Dr. Donna Vallese has been an educator for over 2 decades. She is currently the Director of Learning & Continuous Improvement of Greene Central School District. Inspiring Leaders LLC is your part time business where she facilitates a global network of educational leaders and coaches instructional leaders.
She has experience working at the classroom, school, district, state and university levels in education. Her professional experiences in education have been mostly around urban and rural public education along with innovative public charter schools. Work for Dr. Donna has always been focused on creating equity for children in schools so that they can reach their fullest potential.
Colleagues have often called her the teacher whisperer because she has a way of turning challenges into opportunities and provides support for continuous growth to get teachers on board with transformative practices. She is passionate about effective and research-based teaching and learning practices that hone in on how students learn rather than just implementing what is easy.
Education is not the only thing that Dr. Donna is passionate about. Music has always played a critical role in Dr. Donna’s life. She minored in music for her undergrad and even considered becoming a music teacher at one point. As a professional adult, the love of performing music never left her and when she discovered the first community activist street band she had ever seen, she immediately became hooked when she joined. She now is part of a global community of street bands who all perform for the love of music and to bring attention to important social causes.
When she moved from the Connecticut and Rhode Island Area back to New York State in the Syracuse area, there were no street bands to be found. So, when you are a determined person like Dr. Donna, you find a way to start a band. This past year, Dr. Donna has become a TEDx Speaker, an International Bestselling Author of The Art of Risk and Reward, an International Speaker, and an awardee of the Education 2.0 Outstanding Leadership Award. To learn more about the work she has been engaged in, you can visit: https://www.inspiringleadersnetwork.com/drdonnav_tedx.
In addition to her passion for teaching and learning, she is also passionate about the uniting force of music. Dr. Donna co-founded UNiTY Street Band, a non-profit, community activist street band in Syracuse, NY. This band’s mission is to put UNiTY back in the CommUNiTY through the joy of music. The band performs at all sorts of local and community events that bring people together. They even founded their own Honk! Festival called Salt City Honk!
Salt City Honk! Has become an annual event that brings other community activist street bands from around the country to Central New York for free performances that break the barriers between the audience and performers, that bring a sense of pure joy, and put music into open spaces where you would least expect to find music.
What You’ll Learn in This Episode
- Key shifts needed in education
- Complexities of teaching
- How people learn best
- Power of networking educational leaders
- School turnaround
- Maintaining work-life balance
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX studios in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s time for High Velocity Radio.
Stone Payton: Welcome to the High Velocity Radio show, where we celebrate top performers producing better results in less time. Stone Payton here with you this afternoon. Please join me in welcoming to the broadcast author, speaker, educator with Inspiring Leaders, Dr. Donna Vallese. How are you?
Donna Vallese: I’m doing great. How are you?
Stone Payton: I am doing well. I have really been looking forward to this conversation. I got a lot of questions. I know we’re not going to get to them all, but but I think a good place to start would be if you could share with me and our listeners alike. Mission, purpose. What are you really out there trying to do for folks, Dr. Donna?
Donna Vallese: Well, I am really out there. I’ve been an educator for over 20 years and been an educator, leader, educational leader for over a decade. But I’m one of those people that knew I wanted to be a teacher since I was in kindergarten. And I there’s a few pivotal moments in in my life and people in my life who. Shaped me to become the educator that I am to really wrap around the fact that education doesn’t have to look the same all the time for everyone everywhere. That we really need more experiential education. We need to be able to really identify talents in our students. We need to get engagement, not compliance, to really help our students be able to learn and succeed. And so really, I’ve been I’ve been able to be in places that have allowed me to lead really innovative things, things like year round schooling, flexible learning spaces and flexible scheduling, which allow students to take a course in five months or a course in 14 months and graduate any day of the year. So I’m really looking at the needs that we have in front of us and seeing that our educational systems are just really outdated. And and I’m a teacher, right? I’m a teacher through and through. It is a really, really hard job. And but our systems that we have in place are not supporting our teachers and they’re not supporting our kids learning. And so I know that there are places out there that have been able to break some of these systems and get and overcome them. And so I’m really seeking to. Be able to just change the system at large and rather than in these little pockets.
Stone Payton: You bring up a very interesting point, because teaching strikes me as one of those professions, one of those callings that can look a lot easier than it really is. There’s got to be a great deal of complexity and nuance and intricacy to teaching and teaching. Well, that that the layperson just really doesn’t get. Yeah.
Donna Vallese: Absolutely. If you think of the number of people you interact with every single day and the number of things that you do in a day. Everybody has different experiences. They they they retain different amounts of information. And so they’re all in a different place. Our kids are not any different. Right? They all have different experiences. They’re all in a different place. They all learn differently. They have different interests and teachers have to wrap around that. And then to top top that on. So so teachers not only have to understand how each of their students learn, they have to understand in general best practices, but they also end up being the nurse and the mom and the psychologist and the counselor and and and and and then they have to do all this paperwork and we just we just layer and layer and layer things on our teachers that aren’t helping kids and making the job much harder than it really is. But I also like to I like to point out to people that. Trying to understand and get students to learn is really understanding the mind. Right? And so when you when you put that in perspective, the only other profession that really understands the mind would be a brain surgeon. Right? And so a brain surgeon has to be super precise. Well, there is nothing precise about the social science of teaching. Right. And so that makes it even harder.
Donna Vallese: So. Because every single day is going to be different and every single year you’re going to have different students in front of you. So you can’t even completely replicate exactly what you did over and over again. So that is what makes it really challenging. It also is what makes it kind of a calling and makes it really interesting because you’re always trying to figure out what it is that makes a student tick and what it is that’s going to help you get through to every one of your students. I have yet to come across a teacher who does not want to make a difference in a kid’s life, right? Every person I know wakes up in the morning and they’re like, I hope I have a good day. No one ever wakes up and says, I want to go to work and just make sure everybody has a bad day, right? I want to make sure that we’re doing our job well and we pride ourselves on that and and to make things more challenging. The other piece of it is so you go into your if you picture this, you go into your classroom and you have the teacher and you have these students in front of you and you shut the door and that’s it, like it’s you in the students and that’s it. And so when you think about it, a brand new teacher coming out of the classroom or coming out of college and going into the classroom, teaching is the only profession where you are expected to leave college and be just as good as a 15 year veteran.
Donna Vallese: The first day that you enter that classroom and every single day counts. So, for instance, what I mean by this is if you are an electrician or a plumber or a doctor or a nurse, you have to work side by side with someone for a very long time before you actually get get your own reins to to take the lead in the classroom setting. You might get 16 weeks of student teaching. If you’re lucky, some some schools are eight weeks and if you’re really lucky, you might get a year. And then you’re off on your own. You’re expected to get the same results as someone who’s been doing it for a very long time, teaching for a very long time. And so it’s really an interesting thing to try to provide the support that’s needed for teachers when they’re also given. Can you imagine an elementary teacher trying to prepare for six or seven different subjects in a day, but preparing for those six or seven different subjects with 45 minutes of planning time? So you’re planning for 6 hours of instruction with only 45 minutes of planning time. Who can really do that well.
Stone Payton: So where is the lever for your work? Is it at the district level? Is it in-service training at the classroom teacher level? Where do you get to apply the craft?
Donna Vallese: So that’s a really great question. So one of the things I used to always say, I am never going to be a principal. And then I started getting some insight into leadership and I became a principal. So I really want to be able to I’ve been and I’ve been doing this work, working with educational leaders, the leaders. It’s their job to clear the way for teachers, to lay the foundation, to lay the groundwork so that teachers can really succeed. Because if we can do that and support our teachers, our teachers will then support their students. If you’ve ever heard about the Wegmans model, the supermarkets up here in New York State, the Wegmans model is we take care of our employees and our employees take care of our clients. And so if we start applying that model to schools where our district leaders and our school leaders are taking care of our teachers, then our teachers will be better able to take care of our kids.
Stone Payton: What are you finding the most rewarding? What’s the most fun about it for you?
Donna Vallese: I my favorite thing to do is to problem solve. When someone brings a challenge to me and all I do is I start posing questions. Well, why do you think that is? What are the other perspectives that are happening? How else can we look at this? What would happen if I know this sounds like a crazy idea, but what would happen if we tried X, Y, and Z? And then usually those conversations lead into other ideas and then those ideas. Usually something will land with that leader that they can then walk away with an action step, put it in place and come back and say, Oh my gosh, that really worked. All right, so now what’s the next step? And they get really excited because now they’re starting to feel some level of success. And so one of the challenges of our leaders is they’re also getting all this pressure from these broken systems that are above them. And so it’s hard for them to clear the way for the teachers. And so when they’re actually able to do that and to see the results from the teachers down to the students, it just it makes them feel successful. Otherwise, when they’re not seeing the results from teachers and students, they just feel like they’re spinning their wheels. And so I just just like when I was in the classroom, when a student had that aha moment, it’s it’s that same feeling working with leaders when they get that like that moment of, Oh my goodness, this was so great. I’ve got to figure out how to keep replicating and how to keep going on this momentum.
Stone Payton: Now, you have been a TEDx speaker. Tell us a little bit about that experience. What was that like? What do you feel like you learned from it? And yeah, what kind of impact do you think maybe that that might have?
Donna Vallese: Oh, so I did a TEDx talk. So the interesting thing was I had met a TEDx coach and I kept saying, I really want to do a Ted Ted talk, but I don’t know what it’s going to be about. And then I was delivering some professional development that I I’ve delivered multiple times and spun it different ways. And it was really all about student engagement, best practices, how and how we learn and why, like we really need to focus on critical thinking. And so as I was doing this professional development, I was finding myself getting so emphatic and so excited about talking about this topic. So I was like, That’s it. That’s my TED talk. So I contacted the coach. I said, I really want to work with you. I’ve no idea how to land a stage. Can you help me? And so I hired her. She I enrolled in one of her three month courses with a couple of other people. She walked us through the process, taught us how to find stages, taught us how to, and actually gave us feedback along the way on applications and the application process and the interview process and and then putting your talk together. So I was able to land a stage. It took me a few weeks. I think it was like three weeks when I before I landed a stage in a SUNY Geneseo. For those of you that don’t know what a Ted is, Ted is TED talks, but the X part is independent. So they these different locations can license TED and then do an independent Ted TED event. So I did this at SUNY Geneseo up here in New York State and I would I totally I’m already starting to plan and trying to figure out what my next TED talk is going to be because it was an awesome experience.
Donna Vallese: I spent more time planning my TED talk then for a 10 to 15 minute talk, which ended up being 18 minutes, but who’s counting? I spent more time planning that than I typically do, planning an entire five day professional development because I had to memorize, I had to memorize it and hone it in and just make sure it was keyed in on one key idea. And that key idea is the one thing that could really shift education, the one shift that’s really needed in education and that. Is a bigger focus on critical thinking. So learning really should look a whole lot more and feel a whole lot more like the process of learning how to ride a bicycle than it does now. We should not be having hours upon hours upon hours of kids sitting in chairs and listening to teachers lecture at them. That is the easy way, but it is not the way that people learn best. And we have decades upon decades upon decades of research over a century, actually, of research that shows us that that is not how the majority of the population learns, but that is still how we tend to do school. So that is what the TED talk is about. So if you if you were to Google my name, Donna Willis, Ted X or Donna Lee SUNY Geneseo, it you’ll find it. It’ll come up right there.
Stone Payton: Well, that sounds like a marvelous activity for the for the long weekend. So I will make sure that.
Donna Vallese: Yes, there you go. That’s all your homework assignment.
Stone Payton: I do not know where you find the time, but I saw in my notes that you’re also a bestselling author. The book is The Art of Risk and Reward. What was that experience like putting the book together? What have you learned from that?
Donna Vallese: Oh, so I am with my business. I am part of this executive networking group. Executive networking events is what it’s called. And we meet weekly and there’s people in it across the world from all different countries. And so a bunch of us actually authored a book together. I think there were 26 of us we met in Ireland. So we had been talking for well over a year, every single week. We met in Ireland, in Dublin, and then stayed at Crome Castle for five weeks or five days, not five weeks. I wish five days just did it like this awesome mastermind and networking and stuff together and we launched our book there. But so the book, The Art of Risk and Reward, every person, every author has a different chapter, and the chapter is really about a risk that they took on themselves and the reward that it gave them. And so. That some of them are based on business like mine was based more on my business, but others have personal stories in there. It’s really there’s some really heartwarming stories in there. And the people who have written these stories are fantastic and they are all people who are entrepreneurs like me. They have their own businesses. Some of them are also employed full time doing other things like me as well. And they’re just phenomenal people really trying to help people in the world and trying to make a difference in the world. So I have learned so much from these people and created really great relationships. We also got to present our chapters, so we became international speakers and we presented there were eight countries represented in the room at Chrome Castles. So we had I don’t even know if I can list them all but Australia, Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Canada, the United States.
Donna Vallese: I want to say Greece. And I don’t know where the eighth. I can’t remember where the eighth country was. I will think of it. But yeah, so it was an incredible experience. It was there that I actually I’ve met two people that I am doing some collaborations with one. One is a counselor and she has a coaching business and we’re going to be doing some webinars together called Leading Through the Messy Middle. It’s about it’s for middle level leaders who are trying to lead up and lead down, and it’s always a big mess. But they’re also in the middle of leading all of these all of these big projects that also get messy. And so being in that middle level leadership is a really stressful place to be. And so we’re focused on those leaders in that. And then I also met a publisher. She’s a special ed director in Texas and has a publishing business, and she is going to be publishing a series of books that I’m in the process of writing called The Teacher Whisperer, because that used to be my nickname, believe it or not. So I’m working on that series, and we’re also working on a series where other educational leaders can can also write chapters like an anthology so that they can share how they have overcome some of the systemic challenges in education. And so that series is going to be called the Educational Matadors, and we’ll end up doing some conferences and and things around that as well. So there’s a lot of things coming up the pike. I’m super excited and thank you for allowing me to share all of that, by the way.
Stone Payton: Absolutely. No, I think it’s fascinating. And one of the things that would be helpful for me and certainly our listeners, many of whom are practitioners of one sort or another, and they have to you know, it’s not just practicing your craft. They we also have to run a business and we have to to sell the work to get it. We have to go to market effectively. How does the whole sales and marketing thing work for a person like you, a practice like yours? How do you get the get the chance to get to do the work?
Donna Vallese: Oh, my gosh. This is the one area that I struggle the most with because as an educator, I was never trained in business. I was never trained in marketing. So I have the past three years or so, I’ve spent a lot of money learning how to market from other people. It is part of the reason I’m in the Executive Networking Events group, because there’s a lot of people where I can. I built relationships where I can reach out to someone to ask questions. I’ve learned how to use Facebook ads, which is a whole process. I’ve learned how to build audiences in LinkedIn and in Facebook and social media. I’ve learned how to use programs like Canva to just develop simple, simple graphics to be able to put out there. Love that program. Being able to create sales, funnels and stuff. I didn’t even know what a funnel was. I was like a funnel like the thing that’s in your kitchen. When I when I first started this, I was like, Well, I didn’t even know. I was like, I’ve never heard of a sales funnel. What the heck are you talking about? So now I know what a sales funnel is and you know, being able to use different technology platforms and and calendar invites and it’s just there’s a lot of networking. I’m going to be going to a conference in a couple of weeks out in Las Vegas and Global Education 2.0 conference am accepting an educational leadership award there. I bought a marketing package there so that I can market my stuff as well.
Donna Vallese: One of the people I also met over in Ireland at the Castle through this executive networking event, she’s also an author in the book. She has a speakers bureau and she is now my speaker’s speaking agent, so she’s working on getting me on some stages. So it’s really like building a team networking. And eventually when I’m able to, once I’m able to transition to doing my business full time and bringing in enough money that I’m hoping that I can hire some really great marketer to do my marketing for me because it’s not my favorite part to be honest. But you have to you just have to bite the bullet and learn how to do it. Because what I’ve decided, what I had learned and decided was if you hire someone to do it for you, you really don’t know what to tell them to do or what you want or anything. So you really have to find resources to learn how to do it and to play with it. And it does take time. But I think because I’m learning the language and learning some of the strategies and and learning a little bit of copyright secrets and things like that. That is going to that is really setting me up so that when the time comes for me to hire someone, I’m going to be able to be really clear, crystal clear in what I want. So I mean, that’s leadership 101, right? Clear communication.
Stone Payton: Well, before we wrap, let’s leave our educational leaders, if we could. I’ll call them pro tips. Right. A couple of actionable ideas, maybe something to be reading, something to be doing, not doing some topics, some things to consider if if maybe we’ve opened their mind to to learn a little bit more about this set of topics.
Donna Vallese: I think I think my top two tips. The first one is for leaders to get some coaching training. When you become an educational leader, they do not provide you training in how to coach people. And what you experience often is kind of a top down approach. And real leadership can’t always be that way. It can’t always be top down. You have to. You have to know how to. Build your people up and build them into leaders as well so that they can share the the burden of leadership. It’s really there’s always just so much to do, but it takes coaching to be able to coach them up to do that. And so there’s a transformative coaching. It’s a I can’t think of the name of the author right now. I should have had it right here in front of me. It’s a big black book on Amazon. It’s a little pricey, but it has some really great it goes it goes through why coaching works. It gives you strategies for coaching, it gives you coaching language. It’s kind of like it’s almost like a great coaching Bible. I love to go back and refer to that, but getting the training would be a number one thing and also make sure that you are if you’re going to be working with teachers. Please, please, please become an expert in how people learn. Not just how kids learn, but how adults learn as well. Know what Andrea Goji is? Know how we acquire and remember information. Know what instructional strategies look like and sound like. And feel like. Be able to demonstrate them if you need to and model them in your when you’re delivering professional development to teachers so that you can literally turn around and say let’s debrief that strategy we just use to learn that so that you can use that with your students.
Donna Vallese: And there’s. There’s a great book it was put out I think in the ninety’s it’s a great collection of research that I actually used in my dissertation years ago. It’s called How we Think or how we learn one of one or the other. It’s it’s a pretty thick book but it has a huge collection of research and resources going back to John Dewey and Bruner and Bronfenbrenner and all your major theorists that. You kind of brushed over them in Psychology 101. Or educational psychology. But you really didn’t learn the depth of what they were or maybe even bloom. You didn’t really learn the depth like the first chapter of Bloom’s Taxonomy, which in my TED talk, I talk about we we always learn the taxonomy as a step by step process. But the first chapter in that actual book is the taxonomy is not a step by step process for thinking. All it is is is defining the different levels of thinking that we engage in. That thinking happens in any order at any time. So. So just make sure that you have a really sound understanding of what really great practice looks like and feels like. Make sure that you’ve seen it, that you can describe it, that you can help teachers visualize it and implement it. So those are my top two things. Long winded, but the top two things.
Stone Payton: Fantastic know, and I think it’s incredibly valuable. Thank you for sharing those resources. Okay. What is the best way for our listeners to get connected with you and start tapping into your work?
Donna Vallese: Yeah, so I do have a website w w w dot Inspiring Leaders LLC. I also you can email me Dr. Dot Donna V at Inspiring Leaders LLC and I’m easy to find on LinkedIn or on Facebook as well. If you just type in my name or my company, my company name, I will pop up or just Google me. I’ll pop up to there too. So lots of ways to get in touch with me.
Stone Payton: Well, Dr. Donna, it has been an absolute delight having you on the program today. Thank you for investing the time and energy to hang out with us and share your perspective and keep up the good work.
Donna Vallese: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me on here. And and just everyone out there. Just if you’re not an educator, I just hope that you continue that this has helped you have a little bit of understanding in education that that you can really help support the changes that need to come in education.
Stone Payton: Amen. And it’s been my pleasure. All right. Until next time, this is Stone Payton for our guest today, Dr. Donna Valise and everyone here at the Business Radio X family saying we’ll see you in the fast lane.