Named the 2018 College Educator of the Year and the 2014 Michigan Principal of the Year, Dave Schmittou is currently the Executive Director for Curriculum and Instruction in Michigan, a former elementary school principal, former middle school principal, assistant principal, coach, teacher, and college professor. Dave is a proud father of four children, resident beach bum/educational pirate, and author of “It’s Like Riding a Bike- How to Make Learning Last a Lifetime” and “Bold Humility: Growing Students by Empowering Teachers.” Dave speaks, writes, runs, and barely sleeps, but he is living his best life while he can. Follow Dave on Twitter @daveschmittou and visit his website at schmittou.net.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Welcome to the Deeper Learning With WeVideo Podcast. This is Nathan here, and I’m really excited to have my friend Dave Schmittou on today. Dave is a 2014 Michigan Principal of the Year, also a 2018 College Educator of the Year. He is currently the Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction at a district in Michigan. He’s also been an elementary school principal, a middle school principal, and AP, a coach, a teacher, a college professor. And he’s the author of the book, Bold Humility: Growing Students By Empowering Teachers. Dave, how in the world did you have a chance to do all those things?
Dave Schmittou: You know, it’s just stuff I fit in, in between having four kids and running marathons. Honestly, you find your passions, you run with them, otherwise you drive yourself crazy. So all the stuff I do, it fills my passion bucket.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Well, you definitely need to find some time to hopefully sleep, or eat, or something, because I don’t know how you have time to do all of that, especially with four kids. It’s quite impressive.
Dave Schmittou: Yeah. There are many naps taking place on the couch. That’s for sure.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah. Well, hey, I wanted to start off by hearing more about your book, Bold Humility. Can you share a little bit more about why you wrote the book and what the book’s about?
Dave Schmittou: Yeah, absolutely. My leadership journey has been quite the journey, quite the evolution, de-evolution, and evolution again. The book, it’s kind of autobiographical, but not necessarily. It’s not all about me. It’s about some of the tricks that I’ve learned along the way, and a lot of the missteps that I’ve made along the way.
Dave Schmittou: I entered the world of administration about 13, 14 years ago. And when I first started off, I was that guy who thought if everybody just does things the way that I did them, they’re going to be just fine. And I went out trying to make a bunch of mini mes, trying to make a bunch of itty bitty Schmittous, and thinking if people just followed my path, they would be just fine.
Dave Schmittou: Quickly realized that that’s not the way to secure followers, or to grow people, let alone grow students. Took me about a decade of misstep, after misstep, after misstep to finally realize, man, I was just doing this all wrong. And the way to really grow people and lead people is to do it with humility, push the arrogance to the side, get rid of the facade, get rid of the ego, get rid of feeling like you have to have all the answers, and just start leaning into people and finding their strengths.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: All I got from that was itty bitty Schmittous.
Dave Schmittou: All good, man.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: No, that’s fantastic. And being in the world we are today, with this podcast being recorded in the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of a time where schools are navigating uncharted waters with remote learning, I think there’s no better time than to lead with this bold humility that you talk about. So I’d love to hear more about, obviously you are in a leadership currently, a leadership position, where you are figuring out what is this going to look like in your school? So I’d love to hear more about how you planned for this so quickly. Because we’ve been getting ready to implement ed tech for years and years now, and now we’re just thrust into it.
Dave Schmittou: Yeah. It’s interesting. I think a lot of people are scrambling right now, trying to figure out what in the world they’re going to do. I don’t necessarily feel that way, to be honest with you. And I know it sounds bizarre, especially in my role. My role, I support all the building principals, and all the instruction, and all the teachers in my district. But I really don’t feel like we’re scrambling. As a matter of fact, we’ve got a lot of districts around us coming to us, asking what it is that we’re doing. I feel like right now, the reason we’re not scrambling is because we’ve just doubled down. And I keep telling people, right now our focus needs to be on the focus. That’s it.
Dave Schmittou: I’m hoping that next September, October does not look like prior Septembers and October. Not necessarily because we’re going to be implementing more tech tools, and implementing more virtual instruction, but because if nothing else right now, our teachers are leaning into each other, collaborating, and figuring out what are the most essential elements that they need to make sure their students have. And all the tools and all the tricks that we’re learning right now need to center around that focus. Whatever it is that we’re saying is essential, we need to find the tools to support that, as opposed to just going out and trying to find any tool, any device, any piece of technology that we can. We need to make sure that it’s focused on our focus.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah, it really resonates, because we always have, as leaders, have empowered our teachers to collaborate more. And many times it means setting up these PLC meetings, or these grade level meetings where teachers are collaborating. And it almost feels like sometimes that we had this forced structure that we were basically saying, “Okay, you better collaborate. You better create these collaborative unit plans.” And not that you said that or I said that, but for many teachers it feels as if district leaders are kind of forcing them into these collaborative moments. But I almost feel like it was like we had been preparing all along for this moment where we have to lean on each other.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Like we honestly can’t just go into our home offices now, or our kitchens, or living rooms, or bedrooms, or wherever we’re doing these virtual distanced remote learning opportunities. We can’t do this alone. And so it’s interesting, I feel, that we had been preparing all this time for this moment where we absolutely have to collaborate.
Dave Schmittou: No, absolutely. I mean, it’s spot on. I will say that I’m in a position where, people in my role are those people that have been pushing for the pacing guides, and the scripts, and the frameworks, and all of those things that we have put out there with the intent of, I’m going to use word that I hate, all in the name of fidelity, trying to keep things standardized.
Dave Schmittou: And I’m a huge proponent of standardization, but not necessarily the way that we have taken the word fidelity and completely perverted its meaning. I look at pacing guides and frameworks that are out there right now and they’re so focused on the how. What page number teachers are supposed to be on, what activities the teachers are supposed to do, as opposed to the what to behind it, the driving curriculum standards, the essence of the instruction. And once we focus on the essence of what it is we want to accomplish, then we can go find those tools that we need to implement it.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Absolutely. Fidelity is another word, a buzzword, and I used to use that term a lot, and still do. Because I see the intentionality behind it. But like you said, it’s become a word that basically means, fit this mold. It also resembles another word that I hate to say, but covering all the standards, or we’re going to cover all this. And so, again, it creates this picture of these tasks that have to be checked off. And by the end of the year, the students have to be ready to take a test. And so now with grades, and testing, and all of that not a factor anymore, it goes back to what you had said originally, whenever teachers come back in September and October, we have a whole brand new frontier now where we actually did school without having to take a test, or without having to record grades. So we have an opportunity to continue some of the progress that we’ve made, which is really phenomenal when you think about it.
Dave Schmittou: Oh, absolutely. And it goes back to one of the statements I said early on of, I feel like we’ve been kind of preparing for this for the last four or five years.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah.
Dave Schmittou: So some of my side hustle work, I talk about going grade less. I talk about the power of feedback. I talk about standards-based assessment, and standards based feedback, and standards based learning.
Dave Schmittou: I feel like, right now it’s that perfect storm. I’m not a guy, honestly, who is opposed to testing. I’m opposed to state mandated testing that happens because, in our classrooms, in our schools, we don’t know how to test, assess, and then realign instruction. So then we have the suits come in and try to do it for us. And it results in labels, and edicts, and mandates. That’s what I’m opposed to. Right now, we’re at this situation where, we’re providing feedback to students. And we’re going to be using that feedback to align, and adjust, and then to pay it forward next year so that the next year’s teachers can be prepared and know where our students come from. That’s what we’ve been asking for decades now. We got it.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yes.
Dave Schmittou: Now roll with it.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Right? I’m right there with you. And I think the value of a feedback is so powerful now. And again, going along with this theme of preparing all along the way for this moment. And now that grades, and state mandated testing, and standardized testing is not a factor anymore, now we have the opportunity to give this specific and meaningful feedback. And that’s what’s going to really help push students to a new level. And so being able to say, “Hey, we did it in this remote environment. What is that going to look like when the school year begins when we’re back into the brick and mortar environment?”
Dave Schmittou: Yeah. It’s exactly it. We need to, again, I’ll say in September, October next year, if we don’t focus on that focus, which is, yeah, the fist bumps, the high-fives, the hugs for the kids, the relationships, so that we realize that we never know when those moments are going to come to an end. And then we plow through and say, “What are those most essential elements?” Because again, the days that I have in my calendar aren’t guaranteed. We know that now. What do I need to focus on, just in case it all gets ripped away?
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah, absolutely. Now you and I share a very similar belief, and I was actually thinking this in this way, and then you had posted something on social media about it. And I thought it was a really powerful, about how we view synchronous learning and asynchronous learning. And I completely agree, in that really there are two modes, there are two purposes, for a lot of the tools that our teachers are using right now. We have tools for synchronous learning, the real time, virtual live office hours sessions that you’re seeing teachers either do the Zoom meetings, or Google Meets, or whatever platform they’re using. And then you have the asynchronous opportunities. And I find that the… And you had said something along the lines of, and I completely agree, that the synchronous opportunities should be used for connection, and the asynchronous, those are the opportunities for the deeper learning.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: And that really resonates, because again, with video creation, and with We Video, we are a big believer in creativity, and exploration, and play. And that can’t happen in a session where you’re doing a live session, because that you have to give them the time and space for that to happen. But it’s so important to have both. So I’d love to hear more about your thoughts with asynchronous versus synchronous opportunities.
Dave Schmittou: Yeah. You nailed it. And I’ll give a couple of metaphorical examples, if it’s okay.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah.
Dave Schmittou: I’m going to probably disenfranchise here, half of the audience, but I listen to country music. Okay? There we go, so feel free to tune out if you’re not- [crosstalk 00:11:18]
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yep, there you go, a new 80s thread. Yep.
Dave Schmittou: But the reason I listen to country music is because about 25 years ago, I went to a concert, and saw Tim McGraw in concert. And I sat in the front row, and he gave me one of his guitar picks. In that moment, in real time, we made eye contact. He gave me his guitar pick. And for some reason I felt like, “Oh my gosh, we’re connected.” And I have been a Tim McGraw fan ever since, because we had that connection that lasted about 10 seconds, in real time. But since then, for 25 years, I’ve downloaded all of his music. I’ve got it all over my phone. And every time I go for a run, I listen to his music, and it causes me to think, on my own time, in those asynchronous moments. But it was that connection that we had, for 10 seconds, that allowed that asynchronous relationship to really grow.
Dave Schmittou: I think about professional development, I get the opportunity, I’m blessed to be able to go to schools and conferences and speak to a lot of people, but I know that the magic doesn’t happen in those 60 minute, 90 minute sessions, or a keynote. The magic happens with that spark that’s illuminated when I’m able to shake hands with people, tell them that they matter, and then send them on their way with something to think about in their own time. And the same thing can be, and should be, happening right now. And it should be happening truly all the time in our schools. But we’ve gotten ourselves into this trap of thinking, learning only happens when a person is with me.
Dave Schmittou: Well, I disagree. Truly, I think the teacher is the most important person in education. The teachers matter more, because that relationship, that connection that they can facilitate. But learning does not just happen when a student and a teacher are making those connections. That’s when connections happens, that’s when relationships happen, but the learning happens well beyond that timeframe.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Absolutely. That’s so powerful, Dave. And then the way that you… And I appreciate the personal metaphor, because that really drives the point home. And not only is there a time and place for the connection in the learning portion, but just the strong connection between the relationship of the social emotional wellbeing, that connection, the relationships between the teacher and student, and that of learning. And so it almost, with remote learning, we have to be very purposeful in how we are asking students to engage with us. And I’m seeing, and I’m sure you are too, there are still these packets that are going home. And so there’s this mentality that doing is equals being, or doing equals learning, or being busy equals learning. And so I think that’s where, again, we have to really be purposeful and mindful about how we are communicating with students during this time, and how we’re framing learning during this time.
Dave Schmittou: I agree with you. And I want to underline this by saying, I’m a firm believer that we have to assume the good and doubt the bad. I assume that even the people that are out there sending home packets and the worksheets are doing it from the purest place where they’re thinking, I’m trying to make sure things are equitable. I understand that not everybody has technology. And I want to make sure that they’re learning. But I think they’re also discounting their own role in this whole thing. They’re thinking, again, like you said, the worksheet, and completing problems is going to drive the progress. But that’s not the case.
Dave Schmittou: I could go outside in my driveway and shoot baskets all day long, but eventually I’m going to need a coach to come in and correct my form, and give me some correction, and give me some drills to run. And it’s going to be a coach that I have to believe in, somebody that I’m going to have to think really has my back, and somebody that’s there to support me with that a win-win mentality.
Dave Schmittou: And our teachers need to embrace their role in all this, and remember why they got into this profession. And it’s possible to utilize that why, to utilize that gift of changing destinies, even in a time like this, especially in a time like this.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Exactly. Especially in a time like this. And as an side, your metaphors are spot on today. So I’m going to have fun. I’ve got some notes over here. These metaphors are fantastic. There’s no wonder you’re such a powerful speaker and author. You definitely drive the point home with your symbolism and your allegory. So thank you for that.
Dave Schmittou: I appreciate that.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: So I’m wondering, what is the next step here in planning? Because whenever we were plunged into this crisis, it was all about, here are the resources. And now there’s a plethora, there’s like an overabundance of remote learning resources. And I think now, it’s almost as if there’s this… There’s so much out there. There’s so much chaos and ambiguity of, okay, what works? And what route should I take? And so forth.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: And so now that there are all these resources out there, and now we understand, okay, I think most teachers are having some kind of live sessions with students. I think a lot of the Spring Breaks and things have happened. And so, now that the students are getting into the modality of this new remote learning, what do you think the next steps are in terms of remote learning?
Dave Schmittou: I think it’s about keeping it real and authentic all throughout the process. I know a lot of teachers right now are struggling at the onset of all of this, as they’re thinking about their Zoom meetings, or the Google Meet, or their Microsoft meetings with their students, and thinking, wow, I’ve only got my kids with me for 20 to 30 minutes a day in these realtime settings. What am I supposed to do? And a lot of people, like myself included, have said, at the beginning, just focus on those connections, just focus on allowing the students to talk to each other. They miss each other as well.
Dave Schmittou: But pretty soon, that novelty is going to wear off. And pretty soon, the students are going to start thinking, okay, am I seriously going to log in to a meeting where I’m just going to sit around and look like the Brady Bunch with 25 screens, and talk to people in this chaotic environment? That’s going to lose its luster. So again, going back to knowing the intentionality and the purpose behind all that we do, that is going to be essential. Connections are still going to matter. We still have to make sure that we’re focusing on those connections. But every single interaction we have with students, when we’re calling them to the table, bringing that structure back to their lives, we have to have a purpose and a relevance behind it.
Dave Schmittou: We’ve talked about relevance in schools for a long time. I’m going to tell you right now, it’s going to matter. When our students have the choice of sleeping in every single day, turning on The Price is Right every single day because they’re sitting at home.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Is that still on, by the way?
Dave Schmittou: Oh, it is. Trust me, I’ve got four kids at home and that’s how I’m teaching math right now.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Okay.
Dave Schmittou: But our students have a lot more choices right now as to whether or not they’re going to be there or not. Especially, for those people that think grades are motivation, and now we’re not grading. Students have choices. So we need to make sure that the experiences that we give them are relevant and powerful so that the students want to be there.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: And that’s the key. Really the mission of the brick and mortar classroom, all along was, we want our students to be in the driver’s seat. We want them to aspire to do these things. It’s not about, here are your expectations that you have to rise to, or this is the next task you have to do. But it’s always been about them wanting to aspire to grow and thrive and learn. And now that you don’t have the teacher in the room with them, it truly, we are completely handing over the reigns to them, and asking them to drive it. And of course, like you said, with the basketball analogy, they need a coach. They need someone there to help guide from the periphery. But the role of the teacher has changed tremendously.
Dave Schmittou: Absolutely. I’m a believer in what we do, they do. And you think about classroom teachers, they don’t want their administrator, their evaluator hanging out in their classroom every single day.
Dave Schmittou: They want somebody that’s going to trust them to get the job done, and can check in, and give them some support along the way, and help align things. If that’s what we expect as professionals, that’s what we need to provide to our students as well.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Absolutely, absolutely. Well, this podcast today has been a great connection piece. And going along the lines of your Tim McGraw example, now that we’ve had this conversation, I’m definitely hooked. And I’m excited about learning from you after this podcast, and to continue to reflect on some of the things you’ve shared today, and the things that you’ll continue to share about. How can our listeners stay in touch with you through social media?
Dave Schmittou: Yeah. I appreciate that. The easiest way is going to be to figure out how to spell my last name. Because if you can do that, you’ll find me anywhere. But it’s @daveschmittou on Instagram, and at Twitter, and Facebook. It’s schmittou.net on the website. So Schmittou is S-C-H-M-I-T-T-O-U. The Dave part’s easy. So Dave Schmittou, track me down.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Well, listener, as just a point of transparency, I did have to practice a few times before we went live today. So I feel like the itty bitty Schmittou is still kind of resonating.
Dave Schmittou: Thanks so much.
Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: So that’ll be my pneumonic device. Hey, thanks again, Dave, for coming on the show. I really appreciate your insight.
Dave Schmittou: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.