Linking Leaders PodCASt

Episode 4: Leading with Kindness and Joy

December 05, 2023 Connecticut Association of Schools Season 1 Episode 4
Episode 4: Leading with Kindness and Joy
Linking Leaders PodCASt
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Linking Leaders PodCASt
Episode 4: Leading with Kindness and Joy
Dec 05, 2023 Season 1 Episode 4
Connecticut Association of Schools

Listen up as we chat with CT's 2023 High School Assistant Principal of the Year, Dr. Carolyn Gbunblee. Associate principal of Valley Regional High School in Deep River for the past  seven years,  Carolyn shares invaluable insights on maintaining equanimity, fostering kindness, and finding joy in the work. 

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Listen up as we chat with CT's 2023 High School Assistant Principal of the Year, Dr. Carolyn Gbunblee. Associate principal of Valley Regional High School in Deep River for the past  seven years,  Carolyn shares invaluable insights on maintaining equanimity, fostering kindness, and finding joy in the work. 

Speaker 1:

Hi and welcome to the Linking Leaders podcast. Linking Leaders podcast features candid conversations with top educational leaders who come together to share experiences and explore pathways to success. In each episode, we engage with dynamic leaders to uncover real life stories, practical strategies and bold insights on timely and relevant topics. Listen up to LinkUp and let us help you expand your network of innovation and support.

Speaker 2:

Hi, I'm Dr Alicia Bowman, host of the Linking Leaders podcast. My guest today is Dr Carolyn Bunley, associate Principal of Valley Regional High School in Deep River, connecticut, representing the towns of Chester, deep River and Essex, and she is the 2023 Connecticut Association of Schools High School Assistant Principal of the Year. Carolyn, welcome to the Linking Leaders podcast.

Speaker 3:

Thanks for having me. I'm excited to be on Great.

Speaker 2:

So, carolyn, we know you're a highly successful school leader. So, in your experience, what have you come to believe are the qualities or habitudes that make the best leaders great?

Speaker 3:

Well, in no order of importance, but one of the things that I'm often complimented on, or is a strength of mine, I feel, is having a calm presence.

Speaker 3:

I think that there's so much that happens throughout the day of an administrator that it's really easy to get overwhelmed or show that overwhelm to staff, and really the leader sets the tone, and so I'm always thinking about how I can be calm and actually had a superintendent describe it as unflappability that when something happens, you are a calm presence and know how to prioritize as well.

Speaker 3:

Another thing that I think is really important is kindness, and to that I think it's different than being nice and so being willing to have those hard conversations, but maintaining dignity of the staff or student that you're talking with and just being kind in everything that you do. I think that's always possible. Finding the joy that's one of my goals this year and really being joyful I have a picture on my wall that says today I choose joy. It's a good reminder of finding the joyful moments and presence. I have a goal of getting in 500 classrooms this year. I know that's a trend across many other administrators, so being in classrooms and getting to know kids that I might not otherwise see is really important to me.

Speaker 2:

That's excellent. How did you come up with that?

Speaker 3:

goal. So I follow Justin Bader of the Principal Center and so that's really from him, and it works out to about three a day, and so sometimes there's none in a day if there's a lot going on, and sometimes there's a lot more than three, and so it's just a nice way to get to see all my teachers and students.

Speaker 2:

That's excellent. I'll be interested in hearing how you're doing, madea. I'm going to check in with you. Good, awesome. So what is one new shift in education that has captured your attention recently, and why?

Speaker 3:

Well, there's so many exciting things and I know my first thought was like AI, but I decided to pivot off of that for this conversation. And I think what we've been working on here at Valley, and I know in many other schools, is really focusing on that individual student growth rather than the competition among students. And so I know when I was in high school, you know class rank was a really big deal and what your SAT score was a really big deal, and it still is to an extent. But I think that we are really seeing the shift or de-emphasizing those test scores even in college admissions, really moving away from class rank in many schools and focusing on what each individual student can do, as well as their skills for the future and how to become their best self.

Speaker 2:

I think you know I feel like sometimes I'm having those conversations in my own household about you know your personal best and your growth and not worrying so much about those around you and believing that every student is capable of, and should be progressing at whatever you know rate or in whatever area that's appropriate. So I like that idea and that shift is particularly at the high school level where we know there can be a lot of pressure.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, I think that each student has such individual goals for their future. You know they might want to go to a really competitive four-year college. They might not want to go to that. I think every choice is good for the student that's making it, and so helping each student to have the best future for themselves and meet their own goals is really important.

Speaker 2:

Yes, and really the opportunity to build the skills of how do you think through making those decisions and learning through. You know, deciding what's best for you as a student at this time, and really the process part of that is so important, as you prepare learners as well. So I got blown. So we know, caroline, that your leadership style is an all-in approach that's how it's been described and maybe even unflipable. But with that said, can you share with our listeners one or two strategies for successfully managing the many roles that you have while being all-in?

Speaker 3:

Well, it's nice that Justin Bader has already come up in this conversation, because I just get his emails and there's a lot about managing the email overwhelm or the paper overwhelm and some really specific strategies. So I do recommend getting his emails. So I try to get to inbox zero at least once a week. I know that's a big ask and sometimes it doesn't happen, but I really try to limit what's in my inbox and to do that I use a to-do list app called I use things three, but it's really similar to to do as if people are familiar with that and that's really nice, because if something pops in my head, it often pops right out when something else happened. So I can just go right in on my phone or on my computer and schedule something, maybe for next September oh, I should have done that this year or I did that this year.

Speaker 3:

That worked really well. I could put a note in to my to-do list app so that I can do that again next year. Or hey, I have to do this in March. I'm going to schedule that out and you can forward your emails right over, and so I schedule everything through that. I also use I mean as everyone does Google Calendar for home and school and I often say if it's not on the calendar it doesn't exist Correct. And to go back to the 500 Classrooms goal, I really use my administrative assistant support in selecting three teachers every day that I will visit and or attempt to visit and be able to connect with, and so to keep that on track, because sometimes that can fall off the priority list really easily and that's really the most important thing that we do, and so prioritizing that from morning and finding the time is essential. That's excellent.

Speaker 2:

I used to do a similar thing with my administrative assistant and really that collaborative relationship between you and your administrative assistant can be a game changer really.

Speaker 3:

It absolutely is, and I have an amazing administrative assistant and we work really well together and it's that relationship has just made my work life so much more actionable. I can do things a lot easier. So using that and all of the other staff to really support you so as an administrator, it's important.

Speaker 2:

Of course, of course. So, caroline, I was scouring through your website in preparation for this conversation and I noticed that you had some unique scheduling structures that support values, mission and vision and four values. I think it was described as a four by four block and a flex time. Do you think more about those?

Speaker 3:

Sure. So when I started which is now almost, I guess, seven and a half years ago seven years ago we had a four by four block at value, which means students would take four classes in the fall and four classes in the spring, and that had existed for probably 20 years. But we were finding that that limited continuity of instruction and so we shifted that year my first year to a seven period modified block. So our students have all their classes on Mondays and Fridays so that they're able to see teachers and bookend the week, and then they have 65 minute classes in which two classes drop throughout the week is the simplified way to say that, which allows us to have those science labs or art, creative time, photography.

Speaker 3:

Those longer blocks really lend themselves well to really dig into the work, and so that's been a really important shift and has moved teaching and learning forward. We're also an international baccalaureate school and really focus on the goal of IB for all, meaning that we want to take those learner characteristics and bring them to all of the classes that we teach here at Valley. If people are familiar with IB, they focus a lot on traits of the learner and very specific teaching and learning strategies, different ways to ask questions. They call it command terms. So bringing that through the school has been important and our schedule really has allowed us to have the IB program and allow many students to participate, whether they're full diploma students or taking a one off class.

Speaker 2:

Appreciate that. Thank you. So recently we heard educational leader well, now it's been a few months, but that Jethro Jones mentioned that teaching has evolved from stage on the stage to guide on the side and now to the compass among us. Do you agree with Jones and if so, what does that idea of compass among us mean to you?

Speaker 3:

Well, first, I do agree to an extent, but I find the best teachers really shift between those modes depending on what they're doing in the class, what the objective is, what's their essential question and what part of the unit are they at.

Speaker 3:

So sometimes direct instruction or the stage on the stage is the best model for what they're doing in the class, and sometimes they're going to be the guide on the side and supporting maybe individual students and then sometimes they're going to be in the compass among us role where students are really directing the learning and they are pushing them back on the right course. So to me that that mode would look like working with students really allowing choice and assessments and projects, thinking about authentic tasks and critical thinking, student design lessons or having them teach each other and really allowing students to take risks. That's one of those ID learner traits that's promoted and risk-taking. If we go back to the whole competition among students, that can be scary because maybe they're going to get that eight plus if they take the risk and so promoting that as a teacher I think fits the compass among us role.

Speaker 2:

I love that. And, yes, risk-taking it seems like, oh, it just open it up and take risks, but it's really a skill that has to be facilitated and it has to really be a core value of that classroom or that setting, where kids know that they're going to be supported and that it's a trusting environment and that it's OK. And those are some of the best learning experiences, where we learn how to persist or fail forward. That's some of our best moments of learning. So, are you ready for the Ignite round? You're going to enlighten us at rapid speed, carolyn. I'll try to be rapid. Ok, all right, here we go. So who inspires you or who are you following lately?

Speaker 3:

I really love Adam Grant. He's a business leader influencer. His Instagram is one of my favorites, so he has some really good quotes about leadership and leadership is common across all careers a lot of it so.

Speaker 2:

I love Adam Grant. I was actually listening to his podcast yesterday about rethinking vacation and time off in organizational settings and he was looking at the research, so I would agree with that. Sometimes it's nice to turn to professionals outside of education to think through leadership or organizational things. Yeah.

Speaker 3:

Can I add one more? I know it's all like Of course you can. This is a throwback to my dissertation, which was about how principles create trust, and so the book I used the most was called Trust Matters by Megan Shannon Moran, and it's specifically about trust in schools, and so I just wanted to throw that one in because that's close to my heart, because I read it very closely.

Speaker 2:

Awesome If you were to pick one or two of your best impressions like a condensed thought or a saying that you find yourself returning to or saying often to your faculty and staff, or maybe people in your personal life. What would you say?

Speaker 3:

one or two of them are the first is accept the things you can't control. I especially found that out older and COVID times, but it's true all the time and linked to that, I can always control my response and really I can always be kind as a mantra that I use for myself often.

Speaker 2:

And that kind of goes back to what you were talking about before and that your ability to stay calm, a calm presence, which we know as leaders, that also builds trust, which you spoke to, but also modeling for others that it's going to be okay, like we could do this Absolutely. Is there something about leadership that you've rethought recently?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, I think the idea of adaptability. It's so important to have a strong mission and vision as a leader, but also important to take others' feedback and be willing to change that vision when you get new ideas. So being adaptable and including everyone's thoughts and ideas into your leadership is essential.

Speaker 2:

So finish the statement Speaking about AI and education makes you feel.

Speaker 3:

Excited. I think there's so many cool things that teachers can do with AI and promote the critical thinking and next steps in the classroom. And a big shout out to our library media specialist here at Valley. She's done a lot of work with AI with our staff.

Speaker 2:

That's great. It's always nice if you have somebody who's willing to go first and try it out and kind of start to share that and slowly spread the work with others. But I would agree with you it is exciting and it's going to open new doors for sure.

Speaker 3:

Yes, definitely.

Speaker 2:

Caroline, what's one thing I should have asked you, but I didn't?

Speaker 3:

I just want to shout out our Valley faculty and staff. They're the true heart of the school and, I think, make my job so much easier and I love working with them.

Speaker 2:

Excellent. Where can people go to find out more about you and your work?

Speaker 3:

I always love to connect on LinkedIn, so that's a place where we can connect. Just my first and last name though the last name is a little hard to spell and I run the Valley Regional High School Facebook and Instagram page and so you can check out all the things that are happening at Valley, at Valley Regional High School.

Speaker 2:

Awesome. Thank you so much. So we're recording this episode in October, which is National Principles Month. Caroline, I hope that you found this conversation to be a celebration of your amazing work, the work that you do every single day and I know that I learned so much in this short amount of time and your poise and your unflappable leadership I can feel it through the screen. So it was a joy to speak with you today. Thank you for the enlightening and honest conversation. The goal of the LinkedIn Leaders podcast is to connect great educational leaders across our small state, and I'm confident that you are passionate and thoughtful and reflective leadership style will spark ideas and create conversation, inspiring action from colleagues across Connecticut. So, caroline, our sincere gratitude for sharing your time and your talents and, to our listeners, we'll see you next time for a new conversation of LinkedIn Leaders.

Speaker 1:

Thanks so much for joining us for this episode of the LinkedIn Leaders podcast. This episode is brought to you by the Connecticut Association of Schools, serving schools and their leaders since 1935.

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