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Transformative Principal is 

Mar 15, 2020

Matt Pavao is a principal in Burlingame, California. The following is a transcript of our conversation. 

I'd love to talk about my school will be a lot lots of things going great at the school in the district. I have a small district in in the Bay Area, like you said, We're right near the San Francisco Airport. We are a school of 338 students k five. We are title one school. We are also school. It's very dedicated to innovation and very dedicated to our community and being a real community school all the school district all the schools in Burlingame are committed to being really community schools. So we're really tight and tight knit community at our and in our district. 338 today? Yeah. You know, we always say about 350, actually, but we just did the count the other day, so 338 Oh, I'm sorry. Yeah, I've been at the school for eight years. My eighth year at the school. Yeah. As the principal the whole time. Yeah. It's my 20 I think third year in education. I'm done. Teaching and then other administration jobs at middle school and then and then this my first principalship first sponsorship, I'm eight years Hey, yes. Yeah. Yeah, we did. All right. We're doing okay.

Well, yeah, no,

I Well, the interesting thing about the school is I'm only the third principle they've had and Something like they reopen the school. It's the school is hundred years old this year. So it was built in 1919. But it was closed for some years in the end up until about and I think believe 1988. And since then we've only had three principals. So there was the principal there for 10 years. And the one before me was 11. And then mean, so I have, I'm the young still, I'm still the newbie in that group. You know, it's such a wonderful job and a wonderful community that I have such exciting people that I work with, and really inspired teachers and really inspired district that's allows me to have this community that allows me to have this, why they there is an expectation that we continue to push towards a very innovative practices. And we're in the kind of the north end of the Silicon Valley. So a lot of our parents work in the Silicon Valley in jobs that require the creativity and the collaboration and then the, you know, the critical thing that we talked about the communication. So they understand that's an important factor, and what we have to teach, so to give you this wide berth to kind of really push out into some things that aren't You know, you must be on page 25 of the textbook today. And we are. And at the same time, you know, I think we're a good example to other districts in that we have a wide range of students, you know, we have students of all socio economic backgrounds will talk about, you know, we have 27 different languages at the school. And that's not that's typical, actually, for our area, you know, our we have a very diverse population. And in that we still have achieved we were still able to achieve at high high levels of the typical if you want to call them that academic backgrounds, while at the same time really pushing our innovative practices into things like today where we're looking at podcasting or when we're doing a lot of creative work with presentations and so, a lot of creative creativity and design thinking and things like that. Okay,

Yeah, my advice would be one is to reach out to them. A lot of times we have this shutdown method of like you stay on your side of the fence and I'll stay on my side of the fence. But at Roosevelt and in Burlingame, we definitely encourage parent participation. So a lot of the ideas we have come from parent groups, you know, you meet with them after school and or in the evenings and if they're willing to give their time to you, and then you can listen to their great ideas and you can take that and put the educators lens at the same time possibly because not impossible because of the principles that came before me. There was this foundation of real partnership with the parents that I just inherited it worked hard to keep that going. But it's always been part of our culture at the school and in the district that there's a real partnership. And certainly, there are helicopter parents in all walks, but even we don't. We don't I wouldn't say we even have I can't name any that we would have even at my site, but we've always really valued our partnership with the parents and they valued our professionalism. It's really, really a special kind of place in that respect.


So hundred years. Yeah, this year Well, 1990 is actually passed over but 1919 we're gonna have the celebration this year.

It's real. And it's a real balancing between honoring what was before you, and then building, you know, continue to build. And so we tried to do that in the years I've been there and it's been successful. Yeah, yes. Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Sure. Let me preface a little bit. We, we so we have this giant wall in our school that we painted this mural on a while back for a lot of different reasons. We had an event, an unfortunate event of some graffiti that we and so it's This speaks to what our parents are like as well, that we, in typically, we just cross out the graffiti move on our day, the parents want to do more we did that. Got it down immediately, and then went about our day and then went to say, No, we want to express who we are. And part of that is our 27 languages that we spoke at the time and I think was 24. We've grown. So we put this wall that said, we are Roosevelt. Roosevelt elementary is my school. And so we and then we wrote in every different language on the wall. We are Roosevelt in that language. So if you had someone who was speaking to golic it's up there if you have Russian it's up there Chinese Portuguese. And after you when you see it, and I look at it almost every day when you come in it's really keeps you focused. So one of the parts we were having struggles with we you know, we have a wee hours about night where we celebrate all the cultures, but we weren't getting party active participation from all our parents. And one of the ideas was, well, we need a translation service to translate our newsletters and we went through that and there's a price to that. And then we thought what we have experts Right here in the school, so we should have an audio audio Translation by our students using podcasts. We'll just attach it right to a link on our newsletters and we so what we do is we have, so we get we put it out to the parents and the teachers in the fifth grade, our students in the fifth grade, come and help us translate our newsletter. And so they would show up on our newsletters go out on Thursdays, they would show up on Tuesdays, I would give them kind of these are the highlights. They would take it home, they write it out with their parents, and then they would come so we had the first year we had Japanese and Portuguese and Japanese Portuguese, Spanish, and not Russian, but I'm forgetting we had one more. And we've now since expanded to Turkish and China we have Mandarin Chinese now. So we're confused. We don't have all 27 right now but it's it's powerful for lots of reasons. If you just take out even the parties, the students feel valued, which is actually the number one piece. There's a technical aspect to it that the kids are learning how to do podcasting, there's a some of these kids knew how to speak the language. They didn't necessarily know how to write it out. So they're even learning their own language which is how to their parents language how to write it out, but so there's children

Well, you just bring up something, it's just my my wife's family comes from China. two generations ago her grandmother came from China and who just passed at 98 years old. And one of the things that her uncle brought up at the thing was even he had a commute there was always a communication issue with them and, and it was powerful it and so the other thing that we say is these and you just reminded me of another thing we do with students of second their second language students is we honor them, when they when they do learn English when they do read designated as English learners. And we have a full Berlin game. We had 100 and some odd students this year that we designated. We have celebration, we have metals and things like that, but when we do in front of the school, we always talk about how special these students are because of immigration stories like that. that at some point during the life of a family, someone is brave enough to learn English it was with my, my grandfather was the first one and then you see how that then expands out? So if we can hold on to it because you're right people then give up the language was isn't what necessarily we want? Right, right. Oh, it's a superpower. Yeah and in this world and what we're talking about at our students all the time is, you know, the flattening of the world, and how we need to be able to now cross culturally talk to people. And if you know about other cultures, you all of a sudden have a leg up where you thought it was something that was pulling you down, it's actually going to lift you up and the new economy or the new world for sure. 

When we do and so and with our translators they become a place where they become hope elevated at the school because we do acknowledge them at our assemblies. He's these people are doing this translation for you guys. So more so the parents will know it's out there, but also to honor them for doing the work.

Yes, no kidding. Right. And some of these kids come in. We had a student last year who could do the Portuguese like, I give it to you do it. Others need to take it home and write it down and really fit this guy was and he was having struggles in other areas. But you could see if you go in this route you are URL had, you know head and shoulders above the rest of the translators that we have at the school because I mean, if I was told, you know, you need go you're gonna be sitting in a classroom of all Spanish speakers and they all started speaking Spanish. I wouldn't be participating. I know a little bit of Spanish but I wouldn't be participating and this is similar similar sort of thing. Right? You got to put yourself in their shoes on that on those respects. Yeah. It's pretty brave kids.

It's it's one of those real low floor high ceilings, like it's very easy to do and you get tons out of it. Yeah, yeah. Oh, yeah.

Oh, well, one of the things we're really proud of is we have a full and we talked about communication in this. And we have, we're very dedicated to giving our students the skills to communicate with others. We have this thought that, you know, and I know a lot of schools are working on design process, and it's fantastic. And certainly we are to getting kids to be creative problem solvers and things like this. All right. Our philosophy is that it's not an idea unless you can share it with someone and get them to understand your idea. So how do we do that? Well, so we worked with a company in the Silicon Valley and there's a long story about how we came about with this, but Duarte, Duarte, marketing or duardo, we just call them dorky But anyway, the dirty design, the Silicon Valley and she Nancy Duarte and her husband Mark started this company and they work on giving high powered CEOs the skills to give presentations. They were going to work with college level students. I knew someone at the company, we kind of worked it out so that they came and worked to elementary school. So now, yeah, it was very Yeah, it's been fantastic. They've been working with us for six years now. Which is interesting. So we've gone through a full cycle now from kindergarten all the way to fifth grade or they don't know any different. So this is this year for it. So every year fifth graders give what we call our Teddy talks were Teddy Roosevelt elementary school. So we give our Teddy talks at the end of year and they give a presentation in front of a room full of about 200 people. We invites local celebrities, our local Congress, people and things like that come and visit. And they stand up there and give about a five minute presentation in a TED TED Talks type format about an idea That they've had and they're they're trying to move people forward and you'd be hard pressed to find people at the conference today, which is a great conference that give better presentations than these kids. At 10 years old, it's fantastic and it's transformative in how they view themselves. So what we do that's one thing we're very proud of his heart Teddy talks program.

I will tell you that is that not only is it hard for adults to give presentations is that they learn about giving presentations from watching other people that don't know how to give presentations. So it's just perpetuating this bad presentations that you sit Through, it all comes from our need to do this comes from me walking into a classroom and seeing my third grade teacher suffering while her kids were up there giving presentations that were boring and uninspiring and, and it was typical of everything I'd seen in all my years of education, there has to be a better way. And we went and found a better way. So we're hoping that we're changing the way and again in this age where you're going to need to be able to get your ideas out there. We think we're giving our students a real skill that they're going to need. Sure. Sure. Sure, the number one is that the audience is first meaning it's not about you. It's about your audience. What do they need you give it to them? The second is, if it's a good presentation, it vacillates between what is now and what will be. So this is why your life is down. But if you listen to my ideas, this is what it will be. It'll be my veteran you almost the audience, you almost feel like they're going on a rollercoaster ride where it's like, oh, I don't know about this. Oh, it's gonna be great. Oh, I don't know about this. Oh, it's going to be great. And then we have a few other things like how to do an introduction and how to finish it off with what Nancy Duarte calls something they'll always remember or your star moments sta or something that always remember. So we try to do that and there's a few other and then the other main probably thing is how they do their slides. So we do they do present with slides and they have to control you know, a PowerPoint presentation or a Google Slides presentation. But there's things that we put in that likes, lots of slides are too busy or they're showing me five words on a slide are you should be able to read it in three seconds and understand it. It ruins you from going to other presentations because you sit there go oh that's a terrible slide. And there's another teacher that have some time so if I ever see you giving a presentation I take out my phone and take a picture of the slide. I might be sending it to the My another teacher that I always said look at this slide.

Add that to the collection but it has been wonderful. This is for the city. years that we've been doing this that kids just they get it and that you start see changes now over time because we check in with the middle school and things like that. Okay.

And it also comes in that you're totally right. It also comes from the planning of the presentation like our students. Oftentimes, it's the last, you know, you'll do a project, their presentations, the last day, go do your project. Now I want to presentation. They're doing the work on the presentation the whole time. They're doing the research and the project and so they're laying out their slides using posts. And they're talking about what questions the audience might have. They're drawing pictures of the audience who's gonna be sitting there watching me. So they're considering it all the time. Well, if you, you know, read the book, read it resonate by Nancy Duarte, their little plug for Nancy and her company in. Oh, okay. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. She has several books out but that's the the cornerstone one, I think slide. ology is another one but okay. Yeah. So she works. We work with her. Yeah, it's great. It is we have we have been very fortunate with that one, and they've been very, very nice to us.

Okay, I would say just, I've taught me how to get into classrooms and talk to teachers and really not only have the expectation that they'll keep pushing their practice, but also have the trust in They need to have trust with you, that you will back them if they're going to try. They're gonna try something new. You know, oftentimes we have teachers at, it's always an easy default. Well, I'll get in trouble if I do that. I Roosevelt, you know, we don't try to get in trouble. But we certainly haven't. We always kind of have an explanation as to why we're doing something. And that's easy for me to then go tell my people, you know, my superintendent, hey, we're going to try this out. See how it goes. Or we're trying this out, and we'll see how it goes. But we want brave leaders are brave teachers. So we need to be brave leaders. So I would get get into two classrooms as much as possibly my number one go talk to teachers, you know.


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