Aligning Board Behaviors with Student Outcomes with AJ Crabill
July 25, 2023
Aligning Board Behaviors with Student Outcomes with AJ Crabill

Explore the crucial role of school boards in driving student success and effective governance in our latest podcast episode with AJ Crabill. In this week’s episode, AJ offers valuable insights into the key struggles faced by school boards and the importance of shifting the focus away from adult inputs and toward student outcomes. He shares the behaviors and actions that set successful boards apart, including how they spend their time and prioritize the growth of children.

Creating a continuous improvement cycle within school boards is so important, and AJ emphasizes the need to clarify priorities, monitor progress, align resources, and communicate results to the community. And he tells us why a student outcomes focus is paramount and how it impacts decision-making and resource allocation.

Furthermore, AJ highlights the significant role of parent involvement in school boards, as they represent the vision and values of the community within the education system. Find out how parents can actively engage in the school board, regardless of their educational background, by focusing on implementing the community’s vision and values.

Don’t miss this enlightening conversation that empowers education leaders, teachers, principals, and decision-makers to prioritize student outcomes and foster effective governance within school boards. Tune in now to gain valuable insights and actionable strategies.

About AJ Crabill:

Improving student outcomes is AJ Crabill’s focus. He serves as conservator at DeSoto, Texas ISD. During his guidance, DeSoto improved from F ratings in academics, finance, and governance to B ratings. He’s also faculty at Leadership Institute of Nevada and director of governance at the Council of the City Great Schools. He served as deputy commissioner at the Texas Education Agency and spearheaded reforms as board chair of Kansas City Schools that doubled the percentage of students who are literate and numerate. Crabill is a recipient of the Education Commission of the State’s James Bryant Conant Award.

Jump in the Conversation:

[1:41] – Where AJ’s passion for school excellence came from
[3:01] – Key struggles that school boards face
[6:01] – What healthy board behaviors look like
[7:40] – What successful boards do differently
[9:02] – Great on Their Behalf: Why School Boards Fail
[10:56] – Five steps of a continuous improvement cycle
[12:18] – The only reason schools exist
[14:46] – Understanding what it means to have a student outcomes focus
[21:35] – Where to find support for school boards
[22:28] – The importance of parent involvement
[25:07] – How parents can go about getting involved in the school board
[29:32] – Turbo Time
[34:10] – AJ’s Magic Wand
[36:30] – Maureen’s Takeaways

Links & Resources



Maureen O’Shaughnessy 0:03
Hello fellow parents and educators. Thank you for joining me at Education Evolution, where we are disrupting the status quo in today’s learning models. We talk about present day education, what’s broken, who’s fixing it, and how. I’m Dr. Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your host and founder of education evolution, micro school coalition, and co founder of active, I consult and train with schools and leaders who are fiercely committed to changing the narrative, reimagining the education landscape, and creating learning that serves all children and prepares them to thrive. If you are new, welcome to the podcast. Please subscribe on our website to get it delivered to your inbox weekly. If you’ve been around a while, have you left a review?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 1:08
Hi, AJ, it is so good to have you on education evolution today.

AJ Crabill 1:12
Thanks for having me on.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 1:13
And listeners. today I’m chatting with AJ Crabill. AJ is the conservator at DeSoto Texas schools. And he is improving finance, governance and academic ratings. He’s an author on school boards, and is also a student outcomes evangelist. So let’s dive in. AJ, we know our schools must evolve to serve all learners. That’s what this podcast is about. How did you become passionate about excellence in school governance?

AJ Crabill 1:47
I suspect my journey is not dissimilar from a lot of people’s journeys who get involved in school boards is that trying to figure out how do I make sure that the young people in my home have access to the education that they need. And one thing led to another and next thing you know, I’m part of the parent association. And then you go to too many parent association meetings. And next thing, you know, you’re the chair of the parent association, and you go to a few 2 million meetings of those. And apparently you want to build the school board. And so it’s kind of less an intentional journey and more just a series of circumstances of trying to be of service, not only to the children in my home, but the children and everyone else’s home as well.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 2:30
I love that. And I think it does. Sometimes it is kind of accidental. And and I know from the other end of things, when I see a parent that is engaged and really cares and willing to give extra time. It’s like, oh, my gosh, sign them up, call them up. So it’s yeah, it’s hard not to get pulled along. If if you’ve been identified as somebody that is really making a difference for kids. What do you see as key struggles that boards face?

AJ Crabill 3:04
The key challenge that my team and I run across and part of the impetus for the book is that it’s easy to mistake focusing on the means of the educational system, rather than being focused on the results of the educational system. And the job of their educators is to be focused on how are we accomplishing the education? The job of our school boards is really to be focused on? What are the priority outcomes that we want for students? What are the things that we want students to know and be able to do? And then to really focus in on our children learning? What evidence do we have that learning is taking place? And where it’s not happening? Alright, so be it, then what are the things that we’re doing to pivot? And how are we learning from that? And what changes are we making in our adult behaviors to better align with improvements in student outcomes? And if things are working great, what can we take from that? And how can we spread that to other places. And so this conversation, this conversation that’s intensely focused on student clubs, unfortunately, all too often, it doesn’t get much daylight at all. And instead, boards are often focusing on budgets, buses, books, lunches, the color of the football uniform, the size of the jumbotron, how many bricks are in this particular wall, and things of that nature, they individually are all important and necessary things. But none of which actually inform none of which actually gives you insight into whether or not children have actually learned and so that failure to distinguish between the adult resources, the adult preferences, the adult inputs, the system, and the student outcomes that the systems intended to create that failure to distinguish between those two the adult inputs and the student outcomes, we find is really the The number one challenge that school boards are facing and that as boards get clearer about having a focus on student outcomes, there’s a whole different set of behaviors that are born of that, that our evidence suggests can really help create the conditions for improvements in student outcomes. As boards stay mired in focus on adult inputs, what’s possible for children seems to suffer.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 5:24
I completely agree. I think that the schools I’ve worked at sometimes there is a graduate profile, but it’s kind of just this nice document. And very few schools have I seen where it’s like, Heck, yes, we want our kids to be resilient. We want them in rural North Carolina to know they can go away, but they can always come back, we want them to have a job that feels like it connects to what they value, and that they really are engaged in it. We want them to be lifelong learners. Some of the schools have pieces of this, but it’s kinda like, like a mission statement or vision statements. I mean, update it every five years, but not really, it doesn’t have the teeth. So when you see healthy board behaviors that are aligned with student outcomes, what kinds of behaviors might you see, instead of hey, what color we’re gonna paint it? And do we need a new signboard that’s electronic and that peripheral stuff that we can get sucked into?

AJ Crabill 6:17
Well probably that’s the single most Helling indicator that a board is intensely focused on improving student outcomes is how they spend their time. So in for folks who pay a lot of attention to optimal practices in the classroom, this probably doesn’t come as much of a shock that how teachers spend their time seems to matter, their higher leverage activities that you can engage in the classroom and lower leverage activities. And often when we see schools struggling, it’s not because teachers aren’t working teachers are working as hard as they possibly can. But often they’re working on those really low leverage strategies, rather than working on strategies could really make the largest difference for their students, we’ve seen the exact same thing in the boardroom, it’s not a matter of the board’s have some malicious intent, or they’re not working hard. They’re often spending 1020 3040 hours a month and board meetings. But simply spending more time isn’t actually getting more results, then you have to be focused on the things that matter most and the things are going to have the biggest impact. And so what we’ve done is we have a tool that we use, and we actually code board meetings all across the country, hundreds of board meetings, hundreds and hundreds of hours. And really looking through all of those board meetings trying to figure out what is it the boards that are intensely focused on improving student outcomes do that looks differently and when we’ve arrived at is that boards that are intensely focused on improving student outcomes, and we spend at least half of their time each month monitoring progress toward the student outcomes that they want to see. So that they’ll get clear about what are the things that we want students to know and be able to do? And we’ll spend half of our time each month monitoring their progress toward the end and figuring out okay, what did we do this month that moved our students in that direction? How do we do more of that? What did we do that didn’t seem to work? How do we do less of that? And that’s the conversation. That’s the obsession of boards that are intensely focused on improving student outcomes, is they’re actually looking at that they’re having a conversation with generative dialogue, with their staff, with faculties, with a board with Superintendent, really trying to interrogate what’s working, what’s not working? And then how do we move forward, based on the information we have the boards that are intensely focused on improving student outcomes boards, what we would describe as effective boards, will spend at least half of their time in that way. Now they’ve got a bunch of other stuff that they just have to do. Like you got to vote to approve different things and cruel expenditures and budgets and books, and, you know, buildings and all that other stuff. All we’re saying is that boards are going to be really, really great at serving children are never going to let those things become the main thing, they’ll always make the main thing, the main thing and say, we’re going to carve out at least half of our times focus on this because the growth of our children matters more than anything else. Yeah. And then with the other half of our time, we’ll figure out how to attend to all of the other duties that we are obligated to attend to as well.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 9:14
Absolutely. That makes really good sense. I, I think this is a perfect time for you to tell our listeners about your new book, because it’s a resource that is readily available. So talk to us about great on their behalf.

AJ Crabill 9:28
Yeah, the book is great on their behalf, why school boards fail, how yours can become effective is really born out of that learning on the part of myself and my team over the past dozen years or so just really trying to understand what is it the boards can do that can make the biggest difference? And what we’ve identified, there are several reasons that boards consistently fail. The things that are lacking and what boards know that there are knowledge based failures lack axiom boards know how to do their skill based failures and lacking in how boards view the world and their understanding of what the priorities are. We describe that as failures of mindset. And so the first part of the book first, third really digs into what are these failures in these three areas? And how do you look for them? What are the evidence of them? And how do you start to diagnose if this is what’s going on in your board. And then once the remainder of the book, we’re really then looking forward, okay. So if we can avoid these failure modes, doing so doesn’t actually produce effectiveness, but But it helps position you to become effective. So the rest of the book is about what would actually allow you to be effective. And what we really identified is that it’s the same thing that you need to do in the classroom, you have to be on this continuous improvement cycle. Now, the continuous improvement cycle in the classroom looks different than the continuous improvement cycle in the boardroom. But it’s a continuous improvement cycle nevertheless. And so we’ve identified five key steps of that cycle. First, you’ve got to really have this focused mindset, like do we understand that we are here to improve student outcomes, and that is more important than anything else. So first, you have to have a focus mindset, inside of that focus mindset, then you can begin to clarify the priorities, what are the most important things that our students have to know and be able to do? Once you’ve clarified the priorities, then you can monitor progress toward the priorities, you can align the resources of the school system with those priorities, and then you can routinely communicate those results back to the community. And so as boards just get involved in that continuous improvement cycle, it just gets stronger and stronger each month, and each year, and doing those five things, you find that that is what will help position boards to be great on behalf of the students they serve.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 11:52
Wow, it sounds very clear, very simple in terms of x, y, z, but not easy, because mindset alone is something that’s tricky. And it’s hard to be self reflective and even aware.

AJ Crabill 12:11
Yeah, what we found over time is that that is, that’s, that’s the biggest nut to crack that if you really want school boards to be set up for success, that there does have to be this clarity of mindset that school systems exist to improve student outcomes. And that is the only reason that school systems exist, school systems don’t exist for any other reason, all the other things are intended to be in service of getting us closer to improving what it is that students are able to do. But that mindset piece that is decisive, if that doesn’t come along, if we don’t have this mindset that is focused on improving student outcomes, then all of the other pieces won’t actually make the difference for children. And so you’re absolutely right, that that’s, that’s the most challenging part. And so we spend a lot of time we try and develop coaching methods and workshops that create a safe space for board members to lean into this reflective space. Because it’s exactly what he described, it is about being reflective. It’s about just like an effective coach would replay the video after the game to try to figure out can I learn from what happened in the game? Effective board members have to do the same thing, they have to replay the video, in some cases, literally, of their board meetings to figure out okay, what worked and what didn’t work? And where can I grow in my service to young people, but that replaying of the video. That’s where the mindset work happens. And this challenge, nobody is probably waking up thinking I can’t wait to figure out where my performance was lacking. Yes, in yesterday’s game, I don’t know that he was super excited. But now, it’s a critical part of our growth. And so if we’re committed to what’s possible for children, we do the hard things, even when they’re hard.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 13:58
Absolutely know that it’s not fun going back and figuring out my failures or my limitations and what I’m going to do about it, it’s I don’t know, I think especially in our culture, we like to stay busy. And that means not reflect Oh, nope, too busy to go back and see if when, you know, let me keep doing working harder and harder to take away from doing the work. Exactly. Forget about working smarter. I’m too busy to figure out how to do a better job. I know and I can be guilty of that. Too busy. Busy. Yep. So you’re talking about student outcomes, and steering clear of adult input focus. So if somebody says, Well, no, this is I think I’m getting there with what I’m doing my adult input focus gets me there. How could you help them really understand what it means to have a student outcomes focus?

AJ Crabill 14:53
Yeah, this is this is challenging, so you’re wise to ask this. Because what happens is a Often, we’ll get really committed to and bought into whatever strategy we’re using at the moment. This is I think, just to human behavior, there’s no people aren’t doing this maliciously. But instead of getting real curious about, what am I doing, that’s working, not working, it’s easy to get really invested in, here’s what I’m doing, and I’m already working hard. It must just be a matter of, I really need to work harder, or I need to get everybody else to do the thing that I’m doing, and then that that will make the difference. And so there’s, I think there’s this built in reticence at times, to really peer into what is the level of effectiveness behind what I’m doing? Well, part of the challenges, the only real way to know if something is being effective is you first have to start by being clear about what are we trying to affect. And so if I don’t set any destination, I just hop in the car and I say, I’m not going to set a destination until I get there, I will be highly effective at getting somewhere. Right? But who knows where that somewhere is. It’s only when I say here’s exactly on the map that I’m trying to go, that I can then have some way of evaluating whether that my current trajectory is taking me away from that or toward that. And so the first step, just have to be clear on what is it that I’m trying to affect? What is the outcome that I’m trying to have for children? This is why in our framework, you know, you have to get clear about the priorities, like what is the what students know and be able to do. And as we work with a lot of school systems, nobody’s actually sat down and categorically said, these are the results that are most important. And we will actually sacrifice other things in service of accomplishing these things. And so really putting a stake in the sand and say, These are the priorities, and there’s gonna be a bunch of other great things out there. And we’re gonna say no to a lot of those really great things, not because they’re not great, though, because we’re trying to get here. And we’re here. And that great thing happens to be over here. And, and so that doesn’t, that doesn’t make it not great. It just makes it not on the path to where we’re going. And so that’s the first step is people just have to get really clear about the priorities. And we just often find that that’s simply not the case, the folks haven’t nailed down. Here’s what winning for children in our community looks like, here’s how we’re going to measure whether or not we’re winning for children. Only in the context of having done that, can I then evaluate whether the path I’m on is actually the most effective path to get me toward that destination. And so that’s part that’s part of the challenge is folks have to first be willing to put a stake in the sand and say, here’s what children deserve. Here’s how we’re going to measure whether or not they’ve got it. And then in that context, we can tell you whether or not my actions are making the difference I intended.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 17:42
Again, very simple. Focus to clear, but not easy. I love that you break it down. It’s not you’re not using too big of words, you’re not, you know, talking add in. I mean, it makes perfect sense. But doing it. Yeah, more people would be doing it if it were easy.

AJ Crabill 18:05
Well, and this is where part of the assertion that I would offer folks is that if you really want to be great at anything in life, you probably want to coach, if you really want to be a great football player, probably want to get a really great coach, if you want to be a great pianist, you probably want to get a coach. And similarly, if you want to be a really great teacher, it’s gonna benefit from having a really great coaching folks who can watch the instructions. Okay, I see what you’re trying to do here with little AJ, it maybe have you try offering this instruction instead of that instruction? Or maybe you asked a yes, no question. Maybe you can try asking open ended question. I mean, just making the small tweaks that someone who is trying to be a coach and in that you have a trusting relationship with they can really help you identify those pivots and make those pivots, that that tends to help accelerate our improvement. Well, same thing is true in the boardroom, is that often the wild? These are fairly straightforward. Like I haven’t run across anybody say, Wow, goals. I’ve never thought that goals would be useful life, right? There’s nobody everybody’s like, Oh, yeah, you’re right. That does make sense that we should have goals. They just haven’t done it. And so this isn’t like rocket is a fourth grader. What’s it This isn’t rocket surgery. But it is a matter of sometimes it’s just difficult to get there on your own and so frequently recommended the book is get a coach like you You don’t have to go this alone. It’s not intended for you to figure this all out by yourself. It’s appropriate to have help and support. So I would say that I’d want every particularly every brand new teacher definitely but preferably every teacher have access to a coach who can help them grow and develop in their craft. I would expect every principal in the country to have access to a coach. I would tell that to any school board. Hire pay for a coach for your superintendent And I would say to every school board in the country, you all need to coach, if you really want to swiftly improve in your service to children, don’t go it alone, find a coach who will help you. So in support you with implementing the things that are already the desire of your hearts.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 20:17
Love that. And so beyond the book, do you do some of the coaching?

AJ Crabill 20:21
Certainly I do a certain amount of coaching a lot of my time these days is spent helping certified coaches nationwide. And so we provide a lot of training and support for people to come certified as effective school board coaches, so that they can then go out and be of service to school district. So do I personally, coach a little bit? Yeah, I think it’s important, because that helps my skill stay sharp, and you’re constantly learning when you’re out in the field and being of support to folks who are in the trenches, and really on the frontlines of being a service to children. And so I still always make time to do some amount of coaching. I’ve coached several high schools around their deployment of restorative student led restorative practices and several school boards on their implementation of effective school board practices. And so again, doing a little bit of that myself, helps me stay sharp and gives me an excuse to spend a lot of time with students and teachers, which I enjoy. Yeah, but, but but much of my work is focused around, pouring into others so that they can really be great coaches and be effective at supporting school boards, really making a difference in their communities.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 21:31
So where would a school board find these coaches, that sort of thing? A lot of districts have instructional leaders, that coach teachers, I know, Danny Bauer, and a lot of people coach principals. But coaching school boards is a new concept to me.

AJ Crabill 21:49
Yeah. Well, they can folks, reach out to me personally, I’ll gladly connect to people, we have a list of resources for school boards, effective school If people want to learn more about the book, there are links there, that’s, or people can visit me personally.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 22:11
And I’ll put all of this in the show notes so that listeners, you guys can tap into this really easily. One other question that’s kind of peripheral to this or a piece of this, about what would you say to parents on why they should get involved involved, how they can get involved? And perhaps the other side of that, when is it like not a good reason, like if you believe it has to be this math curriculum, or you hate that science teacher is probably not a good motive for joining a board. But what would you suggest appearance?

AJ Crabill 22:46
Oh, certainly, I’ll take your cue on that retribution is probably not the best service. If that’s your thing, maybe work that out with a therapist first. If what you have is a heart to represent the vision and values of the community and help bring those vision bring that vision for what student can be able to do and bring those values of the community into the school system, and partnership with your other school board members to help ensure that the school board that the school system is focused on the community’s vision and honoring the community’s values if you have a heart for that, and the school board is the place for you. Because that right there is in fact the board’s job to represent the vision and values of the community. Some people think, Oh, well, the the job of the board is to you know, fire that coach that nobody likes. That’s not actually the school board’s job, oh, well, we decide if it’s Taco Tuesday or taco Thursday as the board. In fact, I would argue it’s not really even the job of the board to be selecting individual instructional materials, like I really want to leave that up to my professional educators to make those type of decisions. Yep, they need to make those decisions within the framework of the community’s vision of values. And the board’s job is to adopt those in the written form of the community’s vision values is what we refer to as policy. So it’s the job of the board to listen for the community’s vision for what students know and be able to do. It is the job of the board to listen to the community’s values, what are the non negotiables that have to be honored in this community. And that’s going to vary from community to community, each committee is going to have a slightly different vision and committee gonna have a slightly different set of values. And that’s just fine. Each community gets to have their own, but the job of the board is to represent their community’s vision, their community’s values. And then codify that to write it down to make the vision of values plain. Again, this is what we refer to as policy, and then challenge the professional educators from the classroom to the superintendent’s office, to make decisions around improving outcomes for students that honor the community’s vision, and then align with the community’s values.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 24:50
So if I’m that parent that like yes, I want to make sure all kids have access to wonderful learning and that they’re meeting these outcomes that we want them And how would I start? Maybe I’m new to the district or something, and I haven’t been on the PTA and then the PTA president? How would I go about seeing about if I want to be involved and how to get involved on the board?

AJ Crabill 25:12
Well, probably don’t spend too much time at school board meetings. I know that sounds odd. But a lot of people go to school board meetings like, yeah, this seems boring. I don’t want to do this. How do I serve children? And so part of it is you got to figure out what seat on the bus that you really wanted to sit on. If you’re wanting to have direct daily interaction with students, maybe be a big brother with Big Brothers, Big Sisters, or a concert volunteer or something like that. Because the school board really isn’t about being in the classroom day in and day out being of service to children that way. So the first thing I do is I just be in discernment about what is the role that I want to play? And if the what if the work of listening to the community’s vision of values, and then writing it down and making it plain, and then monitoring the work of the Board the work of the district, at least half of your time each month? If that doesn’t sound like what you’re called to, then maybe don’t run for the school board. But if it is, certainly do so. What I encourage folks to do is spin, spin a little bit of time visit with existing school board members, and ask them about their sense, what are what work are they doing to capture the community’s vision? And then how are they monitoring to ensure that that’s being honored by the school system? What work are they doing to capture the community’s values and make sure it’s being honored. And if people really feel a calling on their life to be of service to children that way, and that is great. If you do that work, you watch a few board meetings you visit with a few board members, maybe you read a book about effective school board governance, and that really resonates for you, then it’s time to step forward. A caveat though, some people think that in order to be a school board member, you have to have some deep seated experience in education. And that’s that’s simply not the case. The school board is not a educational expert. It’s not intended to be an educational expert. You hire educational experts, we call them teachers, the school board is not student’s teacher. And so you don’t have to be an educational expert to be on the board. Some people say, Oh, well, I’m not a legal expert, you don’t have to be a legal expert to serve on the board. Well, I’m not a finance expert, you don’t have to be a finance expert. All you have to do is be willing to listen for and represent the vision and values of the community. If you are going for that, then you have all the skills, all the tools, all the expertise, you need to be a school board member,

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 27:33
I love that you frame this in a way very, not only is it clear, but it’s very different from the way I’ve heard it described in other situations, and you really cut through a lot of the extra peripheral stuff to get to the start of it.

AJ Crabill 27:54
Yeah, people often make the mistake of listing out a bunch of the stuff that the boards frequently do, as if that’s why the board exists. Does the board adopt a budget? Yes. Is that why the board exists? No. The board exists to represent the vision and values of the community. And so if we adopt a budget, but that budget doesn’t honor the community’s vision for what students should know, and be able to do, and it doesn’t honor the community’s values that have that are non negotiable, then we haven’t done our job, even if we’ve adopted the budget. And so people often confuse what a board does with why a board does it. What I’m saying is the why of board does what it does is because its role is to represent the vision and values of the community. And the what it does will vary based on what is it most look like in your circumstance, to do that, to really honor the community’s vision and honor the community’s values. But a lot of people get caught up in all the mechanics of it. All that is stuff that is learnable. later down the road, what I would encourage people to focus on learning and advances. What is what does it look like to listen for the community’s vision? What does it look like to listen for the community’s values and to write it down to make it plain and most of that is covered in chapters four and five of the book, like if you’re not going to read anything else, just read those two, if that work resonates with you, then you’re ready to serve on the school board. If if the work of those chapters listen for the vision and the values of the community, and that doesn’t resonate for you, then this problem probably is not for you.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 29:28
That makes really good sense. AJ, I want to pivot because I always like to talk a little bit about the person behind the book, the idea, the process, and just have listeners understand that people with great ideas doing this important work are also real humans and make that connection. May I ask you a few turbo time questions.

AJ Crabill 29:51
Oh, here we go.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 29:53
What’s the last book you read?

Speaker 2 29:56
The most recent book that I read the coach’s guide to teaching by Doug Lemov I don’t know if you’re familiar with Doug Lemov. The book that he’s most known for is Teach Like a Champion.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 30:06
Oh, okay, I’ve heard that one. Yes,

AJ Crabill 30:08
he’s just come out with a new book called The coach’s guide to teaching. It is the hotness if you are a instruction nerd, or if you aspire to be an instructional coach, or any type of education leader, I’m telling you, it’s an amazing read. It’s a page turner. He’s such a great storyteller. But he makes it so easy to capture the idea that he’s trying to convey around what it is it has to change an adult behavior to really set students up for success. He does a great job. If you haven’t read Teach Like a Champion, every teacher in the country should reach to soccer champion. But if you’re thinking about supporting and coaching instruction, the coaches guide to teaching I strongly recommend it love the read.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 30:52
Nice. Oh, about two inspirational folks, you’d love to meet

Speaker 2 30:57
inspirational folks. I saw a YouTube the other day. And so the very first person who came to my mind is actually Amanda Gorman,

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 31:07
love, I have her. Her children’s book right here changed things.

AJ Crabill 31:10
That’s why she came to my mind, because I’m seeing a book like that, that didn’t even connect that into just now. And so yeah, you know, certainly, you know, this is one of our young people who is coming up, just has a really beautiful voice, that it kind of speaks, you know, the voice of regeneration of sorts. And so I certainly appreciate that. But it’s somebody I don’t know yet. I know a lot of inspirational young people, I just don’t have it in or somebody else that I would love to visit with. I don’t know how much you’ve been paying attention to this whole chat GPT thing.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 31:47

AJ Crabill 31:48
It’s take the education world by storm, and I predicted that we’re only experiencing the tip of the iceberg of the difference that some of these computational intelligence tools will ultimately wind up making in terms of what is instruction look like? And and how do we provide teachers with the supports that they need to really be highly effective in their craft. And so I’d love to sit down with some of the folks at open AI who really done a lot of work on chat GPT, or sit down some of the folks at Google who’ve done the work behind lambda, these are two of these large language model AI systems that a lot of people are talking about, and really get an insider’s view of what their vision is for how these tools are really going to make a difference for how we educate humans in the future. I certainly have my own ideas, but go into the people who are actually developing these tools and getting their sense. That’d be a lot of fun.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 32:43
I agree. It’s exciting. And I know some people like Oh, dear, oh, dear. But it is super exciting. And it also makes us Yeah, it makes me wonder what if computers can be doing that? What should we be helping kids be ready to do? What are the soft skills? What are the creative skills? You know? So it’s exciting if we don’t have to write the perfect essays? Or we can just go blank and it’s written? What does that free kids up to do to use the tools use the resources and be amazing in new ways? I I know people are nervous. But I also know people were nervous with what are those computers? What are those calculators? And there are tools? So it’s exciting.

Speaker 2 33:22
Yeah, I predict this will just open up a whole new kind of era of what does instruction what is learning for humans look like? And and I think we all need to be embracing it and figuring out how can we how can we take full advantage of this on behalf of our students?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 33:38
Agreed? And what is something that most folks don’t know about You?

AJ Crabill 33:44
jumped out of an airplane wants it would probably do it again, if somebody asked.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 33:49
You’re alive to tell the story.

Speaker 2 33:51
I survived once I have the video, I got a YouTube video to prove it. So yeah, if asked, I’d probably do it again.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 33:59
Love it. I like to wrap up interviews with a magic wand moment. So AJ, I’m handing you a magic wand and asking you what you are going to use it forward in terms of wishing that all school boards were wet. What would you wish for?

AJ Crabill 34:20
Well, certainly the intention of the book is to accelerate the transition of school boards from being adult inputs focus to being student outcomes focused. And so something related to that. Maybe, if, you know, I think the challenge that some of these school boards have is they making that leap. It just requires so much effort that it’s hard to get there without a coach. But we just don’t have part of the reason. The idea of a school board coach is relatively babbled to you because there’s not a lot of us out here. So to really have the impact across 14,000 school districts across the country, we’re probably gonna need like 1000 School Board coaches out here, right now we have less than 100. And so one of the things I wish every board would have access to is, is to have a school board coach. But to do that, you know, people like you and me and everybody we know is going to have to search their heart and figure out, you know, is there a calling on my, my life to support school boards in their development as an access to supporting children in their development? And if that’s the case, whether you are one of your listeners, I’d say, you know, shoot me an email, you know, a jelly at AJ And if that sounds like something you’re curious about, let me know, let’s talk about what your journey to being a school board coach might look like.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 35:41
Love it. And AJ, what you are doing is so important teachers in the classroom, do amazing work, but it’s up to school leaders and up to the school board to make sure that they’re doing the right work with the right resources.

AJ Crabill 35:56
And to reduce noise. Yes, yes.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 35:59
And that the outcomes are being measured and happening. So thank you so much for making all of this happen.

AJ Crabill 36:07
No, it’s this is I get to wake up every day and step out into the world and fight for what’s possible for children in my community and across the nation. Is Philip feel ridiculously blessed. Yay.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 36:33
When it comes to educational change, it often feels like we’re rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, two steps forward, and one and 910 steps backwards. And we’re not really ending up with an increase in student learning, or with more use aligned with their passion and purpose and making a difference as they confidently move through the world. It could possibly be because we’re not setting clear outcomes, and putting in the time necessary to measure our progress and adjust course, in an ongoing manner. He drives home the point that not only do we need to have these clear outcomes and measure them, but that our schools need to prioritize improved student outcomes, and de emphasize adult inputs. Even when there’s board training available to help boards understand the difference between their role in governance, and school leaders roles in operations. Rarely is their board coaching to help boards develop.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 37:38
Luckily, AJ has a book hot off the presses to help create this framework for our boards. Great on their behalf. Why school boards fail, and how yours can become effective is a powerful resource. We’re including a link to the first chapter in the show notes. Healthy boards spend their time on these high level activities. They move past lack of knowledge or know how or worldview AJs book contains five steps for boards to create continuous improvement and student outcomes. I like AJs metaphor that our boards need to be coaches and replay the videos figuratively or literally have their board meetings, asking what worked and also where we can grow in service to our youth. This reflective and proactive approach is one that would benefit all of us parents, educators, leaders and boards. I’m putting the links for coaching certification effective school boards, the book, and AJs contact information in the show notes. I’m an idea person. Ideas bounce around in my head all day long. I love combining them or sharing the resources I discover with others. Getting laser like focus and staying focused is not as easy for me. But a student outcome focus with a very clear destination and priorities and what to look for is vitally important. What results will we be able to see if we focused on student outcomes and having a coach is the best way to get that focus and stay on course. That coach is our travel guide on our journey.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 39:31
I also appreciate that Aj is clear that we’re not all called to be on a school board. We have to figure out the seat on the bus we want. His Casa example is dear to me. My daughter serves as a CASA volunteer in Philadelphia. As this court appointed advocate for youth, she is helping assure that the student assigned to her does not fall through the cracks and that their academic needs are being being identified and supported. serving as a mentor, a big brother or sister, and after school tutor, a children’s hospital play volunteer. There are so many ways we can impact students. And perhaps, that serving on a board, do the discernment and find the place that you are called to make that difference. AJ is magic wand wish that all school boards transition from adult inputs to student outcomes. As their focus is powerful. students and their learning are at the center of schools, we need to start making student outcomes aligned with a clear sense of our graduate profile, the North Star of schools, get the book, get the coaching. And let’s get going. Thank you for being a part of the education evolution.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 41:01
I know how challenging it is to make changes inside your own school or community. I’ve spent years working with schools around the world on creating learner centered programs. And it always struck me how much schools were able to get done with the right tools and guidance. If you’re ready to make changes like this in your own school, let’s talk and put together an action plan. Visit for a free 15 minute call. And let’s see if we’re a good fit for more work together. Thanks again for listening. To support the education evolution. Subscribe so it lands in your podcast app and gets out to more decision makers. Then rate and review it. For more information in shownotes go to education evolution listeners. You are the ones to ensure we create classrooms where each student is seen heard, valued and thriving. We are in this together and we need you. Let’s go out and reach every student today. Thank you for listening, signing off. I am Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your partner in boldly reimagining education.


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