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Hacking Leadership


Hacking Leadership

Tom Murray
, Director of Innovation for Future Ready Schools®, Alliance for Excellent Education
Joe Sanfelippo, PhD, Superintendent, Fall Creek School District (WI)

On August, 24, 2017 Future Ready Schools® (FRS) held a webinar as part of its Leadership Hub, a one-stop-shop of professional learning opportunities for school leaders.

Water is amazing and seemingly always finds a way to make an impact on the world and our life. It can conform, replenish the body, power equipment, or wipe out entire cities. Leaders have the same properties. Some end up conforming to their environment as water would with a cup or bowl. Some have the power to wipe out entire populations and others lift the level of the land. The best leaders take little openings and create space for those they lead. They find the smallest cracks of opportunity and create a path that was not there before. They shape the land. They find a way to make an impact on work they are leading.

Hacking leadership is about finding innovative solutions to issues that have plagued the system for years and implementing them tomorrow. The focus is on practical application. Problems exist, but knowledge of problems does not make daily life in schools easier. In this webinar, panelists offered tools that you and your team can use to find openings and create space for those you lead. Space to learn. Space to teach. Space to thrive.

Please direct questions concerning the webinar to If you are unable to watch the webinar live, an archived version will be available in the FRS Hub shortly after the event airs.

Future Ready Schools® is a project of the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington, DC–based national policy, practice, and advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that all students, particularly those traditionally underserved, graduate from high school ready for success in college, work, and citizenship.

Follow Future Ready Schools on Twitter (;
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If you are interested in renting the Alliance’s facilities for your next meeting or webinar, please visit our facilities page to learn more.

Dr. Joe Sanfelippo:     There we go.


Tom Murray:              Hello. I’m Tom Murray, the Director of Innovation for Future Ready Schools, a project of the Alliance for Excellent Education, coming at you today from Washington, D.C. Future Ready Schools is a collaboration between the Alliance and a vast coalition of over 60 other national and regional organizations. The goal of Future Ready Schools is to maximize digital learning opportunities and to help school districts move quickly towards personalized student center learning. The effort provides districts with the resources and support to ensure that local technology and digital learning plans aligned with instructional best practices are implemented by highly trained teachers and maximized personalized learning experiences for all students, particularly those from traditionally underserved communities. The hash tag for today’s webinar is #futureready. Thank you for making an investment and joining us today. I’m your host on this webinar on Hacking Leadership. With me today is one of the top, in my opinion, one of the top educators of the national that we have the opportunity to be connected with Future Ready Schools, our Future Ready advisor for our district leadership tran, Dr. Joe Sanfelippo, Superintendent in Fall Creek School District in Wisconsin. Joe, thanks for being here today. What an honor it is to have you and go ahead and introduce yourself.


Dr. Joe Sanfelippo:     Hi, everybody. And before we get started, did you really say, “Coming at you from Los -” Did that happen?


Tom Murray:              [Laughs]


Dr. Joe Sanfelippo:     I just want to make sure that we were – I’m coming at you from Chicago today. All right.


Tom Murray:              [Laughs]


Dr. Joe Sanfelippo:     As long as that’s the bar we’re setting, Murray, then I think we’re going to be okay. Hi, everybody. My name is Joe Sanfelippo. I’d like to thank our parents for watching, because that’s essentially where that’s happening today and that might be it today, but thank you all for joining us today. I’m excited to be here. I am the Superintendent in the Fall Creek School District, home of the Fall Creek Crickets. You all know that. That’s what I’m talking about in Fall Creek, Wisconsin, and I’m really excited to be part of what we do here today. This is my seventh superintendent year in Fall Creek in an incredible community with a wonderful staff that does everything that they can to make sure that the learning is right for kids and that the environment is ready for risk taking. So I am beyond excited to talk about Hacking Leadership and what we can do as leaders to be more intentional, open doors and build staff for the group that we have. So thank you very much for having me today, Tom.


Tom Murray:              Well, after that intro, Joe, now they’re all thinking, “Where did Future Ready get this guy to come on and do a webinar?”


Dr. Joe Sanfelippo:     [Laughs] They say the same thing about you every time you’re on, man. This is what’s happening.


Tom Murray:              Well, thanks for joining us, Joe. And for everybody that doesn’t know, Hacking Leadership is actually one of Joe and Dr. Tony Sinanis, their bestselling book, an incredible, incredible book. You know, Joe, let me start with this. I’ve seen this summer, I know you’ve spent an incredible amount of time across the country. You have a global view on leadership, because it’s not just your work in Fall Creek.  You’re not just an author. You’re out there doing this for school leadership teams. You know, you’re working with successful schools, working with leadership dreams, also running some retreats. I know you keynote conferences left and right, working closely with school leaders. So why this notion to hack leadership? You’re doing so much out three, what’s the impact of a hack?


Dr. Joe Sanfelippo:     Well, I think the impact of a hack, and we want – I just want to, you know, say thanks to Mark Barnes for allowing, you know, Hacking Leadership to become reality, and it’s part of the Hack Series. And one of the things about the Hack Series that’s really important is the idea that we want to start thinking about things that we can do tomorrow, some things that we can really implement right away. We can talk about all the philosophy behind why schools are not working and that’s great. I have no issue with that at all. At the same time, if we’re not talking about how to get better within that context, then we’re just having conversations. All of those conversations about where schools have been and where they’re going have to start with some sort of action moving forward, and that’s the impact of the hack. The hack, and it honestly, like, I’m not a very bright dude at all. So if you think about it in the book, there’s not a lot of groundbreaking stuff in there that really says, “Oh, my goodness, you know, if we do -” It’s basically, “Here are some things that are going to make people feel safer. Here are things that are going to keep you, you know, well intentioned in terms of the work that you’re doing. And here are the things that you can absolutely do tomorrow to start changing the impact – changing the culture of your school, changing the impact that you have in terms of what you do and from a leadership standpoint and move your group forward a lot faster than trying to devise a three to five to seven year plan that really, you know, we can work within that plan, but we want to start doing something and doing, you know, the difference between the status quo of where you’re at and the dream that you want, there’s a heck of a lot of hard work in there, and a lot of times it starts with just having the conversation about what that really looks like. And after that conversation, it has to lead to action and the hack is really an action on why we do what we do.


Tom Murray:              You know, Joe, I’d agree with everything that you just said. Everything, including the intelligence level that you describe.


Dr. Joe Sanfelippo:     [Laughs]


Tom Murray:              And so that, with all seriousness, you know, and Joe’s one of my best friends. Full disclosure. So we can joke like that. But you know, Joe, in your book, one of the things that I love that you and Tony go through are these three components. And it’s the way, it’s kind of I’ve seen you break it down like this in Hacking Leadership. One is about being intentional. The second piece that I’ve seen you break down is really that how do you open doors. And the third one being about building staff and I love that. So let’s start with the first piece about this notion of being intentional. So one of the questions you ask in the book is how do you make sure you’re present and engaged in the process of school. And I love that for leadership, because it’s not just about sitting behind a desk. It’s not just about telling what everybody else has to do. It’s about being present and engaged. So, so how can school leaders do this? What do you see in the field? What does it look like?


Dr. Joe Sanfelippo:     Well, first of all, no school is changed with an e-mail, all right. So let’s be honest about that. Like, nobody’s changing [laughs] the process sending a bunch of e-mails. Like, you have to be invested in the process to make sure that you can move people forward. When you’re present and engaged with your group, when you’re present and engaged from a leadership lens, it totally changes the conversation about what’s happening because it’s not about something. I mean, we often get into this we-they mentality, right. Well, it’s we if you’re there. If you’re present and engaged. One of my doctoral professors, Nancy Blair, once said, you know, I went through this doctoral program, $70,000 dollars, I got one quote out of it, man, one quote, right. And the quote was from Nancy Blair, and she said, “The greatest gift of service that you can give to another human being is for the time that you’re with them, they are the center of your universe.” And if you think about that, the idea that you have the opportunity to be part of something, that you could be the center of their – or they could be the center of your universe for that minute, then you are totally present and engaged in the process with them. And we talk a lot about the idea of moving people from A to B, of moving groups from A to B, moving schools from A to B, moving people from A to B. But the problem with just talking about moving them from A to B is if we don’t value where their A is, they’re never going to get to B. And even if you think that A is not exactly where you want them, if you don’t value that that’s the place that they’re at, they’re not even going to think about moving towards B. So being present and engaged is not only about, you know, you can be present and not engaged. You can be visible and not, you know, really engaged in the process, right. And we started with visibility and I come to find out, when I first started from a principal lens, I would do the, like, I’d do the drive by wave, Right. Like and I would feel so happy with myself. I’d feel so happy because I’d walk into, I’d get back to my office and, like, “You know what? I saw every classroom. I was in every classroom, man, I walked through every classroom.” And all I did was walk through every classroom. But I wasn’t present and engaged in that classroom, I was just there, right. And that wasn’t really, you know – So now, we have to break that down and maybe take that, you might not be able to be in every classroom every day, but you can be present and engaged when you are in that classroom every day, because when you’re present and engaged with them, you create value for the work that they’re doing. And if you can’t create value for where they are from an A perspective, there’s no chance that they’re moving with you. And the same thing with kids. Kids, if you don’t value where they’re at from where their perspective is at that spot, then you’re not moving them. They’re not going. No, because they don’t think that you value the place that it took to get there, right. And we can talk about how we got there and all the things that went along with it and that’s their A. Or you could just say, “Here’s where we’re at; let’s move it forward,” and figure it out from there. And I think a lot of times it comes down to the idea, are you really taking the extra time to have the conversation that might not be comfortable but at least you’re there and they know that you’re there for them. That’s being present and engaged in the process.


Tom Murray:              You know, I want to remind our viewers that the hashtag for today’s webinar is #futureready and feel free to reach out on Twitter there as well. We’re doing our best to monitor that as we can. You know, the other piece with being intentional, Joe, that I love that you address is culture and how do you build culture that supports that. You know, with Future Ready, leadership and school culture are foundational to all the work. The bottom lines is, you know, we’ve been in some of the poorest places in our country and we’ve seen them doing amazingly dynamic things and their teachers doing incredible things on such limited budgets because of leadership and school culture. We’ve also seen places that have a lot of stuff. Their budget’s okay. Yet in toxic school environments, things fail left and right. That culture is so vital. And Joe, I’m going to give you one of the most serious shouts I can truly give. I truly view you as somebody that is one of the best culture builders I’ve ever seen on the staff, because it permeates and radiates in all you do and all you share on social media about your staff. So talk to us about culture. How can leaders build culture? We’ve got a lot of principals watching today, superintendents watching today. What do they do to build that culture that supports that?


Dr. Joe Sanfelippo:     So, and thank you, but here’s the thing, Tom. It’s not like and people, I hope people say this, it’s like it’s not me. The culture of Fall Creek, the pride that was there, that was there before I got there. The idea was nobody was talking about it. Like I sat through my first superintendent interview and one of the board members, I asked the board members, like, you know, so what do you expect of me from a superintendent lens? [Laughs] And one of the board members said, “We’ve got some really good things happening here, but we’d like more people to know about it.” And I’m like, like, I’ll tell you this –


Tom Murray:              Well, they heard – they figured they hired a loud person, so that [inaudible due to talk over] somewhere.


Dr. Joe Sanfelippo:     That’s right. I told them, like, I’m not the – I might not be the best superintendent you will hire. I am clearly the loudest person you will ever hire in this world, so if there are good things going on here, everybody’s going to know about it. And a lot of times what happens is, the first thing, first and foremost, honestly, when it comes to building culture is we build culture in 30 second increments. Right. Like the come to Jesus meeting where everybody sits down and you talk about an issue, it doesn’t build culture. It doesn’t. It fixes issues but it doesn’t build culture because everybody was required to be there, right. What builds culture is the idea that every 30 – you have 960 opportunities in an eight hour day – do the math, Tom – 960 opportunities in an eight hour day to build culture. So 960 chances for you to sit down with a kid and have a conversation about what that learning looks like, to have a conversation with a parent about what they’re looking for or a teacher about, you know, what’s going on at home. Or, you know, or going into the parking lot, meeting them where they are. That’s what builds culture. Culture is built in every interaction. There’s never a neutral interaction. You walk into an interaction and you’re going to walk out feeling better or worse than when you walked in. And if you’re not in that place where you’re not being intentional about the work that you’re doing in that space in building culture, then we’re just guiding right by it. And we can’t be that because at the same time, I think that Dr. Seuss quote about, you know, “Today I shall behave as if – as if this is the day that I will be remembered,” if we take that mentality on, the idea that we don’t know when we’re going to be remembered, but we are going to be remembered. We’re, you know, kids are going to tell their kids about you. They are. Like, as a teacher, as a leader, as a principal or whatever, the kids that are in your school, they’re going to tell their kids about you. The question becomes, what do you want them to tell their kids about, right. Because every interaction counts, and that’s a heck of a lot of pressure, man. I’m telling you, that’s a ton of pressure. At the same time, with every opportunity, with, you know, that gives us every opportunity to build on the run. And a lot of the times we talk about the idea that we’re going to build culture through all the social media stuff, and I understand that. Like, I’m a big social media guy and I love that. Tools don’t build culture. Process builds culture. The tools will change. Right. Like, I remember, I wanted to be a runner. Like, I was going to be a marathon runner, right. Like, I was going to be, like, I was going to be the marathon runner. So I go out, I get the shoes, brand new shoes, right. I get that arm band. You know what I mean? That I can put my phone in, like, I can listen to stuff on my arm. Like, I can do a lot of stuff, right. I get to everything, I tell, I start telling people, “I gotta hydrate, man, ’cause I’m going to be a marathon runner, like, and I know it’s all all set, right.” I wake up in the morning on the first day, I get the couch, the 5K app out there and I’m like – So I got all the tools, right, and I’m running and it tells me to run seven minutes, I’m like, “Forget that, man. I’m gonna keep going.” So I’m going like 25 minutes. The next morning I can’t feel my legs and I didn’t get up to run. You know, it’s like, “Come on,” like, “You got all the tools.” But if you don’t have a process in place to do this, then you’re just, like, frontloading. And then you start to make excuses like, “Well, I don’t know if the – I don’t know if my shoes are gonna fit in my bag,” you know what I mean. So you think about, like, “I don’t know if this Twitter thing’s gonna work.” It’s gonna work, man. It’s about the process. So if you figure out, like, [laughs] if you – if you can figure out an opportunity to work that into your day, then you’re going to be in a much better place. I don’t have any more time than anybody else. My teachers don’t have any more time than anybody else, but they trade it. They trade the time, right. They’re not answering a ton of questions on the backside about what’s happening in their school district because the culture building ends up on the front side by telling our story about the work that’s happening. That’s what being intentional is all about. You have to take the time to be intentional in this process, otherwise we’re just kind of sitting out here doing what we do. And then you look back, when I think about it, I drive my daughter to gymnastics. Often, I’ll get to gymnastics 25 miles away and I’m like, “Well, how did I get here?” Right? ‘Cause we just do. We just go and we do and we do and we do. And we think about, and then all of a sudden you’re like, “What happened?” And at the end of the year, people will say, “Wow, that year went by fast.” But what kind of – You had an impact throughout that whole year and those kids are gonna remember about something about that year. We just don’t know what it’s gonna be. So we gotta be really intentional about the idea that every interaction builds culture. Every single one. And if we keep that in mind, we’re all gonna be better for it.


Tom Murray:              Joe, one of the ways I see you building culture, and it’s very transparent even though we live a thousand miles apart, is by sharing your story. It’s something you’ve referenced multiple times here. It’s an area that you’re certainly looked at as an expert. Your first book was on branding. When you tell about it, one of the things I see you, but not just you, and I share your example often when like, you know, where I share those types of things where, “Hey, take a look at what Joe’s doing,” but it’s not just Joe. And by the way, kudos for your leadership and when I – and I gave you kudos, you immediately said, “It’s not me. My staff’s doing this too,” and I pat you on the back for that, truly. But when you take a look at that, one of the things I see you and your staff doing, how you even right behind you, “Go Crickets,” I can see it here, every day you’re sharing out the awesome stuff that’s going on. And I know that, you know, and every day in all of our classrooms, great things are happening. How do you know? Well, I’ll tell you what. In Fall Creek, Wisconsin, they know. Can you tell us about like what does that look like? How can district leaders share their story?


Dr. Joe Sanfelippo:     Okay. So and thank you. And like I said, I’m in Chicago, there’s no way I’m being off brand, man. No way, man. That’s right. Go Crickets is following me everywhere, right. So we’re talking about right here, Cricket Nation, right. I got my people. I’m telling you, they – Here’s the thing. The reason that we started this process, honestly, I would love to tell you that it came from a really great place. I just didn’t want to get fired. I was the fifth superintendent in six years, right. That’s tough, like – [laughs] So I wanted to make sure that people knew what we were doing, ’cause I think in the absence of knowledge, people tend to make up their own. And if they don’t know what you do, then they make up what you do. And this platform has given us an opportunity to have conversations with people from across the country. Think about it. Like, so I always kind of come back to we – I took a group but we had a – we were named an innovative district by International Center for Leadership and Education for the work that my staff did in developing passion projects for adults, which we can talk about later. We should talk about that, Tom, because they made this – they developed their own professional development process and they own the whole thing and 94 percent of my staff, 94 percent agree or strongly agree that this process makes them a better teacher, and that’s why we got named an innovative district. So anyway, so we go to Orlando to do this, you know, presentation, and my six people that are walking through the hallways of this, of model schools in Orlando, start hearing people yell, “Go Crickets” at them; everywhere they go, people are yelling, “Go Crickets.” They show up in the presentation, they’re yelling, “Go Crickets.” And they come back to the board and they give the board a presentation and Jess White, who’s an English teacher at the high school, the board asked everybody how the process was or how it worked and they had a good time. Jess White, English teacher, said to them, “We felt like rock stars.” We felt like rock stars, man. If you make your people feel like rock stars, they will perform at such a high level you have no idea where their ceiling is at. Like, my group, my group is legit, people. My group is legit. Like they change lives. My people change lives. And the idea was to make sure that they got the recognition for changing lives. Because the narrative of public education is not awesome. We got people – we got people in this world that are telling stories about your schools that have no affiliation with your school at all. They went to school 20 years ago and they’re jacked up they didn’t get a second chicken sandwich at lunch and they keep telling that story, man. Or they got put against the wall at recess and they’re jacked. Or the coach didn’t play them and they would have made it in the league if the coach would have played them, right. That’s the story that they tell 20 years ago. Eighty percent of the voting public doesn’t have kids in school. You have to figure out a way for that group to come with you along for this ride. Because those are the people telling the stories. It’s not even as much your parents. Your parents know what you’re doing. If you ‘re talking to them, you know, through those social media channels. We want to connect with the community because the community are the ones that are going to tell whether or not, you know, they’re going to tell stories about your school. And if you have that narrative that’s crafted that you’re changing, you’re crafting, you’re creating that narrative. Now we’re in a place that we can celebrate the work instead of defending everything that we do. Our people work too hard. They take kids – think about this – I mean, logistically, let’s think about this. It’s ridiculous to think that we’re going to put, you know, 25 kids in a room with one adult and have that adult move them emotionally, move them academically. But they do it. My people do it every day. Every day my people, every single day, they have a – they have an opportunity to connect and make those kids believe that they can do better things. And it started with making sure that people knew who we are. And, you know, you can start it, we can joke about Go Crickets all day long, all day long, but my people know about it, right? My community knows about it and we – and they find ourselves – we find ourselves in places that not a lot of school districts with 825 kids K-12 should find themselves. And the idea becomes that we’ve got great people doing great things and the only thing that we did was start talking about it. That’s it. We’ve got a long way to go. We’re not there yet. We’ve got a long way to go but at the same time, every opportunity to connect and make our program better we’re going to do and we’ve got people cheering for us all over the country. There’s a piece of Go Cricket’s gear in every state in this country, every one, and we got pictures to prove it. And when you have people from outside of your space celebrating the work that you do, now you got something. Because now the audience isn’t just the teacher, now your audience just isn’t the 25 kids in that classroom; it’s the world. And when it’s the world, you treat it differently, you totally do.


Tom Murray:              Yeah. You know, Joe, I love listening to your passion. I love listening to your energy. For any of the teachers that are watching – Well, most of them are teaching at this point today, but any teachers that are watching this, I know they’re seeing, like, I would love to go work in Fall Creek, to maybe feel appreciated or feel that, that your energy radiates, and that’s the power of leadership. That’s the power of being a principal, being a superintendent, to believe in those people and then that just radiates and it complements you, that just radiates in all the work that you do. You know, it almost makes me want to move to Fall Creek, Wisconsin except you guys have, like, the cheese and


Dr. Joe Sanfelippo:     Oh, sorry.


Tom Murray:              Oh, there we go. Lost you there for a minute. This notion of like what are we doing to be transparent, this notion of transparency as you addressed head on. You know, sometimes that’s just an issue districts struggle with in general. How do you deal with transparency?


Dr. Joe Sanfelippo:     Well, first of all, can we talk about the idea that I think you were trying to crowd me out?


Tom Murray:              [Laughs]


Dr. Joe Sanfelippo:     You know, and it gets you going – You’re just looking for your own face time and I understand that because you shaved this week, which is awesome, congratulations on that. That’s great. And a whole bottle of gel on the hair.


Tom Murray:              [Laughs]


Dr. Joe Sanfelippo:     Fantastic. So here’s the thing about being transparent, Tom. Honestly, I think you build so much culture and trust when you are transparent in the work that you do. And the idea that we want to make sure that we have when it comes down to the work that we do is in the, like I said, in the absence of knowledge, people tend to make up their own. If they don’t know what you do, then they make up what you do. If they think that you as a leader move papers from one side of your desk to the other every day, then that’s what you do, unless you are able to prove them differently. We could talk about right and real all day, right. I don’t believe it’s right that you should have to do that. I do believe it’s real. And that’s the difference. Like, being transparent is really nothing more than just making sure people know what you – And you know, honestly, being transparent builds trust. Being transparent doesn’t mean that you need to be right all the time. A lot of the times, I think we’re afraid of being transparent because we feel like what happens when we’re not right. Well, you know what? There are times you’re gonna miss. I tell our community every year before this – the, like, in like, I don’t know, maybe September. Yeah, like mid-September, like the week before it snows, right in September, mid-September, I tell our community this. That we are going to have some snow days. It’s going to happen. And you know what? We’re going to call school off for those snow days and I am going to just tell you right now, I’m going to miss one. I am. I’m just going to miss it. I know I am. And that’s, you know, we try to do the best that we can and understand that we’re trying to keep your kids safe and that’s a big deal for us. But we’re going to miss. We’re going to miss. And we just trust that you’re with us. Because building trust is just about, you know, is about, you know, making sure that you’re transparent and that you’re vulnerable at sometimes too. And  a lot of times, a lot of us will – a lot of people think that being vulnerable means that you’re being weak. That’s not the case at all. Being vulnerable means you’re being real. Everybody’s vulnerable. Not a lot of people are talking about it. And the idea that you are just one of them, that you are part of this community, that you value their opinion. At the same time you want to be transparent with the work that you’re doing, because now they can take this journey with you. Then you get yourself in a much better place. If 80 percent of the people in your district don’t have kids in your district, then you have to make sure that they’re part of that process. And so when we put stuff out on our Facebook page, it’s not just for our families, it’s for our community, right. That’s a big deal. We want to make sure people, you know, take this ride with us and I think that’s a big – that’s a huge component to what we’re doing moving forward because when it comes down to it, you have to have – you have to have the support of your people because your people in your community, because the people in your school are going to leave your buildings at the end of the day and go into that community. And if they don’t feel valued in that space, if they don’t feel like they can talk about what’s happening in that space because they’re afraid of what the ramifications are, then they’re either not going to talk about it or they’re going to say something that you don’t want them to say, and then you’re – now you have a problem. So we have – and this is awesome. My board – my board – Tom, my board rocks. Like my school board is awesome and the reason that they’re awesome is because they know and understand that we set – they set policy and they hire the right people hopefully –


Tom Murray:              [Laughs]


Dr. Joe Sanfelippo:     They go and they hire the right people. But then they make sure that, they just want to be informed about what’s happening. We have three district board goals. Three. First one is we always, the answer is always we. No matter what, the answer is always we. Second one is we keep all our dirty laundry in-house. Always we, all our dirty laundry in house. Third one, we never give up the opportunity to say something great about our school. You call all five of my board members right now, ask them that question, they will know. And the thing is, if you make things too complicated and come up with this huge list of what we’re going to do and move towards, now we get, you know, everybody starts to interpret those things a little bit differently. Our three board goals, that’s what they are. That’s what they do. And our board is phenomenal in making sure that they are part of that message. We have five people that want to do right by kids and they don’t have to be in our space every day to know what’s going on in school. They could check our Twitter feed. They could check our Facebook feed. They can check our Instagram feed. They can call me. They could text me. They can ask questions. They know that. At the same time, because, you know, being a board member, not awesome. It’s not. It’s just not. Right. Like, board members deal with the three Bs: beans, buses, balls. If it doesn’t have to do with food, transportation or athletics, they’re not hearing about it, right. And what we want to do is make sure that they have the right content to have those conversations, because if they’re not, if people are going to still walk up to them and say, “Coach should be fired,” or, “I don’t like this teacher,” they’re gonna do that, but first they’re gonna say, “Hey, I saw on Facebook that this – that other thing was happening.” So at least they get some of the good with the bad. That’s the bad stuff isn’t going to go away. [Laughs] We just want to give them some of the good stuff so it’s not a grind on them every time they talk to somebody. So that’s what being transparent is all about from our end.


Tom Murray:              That’s awesome. I was actually wondering if you were ever going to let me get another word in here, so.


Dr. Joe Sanfelippo:     [Laughs] That’s right.


Tom Murray:              You know, the other piece, just one minute on opening doors, because it’s so important, this notion that you write about related to a culture of sharing. Can you give us a minute on that and what that’s all about?


Dr. Joe Sanfelippo:     Yeah, so the culture of sharing kind of comes down to the idea that, you know, historically from a teaching perspective, I think we’ve found, like, we have these lessons and they’re our pretty little pets and then all of a sudden we don’t want to talk to people about these lessons because what if they look better than we – what if they take that lesson and they make it better? Oh, my goodness, right? Like, what if they, you know, what if something else happens and I don’t get credit for what happened? And that happens a lot. It used to happen a lot. And creating a culture of sharing was making sure that everybody was in this thing together, so we’re moving in the same direction together. And a lot of times, people weren’t willing to share outside of their room for fear of what would happen with their colleagues if they did start sharing outside of the room. And when they started sharing and stuff outside of the room, they felt like, “Oh, my goodness. What are my colleagues going to do? Now they’re going to feel this way about me because I’m sharing and they’re not, and then all of a sudden they’re going to feel bad about this and then I’m going to get some pressure on this side.” And so we had to develop a culture where sharing is not done in isolation, it’s the norm. And we’re still working on that. We’re three years into that process and what ended up happening was a lot of our rocks – and we have – we have – did I tell you how great our teachers are? Did we talk about this? So we have some incredible – we have incredible people. And it wasn’t me telling everybody, “You need a Twitter account.” I didn’t – I’ve never once told anybody in Fall Creek they need a Twitter account. Like I never said that. What ended up happening was their colleagues told them they need a Twitter account because we’d have some people that would get a lot of parent calls about what was happening in these spaces and a lot of people getting none. And then the people that were getting no calls about that were just going about their business and the people that were getting a lot of calls were saying, “How come you’re not getting any calls on this? You know, what’s going on?” And the other people would say, “Well, we’re just putting it out there. We’re just posting stuff on social media.” So they’d know it before they have to ask the question because the people that were getting calls were answering the same question four, five, six times, right. So having a culture of sharing, that gave them, you know, more time, because like I said before, you trade time. You just trade it on the other side. And so, you know, we want to make sure that we open doors to the idea that this is not just, like, this isn’t Joe’s school. It’s not, you know, it’s not Brad’s school or it’s not, you know, Val’s school. It’s our school. It’s our school and that’s a big deal. One thing about opening doors that I thought was really important and it kind of comes back to the Hacking Leadership component is we gave this – I gave Hacking Leadership to a couple of staff members and I said, “Please read it and if there’s anything in here that we’re not doing, you need to tell me about that because we’re not going to print it, okay.” And one of my – Val Herman, who is a middle school language arts teacher came into my office after I had given her the copy and she kind of closed the door and she looked at me and she said, “This is our school.” Not, “This is your school.” Not, “This is my school.” Not, “This is their school.” This is our school. Ours, right. And when they feel like it’s ours, it’s a whole other level of fun. And that was a huge deal. And now we’ve got a lot of great reviews on Amazon. Thank you so much to all the people that have written a review for “Hacking Leadership.” The two reviews that will always mean the most to me are written by two of our teachers because they know it’s real. That’s who we are. And all we’re doing is celebrating the great work that they do because they do astounding things and it’s our job to amplify that voice as much as we can.


Tom Murray:              Well, and kudos to you, Joe. I know we only have a few minutes left. I know you gotta hop on a flight here as well. But kudos to you and the ultimate compliment I can give any school leader is everything that you just said you’re also modeling and I want to pat you on the back. And I know your staff’s doing an amazing job, but you see it in your work. You see it as you’re sharing out and it’s not you telling them what they have to do as the leader, it’s you showing the way and guiding the way, which is awesome. In our couple minutes, let’s combine those last few. You know, the building staff, building capacity is so vital. How do you make staff feel comfortable before they even set food in space? That’s one of the areas you address, one of the hacks. So talk about making staff comfortable. What does that look like?


Dr. Joe Sanfelippo:     Well, first of all, you’ve got to make them feel like they’re part of what you do and a lot of times that comes with a lot of the onboarding stuff. We did – I did my first press conference to announce the hire of a staff member in like 2010. And so, like, in 2010, 2010 was a pretty cool year because not only did we do it – So, oh, let me tell you about the first part. So in 2010, we did our first press conference which essentially meant, like, we would do – I would just – I would – We treated it like you got drafted by a professional team, right. And I’d do a video and I e-mailed it to the whole staff and it, like, nobody could watch the video at the same time because it just locked up because there wasn’t enough bandwidth to do it, right, so [laughs] so we did, so now, that, those press conferences from seven years ago have turned into now we’ve got the Go Crickets backdrop, we’ve got the microphone, we got the whole thing. And we, you know, as soon as, you know, we ask a couple questions, take a couple pictures. We took a picture last year, we had – we had our new high school principal came in and we did a press conference with him and then we took a picture of him and his family and we put that out on Facebook. And so we had a picture of him and his wife and his two kids, right, all in Go Cricket gear, go figure, right, and just a little introduction about who they were. And we did two things, and now here’s the thing, Tom. The thing about that picture, I could have just posted a picture of him, right, and, “Here’s the new principal.” But you know what? Those two kids, his two kids, they left their home, right. They left their home to come to Fall Creek and there is no way – there’s no way that they were walking through that hallway without feeling like they belong. No chance. That’s why you do it. That’s why you take pictures of the family. That’s why – You know, we let the interview team, whoever interviews, they get to offer the job. And this year, we videotaped the offer. They offer the job to the candidate, the candidate says yes, everybody’s like, “[imitates cheering],” right. Right. Give them the gear and then not only did we do that but then we had people, we had kids outside the door, when the woman said yes, I got a text from the team, I brought in the kids. They didn’t know she said yes. Those kids offered her the job, right. I mean, come one now, right. And then you take – then we videotaped it and you take that videotape and you send it to the candidate’s mom. Are you kidding me right now? Because now, it’s not just about the candidate. Now it’s about their family and now they have people, now you have people pushing them for you, right. Now you’ve got people coming along with you. That’s a big deal. And I think it really stresses the idea that you can’t do this in isolation because at some point, that first year teacher is gonna feel stress. They’re gonna feel freaked out. They’re probably gonna call their mom. And when they do, guess what mom’s gonna say? “That’s a great place. They love you. I got the video. I show it to everybody. It’s on my Facebook page.” Right? That’s what we have to do. That’s the onboarding process and if we make people feel – if anybody, like, give – We do the press conferences to make – [laughs] we try to make these press conferences, you know, so people know and understand what they’re doing. But you know, you’re giving these people thousands and thousands of dollars to teach. Give them the $5.00 hat and a $7.00 tee shirt and take their picture. Like, come on. Like, let them celebrate. And the more that we do that, the more identity that they have. So on the first new teacher or the first teacher Friday, they’re not wondering what to wear, because that’s the least of their worries. And their family’s not wondering what to wear when they show up at the football game ’cause they all got gear and that’s important.


Tom Murray:              That’s awesome. I know we’re running out of time here. I want you to hit this final question that you started to address. If things get tough, how do you continue to build momentum when it can seem that the sky’s falling, when it can seem that I just can’t go on, you know? ‘Cause, you know, I feel your energy and I feel your positivity but the reality is things happen. We can turn the door, things slow us down, how do you continue to build momentum? What are your other hacks there related to when it gets tough, how do you keep moving forward?


Dr. Joe Sanfelippo:     Okay, so we tend to frontload a lot of stuff, right, in education. Like the first week of school, everybody’s in the hallways, everybody’s high fiving, everybody’s feeling good. And then all of a sudden, October and November hit and you get to be – it gets to be a little bit rough. In Wisconsin, in December, you walk outside and your nose sticks together when you breathe. And the first question is, why do I live in a place where my nose sticks together when I breathe, that’s question one. Question two is, how are you gonna go work with kids when your nose is sticking together when you breathe, right. And then the kids are inside for recess for – [laughs] for two weeks because it’s 40 below zero. In those times, you have to understand that that’s when consistency takes over. Right. The difference between good and great isn’t always a new, innovative idea, man. It’s not. It’s consistency and making sure that you’re taking care of the people around you and understanding that the day to day operation of school is a grind. It’s a grind. We choose this. At the same time, that doesn’t make it any less of a grind. And the more that we are valuing people in that space, and I think and I’m getting real philosophical here, when it comes down to it, just make them feel value. You know, make sure that you’re writing the two notes to start your day. Make sure that at the end of the week you’re making positive calls home to parents, because if you’re making positive calls home on Friday to parents, that means that throughout the course of the week you’re looking for good things to call home about. And when you call home, don’t tell them that their kid is awesome. Don’t. They know that. They don’t need you to tell them their kid is awesome. Tell them why. Tell them why. Tell them you saw them. You saw – “I saw your son in a third grade classroom today and he was having a conversation – your sophomore son was having a conversation with a third grade student and he made her feel like she was the only person in the world and that was special. And somewhere along the line, he learned that and I’m guessing he learned it from you and I just wanted to say thank you for that.” And then you do that with your staff, too. And the more that you do that, those are the conversations that take hold when you can’t breathe because your nose sticks together.


Tom Murray:              You know, Joe, in hearing notes and in hearing calls, I want to give you a shout but I want to ask you and I know you don’t like to share you.


Dr. Joe Sanfelippo:     Yeah.


Tom Murray:              But there’s something that you have done that I want to give you credit for because I think it’s a great idea for leaders. One thing real quick, with notes, you’re not sending notes to that teacher. Who do you often send notes to and then who do you often call as well?


Dr. Joe Sanfelippo:     Yeah, yeah, yeah, ’cause they still – All right. So we do, like, and we’re doing something different this year, so I’m not gonna get into what that looks like, ’cause it’s total surprise in Cricket Nation. But, you know, what if instead of sending a note home to the, all right, to the staff member, what if you sent one to the spouse, right? What if you called the spouse or the parents or the kids of your staff member to say thank you, right? One of the notes that we send home to the wife of our eighth grade science teacher, it was in September that we sent the note, in May, in May, he came up to me and said, “Joe, I just want to say thank you for the note. My wife still keeps it on the fridge.” That’s nine months, people. And when he’s at school really early or really late, and she’s at home and she’s by the fridge, she’s gonna see that note. And it might not be awesome to have the spouse away, but she’s gonna understand it more because she knows that we value the staff member and that’s what we need to make sure.


Tom Murray:              Last piece and I know you gotta run here as well. You’ve got hundreds of people listening today and I’m sure you’ve got people that, “Hey, this is my last year and I’m hopping in to find a better leader,” or, “This is my first year to be a principal and I’m kind of nervous.” What advice do you have for leaders on how they can best hack leadership?


Dr. Joe Sanfelippo:     Well, that’s a great question and it was about time that you came up with one.


Tom Murray:              [Laughs]


Dr. Joe Sanfelippo:     So here’s the thing – the thing that I – the advice that I would give is you at your core, Jimmy Costa says often your core will show throughout the course of the year, so you make sure that at your core you’re coming from the right place and they will know that. You can’t fake that. And we talk about all the stuff that happens in Fall Creek and it’s great and I love it, but you can’t copy culture. You have to develop your own. And developing your own culture means making sure that every 30 second opportunity that you have to build it, you do. Be intentional about doing the work and the work will take care of itself, because you’re actually being intentional about every opportunity that you have to build and shape the culture of what you want to do. And honestly, this is not, like, this is the whole marathon thing. Like, I’ll run a marathon – [laughs] I’m not gonna run a marathon. That’s the dumbest idea ever. So but it’s like it’s not a sprint, man. We need great leaders. We need great leaders and I’m telling you, if you think about it, you build yourself for the future and understand that every opportunity that you have to build culture, you have to do it, because the more opportunities that we have to build culture, the people outside of our building start to see us as an investment and not something that they pay for, and that changes culture. So please, take every 30 second opportunity to be in the moment with your people and if you do that, you’re going to see them transform the work that they do in the classrooms for kids. And we hope that you have a wonderful, wonderful year and really excited about the work that everybody does. If you have any questions, like, you can get ahold of – you could get ahold of us, man. If you want to talk to our teachers about their passion projects for adults and their genius hour professional development, they will talk to you. If you want to come – you know what, we have people that come to visit school a lot. The first place that they go every single time is the Go Crickets backdrop, every single time, man, every time. They just want their picture – they just want a picture. It’s great. So it’s, so just do what you do and make sure that you keep the core of who you are, but be intentional about the work that you do because you don’t want to look back and think, “What just happened?”


Tom Murray:              You know, Joe, I was gonna give you a hard time as my good friend and tell everybody, I apologize, this is the best I could get on this –


Dr. Joe Sanfelippo:     [Laughs]


Tom Murray:              On this random work week day for this webinar, but to give you a compliment, truly, your passion radiates, your love of kids radiates. You know, people I can imagine saying, like, I want to be spoken about like this in the community. I want to have that passion and the ability to do that. And kudos to your team and to your leadership as well for creating that, but also for you for spreading that news. You know, the book is “Hacking Leadership.” Again, it is an amazing read. His co-author is Tony Sinanis. Just as talented, just as passionate sharing that work.


Dr. Joe Sanfelippo:     [Laughs] Oh, whoa.


Tom Murray:              [Laughs] [Inaudible]


Dr. Joe Sanfelippo:     Whoa, whoa. Whoa, whoa, whoa. He wrote his bio, man.


Tom Murray:              He is the brains behind the operation.


Dr. Joe Sanfelippo:     [Laughs] No, no. He wrote his bio. That’s all he –




Tom Murray:              So I do want to remind our viewers that the information on Future Ready Effort can be found at We do encourage and challenge district superintendents like Joe who is one of 3100 other superintendents to sign the what do you got, Joe?


Dr. Joe Sanfelippo:     The Future Ready pledge, man. Get on it.


Tom Murray:              Future Ready pledge. We encourage our school leaders watching today to join us at one of this year’s Institutes as well. Joe will be at some. I believe, Joe, you’re keynoting one of them as well? It’s Future Sacramento?


Dr. Joe Sanfelippo:     Sacramento, man.


Tom Murray:              Yeah.


Dr. Joe Sanfelippo:     Yeah, Sacramento.


Tom Murray:              And free for attendees as well. And so I also want to encourage our viewers to get involved with our new and growing strands from district leaders to IT to principals to librarians to instructional coaches. We have vastly expanded our reach of Future Ready schools and encourage you to check that out. Check out our Facebook groups for each one of those as well. And I do want to thank one of my best friends, Joe Sanfelippo, as well as you, all of our viewers, for joining us for this Future Ready webinar today. Don’t forget to connect with us here at Future Ready on Twitter at Future Ready. With Joe at #gocrickets.


Dr. Joe Sanfelippo:     [Laughs]


Tom Murray:              And on Facebook at If you did miss any of today’s conversation, it’s going to be archived at soon after this webinar. On that page you can also see a list of upcoming webinars. You’ll also find the Alliance’s Google hangouts on that YouTube channel as well. Thank you and for those of you that are taking a part in our Action Academy Badging Platform, the password for today’s webinar is leadership. Thank you again for joining us at Future Ready. Have a fabulous day. Thank you again to Joe Sanfelippo and we’ll see you next time.


Dr. Joe Sanfelippo:     Bye, everybody.


[End of Audio]

Categories: Future Ready

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