Dave SchmittouBlog, Connect Better, Lead Better


  • As a leader, it’s not always just about what you know, but it’s about who you are as a person.
  • Leaders are models for teachers, who all are models for students.
  • As a leader, you don’t need to know everything, but others must know you.
  • Be more KNOWABLE than KNOWLEDGEABLE. It’s not about having THE answer; it’s about allowing others to have the space, the trust, and the vulnerability to discuss and decide on their answer.

Compassionate. Honest. Focused. Cheerful. Curious. Diplomatic. Flexible. Bold. Humble. Knowable.

It would be amazing to have the people I work with describe me with any of the words listed above. I have had the opportunity to fill a lot of roles in public education from classroom teacher to a central office administrator, to college professor. But my favorite, by far, was serving as a school principal. As a public school principal, I was blessed to work with some amazing people. People who chose their career, not because of the paychecks they received or the fame and notoriety they would get from society.

The only way to foster change is to acknowledge that there may be better ways to do things. If we want our students to grow and change the world, teachers must model it, and they will only do so if their leaders do the same. Click To Tweet

I got to work with people who served a purpose so much larger than their own.

I worked with people who receive wages that simply allow them to keep living their purpose. And I worked with people who believe they have a calling and the work they do is a service. 

As a school principal, my primary responsibility was to hire the people I wished to place in front of the next generation of the workforce. As I hired teachers, support staff, custodians, cafeteria workers, and secretaries, I used the same criteria every single time.

I did not look at certifications, education, and work experience beyond minimum qualifications as defined by the human resource department of my district. I looked for people who focused on being quality people. A high achieving professional is a byproduct of being a high-quality person. It does not always work the other way around.

Influence has nothing to do with a placard or a title. I know this because at home I am known as “dad.” And quite often, I am simply at the whim of everyone else in the household. My title carries with it very little influence. Being outnumbered by my four kids, I know that a mutiny can happen at any time. 

At work, I have been a teacher, coach, principal, and director. I am an evaluator, and I am an administrator. I have dozens of workplace tasks that define my role. But none of them define my power and influence. 2,500 kids, 150 staff members…but only 1 me.

My title may give me some authority, but authority without influence matters little.

Too often in organizations, we see individuals who carry with them the title “boss” and erroneously believe that this also equates to influence. Often it is the “boss” who makes the biggest miscalculation. I absolutely believe that respect is given and not earned. I wholeheartedly believe that respect is a basic human right. That is not to say that respect, authority, and power all equate to influence. Influence and the power to change thoughts, actions, and beliefs very rarely come from positional authority.

I have heard many administrators make the statement “I do everything for the kids.” This is an amazing mindset and one that I hold on to. This does not mean that in working with and for your students that you make the lives of the adults miserable.

If you want to enhance the lives of your students, work to enhance the lives of those on the front lines. Change will only begin to take root once a leader realizes his or her ability to lead depends more on those who follow and his or her ability to serve them.

As educators, our job is to contribute to the future.

We have jobs that others try to measure in moments of time through daily observations and summative assessments, even though our success can only be measured in generations. If what we are presenting to our students cannot endure, we must ask if it is something we should be spending our time on at all.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Standards-based learning is key to achieving success. I have made my living as a consultant preaching this truth. Clearly articulating objectives, assessing based on growth and progress, mastery and proficiency are all critical components of lasting learning and enduring education. But none are the silver bullet. I have built my professional reputation—my career—on articulating the importance and relevance of focused standards-based learning and grading. But even I know that SBL, as it is often described, is only a piece of the puzzle, not THE piece. 

In education, we are often guilty of seeking the Holy Grail and Magic Pill to cure all and fix what others perceive to be broken.

We attend a conference and hear one educator tell a story of what has worked in her classroom, with her kids, in her community. And we jump on board to try and replicate that program in our school with our kids, and expect the same results.

We chase programs over people. We search for curriculum over creativity. When we don’t see immediate results, we drift back to the status quo and wonder if the next blog we read, the next professional development seminar we attend, or the next team meeting will reveal the answer of what we have been looking for.

We need to stop looking for THE answer and instead continue to look for AN answer. And we need to realize that we have millions of children in a multitude of environments, with countless unknown futures who all require something a little bit different.

As a leader, I have to further the conversations that matter to me. I have to recognize that I do not have to know it all, but others must know me. 

It is way more important to be KNOWABLE than KNOWLEDGEABLE.

It’s not about having THE answer; it’s about allowing others to have the space, the trust, and the vulnerability to discuss and decide on their answer.

Taboo topics only exist in cultures that cherish the status quo. If I allow and engage in public conversations about our most sacred educational traditions, the teachers that work with me will feel the freedom to do the same. The only way to foster change is to acknowledge that there may be better ways to do things. If we want our students to grow and change the world, teachers must model it, and they will only do so if their leaders do the same. 

Be the change to see the change.

Leaders, yes you have to balance budgets, do evaluations, supervise bus duty, and deal with disgruntled parents. But you know what? So do your teachers. If you want your teachers to lead the next generation with love and inspiration, in spite of the stress and burdens that surround them, then lead your teachers the same way.

Teachers, the same wisdom goes for you. You must act the way you want your students to act. You must demonstrate what you expect. Model what you want. Yes, I know you are not a student. I know the same rules should not apply to you as they do to your students. Yes, I know you can vote, drink, smoke, and drive. I know you are old enough to make your own decisions and live your own life. But one of the decisions that you made was to accept your part in shaping the lives of the kids who are watching your every move. 

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When you chose to enter into this “most noble” of professions, the bar was raised. You chose this career and the responsibility that comes with it.

Your students notice when you roll your eyes at that kid who shows up late. They hear the complaining spilling out of the teachers’ lounge. They recognize your car on the street and see you rolling through that stop sign in town. Right or wrong, they are watching.

This pressure can get intense, but don’t let it get the best of you. Our students also need to see us make mistakes, apologize for them, and recover. They need to see that we are human and need to see what responsible adults do when they make mistakes. This does not, however, give us the right to act however we want or to put ourselves on a pedestal in front of our students.

As educators, I think that we often get it wrong. In our attempts to help prepare our students for adulthood, we make the claim that we are trying to teach our students what the “real world” looks like, forgetting that our students are living in a world that is very real today. We use this claim to give ourselves an excuse to treat our students in the way that some of us have been treated by employers in the past, erroneously thinking that just because there are bad bosses in the world, we have to equip our students to deal with them someday.

We forget that our job is to empower students to see the world for what it could be, instead of what it has been.

Because of this, schools often become the breeding ground for oxymoronic behavior. If you are guilty of any of the following, feel free to humble yourself and call yourself an oxyMORON, then have the boldness to change.

One of the greatest qualities of a leader is the ability to empower others. As we work towards improving academic excellence at our schools, I believe that it is absolutely essential to help teachers and students reach their full potential. Each day, it is my hope to motivate others to work hard, seek knowledge that will help them learn and grow, and ultimately strengthen their practice.

One way that I do this is by scheduling individual consultations with my staff. These mini-conversations enable me to get to know them on a personal level, helps me to focus on each person’s needs, and affords me the opportunity to help them see themselves through my eyes. One of the greatest gifts that we can give to others is to uplift them and enable them to accomplish more than they ever thought they could. This is what we ask teachers to do for students, so it is critical that we help them do the same. – Jami Fowler-White, NBCT Assistant Principal (@JjJj821)

See the full Leading by Empowering blog series here!

About Dave Schmittou

Entering his twenty-first year in education, Dave has earned a reputation for being a disruptor of the status quo, an innovator, and a change agent. Having served as a classroom teacher, school-based administrator, central office director, and now professor of Educational Leadership, he often uses real-life stories and examples of his own life and career to describe why and how we need to confront “the way we have always done it.”

He has written multiple books, including “It’s Like Riding a Bike: How to make learning last a lifetime”, “Bold Humility”, and “Making Assessment Work for Educators Who Hate Data but Love Kids”. He speaks, consults, and partners with districts around the country and loves to keep learning and growing.