A New Take on Professional Development

As a school leader, the constant demand for decisions, answers, and your time leaves you feeling like you live in a pinball machine. Mastermind groups offer a solution through the ABCs of PD: authenticity, belonging, and challenge.

Topics: Principal Leadership

Isolation is a choice, and it’s limiting your impact as a school leader. The job is already tough enough, and it gets much harder when you go it alone. The constant demand for decisions, answers, and your time leaves you feeling like you live in a pinball machine, as you also work to set the tone and conditions for excellence within your school.

At Better Leaders Better Schools, we have a motto: “Everyone wins when a leader gets better. Everyone wins when you get better.” The inverse is also true: If you’re not developing your skills, not only are you stagnant, but your entire community is not growing either.

In 2020, NAESP teamed up with the Learning Policy Institute to explore the professional development (PD) experienced by school leaders. The results were nothing short of shocking. Of the 407 principals surveyed, they found:

  • 32 percent spent time sharing leadership practices with peers three or more times in the past two years;
  • 23 percent had access to a mentor or coach in the past two years (and only ten percent of principals who served in high-poverty schools); and
  • 56 percent participated in a professional learning community (PLC) three or more times in the past two years.

Imagine if your doctor or dentist wasn’t regularly sharpening their skill set. Would you trust them with your health? So why should families trust you with their children?

Okay, that’s the bad news. But there’s good news, too: You can do something about it, and here are three ways to get started.

  1. I will show you how in a Nov. 3 webinar, “The ABCs of Powerful Professional Development: Improve Your Culture, Lead with More Impact, and Create the School of Your Dreams.”
  2. You also can learn how to take ownership of your leadership development in my latest book, Mastermind: Unlocking Talent Within Every School Leader, which is changing the landscape of how heroic leaders, just like you, experience PD.
  3. NAESP just launched NAESP Mastermind for school leaders. It’s peer-to-peer mentoring group offering a combination of brainstorming, education, peer accountability, and support in a group setting to sharpen educational leadership and personal skills.

What’s a Mastermind?

The mastermind group is an excellent PD experience because of what I call the ABCs of powerful professional development. The ABCs are made up of three components: authenticity, belonging, and challenge.

  • Authenticity is created by fostering psychological safety, teaching self-awareness, and being values driven.
  • Belonging is designed through authoring a shared purpose, championing inclusive environments, and establishing trust.
  • Challenge focuses on leadership mindset, having a bias for taking action, and creating a powerful community.

A mastermind is different from traditional professional development experiences in 10 important ways.

  1. Masterminds meet often. This structure is the antithesis of one-and-done PD. Masterminds at Better Leaders Better Schools meet weekly. I am training NAESP leaders to facilitate masterminds and their experience will meet every other week.
  2. Masterminds are personalized. This is not “done-to-you” or “done-for-you” PD. Masterminds are a “done-with-you” experience. They are organic and organized from a bottom-up structure.
  3. Masterminds share resources freely. One of my pet peeves in education is the unhelpful spirit of competition. Even within the same district, resources and “best practices” are hoarded so one school can be the best. We take a different approach in the mastermind. We play an “infinite game.” You do not have to lose for me to win.
  4. Masterminds have a bias for action. Goal-setting expert John Doerr said, “Ideas are easy. Execution is everything.” And he is right. People like to talk a lot. We all know someone who claims to have invented Uber or Netflix. Truth is, they didn’t. Within the mastermind, we hold leaders accountable to do what they say they want to do.
  5. Masterminds teach leadership. Universities teach the theory of leadership, masterminds teach it explicitly. Building upon our bias for action, we workshop ideas and solve real-world challenges in real time. Leadership is an art and with enough practice and reflection, you can get extremely good at it.
  6. Masterminds are GLOCAL. Our community connects leaders from around the world. It is a powerful experience to see and hear how school is done outside of the U.S. We share the best ideas, resources, and tools and apply them to our local settings. That is the essence of being GLOCAL. We have a global perspective with a local application. The best of both worlds.
  7. Masterminds care about YOU. You know where to go for PLCs; social-emotional learning; diversity, equity, and inclusion; and so on. The mastermind is a structure obsessed with school leaders as people. It took me six years to realize how valuable it is that we focus on leaders as individuals. We can talk “shop” regarding the business of school. But at the end of the day, we care about you the individual, next we care about you and your family, then we care about you as a school leader. Gene, a principal in New Jersey, once told me: “I joined the mastermind to become a better leader. I didn’t realize I would also become a better father and husband.”
  8. Masterminds value psychological safety. You can’t grow in a space where it’s difficult to ask for help, admit mistakes, and demonstrate vulnerability. In 2015, Google released the results of a two-year study which consisted of 200-plus interviews with employees and looked at more than 250 attributes of more than 180 Google teams. What made the best teams the best? It wasn’t more hours, more resources, nor “superstar” talent. Psychological safety is the starting place for success.
  9. Masterminds leverage a hot seat. This is the true “secret sauce” of the mastermind. Using our hot seat protocol, leaders briefly share the context of a current challenge they face. Then they leverage the collective wisdom and experience of the group to solve their challenge in real time.
  10. Masterminds grow exponentially in value. I have had the privilege to serve some of our members since 2015. Imagine the kind of relationships, trust, vulnerability, and depth of conversation that is reached after meeting weekly with the same group of leaders for six years! That kind of relationship is worth its weight in gold. Each time you meet in a mastermind, it gets better and better because of the time invested and relationships developed.

Want to join NAESP Mastermind groups? Check out the full program overview and learn how you can find success—however you personally define it—as a school leader.

Daniel Bauer is an unorthodox Ruckus Maker who has mentored thousands of school leaders through his Better Leaders Better Schools blog, books, podcasts, and powerful coaching experiences.