talks about things and learns things, right? Like we pull from all these places to inform our pedagogy and also our assessment and also the content that we pull in and the text that we use and, and, and, and with that, right? What whose texts and stories and histories and, and author identities are excluded or, or centered or, right? How are these all interconnected or like what are the pieces that like humanity having that mindset of humanity can like, and I, I don't think there's a right answer to this.

You're just like thinking through this as I'm asking this question and it's a big one. I, I'm wondering how that humanity can like lead to um innovation or um kind of human centered pedagogy assessment and, and content selection. Does that make sense? That question? Yes. So I think the the really narrow answer is it is brutally hard in our current educational context to be able to do that right at the, at the discrete finite rubber meets the road level, that's really hard to do. So, the second piece of that is something I learned in my graduate program. And when I was in my thirties, just starting my, my doc program, I believe that I had all the answers. I, I'm always been pretty confident but I was arrogant back then. And I, and in my leadership, I just tried to help people see the way I saw because I said, if we're all like me, you know, we're gonna be good. And I didn't mean that in a mean way, I just thought I had it all figured out.

And so I thought leadership was the idea of trying to get people to think like you. And in the end of the first year of my doc program, I read this essay called Uncaring by Milton Meyer off. And what Meyer off said is if you really care about someone, then you are going to try to help them grow in the direction that they want to grow. You are going to serve their agency and I that was such a mindset shift. But it also created so much uh disequilibrium in my brain because I viewed myself as a caring person. I was a caring person. And here's meer off saying, ok, if you're really caring, you're trying to help people be like they wanna be not like you want them to be and, and through the process of wrestling with that and coming to embrace that idea as a leader, I think I've become much better, right? Because now I can serve people instead of try to make them over. And I think we can take an approach like that into our classrooms.

Like my job is to help this kid grow up to be someone that has agency in their lives. And so instead of me trying to push in what worked in my life, I need to be getting to know them and listening to them and thinking about, ok, how do I give this child tools so that they have their voice so that they can make their decisions? I love that. Yeah, because, and I, I think I still grapple with this, right? I think about these moments in the classroom where we're talking about some high emotion issues and I'm like this is the right answer. Like this is the stance of justice. And I'm like by saying that by saying like you must believe this, that kid is now just entrenched in their position, right? Like versus these conversations that center community that help people get to where they wanna be. And, and I, and we were saying that my immediate thought, this is the thought that I'm not proud of went to like, well, what if people just want to be in a place of hate, right? And hatred? And they wanna like, that's the and then my like more humane like Lindsay, like better version of Lindsay thought was like, no, I don't, I don't believe in my heart and I don't think many educators believe that anyone wants to be in a place of hate.

I think people spew hate or, or whatever out of fear, fear of lack of safety. Um And you know, an uncertainty of something, right? Like there's something else going on and if we can connect back to that humanity, right, then it's like we can help you be the best version of yourself as you were saying. And that's not the hateful part. That's the, that's like I can, I can have safety and security and I can have that for, for everyone and not just me. So it's like expanding that thing that they care about to the collective, to the whole community, right? And I think that's the kind of thing where, where people thrive, am I off on that? I don't think so. I we are in a time where the one of the dominant pedagogies of our time is the pedagogy of fear. And that's not coming just from within education, is coming from outside education at educators, but also at students through social media, through everything, right?

The the if I wanna keep people's attentions, if I want them to give me something, the best way to do that is to create fear. And then from fear, I can leverage anger, right? And fear and anger will keep people engaged on my platform. It will keep people mailing me money, it will keep people listening. And, and so how do we combat the pedagogy of fear? I think you just talked about some ways that we do that and I'll go back to presence and, and that's not the only answer. Certainly. That's just the beginning, right? There's all kinds of layers, but I feel like so many of us don't ever get to the beginning part. We don't get the foundation, right? And so if you're fearful, if I can be present to that fear, and if I can start to empathize with your fear instead of saying that's silly, that's a stupid worldview, that's not gonna happen, right? But if I can hear your fear and I can start to help you disentangle that fear and what that, what's that really about and how you know, what will make you feel safer beyond the big political movements.

I I think then we can help people reconnect and find their courage so that their pedagogy then can move more into that positive realm. That is such a beautiful segue because that's what I was thinking is like, it takes a lot of courage, it takes a lot of brave action to be able to, to do that, right? And to have these conversations and to, to be an educator in a time of like you're saying, the pedagogy of fear, I just, I love that framing. And so I'm thinking about, you know, you've talked about learner learning centered um kind of spaces and, and, and I'm probably getting the language around here. But I think this idea is like really powerful and perhaps one way um that people can kind of think of wrap their minds around what the actions might look like, what, what it might take to kind of do some of this work, feel free to add to that. But I know that's something I wanted you to talk about because it's brilliant. Yeah, I, I used to be a big purpose driven schools thing, right? What's our mission? What's our purpose so into that? And I have left that behind. It is people before purpose.

And when we talk about our aligning our organizations to support teachers work, what that means for me is that our structures, our physical structures are legal policy structures and the invisible structures that we create through rituals and, and those kinds of things, those structures need to be aligned to support teachers work. Our resources, not just our money, but the two most important resources, time and attention, right? We cannot be chewing up teachers, time and attention on stuff that isn't about serving their students. And then we have to have clarity of purpose, but the purpose is not what should drive teachers because going back to where we were before, people are carrying all of their own histories and narratives and traumas and triumphs into their teaching roles. And the vast vast majority of teachers, they know why they're there, they're there because they want to impact kids. And that, that desire by the individual teacher at that level is much more resilient, systemically resilient than all the political garbage that's happening.

The, the number of times that school leaders will say, uh how do we make decisions about who's gonna get reading intervention? Well, we looked at our bubble kids, right. That is, that is a warping of purpose. It's, it's not, it's not conscious, it's unconscious. But what we're doing now is we're making decisions based on our based, not based on our test scores, but based on driving our test scores, right? And, and conversations like that send a message about what our purpose is. And so our purposes are all screwed up right now and they're always, there's always been competing purposes anyway, if I want a promotion, right. I'm gonna do what the assistant superintendent, my area coordinator or whatever wants me to, I'm gonna please them not because I'm a terrible person, but because I ha I have a purpose too. So we need to get back to facilitating teachers work and trusting them more and then facilitating their growth. And the first step in doing that is by being present and engaging and hearing what, what they want, what they need and then helping move them there.

I love that sense of co creation and, and just support of educators in a time when it is, it is very hard as, as it always has been. But particularly now it feels like it's really hard to be an educator. I mean, I think, I think a lot of things that you shared too that I that idea of like um you said something about like connecting to the fear, like connecting to the fear underlying what, what people are sharing. Like I, I think we talked about it in your podcast, which if folks that have not listened to your podcast, they should, we will link to that in the show notes. But I think, you know, people can um can use that just emotion as like a circle check in at the start of each day or something, right? Like it's so simple to just invite the emotions to be shared and then you don't need to take it anywhere you can, but you and you create this space where you're saying like people can share more or they don't have to, but just to, to make that space where you're centered on like the human experience and students ability to have and share optional, the student experience or at a minimum, the emotion that's happening in their bodies and to, to name that as important, right?

I think so many competing commitments and in competing priorities. I'm thinking of a teacher, right? Who's like, well, I have to cover the content, but I also want to be like, probably got into the profession to be connected to students, humanity and like which one wins, right? So I know you talk a lot about priorities in terms of supporting leaders. Um It, you know, what, what kind of challenges do you folks have around that or, or around anything? We don't have to go down that route. But like, what are the challenges with this work? And what would you say to folks who are experiencing that challenge? I think the biggest challenge is organizing our work around our priorities instead of around our tasks. And again, we live in this noisy world that's always wanting our time and our attention. And so many of the systems have been specifically designed to be really good about capturing our attention. And as long as we try to get everything done and we run our lives through a checklist, what we do is we set ourselves up to respond to the most urgent tasks first.

And so we prioritize that idea, whatever is urgent and once we get into urgent mode. Anything that pops up is gonna be urgent, right? Because I'm, I'm already in that mode. I gotta do this. I gotta, it's like it's gonna be 25 degrees tomorrow night in our place. And I think our lowest up to this point was 35. I got all this stuff to do in my garden and I go out there and I'm just kind of overwhelmed and I start, you know, pull some weeds here and take this and oh, go harvest some tomatoes and then I run and I'm not get, I don't even know they're getting the most important things done because I'm just reacting and, and so the place to start is to understand that you cannot get everything done through time management. What you can do is get the most important things done through priority management. So, as a teacher, I think about what do I need in order to be ready for my kids tomorrow and then that other stuff I, I'm, that's gonna have to wait and that probably will lead to some uncomfortable conversations with, with people.

But the number of times principals say, oh, I couldn't get into classrooms today. I could, I got a first year teacher. I know she's struggling. I need to go support her, but I've been too busy. What's more important than that? Tell me, uh I, I, we, you know what I really wanna see. I, I wanna see the principal that comes into the district office meeting the principal's meeting 30 minutes late and the district person to say, where, where were you, why are you late? And then to say sorry, I have a teacher that's struggling that's thinking of leaving the profession and I needed to be there for her. I mean, what's that person gonna say? Oh, that would be incredible. How, how great an example of how those priorities could be lived out. Love it. Oh my gosh. So OK, so we've talked about so many things in the last 25 minutes or so. We, we have covered some really deep things. We've also gotten really actionable. We've, we've covered like so much that I think a listener is probably like thinking about the priorities of what do I do first?

What is like, you know, the biggest bang for my buck or whatever, what would you say is like something that a leader listening can do, you know, tomorrow or something to really get started with some of the things we've been talking about. OK, I totally stole this from all the great people that come on my show. I've heard this over and over again from people. Change begins with you. So if you want to behave differently, you need to go inside first. And I think the place that I would encourage you to go is I want to know each student. I wanna know each student, not just their name. I wanna know who they are. What do they love to do? Where do they come from? What are the struggles they face? What are their joys? I mean, if you're an elementary school teacher, that's probably a lot easier than if you're a high school teacher and you got 100 and 50 students a day. Like that's hard. But if you don't know your students in this day and age with all the distractions and all the things, making it really hard to teach kids, why should they listen to you? So if you wanna start somewhere, the easiest place each day, make sure every kid hears their name, make sure every kid gets eye contact from you, make sure every kid is smiled at and that's, that's the place to start.

It's, you know, it's so basic. But, and if you've got that, then they need to, you know, go Lindsey, listen to more of your stuff and, and you'll help them do that next step. I just want to encourage them to get to that first step. Oh my gosh. I love it. I mean, I've heard the name thing before, but just the smile, right? Like just how easy is it to smile at a child, right? Like, wow, so easy. Like any listener, there's no way you can't do that tomorrow, right? Like, um people need to look up Angela Myers and it's ma Ie RSI had her on the podcast a while. Back. I can't remember which episode, but she has this whole thing on mattering and she's great and, and what she advocated for her elementary kids was she had this 252, right? The first two seconds of every interaction are the most important. That's what people remember. So if I see you and I light up say, oh Lindsay, it's so great to see you. That makes a huge difference. And I don't need a 10 minute conversation. Those two second Lindsay.

So glad you're in class today. We missed you yesterday. And then I'm on to the next kid. So that's two seconds and then five choose five kids a day and make sure you do something that you communicate to them that they matter if you're in a high school class. I've got 30 kids in that class. Maybe I can choose three, maybe three kids. I know these three kids today. I am gonna make a comment too and guess what? Every month every kid gets at least one comment from me that I notice them that I know who they are that I see them because imagine these high school kids going through seven classes a day or even four classes a day and the whole day and nobody says their name the whole day and not a single adult looks at them and says, how are you? Yeah. Oh my gosh. That's great. And I, I think that pairs nicely with I, I often talk about the positive psychologist who came up with the values in action resource.

So, so that website is really good. They give you like, basically they would populate my my student notes or my student conversations where I would just choose one of their 30 positive attributes and be like you, you know, said, not demonstrated bravery today because you XYZ, right? Like, so I think there are ways that you can just scaffold this and make it even easier like a sentence starter for adults and like just do it. And if you miss the live opportunity, like you can do it as a note, like no kid is gonna be like, oh, how dare you give me a note instead of telling me to my face, right? Like if you miss an opportunity, it's not game over like you have another shot. Yeah. Oh, that's a great idea. I love that. And so I am just so curious, Fredrick, you are just such an interesting human being. I want to know this is what I ask everyone, but I'm really excited about your answer. What is something that you have been learning about lately? So this does not have to relate to your profession though. It can uh but it could be anything in life that you're learning about. Hey, it's Lindsay just popping in to tell you about today's episode. Freebie Frederick and I have talked a lot about relationship building and we talk specifically about acknowledging individuals I referenced in our conversation, the values and action posters.

You can grab those. I have those linked in our show notes at our blog post at Lindsay, Beth lions.com/blog/one 45. Back to the episode and discipline and I always focused on the management and the discipline and about done it a couple of months ago, it just hit me. I'm through this whole thing and I'm saying relationships with the foundation and I never deal with relationships. And at the same time, I was digging into a project on how can assistant principals work with veteran teachers because it's so intimidating, especially we have a lot of a PS that are 30 years old. And then they've got people that have been teaching longer than they've been on the planet. So how do you do that? So I've been digging into that and asking a lot of teachers and administrators. And so I've been doing a lot of thinking about relationships and I'm someone that I, I can burn very hot and I love people. I care about people deeply. But when I get fired up and passionate, I don't attend to everybody equally.

You know, I will go to the wall for my kids, but I don't care about the people in the room next to me. That's, you know, you take care of you. I'm doing everything I can for my kids. And so it was hard for me to learn that I actually had to care about all the people around me, not just the ones that were my charges. So I think I've always had to think a little bit more about relationships. And so now trying to figure out how, how can I package, right? How can I package relationships into something that somebody like me at 25 years old would understand and say, oh, these four things? Ok. I can, I can do that. And that would lead me to help build a relationship until I gain the wisdom to really understand. Oh my gosh, I see like a shared webinar in our future of like kind of co creating something like this. That would be so fun. Oh my gosh. And, and thank you for, for just like honestly talking through that because I think that a lot of people haven't had that introspection that you have. And so I think that's a really great moment for it.

At least me because I'm hearing you to pause and be like, where am I in my relationship journey? And like, where, where do I go next? So, so thank you for that last question. I think people are going to want to connect with you. So how do they do that? Do you want to say a little bit about what you do and how they get in touch? Yeah. My big goal is to improve life and leadership for leaders. I drill down into the Assistant principal space a lot because I spent 13 years preparing people to go into the Assistant Principal ship. And so I feel like I know their pain, uh you know, more than, than a lot of others, but I'm passionate about leadership, teachers or leaders. So I think the easiest way to get to know me is to go to the Assistant Principal podcast and listen, find the episodes that you like you are on and I've got all kinds of people that just do great stuff. That's just leadership, right? A lot of the episodes have nothing to, it's a secret. They have nothing to do. Exclusive to assistant principals. It's anybody, right? So, so there's that I love communicating with people.

So if people would email me at Frederick at Frederick bussy.com, I will reply, I love that. And then I just go to my crummy website to find out more. And that's um Frederick busky.com. Beautiful Frederick. Thank you so much for being on the show today. This is a pleasure. Oh, this was so fun, Lindsay. Let's do it again soon. Yeah, if you like this episode, I bet you'll be just as jazz as I am about my coaching program for increasing student led discussions in your school, Shane sapper and Jamila Dugan talk about a pedagogy of student voice in their book Street Data. They say students should be talking for 75% of class time. Do students in your school? Talk for 75% of each class period. I would love for you to walk into any classroom in your community and see this in action. If you're smiling to yourself as you listen right now, grab 20 minutes on my calendar. It's a brainstorm. How I can help you make this big dream a reality. I'll help you build a comprehensive plan from full day trainings and discussion protocols like circle and Socratic seminar to follow classroom visits where I can plan witness and debrief discussion based lessons with your teachers. Sign up for a nerdy no strings attached to brainstorm. Call at Lindsay, Beth clients.com/contact. Until next time, leaders think Big Act brave and be your best self.

This podcast is a proud member of the Teach Better Podcast Network better today, better tomorrow and the podcast to get you there, explore more podcasts at teach better.com/podcasts and we'll see you at the next episode.

145. Be Present for People: Wisdom for APs and All Leaders with Dr. Frederick Buskey
145. Be Present for People: Wisdom for APs and All Leaders with Dr. Frederick Buskey
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