Field Trip: The Rock Star Principals


Being a principal can be isolating. Here’s how two principals began to use podcasting, blogging and social media to connect with colleagues around the world — and the impact it had on their schools.

Nick Indeglio and Jon Ross are principals at Downingtown Area School District in Pennsylvania. While carpooling, they would often have conversations about their jobs — being instructional leaders, leading a building, and the impact being principals had on their lives and marriages. Those conversations eventually turned into a regular podcast: The Rock Star Principals.

Our conversation with Rock Star Principals Nick and Jon looks at how principals and other education leaders are using technology to share new ideas, serve their teachers and staff, and implement world-rocking strategies in their schools.

You can find the Rock Star Principals’ Podcast at their website and on YouTube.

Full Transcript  

NICK INDEGLIO: We found that isolation was such a big part of why people were leaving the principalship. Principals feel alone. And we realized, especially for elementary principals, there’s one elementary principal in a building, usually. They’ve got no one to bounce ideas off of.

And that’s exactly what we’re all about here on this podcast: kicking ideas around, and sharing stories from school and district leaders who are coming up with new and creative ways to meet the challenges in education today.

JON ROSS: It’s certainly made it easier having technology, having, giving me, you know, the ability to reach out and get feedback from people: “This is what I’m thinking. What do you think?” The ability to hear, to follow like-minded individuals and to hear ideas from them.

Every other week, we’re bringing new stories, ideas and insights from principals, superintendents, department leads and educators from all across the country.

NICK INDEGLIO: When Jon and I started the Rockstar Principals, the whole thing was, we just want to all be in this together. And we’ll give you our ideas — disagree with us, please! Tell us, do you do it differently? Did it work better somewhere else?

From Frontline Education, you’re listening to Field Trip.

This week on Field Trip, we speak with not one principal, but two. My guests are both principals at Downingtown Area School District here in Pennsylvania. In 2013 they started a podcast for principals – we’ll include a link in the show notes, or you can go to YouTube and search for Rockstar Principals.

NICK INDEGLIO: My name is Nick Indeglio. I am currently the principal at Downingtown Middle School, which is in the Downingtown Area School District serving grades seven and eight. We’ve been there for about nine years, which is starting to make me feel a little bit old. I’m proud to represent the district and work with Jon on a lot of different projects including our Rockstar Principals podcast. I was also the 2017 National Digital Principal for NASSP.

JON ROSS: I’m Jon Ross, I’m also in Downingtown Area School District, Lionville Middle School, again, grades seven and eight. A little bit about me — I was 2009 National Distinguished Principal for Pennsylvania. In addition to the work that I do for a living, I work along with other principals in Pennsylvania for the state principal’s association, PA Principals Association, which is an affiliate of NASSP and NAESP, the secondary and elementary state principals association. So I’ve also been in Downingtown since 2010. Nick and I both started at the middle school level in Downingtown at the same time.

The two of you host a podcast that some of our listeners might be familiar with called Rockstar Principals, and you know better than anyone that principals already have a ton on your plates. The idea of a 40 hour work week is, I’m guessing, a pipe dream. What made you decide to add a podcast to your to-do list?

JON ROSS: It was convenience more than anything, right? It was out of convenience. Nick and I live in the same development in the same town and we were driving together on occasion. We would ride into work every once in a while, usually during the summer when things were a little bit more low key and our schedules allowed. And we found that we were talking about educational topics, and we were having a really, really good discussion on the drive in and it made the drive go really, really well. And then one day we were just like, “Man, we should be recording this, we should be taping this, because this is really good stuff.” And Nick, being the digital principal that he is, came up with the idea of recording for a podcast. And we’ve actually done some segments in our car, but most of the time we record it and one of our two homes.

NICK INDEGLIO: Yeah. When Jon and I started the podcast, and like Jon said, we were driving in together, having these great conversations, and I was wrapping up my dissertation at that point, getting ready to defend. And the topic of my dissertation was on longevity in the principalship, focused on the middle level principal, but really applicable to the elementary and high school as well. Principals are principals, regardless of the level. And we found that isolation was such a big part of why people were leaving the principalship. Principals feel alone. We’re middle managers. We’re at a level where we’re supervising teachers, but we’re not at the central office level making a bigger picture decisions and a lot of times you’re in the middle of that sandwich where it’s not always the happiest place to be. So as the dissertation went on, that’s what the research showed, that those feelings of isolation were playing in.

And we realized, especially for elementary principals, there’s one elementary principal in a building, usually. They’ve got no one to bounce ideas off of, anyone else at their level. So as the podcast started, we very quickly discovered that our audience wasn’t just going to be principals interested in conversations about the latest educational topics. They just wanted a voice that sounded similar to theirs, could share experiences, could sound the same, basically just someone they could relate to. And that’s what it turned into.

Our very first episode, we interviewed Jon’s wife, Julie. “Let’s talk about what it’s like being the spouse of a principal,” and not long afterwards, maybe a week afterwards, we received an email from a principal in California who told us that had he had our podcast five years prior when he became a principal, it would have saved his marriage. He wound up getting divorced, and the advice that Julie had and some of the things we talked about, he would have made different decisions that he felt would have saved his marriage. And that’s kind of, for me at least, that’s when I realized there’s an impact that we can have here on a very specific audience, but an important need, to fill a niche.

I’m curious, as you built this network, as you hear from principals and they’re telling you the kinds of things that they’re getting out of hearing from you, hearing from guests that you’re interviewing, what else are you hearing? What are some of the common themes that you hear from folks, other principals who are really interested in and impacted what you’re doing?

JON ROSS: Good question. That’s a tough. The whole thing is kind of a catchall in that we talk about everything. We don’t just talk about being a principal on the podcast. We talk about pop culture, comic books, movies, you know what I mean, TV shows. So we’ve covered a lot of different things. I think most of the feedback that we get from people, topical feedback, I think a lot of it centers around — and I was thinking, while Nick was answering — a lot of it just centers around leadership in general. You can be a leader of, you know, a law firm, leading a business, running your own business. It’s lonely at the top. There’s a reason that that expression is so true, because when you’re the person who’s ultimately responsible for things, you’re there and you’re on your own. So a lot of the things we talked about applied across the spectrum of leadership, not just educational.

NICK INDEGLIO: I’ll pop in with just three quick examples from the podcast that I think tie in directly to what Jon’s talking about. The first was, we did a segment that was just intended to be a one off, we’re going to talk about the way principals are represented in pop culture. So we were talking about The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller and The Simpsons, and how the principals are usually shown to be goofs. And you know, we’re the butt of the jokes by the end of it. And the feedback we got on the podcast, the response on Twitter, it was phenomenal. Principals jumped in with all of their examples and TV shows and movies and how they felt about it. And it struck a chord at that level that we did two other ongoing segments. One was called the Middle School Mafia, and it was advice from The Godfather that applies to the principalship and we did — [Jon: a little bit of a stretch] — a little bit of a stretch, but we, you know, we love those movies.

And we did Rocky’s Punches of Perspicacity — that was — some wisdom from the Rocky movies. And those two, I think it’s universal among principals and school leaders perhaps, or maybe leaders in general. They relate to those types of movies because they center on themes of heroism and leadership, whether it’s, you know, in shades of gray, perhaps. But those are the kinds of things they connected to. So those types of segments that tie into real life or pop culture have usually got us the most feedback and stories from other people.

Did it stop with podcasting or have you found other areas of technology useful in connecting principals to one another?

JON ROSS: Yeah, I mean I think when we first started back in 2013, and even before that, we were both pretty active on Twitter, and we actually have led a few Twitter chats for different organizations. I’ve had us involved in having Twitter chats, and I think that’s something that might be more commonplace now, but when we were first getting involved in it, it was something that was newer to a lot of people. A lot of people didn’t realize because social media gets a bad rap and people think, “Oh, social media, you’re going to be exposed to all this negativity,” but really there are ways to use Twitter in order to have your own professional development right there in your hand.

NICK INDEGLIO: I would say that to add to that, and although it’s not necessarily technological-based, it led into several Edcamps that we participated in and helped lead where, whether it was us doing a live podcast or running sessions there, it was a networking tool. We have found recently that a while Twitter is still great, you can’t quite get as deep. So those Twitter chats, eventually they start becoming repetitive and it’s the same thing over and over again. LinkedIn has recently become a more palatable platform for a lot of school leaders where you’re seeing more blogs, you’re seeing more articles and a little bit more in depth conversation. It’s not as easy as Twitter in terms of how quickly you can jump in and find things, but I have a feeling that there’s a shift occurring that’s going to go more in that direction. As this generation continues — I hate to even say that, “generation,” as we’re the old guys now — and the younger people coming into administration, that’s the platform they’re using to find jobs, to network with people. I think that’s where we’re going to see a lot of the connections.

Obviously we don’t want to just use technology for the sake of using technology. We have few enough hours in the day and it’s great to be spending time with people in our lives, but it clearly it’s leading to helpful things for you — ideas, things that help you do your work. What are some of the ways that it has benefited you personally in your role? Whether it be through the podcast, through social media, through edchats, connecting with principals who are separated by distance — how has that helped you out?

JON ROSS: Again, I go back to Twitter and I get a lot of current research, a lot of articles. There are  other principles that I follow who post things, other ed leaders that we follow that we will get a lot of. We’ll get topics for our podcast from Twitter — so I’ll be doing something mindless like standing outside for bus duty, and as the buses are rolling by me, I’m scrolling through Twitter and looking to see what’s hot, what’s going on. So that’s one place I go to a lot.

NICK INDEGLIO: I think it’s, and I’ll give one other example and then a caveat to it as well. Voxer, it’s a very simple app and basically it is simulating the old Nextels where you used to have the walkie talkie communication. A group of principals I was working with during the time of the Digital Principal thing, when that was going on, about five of us had gotten to a Voxer group, and we would literally walkie talkie each other to put our ideas on paper for a blog we had to do together. We could have used Twitter, we could have done email, we could have had a text group, but this was just a quick way to kind of throw an idea out among a very specific group of people separated — we were all across the country. One of us was in Alaska, one guy was in California. We had a few people down on the southeast coast. So that was another tool that was just connecting people in a different way slightly than Twitter does.

The caveat I would put to that is knowing your audience. Twitter for educational purposes, there’s a lot of great stuff there. When we started our school accounts back in 2010, we weren’t getting traction quick, and we quickly learned that the parents in 2010, and interestingly even today, they’re on Facebook. So we had to switch, at least at Downingtown Middle School, we had to switch our communication means to get the word out about things we were doing at school to Facebook. And Twitter was a separate thing. So we have since linked our Instagram and Twitter and a little bit of everything, but you have to know, where is your audience, how are you going to most easily be able to connect with them. And I think that in order to leverage technology, that’s going to be a way to… you have got to ask that question first.

I’d love to hear any more specific stories that you might have to share about your role as a principal here in Downingtown. What are some ideas that you have gleaned from people who you’ve connected with in these ways that have really helped you do your job?

JON ROSS: Well, I would say one person we had on the podcast recently was Ted Dintersmith, who as an author has published a couple of different books that I have sitting up there: Most Likely to Succeed, he wrote with Tony Wagner, and then his most recent book, What School Could Be, so we’re huge fans of his. It all stemmed from seeing the documentary Most Likely to Succeed about a year and a half ago. We eventually got him on the podcast, and a lot of what he has to say and a lot of what he supports with building 21st century schools and moving away from the assembly line model, it’s stopping the whole mindset of continuing to do things the way they’ve been done for 100+ years. Last year at at Lionville we did away with final exams and started to work kids toward doing authentic learning projects that we call “capstone projects” at the end of the year.

So now kids spend the year, rather than cramming information into their heads the last two weeks of school and spitting it out on a piece of paper and then forgetting it and never dealing with it ever again, they have this project that they work on all year long that is self-driven and self-motivated. And at the end of the year they produce it, do a presentation, and we have a walkthrough day where everybody has them on display, and people get to see what everyone else did. I think a lot of what came out of that had to do with connecting with authors online, like Ted Dintersmith, among others.

NICK INDEGLIO: Yeah. And he really helped drive not just the ideas but help get us, I hate to say “public approval,” but some of the things that we’re doing now are a little bit revolutionary in that it’s not traditional. So getting rid of the midterms and finals. “Well, what, wait, we’ve, we’ve never done that. We need grades. We need this. You’re going to a what? A year-long project with middle school kids?”

While Jon was piloting that, we took our traditional academic awards and eliminated them completely. No academic based awards. And we gave awards based on respect, responsibility, resourcefulness, empathy, kindness and caring. So basically, changing the focus of what we want it to be about. At the same time, both schools embraced the notion of 21st century learning and the skills that we know employers are looking for in the 21st century.

Now that research is all over Twitter. It’s in those books. That’s where technology is giving you the ability to put that out there. So the four C’s, if you look at the edu 21st century: collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creative problem solving. Those are the skills we want our kids acquiring. So now by pulling this research in, we can, when our parents over, our community over and our students over to a degree too, as well as teachers, to try these new and different ways of learning that are outside the norm. So when you see the capstone projects and you’re at the end of the year, instead of kids getting a Scantron back with a test we’re having, Jon had three weeks’ worth of these awesome presentations that kids were showing, a passion that they studied for the course over the course of a year. And they had to come up with some type of final product. That’s real life, that’s project management, that’s where we’re headed.

One example of an article, and I don’t want to dovetail too far off your question, but recently a great article just appeared, talking about the failure of the No Child Left Behind standardized testing movement. And yeah, there were some good things that came out of it. However, the author was basically saying, “Where are all these amazing kids we produced from the testing error that are now changing the world and affecting the global economy?” It didn’t have the impact we thought it did. So let’s try something different. And if we didn’t have access to people like Ted Dintersmith at our hands because of technology and podcasting and YouTube and all these other venues, we wouldn’t be able to push the envelope that way.

Nick and Jon said that what they’re doing had an impact way beyond just recording conversations and sharing best practices with other principals. These conversations they were having, these ideas they were encountering, they led to somewhat of a seismic shift in how they lead their buildings.

JON ROSS: There’s an expression that I learned years ago from a mentor principal that I used to work with, and I go to it all the time. The expression is “The only good thing about banging your head against the wall as it feels good when you stop.” And I, for years, was in the data rat race. I was that kind of principle where, “We’re going to track data and every single kid is going to have numbers associated and we’re going to be able to…we’re going to have this grand matrix-style system where we’re going to know all of these numbers for every single kid.”

And I think through interactions that I’ve had between social media and people I’ve gotten to meet like Todd Whitaker, Ted Dintersmith and Tom Murray and people that we’ve had on the podcast, we had this realization somewhere along the line. I had it when I saw the documentary Most Likely to Succeed a year and a half ago. It was cathartic, or not cathartic, but transformative, the skies opening and the light shining down. I started texting him 10 minutes into the documentary. “Oh my God, what are we doing? This is wrong, this is all wrong.”

Why are we focused so much…you know, all we do is complain, complain, complain as educators about standardized testing, right? High stakes tests. Oh, it’s so awful. We make these kids do these tests, blah, blah, blah. And then we turn around and we give them an hour’s worth of homework every night. And we turn around and we make them study for midterms and finals that are totally pointless, and actually, research shows, do not a help with learning at all. So we’re hypocrites. You know, I had this realization and I felt terrible. I’m like, “God, I’ve spent the last couple of years, I’m a total hypocrite.”

I’ve talked over and over again about these tests and how terrible they are and yet I’m doing this willingly to kids. And so not that it’s anything close to a 12 step problem, but accepting and realizing that you have a problem is the first step and then beginning to take steps toward rectifying that. And that’s when you start to find and connect like-minded thinkers, right? Because you start to tweet things or you start to contact people through social media, however you want to. And that’s the great thing about social media is the ability to direct message, because a lot of them do. A lot of these great thinkers, you can just send them a direct message and then, oh my God, they reply! They actually get back to you. Right? It’s not something you put it in the mail and it takes months to hear back from.

So I think it just became this snowball of, “All right, we’re, we’re doing this, we’re doing this, we’re doing this,” and the last thing I’ll say about it is, when we bought our teacher group together last year, one of the first things one of the teachers said — and it’s on the back of our t shirts, we get our staff t shirts every year —it’s “No turning back.” We’re not going back. We’ve seen the documentary, we’ve read the book, we’ve all in this building and in Nick’s building, had this realization that what we were doing wasn’t what’s best for kids. We’re just never going back to that. We’re only looking forward and looking for new and better ideas of ways that we can help them with 21st century skills.

NICK INDEGLIO: The only part I would add onto the way Jon has framed everything is that it doesn’t happen on day one when you walk into your office as a principal, you know, like you’ve just gotten the job and you sit down. The research shows that a principal doesn’t reach their maximum efficiency and achievement, depending on how you define achievement, until being in the same position for seven years.

JON ROSS: And yet the average tenure is about three.

NICK INDEGLIO: Three to five, tops.

JON ROSS: The average tenure for a principal is three to five. And yet it takes seven years. So where’s the disconnect there?

NICK INDEGLIO: Huge disconnect. Jon and I — and admittedly, we have big personalities and we’ll take chances sometimes, which isn’t always good, but it’s not always bad. So after you’ve built up your credit for long enough, we’re past those seven years, we’re in year nine, and Jon’s right, it got to a point where, since we’re throwing quotes around, “Nero fiddles while Rome burns.” What are we pushing towards? You know, all these things we’re doing, what skills are our kids actually leaving with? Do they know how to actually look at a resource critically and say whether this is good or bad? You look at the news media today and you have your choice. It’s not like when we were young were you had channels 3, 6, and 10 and you had a balance of some sort. Now you pick your… you could have your leftist XM radio show, you could have your right wing radio show. There’s not really a middle ground anymore. So how do you vet sources? How do you know what’s real and what’s not real, and how do you get to a point where you can do those things? When we were test prepping, none of that was happening. So it’s getting to the point where we’re like, “No more of this. It’s time to do something better.”

JON ROSS: One additional thing I would say about, and I don’t know how much were, you know, bird walking your question, but one of the things we discovered last year, for years we were spending all this free time we had on PSSA prep. So we have an advisory period during the day, right? And we would do PSSA prep activities. What’s the released item we’re going to do this week? And what are the vocabulary words we need to focus on and text dependent analysis, all of this stuff. Bam, Bam, Bam, Bam, Bam. Just hitting kids over the head with it on a daily basis.

Last year we did away with all that. We stood up at back to school night, both of us, and told parents, “You will not hear the words PSSA and prep together at all in this school, because we’re not doing it anymore.”

So we spent a whole year working on building rapport and relationships, working on 21st century skills, working on helping prepare our kids for what they want to learn. “Oh God forbid!” Right? And what happened? Our scores barely moved. So for all those years that we were knocking ourselves dead, doing all this PSSA prep stuff, we did a year without doing any of it, not a single thing, and our scores didn’t move at all. So that, to me, reinforces the notion that, “If I’m going to spend that time during the day, I’d rather be spending it developing a rapport and relationship with a kid then making them do this meaningless, pointless work that does nothing for anybody.”

NICK INDEGLIO: And to illustrate that very quickly with an example would be when we abandoned that test prep at Downingtown Middle last year. One of the things we put in its place was, one day a week, a schoolwide passion club. The teachers, every teacher in the building, including the custodians, picked something they’re passionate about, something they really like. And once a week they would run a 25 minute club with kids who were interested in the same thing. The kids could sign up for that club and get to do something fun, the teacher likes. Educational? Some of the clubs were, most of them weren’t, but they got to know a teacher outside of the regular classroom environment. So, an example would be, one of our French teachers loves cats and did the crazy cat lady club, where they made organic cat treats and did things like that. One of our teachers is a professional fisherman to the side, did those tournaments you see on TV. He taught kids good lures and good baits and things to use. I ran a power lifting club, so kids came and learned to weight lift and things like that. It was fun. Their scores didn’t change. And yet kids got to know their teachers better. So what better opportunity to build relationships, which we know, research-based, is going to lead to better learning.

JON ROSS: The last thing I would add to it, my feeling is, is that as we get better at building those relationships, the scores will go up. I think the only reason they didn’t go up is because it’s a newer mentality, but my belief is that as the longer we entrench ourselves in that notion of, “That’s who we are as educators, we’re about building relationships first and teaching second.” The longer we do that and the better we get at doing it, it’s eventually going to lead to an uptick in scores as well.

I asked if they would have come across these ideas and made these changes if they hadn’t had the connections with these other principals and experts through things like their podcast and social media.

JON ROSS: I don’t think we’d be as far along as we are. I mean, as I said, it’s certainly made it easier having technology, having, giving me, you know, the ability to reach out and get feedback from people: “This is what I’m thinking. What do you think?” The ability to hear, to follow like-minded individuals and to hear ideas from them on how to do it. I mean, I don’t know, it’s hard to tell what where we would be, but I’m confident we wouldn’t be nearly as far along as we are if it weren’t for technology.

Essentially, they’re using technology as a way to drive their own professional development. And I asked Nick: is the reason they’re able to take these ideas and apply them effectively in their schools, is that because they’re able to pursue the things that they’re passionate about?

NICK INDEGLIO: Well, I’ll answer your question before you ask it. We know, right? The research shows that professional development in isolation is malarkey. It doesn’t work, teachers don’t find it valuable when you’re throwing canned things out at them, so you have to put the option of choice there. Now we’ve — it’s forced choice to a degree. I was just talking a minute ago about, you can choose your networks now, you can go any direction you want. We’ve chosen a network, so we’re focusing and we’re keying in on people who we feel share the same philosophies, to a degree, hopefully not to the point where we’re excluding thinking about other things, but I’ll give you an example of a Twitter account: Alfie Kohn, right? Author who’s been around forever hammers on homework and it’s uselessness, and there’s no research to support homework, right?

I agree 100 percent and always have. So that’s someone we use from a research basis to drive home when we’re pushing these things. It’s so much easier now than it was before. I used to have to pay $700 and travel to New York to see an Alfie Kohn presentation, or wait for the new book to come out, buy the book and read the whole thing to find what I was looking for. Now I can see him on Twitter, get a soundbite, direct message him and we can get an answer to things. So like Jon said, the speed at which we can pursue things has become much more rapid and takes the walls down that are in the way of getting there. And it’s harder to say no when you have some momentum behind you. And I think that’s a lot of what technology has given us.

Nick and Jon said this access to great thinkers across the country is critical, not just for themselves, but also for the teachers in their buildings. Social media enabled them to connect with people in ways that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible — they brought in Chris Avile’s from Teched Up Teacher to provide training on 101 ways to use the Google Suite. The internet has expanded their reach — they’re not limited to finding people within a 20 mile radius… they can connect with experts across the country. And that way, they’re able to take the best ideas they find. Nick mentioned Dave Burgess’s book Teach Like a Pirate.

NICK INDEGLIO: Yeah, that’s the whole the whole concept of Teach Like a Pirate, which again, Dave was early on Twitter and promoted his book that way and was very heavy into the Twitter chats. And the whole idea was, “Look, I’m not trying to hoard all the ideas for myself. Our network, our community is so that we can all help kids.” And in the end, that’s really what it should all be about. Good instruction, good activities, good ideas.

Jon and I have embraced that, and I love our example better than almost any other example. Back before we started at our middle schools, the philosophy was, everything had to be lockstep between Downingtown Middle School and Lionville Middle School. If Downingtown Middle School did something, it couldn’t happen unless Lionville Middle School was doing it and vice versa.

We’ve been able to evolve that with these types of networking and see how people are sharing ideas and doing things, to where Jon can pilot the capstones. He can work the kinks out while we’re piloting schoolwide clubs and working the kinks out. And then we can share the best parts of it and steal from each other. And that’s really… how else would we get better if we keep trying the same things lock step without actually deviating a bit for both of our communities and the differences in our kids and everything like that?

And that’s what the social media platforms, ed camps, un-PDs, they’re calling them now to some degree, too. Whereas we’re just doing things differently and no one is hoarding anymore. You’re not locking yourself inside the four walls of a classroom or an office. It’s all out there. And people are terrified of this. There’s definitely a very, very reticent group, whether it’s central office groups — and I’m not talking about our district in particular, but just in general — where, “Well, these ideas are my ideas,” and “We want to be the best,” and “We want to own these things,” and “We want to trademark,” and “We want to copyright.”

Whereas when Jon and I started the Rockstar Principals, the whole thing was, we just want to all be in this together. And we’ll give you our ideas — disagree with us, please! Tell us, do you do it differently? Did it work better somewhere else? And we take those things.

So the whole concept, the “teach like a pirate.” Yeah. We want you to steal from us, because we’re going to steal from you!

What is the one thing that you are always trying to communicate to other people when you’re connecting with them in these channels?

JON ROSS: It’s funny you ask that question, because I’ve had this conversation twice this week already with people that are other principles. I think it’s an Eisenhower quote where, “you just put your best people in charge and get out of their way.” The whole idea of our capstone project that we did, that was created by teachers. It wasn’t my idea. It’s not like I read the book and said, “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do.” We all read the book. I took people that were interested, and there were some people who, after they started reading and said, “Oh, I want to be involved, I want to be involved,” we brought them all together. And I just looked at them and said, “Okay, what are we going to do?” And they were dynamic and motivated and super smart and just people that really wanted what’s best for kids.

Nobody had ulterior motives. We may have even weeded out a few people that were thinking that. It was all people that were doing it for the right reasons.

And as soon as I recognized that and realized that, I just got out of their way and now they’re their own committee in our school. There’s a Capstone Committee. Teachers come to me with capstone questions. I say, “You’ve got to go to the committee, you don’t come to me. I’m a consultant.” They’ll bring me in if they have questions, if the committee has questions. So there’s a lot to be said for using your smart people in your school. I think that’s an untapped resource for a lot of leaders. And I know it’s an untapped resource for a lot of principals.

There’s a lot of principals that feel like, “This all comes down to me, the buck stops here.” Which it does. “So I have to be involved in everything, and I have to know all the details and everything has to get run by me. Nothing gets rolled out without my approval.”

That’s why you work 12 hour days if you’re doing that. You hire these people for a reason. You bring them on board for a reason. Use them, allow them to grow, allow them to flourish. They come up with great ideas, get out of their way and let them do these things,

NICK INDEGLIO: Since we’re using a lot of quotes—

JON ROSS: I’m always about that, you know, I’m always doing that.

NICK INDEGLIO: I guess the two that solidified in me as Jon was talking about trying to summarize it all, which is hard to do because there’s so much — “if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” And over the past six years or so that we’ve been doing the podcast and everything, I started thinking about just longevity in terms of our own mortality in a career. We work for, let’s say, 35 years and three to five years is your average tenure as a principal. So decide what matters, what is important, and then put all your energy into achieving that and to forget all this nonsense that doesn’t matter.

What matters? What is important? Once you’ve decided that, and once you started working towards that, then all the other things we’re talking about fall into place. And I’ll end it with this quote: “If you don’t tell your story, someone else will.” So leverage all of your outlets, whether it’s social media or technology, or your community, and let them know what you’re doing.

Nick Indeglio and Jon Ross are both principals at Downingtown Area School District. Nick and Jon, thanks for taking the time today. It’s been really great talking to you both.

JON ROSS: Our pleasure.

NICK INDEGLIO: Thanks for coming.

Again, don’t forget to look up their podcast, Rock Star Principals, on YouTube. And if you enjoyed this story, be sure to subscribe this podcast. You can find Field Trip on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, Spotify and almost anywhere else.

Field Trip is a podcast from Frontline Education. Frontline’s industry-leading software is designed exclusively for K-12, and is built to help school systems recruit, hire, engage, develop and retain their employees, and make the biggest difference for students. For more information, visit

For Frontline Education, I’m Ryan Estes. Thanks for listening, and have a great day.