Brad Hurst is extremely well suited to positively influence today’s school environment, with all of its inherent opportunities and challenges. His calm and measured demeanor, mental discipline, and timely work with professional learning communities and cognitive coaching will enable him to contribute in a significant way to any educational setting. If I were recruiting for any position for which Brad was applying, I would hire him without hesitation."
~Dr. Randal Peters, Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at Drake University
Over the course of my career, I have been fortunate to be able to participate in a wide variety of leadership and learning experiences that have shaped me into the leader I have become today. In my opinion, what matters a great deal more than years of experience a person has accumulated are the experiences that have happened in those years.
I believe you'd be hard-pressed to identify someone who has been more passionate about education, advocacy, writing, reflection, and continual growth as I have been over my last 12 years as a teacher. You can look over my resume to identify the specific experiences I have been involved in; however, I do not believe they reveal the complete story about me. Some qualities that perhaps could be overlooked are my passion and work ethic.
Fairly consistently over the course of my career, I have been one of the first, often the first people to arrive to work at my building. Often, I am also one of the last ones to leave and frequently the one of the few people in on the weekend. I say this not because I believe I am better than anyone else, but to illustrate how passionate I am about what I do. My passion wakes me up early in the morning without an alarm clock. I am constantly driven to improve and better my craft, find new ways to reach my students, and do every thing I can to ensure my students are better off for having had me as a teacher. I am always tinkering around the margins to discover new ways to connect with my students.
I am also constantly seeking the advice and wisdom of other adults, frequently inviting people into my room to help and provide feedback. When possible, I also have tried to visit the classrooms of other teachers; adopting strategies they are utilizing to get better. I have served on countless committees, organizations, teams, and worked with many adults within my buildings, across my districts, all over the state, and around the country. Everywhere I go, I seek out others, try to build relationships with those around me, and constantly seek to learn, grow, and get better.
As educational leaders, we must have the self-discipline to see the whole picture, identifying interrelationships rather than things, seeing patterns and seeking out root causes rather than static snapshots. Most problems that emerge in schools are systems-problems, not people problems. If we do not invest the time to examine the entire system, our easy solutions will lead right back to the same problems. We must avoid the temptation to enact familiar solutions to repeating problems. Instead we must constantly seek to bring the work of all the adults we serve into alignment. Everyone in our system must be keenly aware of our aim and how all our work connects to and supports this aim. As leaders, we have the responsibility to ensure continual alignment and clarity about our work.
My philosophy of leadership has evolved over time. In its current iteration, I can state it very simply: First Who, Then Why, Then How, and Then What.
No significant learning happens without a significant relationship. What will our students remember from their time in our system? For most people, it is people, not course-specific content, that are most remembered and appreciated. We admire our former teachers and coaches that truly cared about and sought to learn more about us. We also remember the teachers that didn't. Marzano said "If a teacher has a good relationship with their students, then their students will more readily engage in the learning happening in the classroom.
As administrators, our people are our teachers. We must proactively seek out opportunities to build relationships with them, as well as our students, keeping mindful of the fact that every conversation provides an opportunity to build or damage a relationship. As an administrator, I am also likely to spend a significant part of my day on behavior management.
As I see it, behavior management is largely about building and cultivating relationships. The focus should not merely be on discipline and consequences, as the word discipline literally means, "to teach." Students should not see me only when they are in trouble. I will make it a priority to seek out students that may present behavior management problems down the road and take an interest in their lives in positive settings to prevent or minimize behavior problems down the road.
When discipline is called for, I will remember that it is not my role to be an evaluator or judge, but rather an investigator, seeking first to understand the root causes that led to the behavior manifestation. It's important to get the student's story first and then to offer support by asking how I can help them. Throughout this process, I will need to make every effort to ensure the student's dignity is still intact after the interaction, giving consequences for the behavior, not the student.
In his book "Start With Why", Simon Sinek said that people don't buy why what you do, they buy why you do it. They buy why you do it. My why is to create a well-informed, skilled, and collaborative citizenry, capable of creating collective solutions to diverse, multifaceted problems and functioning appropriately in a rapidly evolving global society.
Sinek states that people always respond to the environments they are in, making a compelling argument about how we are able to achieve remarkable success when working in groups and lists several benefits that lie within the structure of working with people we trust. Not all groups are created equally or function at the same levels, but one clear and underlying theme to his message was that when we feel safe amongst our own, our collective efforts are multiplied.
This parallels messaging form Liz Wiseman’s "Multiplier Effect." In this book, Wiseman makes the argument that there are 2 types of leaders: Diminishers and Multipliers. Diminishers are hesitant to utilize the talents, ideas, and expertise of the people working around them for fear it might dim the aura of their self-perceived greatness. Contrarily, the most effective leaders, The Multipliers, leverage the intelligence, skills, and ideas of the people around them to create solutions. Multipliers understand that more voices shape better ideas. Multipliers lead from behind to build a collective leadership capacity and organizational flexibility that can overcome difficult challenges through working together toward a common goal or purpose.
Sinek echoes this philosophy when he states, “The only variable that matters are the conditions inside the organization. Leaders need to get the environment right in their own organization.” In essence, Sinek is saying that leaders should pay more attention to creating the right culture for learning, leadership, and sustained greatness than they do in creating “abstract and amorphous vision statements.”
Creating the right environment creates feelings of trust and safety among members of the group, causing them to rise to their potential, take necessary risks and adapt to become greater. Furthermore, Sinek argues that the most effective leaders understand that the cost of leadership is self-interest. Members of the group accept that leaders deserve certain benefits for being leaders, but leaders must also embrace the expectations that are placed on the leader from the group they serve. Leaders must protect the group from danger. Great leaders never sacrifice the group to take care of their interests. Great leaders sacrifice their own self-interests to take care of the people.
Leaders must also understand that titles do not dictate the quality of their leadership. Humans are complex animals, especially within group setting and dynamics. Sinek suggests a basic truth that exists among groups with leaders: “We would rather align ourselves with an average performer that we can trust that a top performer that we can’t trust.” Trust, as it turns out, is a critical factor to effective leadership. Without trust, leaders aren’t really leaders in the sense of being the most effective leaders they can be.
Leadership isn’t about barking out commands to subordinates. In my opinion, effective leadership largely is about facilitating a process to build positive relationships and leveraging the talents, ideas, and passions of the people around you to build a structure and organization that is flexible, resilient, innovative, and sustainable. Leadership is also about mindset. Great leaders have a growth mindset, understanding that learning is a complicated, messy process.
Great leaders also embrace the concept of “failing forward” as a way to transition from being “good” to sustaining “greatness.” I believe Sinek would agree with this, as he talks about how leaders need to look after the people around them. He says: “Leadership is a choice; a daily practice or putting other peoples lives before your own interests. When you spend a few minutes to make a new pot of coffee when no one is watching, that’s an act of leadership. You are sacrificing your time and energy to take care of those around you.”
How you do anything is how you do everything. I've been a high school teacher for the last 12 years. High Schools often pride themselves on ensuring their students are college-ready. In the minds of many, this means establishing rigorous standards and benchmarks and exposing students to content that will prepare students for success beyond high school. These are important experiences; however, perhaps even more important than learning content is building skills. Learning how to think is much more learning what to think. Students need to become flexible thinkers, embracing challenges and the role of failure in learning. Our pedagogical approaches must ensure that our students become comfortable with being uncomfortable, capable problem solvers, critical thinkers, collaborators, communicators, creators, innovators, and producers of new learning.
Clearly their experiences in our system must ensure that students are able to master core academic content and be able to transfer this knowledge to other situations. Knowing what is important. We want our students to be able to carry on meaningful conversations without stopping to "Google" everything they will say next. My only wish in education is that we didn't start with what as often as we do. I believe the who, why, and how must be addressed before we tackle the what.
Mr. Hurst’s pedagogy, thoughtfulness, and hard work alone make him one of the better teachers I have ever had the pleasure of working with, but it is his leadership that sets him apart. Brad’s guidance was evident in almost every aspect of my day. Brad headed our Professional Learning Community, managed our Science Department of eleven teachers, was a vital part of our Instructional Leadership Team for two years, and was a first class mentor to new teachers. Brad has been an integral mover in my own growth as a teacher through innumerable coaching conversations, aiding with curriculum development, and truly beneficial observations. Brad leads from the front, does not dictate, is respected by his peers, and is someone I admire as a colleague."
Brad exemplifies what it means to be passionate about student growth, his professional growth, as well as the professional growth others. When entering Brad’s classroom, students immediately feel safe to learn, explore, questions, and discover their strengths. While he is vastly knowledgeable in his subject matter, Brad continually searches for the best ways to motivate students, extend their learning, and provide opportunities to further explore the content. His thorough and consistent instructional design purposefully moves students through instructional frameworks empowering them to take the reigns of their learning, preparing them for the next step. Everything Brad does in his classroom is done with thought, and positive intent for all students and I have no doubt that intentionality would readily transfer to the work of an administrator. "