072: Teaching leaders how to lead; Daniel Bauer, part 1 (transcript)

August 10, 2018 by Joshua
in Podcast

Daniel Bauer is a principal who makes a difference far beyond his school or district through communities online and off. When I was younger I thought of education as less important than things like business, politics or things that involved a lot more money. I thought teachers they only affect their classrooms, principals only affect their schools. I’m teaching now. Education means much more to me than it used to. I’ve since realized that educators affect society in a much bigger way. Yet some teachers and principals only affect a few people. But Daniel Bauer affects a lot more. He affects the world. He also affects his teachers and students much more intimately and deeply and effectively and he tells how he clashes with tradition. But the bigger thing for me right here right now in the Leadership and the Environment podcast is the challenge that he takes on. Wait till you hear his personal challenge. I think it’s one of the biggest ones we’ve had so far. So let’s listen.


Joshua: Daniel, thanks for being here. How are you doing?

Daniel: I am absolutely thrilled. You know this is the highlight of my day that I get to speak with you, Josh. I had you on my podcast and you just blew me out of the water and the reciprocation asking me to be over here with you is absolutely the highlight of my day.

Joshua: Well, thank you, Daniel. That’s been a great interview and I think it won’t just end there because it sounds so great. So I was on Daniel’s podcast probably six months ago now. And so you do Better Leaders Better Schools and combining two great, great passions of mine so leadership and education. And so tell me how did you go into this area? Do you remember what got you started?

Daniel: Absolutely. You know, Josh, it came out of some pain. I was moving into a leadership role and not that I lacked confidence, I think I had a perspective that was pretty realistic that I still have so much more to grow. And that’s true today even though I’ve been quote unquote leading for a while now. I wanted to have more training and I wanted to have authentic and vulnerable and deep conversations about leadership. And not just like what are the winds, what are the successes. Well, I want to know what were those big mistakes so I could avoid them. And I was trying to organize these local dinners. They went OK. And I think because of traffic and kids and all these other competing forces they didn’t happen as consistently as my heart desired.

The ironic part about this, Josh, is when I moved from a local perspective and this was in you know a large area Chicago, third largest city.

Joshua: Sorry to interrupt. So you’re in Chicago. You’re a teacher to stage? What’s the context?

Daniel: Yeah, yeah. Teaching, moving into instructional leadership with a guarantee that I would move into an assistant principal position after completing my graduate coursework. And so I feel underprepared and overwhelmed and I want to do a great job and serve my community at the highest level possible.

And so these dinners are happening but not quite you know as consistently as I’d like. Meanwhile I’m listening to a bunch of podcasts about a variety of topics and I just had this a-ha! moment that what if I just interviewed people much smarter with me with much, much more experience and I just pick their brain what have you learned about leadership and education. And I could have this personalized professional development offered as a free gift to anybody that wanted to download. The show was birthed out of there. But the irony again, moving from a local, trying to make some change and get fed and I opened it up to global that’s when the conversation actually occurred when I included everybody’s voice.

Joshua: And so the conversation you mean the podcast?

Daniel: Correct. Yeah and it was neat you know because I wasn’t just speaking with educators in the U.S., talking to people in Canada, Australia, Netherlands and all around the world. So it’s been quite a ride and quite an adventure for me so far.

Joshua: Now you told me before that everything you do is based in education, it’s based in teaching. So a principal, sometimes they’ll have a classroom role but I am really curious about teaching leadership. Is that something that… I am like I don’t feel like there are classes of leadership at the high school level or the K12 level. How do you teach leadership? How do you learn leadership?

Daniel: When I was an assistant principal Brooks College Prep in Chicago I liked to teach a class that was every other Wednesday and we had this special schedule that we called a seminar and students could participate. It was from everything from yoga to building robots to braiding natural hair, and I taught a seminar on leadership and really it was having again authentic conversations with these students, these young adults and finding out what was a problem that they wanted to solve or what was some type of goal that they were you know interested in accomplishing. And then just having those very real conversations about well, how are you going to get there.

And I think I naturally gravitate towards roles where I can be a coach and ask great questions, try to really be an active listener and help people get started on that path and you know knock out goals they have set for themselves. So that’s what I did you know with students and then with adults. You know I think it’s empowering people and giving them trust in terms of projects to lead and feedback and how to… But you know with Better Leaders Better Schools I’ve started the mastermind concept in the education industry. And that’s because I had invested myself in a mastermind outside of education just for personal development.

And I saw my own growth happen so quickly and so deeply that I looked at schools and just like the podcast I saw a hole. When you become a principal, this is what I felt – underprepared, overwhelmed and who was there to support us. It just wasn’t there.

Joshua: The things that you talked about, about how you educate students as well I guess younger students as well as adult students. I mean I heard you talked about conversations, you talked about listening, you talked about empowering people, trusting them, about giving them leadership roles. This doesn’t sound like what I had when I was a student. I had lecture and assignments to do what I was told. Are you in conflict with traditional education or are you reforming traditional education? Are you working outside of it? Because I’d love to have stuff like that in schools.

Daniel: Absolutely, yeah. That model, the traditional model is just such a bore for me and it puts me to sleep. And I look at the eyes of my students as a school leader and they’re glazed over when the teacher takes the role of just lecturer. It has to be in my mind a conversation and ultimately around solving interesting problems and engaging in projects that are meaningful and authentic. Without that like what is the point of what we’re doing? In the best version is when it’s personal lives and it comes from your students whether they are you know the kiddos you’re working with or the adults you’re trying to also develop. But when it comes from them and they say, “This is where I’m trying to go” and you help them figure it out, that’s what makes it real.

So I’m absolutely in conflict with a traditional setting. Now I think in some respects the kids have to be exposed to it because a lot of colleges, universities still default to that and a lot of the high schools, elementary schools as well. But to make a real change the type of citizen and human being we’re trying to produce and I think can offer the greatest benefit to society these are people that are wildly passionate about some type of issue and they want to make a difference which is why we’re having this conversation and what you do with leadership in the environment.

Joshua: I only get to that, the environment and like this effort that you’re putting in. It sounds like it’s above and beyond. It sounds like some of these teachers it is going be the first time that there are principals in the room. What’s your… I’m hearing passion. What’s the passion? Is it support? Is it the students? Where does this come from? Because I don’t remember seeing the teacher in my classroom when I was in K12?

Daniel: At the core. I’m a teacher and I love the classroom. I used to say when I was a teacher, I’m an artist and the canvas is my classroom and then I moved into school leadership. I never wanted to do it, Josh, but somebody called out leadership gifts, they saw me and invited me to participate leading a school with them. Otherwise I’d still be a teacher and very happy. But as I explored leadership and started working at a more systems’ and building level I never forgot my roots of why I got into education. And at the core of it I love to see that lightbulb go on above someone’s head. I love to see people grow.

Because, for example, last night I facilitated three masterminds and I’ll share a very quick story about one. And this guy Joe who is in Illinois and he leads technology within a northern suburb of Chicago’s School District, he has this leadership and technology team. And he wanted to you know ask the mastermind how they could be more impactful and really see their work through, what could they do. And we gave them let’s say 20, at least 20 ideas but at the end of his quote unquote hot seat, it’s about 30 minutes we’re asking hard hitting questions and just sharing you know experience and saying, “Have you thought of this?” he is ear to ear grinning and so excited about his role and the potential of this group that he has the opportunity to lead. That’s what it’s all about. To see that smile, to have somebody feel like, “I didn’t know that this was even possible” and now they have this momentum in a path to get there, that’s why I do what I do.

Joshua: I think every interview I am struck by how every person is an effective leader that I speak to, they are more driven by the other person than by themselves. And it contrasts with this… It conflicts with I think the mainstream view of the leaders like the authoritarian person who is in charge and tells people what to do and it’s about them and the driving it seems to be consistently about the other people and their interests and their perspective and how can I help them. Does that fairly characterize how you see it and what drives you?

Daniel: Absolutely. Leadership it’s not about me. It’s not about my accomplishments. It’s about team and what we’ve accomplished. And again, I just love to see even if it’s individually what the people I serve what they accomplish, that is absolutely what it’s all about. Leadership is not a superhero-type syndrome where you have the weight of the world on your shoulders and you have to hold it alone. That’s a myth and it’s a lie. And too many leaders believe that and they get burnt out, they turn into jerks really. You’re trying to do it on your own and you’re not even fun to be around in. If you have any impact or change that you place in an organization, it won’t last because it’s probably driven by power or fear.

Joshua: How do you keep yourself invigorated and not lose? I mean just like a lot of bureaucracy out there? It must be frustrating. I don’t know. How do you handle these things?

Daniel: I think it is challenging but that’s why making sure you surround yourself with people that are going to be safe to talk to, that are going to challenge you when you get off your path or you just flat out wrong, you have folks that are going to encourage you to be the best version of yourself. You got to do it in community and not in isolation. So that’s why you know for me I offer those masterminds for school leaders and I participate in one that I invest in outside of the ones that I lead. And I think that’s the single greatest way to stay invigorated. To be quite honest, Josh, my school experience last year in Houston was extremely rough. I mean it was one of the hardest things that I’ve ever gone through. And you know I’m still processing it. Let’s just put it that way and I don’t understand why some things happened the way they did. And to be quite honest like there are many times that I was ready to give up or I was ready to start just like screaming, “This isn’t fair” and this is why it’s sort of like blow the whistle type thing but because of the mastermind I participate in they helped me keep a level head in a proper perspective based on what I was going through. But it was extremely, extremely rough.


Joshua: So I feel a lot of people can learn a lot from what you’re doing and this is not just the stuff that’s useful for people who are leading in education. How can people learn from you? There’s a podcast. What can people get from you? How do they find out? How do they learn more from you?

Daniel: Yeah. So I think the easiest way to connect is betterleadersbetterschools.com. That’s the least, the website that’s up right now. I have been approached you know there are folks that want to be in a mastermind and do that type of work outside of education. So I’ve got to figure out how to serve them in that way. It’s not necessarily ready yet but maybe in the future. E-mail’s daniel@betterleadersbetterschools.com or you could find me everywhere on social media Alienearbud which is just a weird anagram when you take my name Daniel Bauer, mix up the letters.

Joshua: Oh, OK. That’s your Twitter handle.

Daniel: Right. From a branding perspective probably pretty stupid you know it’s not like Better Schools are Yay for education or anything like that it’s Alienearbud. What does it have to do with you know anything that you do a podcast, small business or schools? And so I don’t know as a former English teacher, I love word games and I mixed up all the letters in my name and found something that sounded kind of fun and visually you know I saw an alien with some like iPhone headphones in or something and I said okay, I’ll take that. And there you have it.

Joshua: You are as geek as I am.

Daniel: It’s a compliment, by the way.

Joshua: Well, I imagine the listeners, it fits with them as well. I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll become cool enough in my years that I have some cool people listening too. I am going to switch to the environment now if it’s not too abrupt to switch. And is environment something that you care about? Is that a big important thing for you? What’s your connection with the environment?

Daniel: It is something that I care about you know and I was thinking deeply about you know the question you’re going to ask in terms of something that I commit to. And there was a time where I rode my bike every single day to work for about 3-3 or 4 years. Maybe it was 5. So I was trying to think what could I do that would make an impact on the environment in special and so I think I have an answer for you and if you don’t like it, I will adjust.

Joshua: OK, before you say it, I’ll just say what the usual qualifications are. It doesn’t have to be changing the world overnight and fixing all the problems of the world. It doesn’t have to be really big but it does have to be a challenge and it does have to be something that you care about and I hope that…I mean some people pick something that they want to make a change for their whole life but it can be temporary. It has to be something new that you’re not already doing but your choice of things. And I hope that even if you do something temporary, that you think like you might say I’ll do something for a week or a month or two months or something but you also say keep your mind open to continue doing it for longer. And it could be lowering greenhouse emissions but it could be totally separate. It could be reducing pollution or reducing resource depletion. So yeah, it sounds like you have something.

Daniel: Yes. So like I said I’ve commuted to work on my bike for a very long time but I’ve already done that so I can’t choose that one. And I did [unintelligible] I did that in Chicago, Illinois realm. But I always owned a car. Now in Chicago there was public transportation available but I still used my car to get to friends’ places, at work, location that was a little bit further away I commuted by car, pick up groceries and that kind of thing. And I’ve always owned a car. Then I moved from Chicago to Houston and trains and buses and those kinds of things they exist but I haven’t seen them. Everybody owns a car here. Probably because it’s the center of oil and gas. Everybody drives. The expressways are incredibly clogged up. And that’s just the way you get around.

So you know that Miriam and I are moving to Antwerp, Belgium. We are both committing to getting around by bike. We both own a car so it’s not that we’re going to go from two cars which we are right now to one car but we’re going to sell both cars and we’re not going to buy another one. And our goal is to not buy another one for the very distant future. I know that Europe has pretty good public transportation so I think we can rely on that foot and bike commuting but we have zero plans right now in investing in a car.

And for me that’ll benefit the environment but it’s also a little bit scary, Josh, because I’ve always owned one since 16 you know and I’m almost 40 and I’ve always had a car and that’s going to be a challenge for me.

Joshua: So is this something that you’re going to do anyway before you and I scheduled this call or is this something that came about because of scheduling this call?

Daniel: We were having conversations about it what we should do. One of the things that we’re thinking about as we move from Galveston to Antwerp is how can we live more simply. And so we’ve been asking a lot of questions, we’ve been giving away and selling a lot of material possessions, something that has really hit home and our hearts is you know you don’t bring this stuff to the grave with you. What you bring you know it’s hopefully those experiences and that love that you share with other people. And so we’ve been going back and forth whether or not like do we invest in a car or not. And we’ve been having the conversation, this podcast also you know that question was brought into the discussion and so we’ve arrived with the idea that we’re not going to purchase a car for at least the first year and hopefully thereafter.

Joshua: Wow. So this is making a big difference. All right. So then in the interest of having a second conversation because I’m very interested in hearing how this decades’ long pattern that you’re changing how that affects you and you’re going to a new place so you’re going to be in a lot of changes. Now if I remember right you’re moving there in about three weeks?

Daniel: Yeah.

Joshua: So how long after you get there do you feel like you will have to experience the transition before you can say before our next conversation will have something meaningful? Because [unintelligible] you’d be like, “I really have not noticed a change.”

Daniel: Yeah, I would say a few months because here’s the thing you know I want to experience bringing Miriam to work by bike and not dropping her off by car. I want to experience getting groceries week after week you know either on my bike or taking public transportation. I want to experience terrible weather. When I miss the car you know having to rely on public transportation so I’d like a few months of that so that the hardship of it can set in you know and the ease of just being able to go down to the garage and throw your keys in the ignition and go to wherever you want whenever you want. I want some time to have passed so that challenge actually has manifested.

Joshua: So we’re talking a big change. And you’ve thought through it but you also know that only by experiencing it are you going to get the experience.

Daniel: Yeah.

Joshua: So let’s see. So if it’s the beginning of September when it begins, then how about talking mid-November?

Daniel: Very good. I think it will be a little bit colder and maybe the rains have come into Belgium and I think that will be great.

Joshua: Cool. So I’m really looking forward to this because this may be one of the bigger changes and really I can’t wait till November. Is there anything I didn’t think to ask that is worth bringing up? Anything you’re looking forward to or whatever?

Daniel: I’m just looking forward to the move. I don’t know even what to expect so that’s kind of a change in itself. And I’m just really interested in how I will grow as an individual with this move. So I’m really excited. Miriam’s job’s bringing us over there. She’s working at the University of Antwerp. So we’ll just see. But I’m in an adventure with somebody I love and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.

Joshua: Cool. I think you told me before we start recording. I’m going to break the news, Daniel, that you guys you got engaged recently.

Daniel: Oh, yeah, that was early July. It was a short engage. We’ve been dating for a while but engaged on July 5 and married July 21. So we’ve been married about two weeks at this point.

Joshua: I appreciate you taking the time for this call. I’m sure your mind is on other things. Of big changes. OK, so then I will talk to you again in a couple of months, a little more than a couple of months and I’m kind of curious about updates in the meantime because I’m sure there’ll be changes but everyone will get to hear the update when it happens.

Daniel: Absolutely.

Joshua: Thank you very much. I look forward to talking to you then.

Daniel: This was such a pleasure, Josh. Thank you for inviting me on the show.

Joshua: OK. So I’ll cut there and yeah, this is like a big change. I mean it sounds like you’re most of the way there anyway. But you know so many people when I talk about not flying they say well the plane is going to fly anyway. But sometimes like it makes a big change like that little bit makes not getting a car. Like sometimes it might be a little change and most of the time doesn’t affect whether the plane’s going to fly but sometimes it does. And in this case, it looks like it made the difference between car or no car.

Daniel: Yeah. Yeah. It’s just always been there you know. So probably at some point like maybe I’ll think about a cell phone that way, it just it’s always there right now. It’s just ingrained in the life. So yeah, we’ll see. We’ll see how that works. Not having the convenience to fall back on [unintelligible] is interesting. I anticipate, I don’t know maybe I sound naïve, but I anticipate it not being as challenging until maybe what if we get pregnant you know and then what do we do? Well we’ve talked about it and we’re still we’re still committed of figuring out and taking a bus or an Uber to the hospital if that happens.

Joshua: Well, you know it turns out that human beings have been human beings for about 300000 years. The car has only been around for a little bit. And you can say, “Yeah, well, there’s a lot of people that live as well,” but it’s not a life or death thing.

Daniel: You know what I’m a budget guy too so I am really excited for the financial rewards. So we’ll see.

Joshua: It’ll help you choose where you live because you’re going to probably want to live close to where you work and make things easier that way.

Daniel: Right.

Joshua: Well, cool. I’m really looking forward to this one. I thank you for thinking about it and coming up with something like that.

Daniel: Absolutely. Again, thanks for inviting me. It’s so cool to hear how this has evolved for you and if there’s anything I can do to help, let me know.

Joshua: I will. All right. Thank you very much.

Daniel: Alright, Josh, take care.

Joshua: You too. Bye.


Getting rid of a car for someone in Texas. For a long time, I’ve wondered how much of an impact this podcast was going to have. Is it going to lead to meaningful change? Getting rid of a car seems pretty big to me. OK. He was thinking about already and Antwerp is going to make it easier and Europe it’s a lot easier than Texas but still I see it as a big deal. For you listening at home, what are you thinking about? I’m sure you’re listening thinking about something you could do, something that you have wanted to do for a while. Getting rid of a car seems like a pretty big one. I hope it inspires you. Also, where was Daniel when I was in school? Systems, affecting people, making a difference in the world, not lecturing, this is the type of educator I hope that we all learn from. And certainly, I want to hear how this goes going without a car for the first time in a long time in a new place. I think we’re going to hear something good on the next episode.

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