90 episodes

Hello and welcome to An Imperfect Leader: The Superintendents and Leadership Podcast, a series where leaders look back at decisions they made and ask themselves:

* What happened?
* What got overlooked?
* What did you learn about relationships or what new relationships were formed?
* What frustrated you?
* What could you have done differently?
* And in the end, what was something good that came out of the experience – because it is through our mistakes where our greatest learning takes place.

I'm Peter Stiepleman. I'm your host AND I'm an imperfect leader. I spent more than 20 years teaching and leading, first in the Oakland Public Schools in Oakland, CA and then in the Midwest – Missouri, to be exact – where I was a teacher, a principal, an assistant superintendent and the superintendent of the 4th largest school district in a state of more than 500 districts.

I am constantly striving to learn from my experiences and from the experiences of other leaders. The aim of this podcast is to lift the learning and lift the imperfect leaders up. That way, when you hear the term imperfect, you’ll see strength, strength from the candor needed to recognize imperfection as a real advantage.

an imperfect leader, TLI, peter stiepleman, Dr. Peter Stiepleman, imperfect leaders, school culture, education, culture, school, positive school culture, principal, superintendent, aspiring superintendent, new superintendent, experienced superintendent, leadership, district leadership, school leadership, school leadership thoughts, inspiration, strategic planning, leadership development, human-centered leadership, collective aspiration, nested patterns, leaders’ learning work, educators, superintendent pipeline, Model for Human Centered School Transformation, transformation, podcast

An Imperfect Leader: The Superintendents and Leadership Podcast Peter Stiepleman

    • Education
    • 5.0 • 68 Ratings

Hello and welcome to An Imperfect Leader: The Superintendents and Leadership Podcast, a series where leaders look back at decisions they made and ask themselves:

* What happened?
* What got overlooked?
* What did you learn about relationships or what new relationships were formed?
* What frustrated you?
* What could you have done differently?
* And in the end, what was something good that came out of the experience – because it is through our mistakes where our greatest learning takes place.

I'm Peter Stiepleman. I'm your host AND I'm an imperfect leader. I spent more than 20 years teaching and leading, first in the Oakland Public Schools in Oakland, CA and then in the Midwest – Missouri, to be exact – where I was a teacher, a principal, an assistant superintendent and the superintendent of the 4th largest school district in a state of more than 500 districts.

I am constantly striving to learn from my experiences and from the experiences of other leaders. The aim of this podcast is to lift the learning and lift the imperfect leaders up. That way, when you hear the term imperfect, you’ll see strength, strength from the candor needed to recognize imperfection as a real advantage.

an imperfect leader, TLI, peter stiepleman, Dr. Peter Stiepleman, imperfect leaders, school culture, education, culture, school, positive school culture, principal, superintendent, aspiring superintendent, new superintendent, experienced superintendent, leadership, district leadership, school leadership, school leadership thoughts, inspiration, strategic planning, leadership development, human-centered leadership, collective aspiration, nested patterns, leaders’ learning work, educators, superintendent pipeline, Model for Human Centered School Transformation, transformation, podcast

    Dr. Richard Labbe and The Courageous Choice to Cancel the Football Season

    Dr. Richard Labbe and The Courageous Choice to Cancel the Football Season

    INTRO: I almost called this episode: You’re the Villain in this Story because of the absolutely horrific story my guest shared with me in this week’s episode. Holy cow, you’re going to want to listen to this entire episode!
     
    Sometimes as school leaders, you are forced to make difficult decisions. Whether or not to non-renew an employee can be really difficult. Whether to close a teaching section, which will increase class sizes, is an agonizing decision. My guest this week made the gut-wrenching decision to cancel his school district’s football season. He did it for all the right reasons. He did it while considering the short-term, long-term, and unintended consequences of the decision. He did it with empathy and compassion.
     
    Please welcome my guest, Dr. Richard Labbe.
     
    In Part 1, he discusses the importance of coaching for new teachers though the EdConnective. He then touches on the decision to cancel the football season. 
    In Part 2, he returns to the football decision because there were many moving parts to the decision. His After Action Review is an incredible resource for our field. I’m grateful for Dr. Labbe’s willingness to revisit a very difficult career decision. 
     
    BIO: Dr. Richard Labbe, the superintendent of the Sayreville Schools in Sayreville, NJ has been a teacher, a principal, a director of special services, and a superintendent. He didn't start out in education. In fact, Richard took a different path to education. He started out at a small automobile public relations company, served as a football and wrestling coach, and met a class of children as a substitute teacher. It was as a sub that he knew he HAD to be in a classroom. In his words, he “simply fell in love with the profession." We're glad that he did!
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    An Imperfect Leader is sponsored by Yondr. 
    Schools around the world are seeing the damaging effects of phones on student engagement, social development, and mental health.
    Yondr has developed a unique product and program to allow schools to become phone-free, from arrival to dismissal.
    Learn why 1 Million Students use Yondr every day.
    MINIMIZE DISTRACTIONS. MAXIMIZE LEARNING POTENTIAL.
    Go to overyondr.com to learn more.
     
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    At the end of every interview we have for teacher candidates, we say, “What questions do you have for us?” And they always ask, “What kind of support can I expect?” And we always say, “Don't worry, we'll give you a mentor.”
    But it's not real mentorship. I mean, it's support with the difficult kid, or the field trip form, or the grade card. But it isn't coaching. 
    That's where partners like EdConnective step in. Because they provide real coaching, observations and feedback with practice. EdConnective ensures that every student thrives by facilitating exceptional educator growth. If you're looking for support for your people, for your leaders, for science of reading efforts, for recruitment and retention initiatives, check out EdConnective.com.

    ------
    Imperfect Leaders! Are you facing challenges filling open Speech-Language Pathologist positions within your district? Empat Speech understands the critical need for qualified professionals in your schools. The recognize that communication lies at the heart of academic success. Don't let open positions hinder your students' progress. Partner with Empat Speech today and ensure every child in your district has access ot the speech therapy they deserve.

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    Music for An Imperfect Leader was written and arranged by Ian Varley.
    Sam Falbo created our artwork, a wood-print inspired daruma doll butterfly.
    -------

    My book, An Imperfect Leader: Leadership in (After) Action is available at Amazon.com or peterstiepleman.com.
     

    • 35 min
    Natalie Nichols Shows Us How Leadership Coaching Creates Futures Without Boundaries

    Natalie Nichols Shows Us How Leadership Coaching Creates Futures Without Boundaries

    INTRO: When I first became a superintendent, I learned about Positive Coaching. Positive Coaching is a framework for winning kids with sport by building relationships with children first and foremost. The way I saw it, Positive Coaching emphasized the aspect of doing something together and learning how to be a team. It wasn’t about winning at all costs. I loved it. My guest today will talk about something that still makes her cringe a decade after it happened. I could totally relate.
    One of my first acts as a superintendent was to gather all the coaches from the 6 middle schools and 4 high schools. I told them we were going to be positive coaches, that we weren’t going to want to win so badly that we were going to damage kids. I always tell leaders that you must get a beat on the system before you go out and make pronouncements. I should have followed my own advice. I am certain I insulted so many of the incredible adults who were already positive coaches. What I needed in that moment - heck, what I needed well before that moment - was a leadership coach.
    Today, my guest, Dr. Natalie Nichols will talk about the value of a leadership coach (in her case leveraging EdConnective to help leaders support literacy instruction in their schools) and then she’ll tell us her cringe moment when she unilaterally chose to institute a dress code at her high school. 
    In Part 1, Dr. Nichols talks systems thinking. If her district is going to have an impact on reading achievement, she knows that her leaders are going to need the very best training to support their teachers. She identified that the approach to teaching reading is a BIG topic and can be controversial. It is with the understanding of building technical skills while also attending to the affective side of change that she chose to partner with EdConnective to provide personal coaches for her leaders.   
    In Part 2, Natalie tells me about an early decision in leadership when she made the unilateral decision to Institute a dress code at the high school she was leading. She talks about what she learned from this experience and how it has helped inform the steps she takes as a district leader.  
    BIO: 
    Dr. Natalie Nichols is the Senior Chief of Schools and Innovation in Round Rock, Texas. With over 20 years of experience in education, Dr. Nichols spent a decade serving Round Rock ISD in two major leadership roles as an Area Superintendent and principal of Round Rock High School, the District’s largest campus. Dr. Nichols has been an associate principal, an assistant principal, and an instructional specialist. She has also supported public school districts across the nation through the use of educational technology.

    ------
    An Imperfect Leader is sponsored by Yondr. 
    Schools around the world are seeing the damaging effects of phones on student engagement, social development, and mental health.
    Yondr has developed a unique product and program to allow schools to become phone-free, from arrival to dismissal.
    Learn why 1 Million Students use Yondr every day.
    MINIMIZE DISTRACTIONS. MAXIMIZE LEARNING POTENTIAL.
    Go to overyondr.com to learn more.
     
    ------
    At the end of every interview we have for teacher candidates, we say, “What questions do you have for us?” And they always ask, “What kind of support can I expect?” And we always say, “Don't worry, we'll give you a mentor.”
    But it's not real mentorship. I mean, it's support with the difficult kid, or the field trip form, or the grade card. But it isn't coaching. 
    That's where partners like EdConnective step in. Because they provide real coaching, observations and feedback with practice. EdConnective ensures that every student thrives by facilitating exceptional educator growth. If you're looking for support for your people, for your leaders, for science of reading efforts, for recruitment and retention initiatives, check out EdConnective.com.

    ------
    Imperfect Leaders!

    • 31 min
    Merle Horowitz Reminds Us to Empathize, Sympathize, and Energize

    Merle Horowitz Reminds Us to Empathize, Sympathize, and Energize

    In this week’s An Imperfect Leader: The Superintendents and Leadership Podcast, we dive into another authentic story of someone navigating the complexities of leadership. I'm your host, Peter Stiepleman, and today, we have the honor of welcoming a remarkable leader, Merle Horowitz.
     
    Today, we’ll explore Merle's journey through a lens of empathy, resilience, and the pursuit of progress - or in her wise words: we’re going to empathize, sympathize, and energize. With a focus on the profound impact of mentors and the challenges of cyberbullying in education, Merle shares her insights drawn from years of experience. From her groundbreaking research on the legal implications of digital communication to her tenure as a superintendent, Merle's journey is a testament to the transformative power of leadership in education. In Part 2, Merle walks us through her experience of leading a major facility change where academic learning spaces would get the same attention as football fields.
     
    It's a great episode. Thanks for tuning in!
     
    BIO: Dr. Merle Horowitz has been a teacher and a district leader, retiring as Superintendent in Marple Newtown, Pennsylvania after serving four decades.
    As superintendent, she led district-wide renovation projects to bring the district’s schools up-to-date with security and technology improvements, all of which served as a catalyst to the transformation of the district’s academic environment and staff and student morale. In fact, this led to schools in her district being awarded the Governor’s Award for Excellence in recognition of student achievement.
    Recognized as an administrator for demonstrating a commitment to school administration as a profession, to public education, and to one’s colleagues – for that Merle was named the recipient of the 2014 PASA Award for Leadership in Public Education. In 2014, she co-published an article on cyberbullying, which turned into a book: Cyberbullying in Social Media within Educational Institutions.

    Other Resource Recommendations from Merle:
    EdLeadership February 2024 Issue "You’re Not Alone”: A Conversation with U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy What I Heard from Students About Mental Health—and What Helps ------
    An Imperfect Leader is sponsored by Yondr. 
    Schools around the world are seeing the damaging effects of phones on student engagement, social development, and mental health.
    Yondr has developed a unique product and program to allow schools to become phone-free, from arrival to dismissal.
    Learn why 1 Million Students use Yondr every day.
    MINIMIZE DISTRACTIONS. MAXIMIZE LEARNING POTENTIAL.
    Go to overyondr.com to learn more.
     
    ------
    At the end of every interview we have for teacher candidates, we say, “What questions do you have for us?” And they always ask, “What kind of support can I expect?” And we always say, “Don't worry, we'll give you a mentor.”
    But it's not real mentorship. I mean, it's support with the difficult kid, or the field trip form, or the grade card. But it isn't coaching. 
    That's where partners like EdConnective step in. Because they provide real coaching, observations and feedback with practice. EdConnective ensures that every student thrives by facilitating exceptional educator growth. If you're looking for support for your people, for your leaders, for science of reading efforts, for recruitment and retention initiatives, check out EdConnective.com.

    ------
    Imperfect Leaders! Are you facing challenges filling open Speech-Language Pathologist positions within your district? Empat Speech understands the critical need for qualified professionals in your schools. The recognize that communication lies at the heart of academic success. Don't let open positions hinder your students' progress. Partner with Empat Speech today and ensure every child in your district has access ot the speech therapy they deserve.

    --------
    Music for An Imperfec

    • 37 min
    Understanding Trauma: Insights from Dan Joseph

    Understanding Trauma: Insights from Dan Joseph

    INTRO: Before listening to this episode, I want to make sure that you know that this episode deals with trauma. If you have experienced trauma in your past, you might want to find the right time to listen to this episode. And remember, if you or someone you know needs the suicide or crisis lifeline, you can dial 988 from any phone. 
    For me, the experiences my guest describes in this episode were a reminder of leading a school district during the pandemic. I can still remember it like it was yesterday. The year was turning from 2019 to 2020. I was a superintendent and I started hearing about a virus appearing in Seattle and New York. I wrote a note in my journal that we should plan to give an update on the emerging coronavirus at the April board meeting. In mid-March, however, I had a meeting with the Director of the local Health Department. It was abundantly clear the presentation would need to be way earlier than April. I would be explaining why the virus would be closing the district down.
    I remember responding to questions from community members. They wanted to know how this year was different from past years when there were high cases of the flu. In all other years, I thought, we were not directed to stay in our homes by every level of national, state, and local government. In all other years, we were not tuning in to the news or talking with neighbors who had been impacted in some way by this global pandemic. In all other years, we hadn’t felt such tremendous loss. And I can remember hoping for a return to normal routines. Everyone was hoping for that! Unfortunately, like school districts all across the globe, each decision caused more and more grief. 
    My guest, an author and former army veteran and trainer, talks about how to talk with adults who have experienced trauma. School leaders, all leaders, are not often trained to handle their own distress, nor are they necessarily skilled at recognizing the trauma of others. Dan Joseph is a terrific guest because he talks about the things to look for, the things to notice (like people being hypervigilant, for example). In the second part, he describes a time when a soldier was dealing with mental health during lockdowns. People were struggling with their own traumas and didn’t have the bandwidth to help this individual. The directions were to keep it quiet and stick with the mission.
    It’s a fantastic episode.
    BIO: Dan Joseph is an Army veteran and author of Backpack to Rucksack: Insight Into Leadership and Resilience From Military Experts. When I’ve read parts of his book, reviewed combatpsych.com tools,  and listened to him on The Power of Our Story, I was struck by some of the similarities we look for when it comes to leadership (in the military and in education), including the ability to look back and see what we can learn from our experiences.
    NOTE: Here is a link to a Harvard Business Review article I mention on self awareness.

    ------
    An Imperfect Leader is sponsored by Yondr. 
    Schools around the world are seeing the damaging effects of phones on student engagement, social development, and mental health.
    Yondr has developed a unique product and program to allow schools to become phone-free, from arrival to dismissal.
    Learn why 1 Million Students use Yondr every day.
    MINIMIZE DISTRACTIONS. MAXIMIZE LEARNING POTENTIAL.
    Go to overyondr.com to learn more.
     
    ------
    At the end of every interview we have for teacher candidates, we say, “What questions do you have for us?” And they always ask, “What kind of support can I expect?” And we always say, “Don't worry, we'll give you a mentor.”
    But it's not real mentorship. I mean, it's support with the difficult kid, or the field trip form, or the grade card. But it isn't coaching. 
    That's where partners like EdConnective step in. Because they provide real coaching, observations and feedback with practice. EdConnective ensures that every student thrives by facilitating

    • 37 min
    Be Caught Trying with Samir Goel

    Be Caught Trying with Samir Goel

    INTRO: Hello Imperfect Leaders! In this episode, Esusu co-founder, Samir Goel, talks about empowering individuals to build credit and access financial opportunities previously out of reach. 💡
     
    Samir shares invaluable insights gleaned from his partner, Wemimo Abbey and mentor Jeff Weiner (emphasizing the crucial role of compassion and transparency).
    In part 1, we talk about the company he co-founded and in part 2, we talk about what he has learned about giving feedback to employees. Join us as we talk about the different types of feedback: appreciative, motivational, constructive (and even destructive feedback). Together, we explore the power of compassionate leadership, the importance of transparency, and the dynamics of teamwork in cultivating shared visions. Imperfect leaders, you’re going to love this episode. 
     
    BIO:  Samir Goel (along with his partner, Wemimo Abbey) is the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Esusu, the leading financial technology company helping individuals save money and build credit. 
    Esusu's rent reporting platform captures rental payment data and reports it to credit bureaus to boost credit scores. This allows renters to build and establish their credit scores while helping property owners mitigate against initiating evictions, powered by differentiated data and insights. Founded in 2018, Esusu reaches over 5 million rental units across all 50 states in the United States. Learn more at www.esusurent.com Follow them on Instagram: @myesusu and on Twitter: @getesusu. 
     ------
    An Imperfect Leader is sponsored by Yondr. 
    Schools around the world are seeing the damaging effects of phones on student engagement, social development, and mental health.
    Yondr has developed a unique product and program to allow schools to become phone-free, from arrival to dismissal.
    Learn why 1 Million Students use Yondr every day.
    MINIMIZE DISTRACTIONS. MAXIMIZE LEARNING POTENTIAL.
    Go to overyondr.com to learn more.
     
    ------
    At the end of every interview we have for teacher candidates, we say, “What questions do you have for us?” And they always ask, “What kind of support can I expect?” And we always say, “Don't worry, we'll give you a mentor.”
    But it's not real mentorship. I mean, it's support with the difficult kid, or the field trip form, or the grade card. But it isn't coaching. 
    That's where partners like EdConnective step in. Because they provide real coaching, observations and feedback with practice. EdConnective ensures that every student thrives by facilitating exceptional educator growth. If you're looking for support for your people, for your leaders, for science of reading efforts, for recruitment and retention initiatives, check out EdConnective.com.

    ------
    Imperfect Leaders! Are you facing challenges filling open Speech-Language Pathologist positions within your district? Empat Speech understands the critical need for qualified professionals in your schools. The recognize that communication lies at the heart of academic success. Don't let open positions hinder your students' progress. Partner with Empat Speech today and ensure every child in your district has access ot the speech therapy they deserve.

    --------
    Music for An Imperfect Leader was written and arranged by Ian Varley.
    Sam Falbo created our artwork, a wood-print inspired daruma doll butterfly.
    -------

    My book, An Imperfect Leader: Leadership in (After) Action is available at Amazon.com or peterstiepleman.com.
     
     

    • 36 min
    Infiltrating Perspectives: Danielle Nuhfer Unveils Leadership Insights Using a Teacher's Lens

    Infiltrating Perspectives: Danielle Nuhfer Unveils Leadership Insights Using a Teacher's Lens

    INTRO: I told my guest that this podcast has almost exclusively been reserved for district leaders and education-adjacent leaders. While that is true, I think it’s important to live something I say whenever I describe the hierarchy of a school district - and that’s that there are leaders at every level. I believe it’s through our teachers that we can truly transform our schools. So when my guest today revealed herself as an infiltrator, I couldn’t contain myself. So funny! Imperfect Leaders, we’ve been infiltrated by the first teacher to join the podcast.
     
    And she’s perfect. I refer to her as a bridge between classroom teachers and district leaders. She pulls back the curtain on how teachers think about leadership and district-wide decisions. It’s not magic, as you’ll quickly learn.
     
    In the second part, my guest talks about pushing her agenda on students and how she may have been focused on her needs over the needs of others. Once again, there is a lot to what she says and how leaders lead their districts.
     
    So yes, we’ve been infiltrated! It’s full of TLC as only my guest Danielle Nuhfer can deliver it. And I love it. It’s a great episode with so many clear connections to district and school leadership.
     
    BIO: Danielle Nuhfer is a former public school teacher turned coach and the author of The Path of the Mindful Teacher, How to Choose Calm Over Chaos and Serenity over Stress, One Step at a Time. She has spent the last 20+ years navigating the ebbs and flows of school systems, while helping clients prioritize their own well-being so that they can be their best inside and outside their classroom and school.
     
    ------
    An Imperfect Leader is sponsored by Yondr. 
    Schools around the world are seeing the damaging effects of phones on student engagement, social development, and mental health.
    Yondr has developed a unique product and program to allow schools to become phone-free, from arrival to dismissal.
    Learn why 1 Million Students use Yondr every day.
    MINIMIZE DISTRACTIONS.
    MAXIMIZE LEARNING POTENTIAL.
    Go to overyondr.com to learn more.
     
    ------

    ------
    Imperfect Leaders! Are you facing challenges filling open Speech-Language Pathologist positions within your district? It's a silly question, I know, because I know you are!
    Empat Speech understands the critical need for qualified professionals in your schools. The recognize that communication lies at the heart of academic success.
    Don't let open positions hinder your students' progress. Partner with Empat Speech today and ensure every child in your district has access ot the speech therapy they deserve.
    Empat Speech. Empowering students. Empowering Schools.

    --------
    Music for An Imperfect Leader was written and arranged by Ian Varley.
    Sam Falbo created our artwork, a wood-print inspired daruma doll butterfly.
    -------

    My book, An Imperfect Leader: Leadership in (After) Action is available at Amazon.com or peterstiepleman.com.
     
     

    • 29 min

Customer Reviews

5.0 out of 5
68 Ratings

68 Ratings

Jc Nnz ,

The HBR Leadership Podcast for Educational Leaders

Dr. Stiepleman’s expertise and humanity come through in his interview style. He puts guests at ease and bonds with them to provide excellent practical advice for educational and systems-oriented leaders, and those aspiring to be.

He guides his guests to embrace imperfect leadership and the decisions that come out of it. With vulnerability as the basis, this podcast is kind of a coaching conversation, where the listeners get to eavesdrop for free.

I can say I have adopted ideas shared by his accomplished guests, and adjusted my practice based on the learned lessons of their experiences.

Premium content for free!

Thanks Dr. Stiepleman!

ListenerABCDE ,

We need more leaders to be vulnerable!

Great concept and interviews - we need more like this!

bobtreeq ,

Busy Leaders: If you listen to one podcast, this is the one

Peter’s exceptionally practical insights will be of great value to veteran senior leaders and aspiring leaders as well. His interviews are insightful and completely focused on a wonderful combination of evidence and experience. He strikes the perfect balance between empathetic listening and thoughtful challenges. I know how busy leaders are, but this podcast is an investment of time that will pay rich dividends in professional learning.
Douglas Reeves

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