“Make your school a better place than it was when you started.” – Ken Cervantes
In this episode, we chat with local legend Ken Cervantes! We discuss lessons in leadership, how to keep students motivated, advice to young administrators/teachers, and much more. See below for a full list of topics covered in this episode and tune in to hear more!
Key Topics Covered in This Episode:
- Ken’s credentials and background
- How he knew he wanted to work with middle schoolers
- Being a leader and how he incited enthusiasm with his staff
- Advice for other leaders and resources to help
- Lessons on leadership he teaches his students
- How to motivate your students
- The ways Ken lives out the “Bighorn Attitude” in his day-to-day life
- His thoughts on the current trajectory of the education system
- Advice to young administrators and teachers, especially those contemplating their futures after covid
- The best piece of advice he has ever received
- What fills Ken’s cup and keeps him going when things get tough
Looking to be on the show or know an expert who’d make a great guest in 2022? Send us a DM on our Instagram! (Linked below)
Connect with the hosts:
This podcast is brought to you by our friends at Advantages Digital Learning Solutions, where learning is reimagined.
Good afternoon and welcome to learning re re-imagined. I am Allison Dampier and with me as always is Sandy Gamba. And we are so excited this week to have a local legend. He is in the same stratosphere as Cher and Madonna.
He only needs one name and it is Kenny. But to those of you not in Washoe county, it is Kenny. Vontez welcome, Kenny. Oh, thanks for having me. It’s an honor. We are, we are so excited to have you. Kenny is a local legend here. He was a middle school administrator. And while I look at that as a very daunting task, he was so beloved by the staff, the students, the parents, and now community-wide, I mean, Kenny is a superstar and we are.
Super excited to get him here and have to him and just share a little bit of his energy for a couple of couple of hours or for an hour. So, Kenny, welcome. If our audience who doesn’t know you, um, why don’t you just give us a little bit of background on who you are and, um, how you became Kenny? the legend.
Okay. I’ve lived here all my life. I grew up in sparks. I was born in Reno, went to Agnes risk. Uh, elementary sparks junior high school sparks high school for a year. Read high when it opened in 75 was the second graduating class. Oh, wow. Onto the community college and then onto UNR, um, for a teaching degree and, uh, physical education and health.
And then in 1994, I got my master’s in Netherlands. Um, I started in a Washoe county as an alter alternative education teacher. And then I was hired at Billinghurst middle school by Ken Vaughn in 1990 as a PE teacher. When the school opened, I worked there till 96. And under his mentorship, I earned my ed leadership degree and that’s when we started the big horn attitude.
And we’ll talk about that a little while. So it was PE teacher that I went to O’Brien middle school with Dr. Michelle Collins, who was one of Ken Vaughn’s mentors. She was his vice principal at Swope. So she was the principal at O’Brien. I got to work under her. She was fabulous. And then I went to Dilworth in 2005, my first principalship and I worked under Janet O’Brien, who was my vice-principal at Billinghurst worked under Ken Vaughn.
So it was really easy to move into their systems because many of the, many of the structures were the same in team. Then I became principal of Billinghurst middle school, 2005 to 2014. So I spent 15 years of my 30 years at Billinghurst. Wow. And it was kind of dream that I would, um, be the principal there, but I just never thought it was going to happen right there.
And then, um, in 2014, I got a principal on special assignment. Job, um, mentoring, teaching, um, first-year principals, uh, professional development and collegial exchange. We had a lot of meetings, had a lot of observations. Um, and then I did professional development for the district. And I did that. And then I retired 2018.
Oh my gosh. And in a heartbeat, look at all the lives you’ve impacted. That is thing. It really is. Kenny is, um, the energy and the attitude that Kenya has already. Brought it even years after he left Billy and hearse, I ran into him and he still had the billing, her sticker to hand out for the big horn attitude.
And it just, if you just exude that confidence and, um, And just excitement for education and students know how much you care, you know? And that was just the one thing that was ever apparent with you is even not the students who are, um, super involved with the school. Like my kids were a little bit on the quieter side, which I don’t get because I’m not quiet, but Kenny would still know who they were and he would still welcome everybody.
You created such an incredible environment and a community in a middle school where middle school is typically like the toughest age group and you just flourished and those kids flourished under your leadership. How did you, did you always know that you wanted to work with that specific age group? I did.
I almost didn’t take the job at Billinghurst and Ken Dalton from McQueen high school, where I did my student teaching called me up and said, Kenny, what are you doing? You need to take this job. Don’t be afraid. We’ll help you with the PEX and taught PE. For awhile and he goes, you need to take this job.
It’s going to be great opportunity for you. And so I went back and I got, I got the job with Ken Vaughn and, um, yeah, it was just a natural fit. And I was wondering why, why do I get along with middle-school students? So, well, I just can remember being in seventh and eighth grade. Impressive. I was with the high school program at sparks high and we were at junior high.
So there was, you know, the band, we had basketball games. It was more like a high school than a middle school. So I was very impressed with, you know, sparks high. John Flynn was over there. Uh, he had a great basketball program. He ended up being the McQueen, uh, principal when McQueen opened and it was just, uh, it was amazing.
So I understand how, what motivates middle-school kids. I understand that the sub culture, I understand what it was like being that age and how much fun I had. Yeah. And, and that, that says so much about your personality and your impact, because that’s such, those are formative years. And not only for the students, but how do, how did you convey this message of leadership to your staff?
Cause that it’s it really just you as a leader, but how do you ignite that same enthusiasm with your, with your teachers and your, your staff there? Well, Ken Vaughn opened the school under the. The turning points model of, um, middle school interdisciplinary units or in an interdisciplinary instruction.
And we were the first ones I, I know in Northern Nevada, maybe Nevada to do this model. So much of it was shared leadership empowerment with the teachers and student empowerment. So Ken Vaughn was great about. Empowering people sharing his leadership, getting out of the way, letting them do what they needed to do, giving them all the tools and the necessary support that they had to get their job done and just really conveyed.
Hey, I’m going to make my. My decision is based on what’s best for the kids, but I’m going to take care of my staff as in, you know, professional development was his main thing. So I started with the, uh, lady, uh, net Montoya in PE. And I really learned how to teach because PE movement’s hard to teach. Um, so I learned how to be a really, really good instructor.
And then when I started my masters in 1994, Ken wanted me to do that, and I really didn’t want to do it because I’d been a manager for eight years before, and I just was tired of managing people and I just want to have my own program. So as a PE teacher, you know, I had my advisory class, I was the Aidy for the school.
I was in student government leadership. Um, I ordered all this stuff for PE and it was just awesome, you know, just being an employee for awhile. So I started my masters and. Um, another counselor, there was taken classes with me, Mark Nelson, and I read this literature by Terrance deal, the father school culture in my, one of my ed leadership classes.
And it was like, All these things that can bond does that he does intentional about, you know, creating a climate culture. That’s safe creating the climate culture with high standards, modeling all these things. I go, he does all this stuff. And so that kind of got me. Fired up and understanding how important school culture is and safety before you can start on the academics or anything like that.
And so when they talk about research talks about rigor, relevance, and relationships, we know now that it really should be relationships first, because that’s where you start. You start with building relationships based on trust and mutual respect, and then creating the safe environment so that kids can take risks and learn.
And teachers can take risks and learning because it’s very, very similar to get kissed, to achieve and move forward as it is with teachers. And it takes a lot of coaching. Can you repeat this for me? Relationships rigor. And what was the third? Well, it was it’s rigor, relevance and relationships. And that’s, that’s one of the, one of the things that the research says that you need and you do need all those, but really it, it really starts with relationships and as an outsider, I can attest to the relationships that you created, the culture that was at that middle school.
It w I dread, when I had kids, I dreaded the middle school years. I taught sixth grade. I taught seventh grade and it is such an awkward age group. They don’t know who they are. They are, it’s just a. Period of, of, of life. And, um, I was always dreading middle school and then we showed up for sixth grade orientation and I was blown away.
I couldn’t wait for my kids to experience essentially you and, and, and that world that you built there at Billinghurst, it was such a very special, special place. And, and it’s, and it’s truly you. And you did that. I mean, you really. With the influence of Ken Vaughn, who came before you, but you really set the stage for such a special experience for these kids that they were launched into high school, very successful, confident, um, caring, the, you, you created a, an environment of, of tolerance and compassion within these kids.
And it just was. Uh, monumental change for this age group. And I just want to clone you and pick your brain and how can we get that widespread? You know, how can we help other other leaders who are listening to our podcasts? What are, what are some advice that you would give to them? Any books that you would suggest, um, conferences that you would recommend mindsets that you would want them to pursue?
Uh, breaking ranks, uh, is a document about it’s. For middle school philosophy and interdisciplinary teaming. Um, McREL balanced leadership is unbelievable. I was trained in that and we did training at, uh, at the district with our administrators. That’s a wonderful system that it starts at the board and goes to area superintendents down to principals, down to teachers and down to students.
So it’s. Unbelievable system with is got best practices in leadership. And I learned so much in that, but I really learned a lot from mentoring and that’s what I ended up doing. But you know, the, the, the place to start. We started in PE. So every kid had to take PE when I was teaching PE. And what Ken Vaughn did is he really disseminate a lot of information through us.
Instead of making announcements. We had advisory every morning where you meet with the teacher and you have that teacher for 20 minutes and there’s a curriculum. Talks about study skills. Um, one day he’d do organization and another days SSR and that minister another day for just the curriculum and another day for team building.
So you have this, you have this one-on-one advisor every day. Then you have your core team, which is like a family. So you have the same. Social studies, teacher, English, teacher, and science teacher for two years. So you with 90 kids for two years, that is your team. They have a team cheer, they have a team logo.
That’s your family. You are responsible to them. So it creates this type of peer pressure. So outside that he really wanted it to have. Excellent. Hi, hi, great elective programs, which he did the band, the trauma, the place, the strings, uh, All the electives were very, very good. It wasn’t just the core academics, but we started with safety.
So what a net set is, Hey, there’s no putdowns. And if you put somebody down, you’ve got to say three nice things about them in front of the entire class. And it couldn’t be nice shoes, nice hair. It had to be. Hey, I liked the way that you work today. I like the way that you were a team member. I liked the way that you helped, uh, Jenny with his shooting.
And so it was all this thing about no downs and, you know, kids would call me Mr. C that’s put down. That’s right. So we had this whole thing about, Hey, nobody’s going to be able to learn. Unless it’s safe. And if somebody’s standing up there in class answering a question and they don’t answer it, right.
Nobody gets the cap on because they’re going to get called on the floor. So it was just, that is the first thing. And this whole mutual respect after I read the book on Terrance deal and I graduated I myself and some teachers at Billinghurst wrote the story about the big horn attitude. And it was really based on.
Can bond style leadership, but what came out of it where the 14 components of big horn attitude believing in yourself, maintaining a positive work ethic, teamwork, sacrifice, never putting others down, learning from defeat, seeking challenges, tolerance, school esteem, honesty, leadership exchange, accepting constructive criticism, high personal standards.
Having the courage to be different. So, what we did is we came up with an award ticket, 10 boys and 10 girls that got nominated, and the winner has their name in the gym on a banner, says big horn attitude. And then on the other wall, it’s a big storyboard. And it’s about the big horn attitude, the big horns on there, and thunder and a lake, where can men and, you know, cans, um, Ken’s quote was on there.
And it said we had a great team. We did what was best for the kids. So that was Kansas Ken’s legacy statement. So that’s how we came up with the big horn attitude. So then, um, We use that, you know, as to motivate kids, to really try to do their best every day, um, Making their school a better place than it was when they started leaving an indelible footprint.
We would talk to the sixth. Well, if you were a fifth grader, we go out to the fifth-grade schools before they came in and we talk about the big horn attitude. Talk about the stickers and I would just leave the kids in fifth grade. I said, I don’t want you to worry about your classes. What I want you to do is think about the big horn attitude and how you can leave an indelible footprint that school next.
Well, when you leave as an eighth grader and you don’t have to be, we have so many activities for kids. We want them to get engaged, but if you don’t want to do that stuff, that’s okay. If you’re positive, you’re not putting people down and you’re giving a hundred percent every day, you are going to make that school a better place.
Then I just talk about how this transcends on an adult level, because I would talk to the kids about this and I say, really, you guys, this is how I pick my basketball. No, these are the things I look at because if you don’t have a good attitude, I don’t really care how good you are. I’m going to take a kid with less skills and I’m going to teach them because they’re going to give me a hundred percent.
When I came back as the administrator, I said the same thing. I said, guys, this is what I look for. When I hire teachers. These are the intangibles that you have to get, how to get to the next level. This is the difference between good. And so I try to bring it Adam, you know, on an adult level, student level so they can see.
And you know, they really, when I run into kids, they’re 40. Now we have a conversation. I don’t have to tell them or ask them, you know, what are you doing? You know, to go to college, whatever they tell me and whether they went to college or they just got a good job, they’re really happy. But really, we’re both kind of looking at each other.
Does she still have the big horn attitude you’ll have the big, you know, you just got that IDI contact. That’s what we’re looking at and just all those great memories. Um, so then I went to, O’Brien went to deal work, um, for five years and came back and the parent club said, Hey, we really want to expand on the big horn attitude.
So. I said, okay. So we took all the components and each team, uh, gave a definition of what the big horn attitude was. And it was on the wall, in the gym. And then a parent said to me, Hey, Kenny, you know, This big horn attitude award has kind of comes out of the sports and yeah, it has an athletic component to it.
Why don’t you have something for kids that aren’t in sports? And I said, you’re exactly right. So we came up with the Ken Vaughn achievement award. So when you walk into. When you walk into the school, you’ll see all the names of the kids that won the can. Ken Vaughn achievement award. And those are based on Ken, Ken Vaughn’s attributes.
No one read all the stories. Well, the whole story to you, but it’s about vision attitude, how optimistic he was. He demonstrated kindness, Goodwill and modesty. He was purpose focused, highly motivated, and worked with a sense of mission, integrity, reputation of quality relationships, where a mark of his craftsmanship.
He always thought carefully before he spoke. Finally, he left an indelible footprint and improved thousands of lives in our district. So now we have two awards that kids can shoot for. Um, and it’s, you know, it, it. It’s a great thing because it’s, if you’re nominated, that’s great, but it’s not the only way that we motivate kids to have the big horn attitude.
Yeah, Kenny, he, he was a king of having these big horns. And for years, even after my kids had left, I still had it on the back of my phone because it mattered. Like he would show up to meetings and because you’re present because you’re participating, he’d give you these stickers. And they met my daughter.
Who’s in college, a sophomore in college. She still has her sticker. She has one on her bulletin board in her bed. Because the, I mean, it’s just, uh, you know, a penny sticker or whatever, but the thought behind it and what it represents is so impactful and meaningful that just taking the time to, to have those, you know, it really, it mattered.
It really mattered. No, I’m just, I’m just, I’m excited a minute interrupted. Um, The like, I just, the impact of building such a program and how it will change lives. These young lives. Then, as you mentioned, it really is transforming. As they take these lessons into high school, as it forms them, whether they go to college or what their life goals are and that mutual respect and, and all of those incredible traits that are outlined for each of these programs, it really is instilled in them.
And it. What an impact to the community. I just Bravo. That is incredible. And I wish we could replicate that and, you know, have that kind of a structure where it can be implemented at such a level, but I that’s phenomenal that you are able to do that and continue that legacy and see that. Yeah, I always, it was very, very special.
Um, one of the other ways that we motivate kids is. We believe that everybody wants efficacy, teachers, parents, and students. So you build the foundation of trust and respect. Then we asked the teachers to differentiate, differentiate the relationships with every student that they have, just like they differentiate their instruction, which is really, you know, teachers that do that are over the top.
And we have so many in our district that can do that. Um, they. These are some of the things that motivate the kids, being on a team where you’re responsible to the team. Um, Knowing that you have an adult that really cares about you. What I would say to the kids and to the parents when I would meet with them.
And the first night I would say, look, I want the same thing for your students, for your kids. I want for Michael and Kendall. I want them to be articulate. I want them to be confident. I want them to be able to walk into any interview and show that they’ve got the ability to be confident, demonstrate these intangibles have a choice in the job that they want.
They may not go to college. They may have to go to college, but every one of the kids in this school, my kids, I want them to be able to compete globally with anybody. That’s just, what’s our mission. As a school, we’re going to put you guys, give you the, you know, the opportunity and the support to be, to move from.
Good to great. Um, We would talk about this. We would have, uh, academic assemblies where we would honor the kids for academics, um, test scores, improvement. We would bring kids from ho, uh, McQueen down that were former, uh, big horn attitude, winners, and have them talk about the importance of CRT testing, how the cheerleaders out there that.
We would have, you know, riding contests against other schools. So the eighth grade writing contest, if you had the best scores, you’d get a banner. We had algebra CPE credit by exam, um, against, you know, competition against other schools. We had sports, we had student government, we had the stickers again, when I give the stickers to kids for demonstrating the big horn attitude and I’d give them to teachers for demonstrating the big horn attitude is the same lab.
For teachers and students. Um, we would, we had a new system where we had big horn bucks that Sherlyn Cutler created, um, for the tracks matrix, they would get that they’d go to the student store. We would call home for student of the week. Tell the parents how great their student was, came a bunch of rewards you could be in BNN.
The only nurse news network, the hottest education station in the nation. We had, we had dances, uh, team dances, where the teams would put the dances on. So. If you have like six advisories, each advisory being in charge of some decorations games and activities, advertisement, and then we’d have the kids do their own DJ, um, et cetera.
Yeah, because when I started at building. Uh, my brother and I were DJs and we didn’t have any equipment. So Caroline said, Hey, I’ll let you use the equipment. If you do all the dances. So we had the kids to the dances and it was awesome. So the idea was, you know, you’re asking about how do you build this?
The idea is that you build a culture where learning is as much of a valued perspective as athletics. And so it’s cool to be smart in case, you know, come out and you’re talking about how great things were in class and things like that. So, That’s kind of really how Ken Vaughn did that. And he used his left of teachers and really empowered, you know, students and teachers to kind of work at the same thing that the big one out is to me.
That’s awesome. So now, now, Um, semi you say retired. That just means you don’t have to be at the same place every day in my apartment, in my book. Cause I know you’re not really retired. Um, how do you, in what you do on the daily life now, how are you, um, living the big horn attitude now, how does it affect you and impact your life now?
You know, it’s just, it’s funny. When you, when you retire, you think about where did it all start? I mean, really started with my dad and, you know, his ability to help any kids. You know, he used to coach who work at Nevada bell. He was in the air force. Um, he was in the army national guard. And he was able to coach and be a leader he’s, he’s mentored so many men in this community.
It’s just probably one of the most popular admire guys in, in the, in the building. And I remember in the, in the city, and I remember being at Dilworth middle school and George mod natto, um, Play for the giants. He played major league baseball and it was really, you know, he passed away, but he came over, he worked for, um, state farm, right?
When I got my principalship, he came in, he goes, Kenny, let me show you how to tie your tie. And he goes, Alex, you want to tell you a couple of things. We want you to really happy you’re here. We want you to be successful at anything that you need. And I want you to know this, this job you got right here.
It’s just as simple as this. Kenny goes, your dad. Once you to out achieve him and do better than he did in his lifetime. That’s the same thing with school. You got to have the kids, you know, make the school better than it was for generations to come. And it was like, that is really a simple, you know, leave an indelible footprint.
So it makes me reflect on, um, You know, where it all started, where it came from. And now working with the company that I work with, uh, CNM construction, and, uh, Kleinfelter. I see how important that culture is to them because the onboarding process with them, it’s all about people. It’s all about collaboration.
It’s all about relationships. It’s all about safety. So it’s really nice to see that on a different level and that, you know, that we told kids. You’ve got to you. We’re going to put you with other students that you don’t know. You may not like that are different than you. We’re going to do it intentionally because you have to work with people like that in the real world.
And you may not be best friends with them. That’s okay. But you still have to have mutual respect. And that’s what I feel good about. You know that those kids are kids that we sent out through the middle school, you know, teaming process and all the other middle schools did the same thing. Really, really prepared kids for adult life.
Yeah. That, um, I’ve referenced this book quite a few times on our podcast. It’s um, yes, my teenager is crazy and this is the book that gave me nightmares before my children went to middle school because they, in the book, they talk about how. People have a need to belong. And especially when you look at this age group, they’ll go to whatever group pulls the hardest.
They have such a need to have a place to be. And what you did at your school was create the teams and the kids then had a place to belong. So they weren’t not to say that it kept everybody out of trouble, but it really gave them. A lot more, um, a more positive benefit so that they could belong to a team and not get pulled by the drug dealers or the dropouts, or, you know, the negative impact.
They had a safe place and they had ownership. And I think creating those teams. W it’s so important in the middle, especially with middle school, because it’s such a gray area. There are no longer a part of, you know, Mrs. Carter’s home room or room five or whatever. It happens to be an elementary school.
And a lot of middle schools, you’re pretty much just a number because these teachers have, you know, 200, 300 kids a day, but being, having that advisory period in that team, Really changes the script for them. It changes the whole narrative of what middle school is. And it just such, if that would be the one thing I would say that really made a difference at Billinghurst along with the culture and the attitude, but starting right there with having the team atmosphere and gave them that sense of belonging was such an amazing starting point for them.
Um, it just it’s so important. And that they started in fifth grade because they were reaching out to them and just getting them ready for this is the exciting piece that awaits for you, you know, just make an impact too, because at the end of the day, we all want to matter. And I think with the intentionality of this whole program, that’s what you achieved and so much more that everybody didn’t matter.
Well, and I think the, you know, when you go back to rigor, relevance, and relationships, I look back on, you know, O’Bryan, uh, Dilworth and Billinghurst and how the student center is structured in interdisciplinary teaching. So you’re, you’re taking a common theme like aviation, and you would study the history of it and history.
You might do a science project or star steady besides a flying. And then write about that concept in English allows kids to think, you know, nudes or higher level thinking skills. And I love the, I love the reciprocal teaching. When the kid, when the kids would lead the skill or lead the lesson, I loved the presentations that the kids would do together.
I loved it when you would walk into an English class and they would have. I don’t know, four or five different centers in groups of three moving through those centers. And, um, the instruction, the research based instruction was just, it was amazing how much we got out of our students in such a short period of time, because it’s so hard to get all the standards in, but it’s just a, it’s a great way to teach.
Yeah, I agree. I agree. So speaking of teaching, you’re out of the actual school system now, um, what are your thoughts on the current trajectory of school here in Nevada? You know, how do, how do you feel as though the way of education has going? Well, I think COVID really, you know, took us. Obviously a step back.
I mean, I had Kendall at home for university of Utah. She was doing a lot of classes. I think it really shows how, how important face-to-face communication is. I think it reinforces, um, so many of the things that, that we need, like you talked about, it’s kind of like Maslow’s hierarchy of need. You need to have food shelter, water, love.
Uh, need to, um, be in a relationship. And I just think that it emphasizes that I think hopefully you’ll see it come back and go. Yeah, we, we really missed face to face contact. I know that does for the kids in high school and, um, the ones, the ones that have been out, um, I think. You know, moving forward, I think is still going to be about best practices.
I think it’s still going to be about collaboration. I think it’s going to be about mastery of learning. I think it’s going to be about best practices. I don’t think any of that’s going to change. I just think it’s going to be. Tough for P for teachers to hang in there through this, you know, through what they’re going through right now.
And it’s not just hard on teachers. It’s hard on parents and it’s hard on kids. It’s hard on everybody, but you know, God bless him. I mean, they’ve just tough through this whole thing. And, and, you know, I have. When I was mentoring, I had 40 principals at one time and I just think about them every day and hope they can all make it through, um, and get through this transition.
Yeah. It’s um, um, I’ve never seen anything like this before Sandy or, oh no, I just conferring. I.
We are making history for better, for worse than how, and these young adults or young kids are watching us navigate through this as well. So the impact is real and trying to get through this. And I just, all of it makes so much sense. And you have this foundation in place with your wonderful schools that you’ve left these programs and.
That’s a very wonderful path to have all these things still be able to work. Um, but I do worry about all those other schools that don’t have that same foundation. Yeah. Even the schools with the solid foundation, the teachers are still having incredible burnout. The administer. I it’s terrifying. It’s terrifying to me.
What, what advice would you give those young administrators and the teachers that are contemplating their future? I mean, just try to find, you know, that, you know, remember why you get up every day, you know, what it used to feel like, you know, to see students from what is the magic that turns you on every day?
You know, my thing was just being able to walk through the classes and watch the students and the teachers interact. My thing when I taught was just that, you know, when I would say that one. That one phrase that could connect with the kid and they would really understand whether it was, you know, helping them out, or it was the actual learning process, you know, the magic of learning, you know, if they can kind of just hang on to that, because things are going to get better.
They’re going to get back to the way that they were. And I think people are going to, I know people appreciate. Um, administrators and teachers and what they do, but, and parents, because it’s all the same thing, but they’re going to have a deeper appreciation for them coming because kids need that contact, that one-to-one relationship.
They need that person in the classroom that they want when press, they need that person in the classroom that gives them the efficacy. They need that person in the classroom that gives them challenges and hope. Yeah, that’s good advice. They really do. They need it. They need it. So looking back on your career, what would be the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Well, I wrote down, I have some things that I used when I was the principal on special assignment that I gave to my, um, my principals and that I learned some of this I’ve learned through macro balance leaderships, um, through breaking ranks. A lot of it through my, that my mattress gave me. And one thing is, if you’re going in as a first-year principal, you need to be.
So you need to come in with the idea of I’m not going to change everything the first year, and I don’t have to prove myself. What I need to do is come in honor through traditions, the curriculum, um, everything that they have in place. I want to honor that and then highlight it with my abilities, compliment it with my abilities, but to come in and try to change things that.
That’s not successful. Um, but the, but my entry point was as you come into a new school and you’re talking to people, what do you want them to know about you? Like, you wanted to know that one because they’re going to be checking out. I make decisions. And it was like the first day was with the teacher.
What’s this guy, like he makes decisions based on what’s best for students. He’s like Ken Vaughn he’s, he’s a kid guy. Um, but at the same time, I think leading with instructional leadership to know that, Hey. Kids are important teachers, important professional development is really important. Mastery of learning is really important.
So that’s kind of your Keystone that you’re talking about know projecting, um, because once you get into the classroom with that teacher, Debbie silky always said instructions. The second, most personal thing that we do. And instruction is really personal. And if you’re going to articulate somebody instruction, it’s like you, I guess what you want somebody to say after you go to your observation and then you do the reflection conference and you write their evaluation and you’ve given it to them and they read it.
You want them to say, wow, you really know. And so we spent a lot of, we spent a lot of time talking about what you do in the first year and you know, how you. They didn’t have this when I first started, but the metacognition and getting teachers to think about their teaching through reflection, and that’s a great way to learn.
Um, that would be advice that I, that I would give anybody. Or I would like to have that when I started, I didn’t have the, um, metacognition training or the coaching training when I started. And that was, that’s a big thing.
Yeah. That’s yeah, that’s great. Do you miss that mentorship role that you have? Yeah, I really did. And I was trying to thank today, you know what, wow. What did you like? I mean, what was your favorite job? Was it teaching PE? Was it vice-principal O’Brian was a principal at Dell? What was it? Or was it mentoring?
And it was really hard to. They come up with what my favorite one was because each home was just awesome and being able to interact with kids and being able to, you know, learn with teachers and learn from teachers and work with parents. I would always say to the parents, you know, there’s no silver bullet and the education, but if there was one it’s parents and if you can engage your parents and they understand your vision and mission and hard work, and a good attitude is pretty easy to get behind.
You’re going to have your it’s going to be a lot easier and you’re going to be more successful if they understand what you’re doing.
Experience. And, and now that you’re in this new chapter in your life and still working with all these incredible concepts, what, as you felt so many other people’s cups with motivation and light, what fills your cup at the end of the day? How do you maintain your level of excellence as you, you wake up every morning?
What feels. Just learning. I mean, this, I don’t understand how I get really lucky with this job. Alison Kendrick is always says she worked with me at a professional development and we did the mentoring together and she said, I don’t know how Kenny always gets these jobs. And he gets the best jobs I always wanted to be when I was young.
I wanted to be an architect, but I didn’t go to school for them. So I’ve always been fascinated with school buildings, you know, like sparks high Reno. Oh brick. And then I went to read, it was opened my best friend and I, Jean cardboard. We were Clark insolvent, went on strike. So our sophomore year we had to split the day with sparks.
So we were still with there, with all of our friends. Uh, sophomores went to school in the morning. They would school the afternoon and we would ride our bikes. We’d ride our bike to read high before. It’s still being built and they were on strike. So I just I’ve always had a fascination with schools. And so this job, you know, is amazing because I get to see a school being built.
I get to see what the principal does when you know, they’re preparing for a new school. I get to see where the copy machines go. I get to understand how, um, the buy lists work. I get to understand how the warehouse is going to work. I get to understand how curriculum gets improved or approved. So it’s just learning, you know, I just like to keep learning, like to learn new stuff.
So, um, the other thing. Being able to support my kids. You know, Michael’s in Arizona, third years of school site, Kendall’s in salt lake at university of Utah finishing a nursing degree. Um, I can help my wife Lindy with Jackson, her son at, um, Ray. Now, you know, I can support them when they need things. So I’m super busy.
So do you take time? Do you take time for you? Yeah. I mean, I’m, you know, Lindy’s got me on the Peloton, so getting to work, I’m getting my butt kicked, but Selena I’m in a car I’m in Somerset. I’m in the, in the golf, in the golf community out here. Um, Stuart Smith’s give me lessons and I’m trying to get better.
And so it’s just a challenge and, um, yeah, I just, you know, wake up kind of the same way I did when I was teaching. I just never had a day. I always tell students this, you know, you got to find a job that you love, man. I go, my job is really hard, really stressful. But my paycheck has seen you guys when you get older and tell me how great you’re doing and how great school was.
And I mean, you know, I get up with the same thing every day. I never had a day where I didn’t want to go to school and, you know, so I kind of look at this as you know, what’s my job for the day. What’s the Aaron Sue. I have to run, I got to go work the dog out. I got to go shop and I got to get the workout in.
I got to go to work part time. So it’s awesome. That’s fantastic. You know, we’ve been doing this podcast now for over a year and my kids, you know, they they’re supportive and yay. Good job mom. Okay. I like your posts. Um, however, they’ve never been excited to really listen to an episode until I told them.
That Kenny was going to be on it. And they both are, when is he going to be on? We want to listen. So your legacy continues. You still incite such excitement, wherever you go. Um, the kids, Maya has, she’s never been super. Into this whole podcast for me. And she called me, she goes, okay, you saw Kenny, when, when is it going to post?
What’s it going to be on? She wants to hear what you have to say. They, you, you really really matter and you’ve made such a difference and you continue to make a difference. So we’re just, we’re so honored to have you on our committee. Sandy, and I are honored to have you here on our podcast today, and our listeners, you guys are been introduced to a legend here.
And so we really appreciate your time, Kenny. Thank you again. It was an honor. Thank you so much for listening to learning re-imagined. If you’re enjoying this podcast, please help us spread the word by clicking the subscribe button or share your favorite episodes with families and friends and leave us a five star review wherever you get your podcasts.