Episode #299: Tom Hoerr

Dana GoodierOut of the Trenches Podcast

Tom Hoerr led schools for 37 years and is now a Scholar In Residence at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where he teaches prospective principals. Tom began as a teacher and then moved into a leadership role as a principal in the School District of University City. He worked with the Pershing School faculty to achieve significant improvements in student performance at the same time that the school population became more impoverished. In 1981, Tom became the head of the New City School in St. Louis, a school founded on a commitment to progressive learning and respect for human diversity. During Tom’s 34 years at New City, the school raised funds to renovate the building, expand the campus, refurbish the theater, build the MI library, and establish an endowment for need-based financial aid. He was given Emeritus status when he retired in 2015. 

Tom has written five books – The Formative Five: Fostering Grit, Empathy, and Other Success Skills Every Student Needs; Becoming a Multiple Intelligences School; The Art of School Leadership; School Leadership for the Future; and Fostering Grit: How do I prepare my students for the real world? – and more than 120 articles or book chapters. He has been the author of “The Principal Connection” column in Educational Leadership since 2004.

Tom holds a PhD in Educational Planning and Policy-Development from Washington University in St. Louis, an MEd in Educational Administration from the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and a BA in Education from Harris Teachers College.

Trenches story: will probl share about writing his last book- is biased for ch. 2, looked at first year as a principal and all the mistakes he made, that it never occurred to him to have empathy. Any job of being a leader, when you’re successful you’re not. He does presentations to principals. Ends w/ slide w/ photo pf cafeteria trays. He shares a story about being at a principal’s conference where room was packed 3:00 on a Friday. Talk was about how they managed stress. 1 principal said he managed getting the right answer w/ the cafeteria trays- getting kids to put 100% of trays away when they eat. He’s not satisfied w/ 95%-his stress level goes to the ceiling- recognize excellence vs. participation. His trench story is trying to recognize when you can’t settle for excellence. Looking @ how far you get striving for excellence.

Last book, Principal as Chief Empathy Officer. A few days ago did a zoom w/ principals in NY. Has talked about empathy in general, multiple intelligences. Fostering Grit, Formative Five– 5 success skills to develop in students regardless of who you are. We as a profession need to be looking @ ppl we create. His book was very successful. Taking Social-Emotional Learning School-Wide-as he was writing it- kept coming back to the principal. What the world needs is more empathy. Not just for principals. Leadership is based on relationships. We can each develop our own empathy. Many ppl do naturally. His goal isn’t to be an academic. Here are some tactics you can use as leader. 

He’s observed that in his classes about Perspective Principals, that ppl in education are bringing stressors. Excellence vs perfection- we do what works. 1 exercise- he talks about the bubble-media biases us. Schools can bias us. Part of the role achieving empathy officer is how can you create a bond. Suggestion- principals don’t have lots of time but what was really helpful for him was to belong to a book group-every 6 wks. Talk about leadership w/ non-educators. 

Virtual & in-person speaking events- several x’s monthly– main topics he presents on. Embeds SEL concepts, helps ppl to learn from another- no matter how good a speaker is, he wants to connect w/ ppl around him. Learning should be a constructive process. How can you change the culture w/in your school? He teaches on culture- Taking Social Emotional Learning School-Wide, uses Formative Five to embrace culture as a lens. Improving culture- creating a place where we’re all on the same team. Small thing- building a culture of gratitude. What can you do w/ staff- his recipe is to have every mtg begin w/ 90 sec. of gratitude. Establishing a culture of appreciation & gratitude. You can turn your culture. The “but” is “I don’t have enough time”. You don’t have enough time NOT to do it. Get a few ppl on board- there will be naysayers. Will change the norm over time.

Part of building community- he does a class on school culture; he’ll give an assignment- the st’s will come w/ a photo on their laptop & will talk about where they went on vacation.

At univ. he & colleague will start an all-virtual doctorate-students in year 1. They may start one in Jan. 2025- leadership, SEL. He’s been teaching virtually since 2020. However, it’s easy to build community only looking at the screen. Most students are currently in teaching roles. 

Out of everything: We need to see where we can make a difference. Maybe it’s with the whole school. We have the obligation to bring our talents to the table. Click To Tweet

Where can ppl find you online: www.thomashoerr.com trhoerr@aol.com send link when it comes out, he’d be happy to come back later! 

View this episode on YouTube: https://youtu.be/KyNGg1KGzC0