Evan Robb is Principal of Johnson-Williams Middle School in Berryville, Virginia, is a recipient of the Horace Mann Educator of the Year Award and served on the N.C.T.E. National Commission for Reading. He is an author of the Principal’s Leadership Sourcebook and a new book The Ten Minute Principal. He has his own podcast, The Robb Review Podcast, and a blog, The Robb Review Blog, with his mother, Laura Robb. In addition, Evan shares conversations with educators on DisruptED TV.
I have been following Evan on Twitter and been listening to his podcast for some time. Then I found out that Evan has been named one of the top 25 educational leaders to follow on Twitter and that he was one of the hosts on DisruptEd TV. I decided it was way past time to have a conversation with him on my podcast so we did. I loved our conversation and hope you enjoy it also. Below are excerpts from the podcast along with some resources and links.
About you and who inspired you
When anyone finds any success in their life, it usually means they have really great people behind them to help them get to that place. I did not start on a path to be an educator. In fact, I tried to avoid that when I was younger since both my parents were educators. But through fate and interesting interventions, I ended up choosing a path in education and have been thrilled about that choice. I’m in my 28th year now as an educator and hope to do many more. One of the reasons that I ultimately decided on the pathway of education was my mother, Laura Robb, who remains a career educator and who has been a consistent source of inspiration for me.
This inspiration is in terms of leadership, my commitment to children, and teaching and learning. Laura has written over 30 books and does a lot more speaking than I do, but I am fortunate that my mother lives around the corner from me. We do podcasts together at my house on a Sunday afternoon where we love to share our thoughts about education.
About you as a student
My years as a student were not always positive, but they ultimately shaped the person who I am today. One of the experiences I talk about in our podcast is when I was in middle school, I never read a book. I didn’t have to because it was a very traditional school and our teachers would read out loud to us. I wasn’t required to do independent reading, and, now as I look back, it is not what I recommend for anyone to follow.
The other thing that I’ll share is that I was a champion of extra credit when I was in middle school. I would take some tissues or paper towels from our house and bring them to class to make some extra points. It was the only way I could get a good grade. My mother would always wonder why she had to buy more paper towels and tissues. As I got older, I confessed to her what I did. I am not a big fan of extra credit and there is a lot of research that backs this up. But it was very much part of my class when I was a youngster in middle school. Paper towels became my math grade.
Background and role as an educator
I was born in Winchester, VA and went to school there and have been able to work in the general area. I’m lucky that my wife and I have a house right around the block where my mother lives and been able to have a career close to where I was born. I have been a principal since 1999.
I’ve been at Johnson-Williams Middle School where I am now since 2004. The usual stay for a principal at the same school is rather short, certainly not this long. I actually started my teaching career at this school and I’ve been here ever since. I am really into finding the happiness where I am, not thinking the grass is greener somewhere else. Day in and day out, there is no job that I have ever loved more than being a school principal. I have fabulous kids with a wonderful staff and a great community. I always love coming to work. Our school vision:
Together, as a community, we guide and nurture learning for all
by encouraging, inspiring, and empowering.
Encourage, Inspire, Empower
Intentional Leadership (Principal’s Leadership Sourcebook)
Intentional Leadership means that it is important to come in every day with a philosophical base for the decisions that you make. If that doesn’t occur, then it may seem a leader is just reacting to things around them. I have found that having a good understanding of who I am as a person, what I believe in, and what I want to make a priority helps bring some intentionality to what I do. For example, if I’m intentional about wanting our staff to bring more creativity into our school, be safe and more innovative, I need to communicate that and make sure my actions support that. Intentionality is important because the decisions we make need to be aligned to our philosophical core beliefs; they are in the best interests of children. Sometimes there can be some challenges in a school where we could make a decision that is better for staff but may not be in the best interest of children. Those are part of the daily tests of building-level leadership.
“Leaders who communicate and cultivate a
learning organization will be best positioned for change.”
A video conversation with Rick Wormeli
Positivity and leadership- Communicating your “why”
All of it comes down to the choices I make. I can make choices to influence people in a positive way or not. What I have found is that people that allow positivity to be part of their lives tend to draw to the people that are like-minded. I also find the opposite. People who are negative tend to draw that kind of person to them. So that comes down to a choice that is embedded into what people believe in, your personal “WHY”, and what your motivation is as a human being.
The work of Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle which talks about what you do, how you do it, and WHY. It is a very interesting premise that he makes. The most successful businesses are always going to be focusing on their WHY instead of their what and how. The WHY is what is going to draw people to an organization. Why do people love to buy Apple computers or iPhones? What makes people have that attachment to a company like Apple? It’s because they buy into the WHY. I’m interested in how you bring that thinking into a school. That has to do not only with the leader’s role and communicating what they believe to the staff but also to the community at large so people want to send their children to their school. I am fortunate to have amazing people who are aligned with the school vision and what’s best for kids.
“Give hope and have faith in students, choose to make a difference, and be kind. Take risks. Great teachers never play it safe all the time. Believe in students and remember the ones who stress you out are probably the students who need you the most.”
Preparing the Next Generation of Our Workforce: A Middle School Principal’s Passion to Activate, Inspire, and Lead Youngsters into Their Careers
Why Mindset and Efficacy Matters
The mindset that people choose has a significant impact not only on the learning that occurs in the classroom but also how people grow as professionals and as human beings. I think that a fixed mindset is one of the worse things that plague education and probably many other industries. In its simplest terms, a belief that you can either do something or you can’t. You either have an innate talent to do something or you cannot. I’ll give you an example. You have some children that struggle in mathematics. A teacher may reach out to a parent and want to have a conversation about their child’s challenges with learning mathematics.
Disrupting Routines in Education- A 30-minute video interview
A fixed mindset response may be that their child is bad at math because they were bad at math and say that everyone in their family was bad at math. That kind of thinking within a family can make the child believe that they will never be good at math. A growth mindset is a belief with time, opportunities, effort, the proper supports, and interventions, that you can be good at math or be good at anything. So that has a profound impact on how a teacher may view students, how a principal may view teachers and the entire culture within a building. The two qualities important for teachers are the mindset and their personal efficacy that go hand-in-hand. Personal efficacy is believing in the capacity of the children they are working with and their impact on learning. Mindset can be one’s understand that kids will need time, opportunity, and effort in order to learn.
There is more on the podcast so make sure you listen to the conversation with Evan to the end. Look for two new books by Evan “10 Minute Principal” and a book with his mom, Laura Robb, “Making Star Pudding” to be published by Dave Burgess Publishing.
Evan Robb is Principal of Johnson-Williams Middle School in Berryville, Virginia. Prior to this, he was an English teacher, department chair, assistant principal and a junior high school principal. Evan has been recognized as a recipient of the Horace Mann Educator of the Year Award. In addition, Evan was selected to serve as a commission member on the N.C.T.E. National Commission for Reading. Evan leads sustainable change initiatives that transform school culture, increase achievement and prepares students for their future.
In addition to being a full-time principal, Evan speaks across the country on leadership, how to improve literacy in schools, the digital principal, social media, how to involve all staff in goal setting, how to organize effective work teams, and the impact of culture and positivity on work. His first book titled, “The Principal’s Leadership Sourcebook, Practices, Tools, and Strategies for Building a Thriving School Community” was published by Scholastic in the fall of 2007. Presently, Evan is writing a book for Corwin titled, The Ten-Minute Principal. Please explore The Robb Review Blog and Scholastic EDU for more of his thoughts on teaching, learning, and leadership. The Robb Review Blog is focused on looking ahead, not looking back. Evan also has a podcast, The Robb Review Podcast. Evan has been named as one of the top 25 educational leaders to follow on Twitter.
“Don’t let fear prevent you from dropping what is holding you back. Grab some of the fearlessness our students have, take some chances, be intrepid. Take risks and make a difference in the lives of those you teach and in the lives of everyone you know.”
quote by Evan Robb