How to be a Connected Educator with Adam Welcome (Ep 45)

January 18, 2021 / By

Adam has worked in public education for fifteen years in a variety of roles and is currently an Elementary Principal. He’s also been a full time speaker and consultant traveling around the country working with school districts and meeting other amazing educators along the way. But most importantly, Adam’s wife and two children at home are what make life so exciting and adventurous. Follow Adam on Twitter @mradamwelcome and visit his website at https://www.mradamwelcome.com/.

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Transcript

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Welcome to the Deeper Learning with WeVideo Podcast. I am Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad. On today’s show we have Adam Welcome. Adam has worked in public education for 15 years in a variety of roles and is currently an elementary principal. He’s also been a full-time speaker and consultant traveling around the country, working with school districts and meeting other amazing educators along the way. Most importantly Adam’s wife and two children at home are what make life so exciting and adventurous. Had a great time chatting with Adam. We talked about a lot of education trends and issues. Most importantly, we talked about the importance of being a connected educator. I hope you enjoy the show.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Adam, I’m so excited to have you on the podcast. Thanks for being a part, my friend.

Adam Welcome: Well, thanks for having me, Nathan. I’m glad we could find some time.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah, absolutely. I have been a fan of yours for a while. I always appreciate the energy you bring to the education community. I don’t know how you find all the time, I feel like you’re either running marathons or you’re speaking and now you’re back into a school building. How do you find the time and how do you pass some of the energy and time over to me?

Adam Welcome: Yeah. There’s a chapter in one of my books, in the book of, Run Like a Pirate, which the disclaimer is that’s a book about running, but it’s not about running. One of the chapters is, it’s all about what I don’t do so I can do what I want to do. I think a lot of people and a lot of organizations, they do things because they just think they have to do them. And I kind of look at it from another angle of, there’s a lot of things that I don’t do because I just don’t get enjoyment or I don’t get return on the investment so I can go do what I want to do. Because as we all know, time is the commodity that people want more of that we just don’t have enough of. So I just really focus on the time. If it’s important, you’re going to find the time. We have time for what we make time for, basically.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah. I agree. Well, I would assume obviously that you… Talking about running, I think it translates into probably other aspects of your world. I’m sure it translates into the grit that you have to display while running long distances also translates into the grit that’s needed for your every day professional kind of realm. Because there’s some things I would assume, I am also a runner, nowhere near your caliber, but I do remember those training sessions where I didn’t want to run, but I did anyway. I had to channel this self-discipline because I valued kind of healthy lifestyle obviously, but I also wanted to become a more successful runner. Can you speak to kind of how you think about discipline and is there any translation there between running and your professional world?

Adam Welcome: Yeah. For me, Nathan, I don’t know where it comes from, but I’ve always been the person to do things that I may not like, but still do them because I know they’re good for me. Like I will drink a smoothie even if it tastes horrible because I know it’s good for me, because I know I’m playing the long game with it. I’m not playing the short game of like, “Oh, this tastes so bad,” or, “Oh, it’s cold out,” or, “It’s rainy.”

Adam Welcome: There are times when I don’t want to run and I’ll wake up at midnight and go run 10 miles, take a shower and go back to bed because I want to get past that in my brain. An example is my daughter is nine years old and she loves soccer and she trains and her coach has told her do boxes and do toe taps and do sole rolls and she can’t stand doing sole rolls. She’s like, “They’re annoying.” So I’ll tell her, “You should go do a 1000 sole rolls.” And she looks at me like I’m absolutely crazy, but I say, “Greta, you should do a 1000 because then you’re going to learn to like them because you don’t like them because you’re not good at them or you’re not comfortable.”

Adam Welcome: So there’s no growth in the comfort zone. So running at midnight or 4:00 in the morning in a 100° heat or at 0°, I think it’s going to make you actually more comfortable and stronger and build that grit when it’s the easy days. But when it’s really hard, getting up at midnight is going to feel like nothing because you’ve already been through that hard thing. And I hope that explanation makes sense. And I’m not a crazy person.

Adam Welcome: I’m not even that fast of a runner, but I just go do it because it feels good. And I like to sweat and I know it’s healthy and it’s good for my body. And I think probably first and foremost is my wife runs. So it’s something that we can do together. And it’s actually a nice way to spend time and it makes us have a stronger relationship. So really embrace the things that you don’t like to do because when you embrace them and you overcome that hurdle, I think you’re actually going to come out stronger and then make it a no factor with that thing that you don’t want to do.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah. That makes sense. I think grit has become kind of, Angela Duckworth wrote about it, it was very popular and we started incorporating grit into our professional development, kind of a jargon and vernacular and with how to instill grit indeed to students. And now I guess there’s kind of a pendulum shift and people are not enjoying the use of that word. I’m not sure where it comes from probably just because any kind of fad people want to try to resist or try to think of a different way of conceptualizing. But I like the premise of being able to understand the foundation that you have to create for yourself to set yourself up for success. I think about this kind of values action kind of continuum.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: So whatever my values are, there’s going to be a certain behavior action that’s going to get me to that value. And it goes back to what you said earlier with whatever you prioritize you’re going to make happen. And you said differently, but along those same lines. So I’m also thinking too about you just authored a book, Teachers Deserve It. And I’m wondering if you have some of the same kind of parallels in teaching. Are there these kind of habits of mind that you see teachers undertake so that they can create more meaningful learning for students?

Adam Welcome: Yeah. I think teaching has changed. It’s interesting. Before the show we were talking and we both used to live pretty close together. And the crazy thing about our relationship Nathan, is that we’ve never met in person. If you go to our DM exchanges on Twitter, they go back like years and years and years and you used to live in San Francisco and I’m still in the Bay area and we’ve never met. So that’s my plug for getting connected because Nathan, I feel like you’re a good friend of mine, but we’ve never met in person. And it’s just like we’re definitely kindred spirits on so many levels. And with the teaching standpoint, my dad taught for 35 years in public schools in West Contra Costa. And there’s been more change in education in the last, I would say 10 years than in his entire 35 year career because it’s the internet and it’s Chromebooks and it’s iPads and it’s WeVideo and it’s so many different tools that are making teaching and learning so much more available to everyone.

Adam Welcome: Yeah. I give teachers such kudos for stepping up the game and for changing their outlook on not being the person that has all the knowledge. But what I like to say is that the teacher is the facilitator of the learning experience. The teacher is there to teach and also to help kids learn how to learn. And that comes with some grit because for teachers, that’s a change. If you’ve been in the classroom for 15, 20, 25, 30 years, that’s different than when you went to get your credential 30, 40 years ago. And even for new teachers, it’s different. And I was talking to one of our teachers this morning, just about kids in some social, emotional learning activities in their tool belt and really just trying to connect everything.

Adam Welcome: Teaching and education is, I wouldn’t say so much a moving target, but it’s in flux. And for me that’s fun and exciting. And for a lot of people that’s challenging because change can be hard and having that grit and empowering other people and being a learner and realizing that teachers deserve to not be the only teacher in the classroom and empowering students to help facilitate learning and teaching of subjects is important. And I think that is one of the biggest areas of education that needs to be talked about and discussed and supported because if you’re a teacher and you’re trying to do it all, if you’re a principal and you’re trying to do it all, I think you’re wrong and you’re going to go farther and you’re going to go faster, and you’re going to have more fun when you include everyone, if that’s colleagues or if that’s students.

Adam Welcome: Case in point, I’ll talk about my daughter again, she’s in fourth grade and they’re fully virtual in California. And her teacher has been having her go do breakouts with second grade classes to read to them, or she’s doing science with some special education students in a breakout room and just there to help and facilitate, or bring the conversation along. Because first of all, that builds self-confidence and leadership in my daughter and the fourth graders. And that helps the other students. And it helps the teachers in the other classrooms go farther and deeper with the curriculum. So it’s really looking at the problem, finding a solution and realizing that you can’t be the only one trying to attack it and solve it because other people can do that and help you.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah. Adam, there’s so much goodness there I want to respond to, the major kind of theme that keeps resonating as you were talking was this connected educator and you’re so good at storytelling. You’re a fantastic speaker. I’ve heard you speak before. You’re a great storyteller in the way that you’re able to connect with people personally, and then make them feel valued by maybe sharing an experience that connects to them meaningfully. And I think it’s so important in education that we continue, especially as teachers, because we are accountable for our classroom and sometimes it feels daunting and there’s so many different things that we are responsible for. And it can seem like a very lonely place, but obviously as you just shared it, there are a couple of your stories that being connected to each other really helps in so many ways.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: It helps us become more innovative because we’re able to see each other’s perspectives and we think, oh yeah, well, they’ve tried this. I want to try this as well. And then your story about your daughter. I think that it’s so important that teachers are able to meaningfully connect with their students. I read an Edutopia, there is a research study done, and I just read about it. And they’re saying in the study, it showed that activating prior knowledge, so when students read in specifically it was social studies, but whenever they were very familiar with some kind of current event, they were much more connected to that passage or that text.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: And so I found it so interesting because we’ve been talking about activating prior knowledge forever now, and then there was a research finally done. And then I think when are we finally going to get to that place in school where we really make learning the most meaningful possible by kind of teaching with this foundational, like conceptual, starting with civics and social studies and current events, and back in this summer with the injustices that we were trying to tackle and dismantle. It’s so interesting how school… It can be a reflection of what we’re doing kind of in this world, but sometimes it’s not because of all the structures and all that kind of the old archaic processes that are in place.

Adam Welcome: As you’re talking, the thing that I’m thinking about is, I think one of the most important things for teachers or coaches or leaders or being a community member is to show people that you care. I don’t believe personally that there’s… A lot of people say, you got to love your students and tell your students you love them. And I don’t agree with that. I love my family. I feel that I can, and I should show a school community that I care about them deeply. It’s like I’ve been a coach. I show my players that I care about them deeply. And maybe it’s just a matter of semantics. I think I’m on the same page with people that say that they love them. But when you show people that you care about them, they’re going to do so much more for you.

Adam Welcome: When I was a principal previously, I used to tell my superintendent, if I told the staff to jump out the window, they would because they knew that I cared about them and that I wouldn’t put them in harms way. That was a metaphor for getting the most out of people and people that are listening that have been an athlete, you’ve had coaches that you can tell that just don’t want to be there. But when you have a coach that shows that they want to be there and they care about you, they can get so much more out of you. So no matter what you’re teaching or where you’re teaching and educators know this, but maybe it needs to be put in check. I’m going to drop a challenge to the listeners. Are you showing, or are you telling people, your people, your community, that thank you. I care about you.

Adam Welcome: And if you’re uncomfortable with using those words, then show people that you care about them by writing them a note, by visiting their classroom, by stopping by their house, whatever it may be. Because if we’re still having these conversations in a year or five years or 10 years, about how to connect with kids and how to connect with these kids that have a challenging home life, well, are we showing them that we care about them? It’s easy to talk about and we can read books and articles, and those are important. But at the end of the day, showing up, if it’s in front of, next to, or behind that person, that caring piece is so important.

Adam Welcome: One of my best friends is Hamish Brewer and he is a middle school principal in Virginia. And he took over this school and I’ve been to his school, Fred Lynn, and I’ve hung out with him for a few hours. And he’s like, dude, this was like the worst school in the state, rated the lowest. And they turned it around by he’d get on the microphone every morning and people listening. I’m sure you’ve heard of Hamish. He’s like one of the most amazing human beings, such a good friend of mine, so caring. And he gets on the loudspeaker and says, hey, if nobody today told you that they care about you, I’m telling you right now. And just those words, people listened to those words and words have impacts. People remember how you talk to them? So remember to please choose your words carefully because people remember forever. Teachers, students, colleagues, whoever it may be. It’s all connected because you can’t get to the structures or the curriculum until you have that culture piece really dialed in.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah. I’m hearing you say a lot about, yes, words are important, but it all should be your actions and words must… The whole walk, matching your talk I think maybe plays into this as well. And so every teacher deeply cares about their students. And so when the times get tough and we’re dealing with a pandemic and there’s just so much going on, first and foremost, we have to check in with our students and ensure that needs are being met because you’re exactly right. A worksheet or a task or a problem of the day or a story of the day. None of that really matters.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: If a student is struggling with their basic needs being met, and it’s evident when a teacher sincerely and genuinely cares about their students, because you can see that teacher reaching out to them. They’re the ones… I had a principal on the show, Matthew Portel out of Tennessee, and he is really trained in trauma informed practices. And he ever called every single family in his building whenever COVID first hit just to check on them, just to say, how are you doing? Is there anything the school community can do to help you?

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: He didn’t call to make sure that they got the packet of worksheets. And those are later conversations, making sure that they had technology and so forth. But the number one question was, how are you, are needs being met? What can we do for you? And that goes so far. The human connection is the foundation for learning. We know learning is very social and we know from Maslow, that basic communities have in that. So that should be our number one posture as teachers is to deeply care for students.

Adam Welcome: Yeah. It’s so simple. People try to complicate things. And I think school districts and school boards and superintendents, we have so many programs and professional development about the program, and those are important. I’m not taking credibility away from those, but so often to your point, just picking up the phone, you don’t need a leadership degree or a doctorate or a master’s or a full three days of professional development to know that picking up the phone and making those phone calls is important. And it may take a couple of days to make all those phone calls, but it’s so worth it in the end because again, you’re showing people that you care, this is a really challenging hard time for pretty much everyone in the world and taking that time is important.

Adam Welcome: It also has a domino effects, Nathan, I remember in my previous life, as a principal before where I am now, I would make phone calls every week, like positive celebratory phone calls to parents and parents would say, “Oh my gosh, I know you’re so busy. Thank you for taking the time.” And I would respond saying, “I’m actually not that busy.” They don’t need to know what I have going on. They need to know that this is what I should be doing with my time. Principals should be carving time out of their days to make positive phone calls, to visit classrooms, to do these things. Don’t make it seem like, oh, yeah, you’re welcome. I took time out of my day for this. Because then the domino effect is hopefully they come to expect that, or hopefully they do that for their colleagues or for their neighbor.

Adam Welcome: And I think that’s a really powerful and easy, simple way to just kind of spread positive Juju. I’m really big on positive mojo and Juju and picking up the phone is simple and it’s free and it’s easy. It’s what I think educators, or if you’re listening to this and you’re a project manager for a biotech or a technology company or a sanitation company, take the time to call your employees or call your employees’ spouses or whoever it may be and say, God, I’m so proud of George. He’s just really crushing it at work. Thank you for supporting him. And that’s going to go a long way.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah. And it shows that you… Because if it’s a parent or a student, the recipient of that genuine and sincere affirmation, once they see that you genuinely do care for them, then there’s definitely a new kind of motivational kind of drive there. It’s like, oh, I have a caring and safe environment that I get to be a part of. And I am more apt to take on some challenges, we can find solutions together. There’s going to be maybe… We’ll go back into the classroom for a second. So there’s a tough kind of challenging project I’m working through. But I know my teacher is there for me. I know that she cares. So I’m willing to jump through these kind of challenging task because I know that my teacher just wants me to learn better, to be a high level thinker and so forth.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: So yeah, we always say students that are curious and there are social learners and they’re connected, but I think same goes for really all human beings. And we don’t learn in a vacuum or think in a vacuum really. It all has to do with the connections we make with each other, but those connections are infinitely better whenever there’s a supportive, caring structure behind them.

Adam Welcome: Sure. As you’re talking, I’m thinking about your example of like a challenging project or trying to work some work through something. This is something I think about in reference to leadership and everyone is a leader. So I think everyone is connected to… What I’m going to say is, my first thought when I was in the classroom and as a school leader is, my goal is to do as little as possible. And I’ll explain that because some people think like, what are you talking about Adam? Because even as a parent, my goal is to do as little as possible for my kids. I love my children dearly, but I’m getting them ready for the world and to live on their own. And I think as a teacher too, think about like, should you be doing this? Could somebody else be doing this or should nobody be doing it?

Adam Welcome: I think carving, that’s how we’re going to get more time back to kind of go back to something we talked about earlier in the podcast. It’s well, I don’t have time. There’s no time. We’ll look at what you’re doing with it. Or should you be doing this? Do as little as possible, make as few decisions as possible, empower your students. And then if you empower them and you realize that, gosh, why are they doing this? Maybe you shouldn’t be doing it. It’s kind of like, I think everybody should move classrooms every five years or like move homes every five to 10 years because we accumulate so many things, not just tangible things, but programs in our brain or different things. And we have to download and go through and kind of start fresh.

Adam Welcome: So something that I always tell educators is try to do as little as possible. And don’t not work hard, obviously work hard, do your job, but really see, can you empower a colleague or a student, or maybe a parent, maybe you have a parent that really wants to support the classroom or the school. Can you put them in charge of something? And that’s totally okay because the community is going to outlive every employee at the school.

Adam Welcome: So building that mindset of this is what we do in this community to support our students and our teachers I think is really positive. And I don’t think it’s talked about enough for a school. It’s really a community, a school community. So I challenge people that are listening to have that kind of broader mindset. When you’re thinking about what needs to be done, what can get done, who can do these things. And maybe it’s not you, maybe it’s not one of your teachers. Maybe it’s not even one of the students, maybe it’s a neighbor across the street that can be in charge of the garden or organizing people to do a campus cleanup because they live in the neighborhood too.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah. And what you’re describing here is actually can be quite difficult when you say, do as little as possible, obviously, and you described it well, it’s obviously about this collective community, having a role and being better embedded into everything happening in the classroom. But that takes actually a lot of work, because what happens is that instead of you going in, maybe as a school leader and saying, oh, I have to make sure this happens. I have to do this, I have to do that, you are for one relinquishing control, which is difficult because as a leader you feel this tremendous responsibility, which also means you naturally tend to want to make sure that you have your hand in so many things, but the level of trust that you are able to display by asking others in the community to take on projects, I think it’s tremendous and it can be difficult, especially to let go of so many different things happening.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: I love the concept of this community approach of having, you said earlier, everyone’s a leader. And I also believe that too. And in our school teams, teachers are leaders and they get to make decisions and they get to start projects and they get to do all these things. And as a leader, I always wanted to be a yes, and I know that that phrase has been said a lot before at other kinds of places, but I still believe in it. Whenever a teacher comes with an idea is like, yeah, and what can I do to support you in this? And so, as a leader, it’s almost like you’re becoming and you also used the word facilitator. I like that in the leadership realm as well you’re or even an activator, you’re empowering, you’re encouraging, you’re inspiring. You’re doing all these supportive endeavors to ensure that the school community is deeply engaged. And I think that’s really the sign of a strong leader.

Adam Welcome: Yeah. I think so. And if you had a school or if you’re a CEO of a company, you can’t… I always felt when I was a principal previously that, I always felt that it wasn’t my school. I felt that I was here for a period of time leading, supporting, nurturing, building the school, because inevitably, you’re going to move on. You’re going to retire, what have you. There has to be that… I’ve traveled throughout South America and all over Europe. And if you read, I’ve read a lot of history books about schools and communities. It was other than like the church, it was the meeting place for the community.

Adam Welcome: And obviously things changed over time, but having that pride and I’m not saying that communities don’t have pride in their neighborhood school, but making it a place that is a meeting and a gathering place and if a project needs to be done, or there’s a fundraiser that needs to happen because the school needs something or doesn’t have enough money, it’s not just the parents that happen to be at that school for four, five, six, three years. It’s the person that lives across the street or the people that happen to be here, because they know that it’s good for the community and not just for property values, and real estate prices, which I know are important.

Adam Welcome: But yeah, because then as the leader, as the principal or superintendent, you can sit back and you can think about things that you didn’t have time to think about when you were down there in the nitty gritty doing the work. And I think that is a big gap for a lot of leaders. They’re so in the work, they don’t step off of the work or step out of the work because they’re so busy doing it. And it’s so important to be able to go somewhere else to think about the work or to go up higher to think about the work or to back up to look around. So you’re not leading with blinders on because when that happens, our schools cannot go out of business, Nathan, but they can become irrelevant for our students in the world that they’re living in.

Adam Welcome: And if you’re so in the work, I think it’s really challenging to think about remaining relevant and what are the skills that our kids need right now? Not the skills and the experience that you and I had 30, 40 years ago, but what our kids need right now in 2020… And let me tell you, that’s changed in the last nine months in a COVID world. And thankfully there’s a vaccine coming and hopefully we’re moving forward in a healthier way, but no matter what the world has changed and it’s going to be changed forever and what our schools or what are communities doing to get our kids ready for that? And I think that’s a really big question and something that people should be thinking about and having conversations about.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah. I totally agree, Adam. And speaking of being relevant, I know our listeners will want to continue to learn from you and connect with you. Where can they find you on social and on the web?

Adam Welcome: Yeah. I’m kind of all over the internet. If you just Google Adam Welcome, I’m easy to find, but Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Voxer. I’m just Mr. Adam Welcome. And mr.adamwelcome.com. And I like to pride myself on pretty much responding to every person that reaches out to me with a question or a comment, or, hey, I heard you. Yesterday somebody said, “Hey, I heard you on another podcast. What was that link you were talking about?”

Adam Welcome: And I think that goes back to how we met in our origins and Nathan, just connecting on social media. And I remember, I think one of the first messages you sent me was asking about, hey, how are teachers using Twitter on August 17, 2016. And I was like, hey, this is what I’m kind of going through and what I think. And we’re like, oh, cool. And we’re just kind of going back and forth and, hey, look, we’re still connected. So when people reach out and want to connect, my suggestion is get back in touch with them. If you feel safe and you feel like it’s appropriate and make that connection because it’s important.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Agree. This has been excellent my friend. Thanks again for your time. I know you’re a very busy man, lots going on, but I appreciate you taking time to be on the podcast.

Adam Welcome: 100% man. Thanks for all you do, Nathan. Appreciate you buddy.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Hey, back at you.