61. Tri Cities Influencer Podcast featuring Michelle Whitney

41:14
 
Share
 

Manage episode 282777524 series 2164426
By Brandon Andersen and Paul Casey. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

Tara Jaraysi Kenning:

"Teamwork makes the dream work." John C. Maxwell. I'm Tara Jaraysi Kenning, and I'm a Tri-Cities influencer.

Paul Casey:

So to be a go-to guy or a go-to girl, you must push through your fear of failure.

Announcer:

Raising the water level of leadership in the Tri-Cities of Eastern Washington, it's the Tri-Cities Influencer Podcast. Welcome to the TCI podcast, where local leadership and self-leadership expert, Paul Casey, interviews local CEOs, entrepreneurs, and nonprofit executives to hear how they lead themselves and their teams so we can all benefit from their wisdom and experience. Here's your host, Paul Casey of Growing Forward Services, coaching and equipping individuals and teams to spark breakthrough success.

Paul Casey:

It's a great day to grow forward! Thanks for joining me for today's episode with Michelle Whitney. She's the superintendent of the Pasco School District. And fun fact about her, she's sort of a driver. So she said she can do a two-minute meditation a lot faster! Michelle, tell us about that.

Michelle Whitney:

Well, I just think it's about efficiency. You've got a lot to do. Two-minute meditation, we do it in 30 seconds. We move on to the work. We have things to do. I don't have time for that.

Paul Casey:

And her staff teases her about how fast she walks.

Michelle Whitney:

Right.

Paul Casey:

It's with intention. Well, we're going to dive in after checking in with our Tri-City Influencer sponsor, Mario Martinez, Northwestern Mutual. Mario what types of services do you offer?

Mario Martinez:

Hey, Paul. Thank you for letting me be on here. We run bifurcated practices in that we focus in two areas of financial plan. The first one is we do protection pieces, which include life insurance, disability insurance, long-term care insurance, really the things that people should be focused on to protect their families, their businesses. On the other side of our practices, we do investment services. On the investment platforms, we do both the brokerage platform, and we do the advisory level services. So depending on what someone's looking for as far as guidance on their investment strategies, we can curtail and build a strategy for them that makes sense.

Paul Casey:

Mario, how can people get in touch with you?

Mario Martinez:

The easiest way, you can reach out to me directly on my business cell phone is 509-591-5301. You can send me an email at mario.martinez@nm.com. Or you can reach out to us on our social media platforms, the easiest one being Mario Martinez Northwestern Mutual on Facebook.

Paul Casey:

Thank you for your support of leadership development in the Tri-Cities. Well, welcome, Michelle! I was privileged to meet you seven years ago in Leadership Tri-Cities. You were class-

Michelle Whitney:

18.

Paul Casey:

And another one of the best classes ever, right?

Michelle Whitney:

That's right. We were actually the best class.

Paul Casey:

Oh, okay. I see. As opposed to number 11, which really was. Yes, and you had a different job at that time in the school district. You had gone from being a middle school principal into HR.

Michelle Whitney:

Yeah. Everyone was glad to see me when I was a middle school principal, and that changed drastically when I became director of HR. So it was tough transition.

Paul Casey:

HR managers, we love you! Thanks for listening. So Michelle, tell us your career highlights that got you to where you are today so our Tri-City influencers can get to know you and why you love what you do.

Michelle Whitney:

Well, I appreciate that question. I have a huge commitment to public service. My grandparents were both public servants. My grandfather was a police officer and chief of police of Pasco. My great-grandmother was a nurse at Our Lady of Lourdes, so I really come from a foundation in my family of civic service, and in particular, civic service to the community of Pasco. So I always wanted to be a teacher, and it was only right for me to tailor my education to be able to come back to a community that I loved and that my family had served in such amazing roles. And to be important in the lives of the students in Pasco has just been a gift.

Michelle Whitney:

And I've been extraordinarily blessed to serve in a variety of roles. I was a kindergarten teacher. I taught fourth grade. I was a counselor. I was a technology facilitator, a librarian.

Paul Casey:

Wow.

Michelle Whitney:

And it was always really just about offering my unique skills and talents to the organization so that I could be of best use to the organization and the kids of Pasco.

Michelle Whitney:

And then I really started a leadership journey, which I never intended to end up in a leadership role, but I was invited to the leadership table, if you will, by a mentor of mine. And I just feel a lot of gratitude towards the amazing mentors I've had over my career. I never saw myself that way, and it was by someone else recognizing those leadership talents in me and encouraging me in that direction that I took the risk to do an administrative internship program, became an assistant principal and then principal at the middle school. Then that started the trajectory into the district office with director of HR, which, having been a middle school principal and a counseling background, I was really uniquely prepared to do that job.

Paul Casey:

Yeah!

Michelle Whitney:

And I actually really loved that work. People joke with HR managers, but I do believe that in any organization, being able to be at the front line of hiring talent into an organization is just an extraordinary opportunity and gift. So that was amazing, and then I stepped into some other district office jobs.

Michelle Whitney:

And again, I would love to tell you I had this trajectory. I was going to teach kindergarten and then be the superintendent, but it wasn't really like that. And the opportunity to apply for the superintendency became open, and it really was about me throwing my name into the hat for a leadership position in a district I loved my entire life. And to be awarded that position was one of the greatest moments and has continued to be great moments since I was awarded the position.

Michelle Whitney:

I'm going into my fifth year. Every single year has had its complications. Every single year, I've been proud to be on the team and honored to do my part. So I have the best job ever, and the best part of my job is the students for sure. So sorry adults, you're second. Kids will always be first.

Paul Casey:

And I heard you tear up pretty easily when you think about those wonderful students.

Michelle Whitney:

I do. I do. In our organization, it's not uncommon for me to stand in front of a group of people, and I say, "We are," and the response is, "Pasco." It really for us is an outward commitment to our value of standing in the gap and bridging the divide for the students who need us the most. So when I'm in front of students or I'm in front of staff, it is not uncommon for me to be emotional about it because it isn't just a job for me. It truly me living that outward commitment every day.

Michelle Whitney:

And even when it's hard, I feel so extraordinarily blessed to be able to be part of what we're doing. And then when it's great and there's a success, those successes are just that much sweeter, and they really do truly move me to tears. Even talking to you about it, I get goosebumps. I live my purpose every day. And they say if you live your purpose, you never work a day in your life, and I truly feel like that I'm lucky in that way.

Paul Casey:

I think we're done here. That was an amazing-

Michelle Whitney:

Well, there you go. See? Efficiency.

Paul Casey:

... story.

Michelle Whitney:

I told you.

Paul Casey:

That was an amazing story. Now I want to cry too. But living your purpose, so huge. Obviously, that's why I do what I do as a coach is to help people do exactly what you are feeling right now, so that's awesome.

Paul Casey:

Let's go back to that crossroads where you are going to take the jump into leadership or not, and you decided to move that direction. What helped you make that decision, and also what advice would you give someone else who might also be at a crossroads? "Should I take the jump into leadership, or should I just stay as a individual performer that I'm doing really well at?"

Michelle Whitney:

Right. So I think what helped me make that jump and take that risk was the courage of the support of the mentorship I had. So had it not been for Jean Carlton, who was the person who very first invited me into a leadership role, she really stood shoulder-to-shoulder with me in those early years in making sense of who I would be as a leader. And without that personal connection with her, I'm not sure I would have had the courage to take that first step. So I think that, as a leader now, I find that one of my purposes is to recognize other leaders and invite them in and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them. I don't think you can ever underestimate the power of somebody with that invitation and that offer of support.... I could give you a list of 100 people that have been amazing mentors to me. And I just I think it's that support from trusted mentors that gave me the courage to do it.

Michelle Whitney:

Really as I reflect back on it now as having had some experience and I hope some wisdom, there's really, all of us, no matter what role you play, you're a leader in your own right. So there's never really a downside to leaning in to the desire to explore that leadership characteristics of yourself. The worst thing that's going to happen is you're going to learn some great skills and learn some things about yourself that will make you even better at what you're currently doing. But if you take that little bit of a risk, and maybe it's just a toe dip, it doesn't have to be a full jump at first, you'll likely find that it's a good fit for you. And then that success breeds success, and the more you try it out a little, and it's like you put the sweater on and it fits pretty good so you wear it around a little bit. But I would just encourage people, especially if you're nervous, find a trusted mentor, start slow, start small, but just continue to take those steps, and it's only going to make you better at whatever you choose to do.

Michelle Whitney:

You may never choose to be the person that is the front of a large organization, but leadership skills, regardless of what you choose to do, will always just make you a better contributor. And that's really what we are as leaders is contributors. So I would encourage anyone to take the risk if you're thinking about it, and again, find a trusted mentor that you can lean on because there are times where it's challenging, and you'll have self-doubts and having that mentor you can go to and be vulnerable about that is very important.

Paul Casey:

Fantastic answer because leadership is influence wherever you're at, and it will fill up your game no matter what you're doing. And I love how you said mentorship was a courage builder for you, even up to 100 people, which is probably true. It's probably not hyperbole. There's just a ton of people that we would not have taken that extra step had it not been for someone giving us that boost and saying you can do it. Maybe you're further along your journey, and you're like you need to turn around and bring somebody with you and mentor them, even if it's informal and you don't call it mentoring, but you want to help somebody along their journey.

Paul Casey:

Like you said, in five years, you've had a lot of issues to deal with in your position. You're smiling still! That's good. A lot of hassles, a lot of disappointments, a lot of things that get in the news making some people choose one side of an issue or another. But then there's the rewarding part of the job. We're not going to go into those other places. Here's the rewarding question, What allows you to focus then on those most rewarding things, and what is actually the most rewarding part of your job?

Michelle Whitney:

Well, I was very serious when I said the most rewarding part of my job is students. And, from the very first day that I started as superintendent and actually even prior during my successor year, I had a transition year, which was gift, I prioritized being in classrooms. There is nothing more magical than the relationship between students and their teachers. So I scheduled on the calendar Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays every morning when we were in person to start in classroom.

Michelle Whitney:

Most days I would get there. Some days I wouldn't. I got there more than I would if I didn't schedule it in. Some days I could stay a long time. Some days I could only be in one or two classrooms, but I always prioritized that. And it does a lot of different things.

Michelle Whitney:

One, it keeps me connected to what teaching means now. It's been a while since I've been in a classroom, and teaching is not the same as when I was in a classroom. So I think that's very important to stay in touch with those you're in service to so you can do right by them in your decision-making.

Michelle Whitney:

But there is nothing that feeds my soul more than students. So in this pandemic environment, I've done the same thing in that I am scheduled to go into Zoom classrooms. And one morning, I was in a kindergarten classroom, and they were doing this good morning routine where they would say good morning to one another. And of course, I'm in tears. There's nothing more sweet than kindergartners saying good morning to each other by name. And it's those moments where you can really connect with why we do our work, the sweetest kindergarten doing the most genuine thing by saying good morning to one another reminds you that those hard moments are worth it, that there's students depending on you, and that there's this kindness in our system. That's what makes the hard moments for me worth it is I stay connected to those things that are closest to students, students, teachers in the classrooms.

Michelle Whitney:

And I have to tell you, that's what's made this pandemic so challenging is we're thrust into the really hard parts of our job for most of our job, and you have to be a lot more intentional about getting out and participating in those things that the really feel your soul, feed your bucket, whatever those things are that you say. For me, I have never lost sight of what it means to be a teacher. I walk around with a teacher's heart, and I think that's why I cry is it touches that part of me that is so important. And like I said, I stay really closely connected to students, and that for me is the difference in those dark moments.

Paul Casey:

So cool that you kept your goal of being physically present, even, well, Zoom is not physical, but you still kept that goal alive. You found a way to still be in classrooms, even though it's online in order to do that. That's pretty neat.

Michelle Whitney:

Yeah. It's incredible. I get to read stories, and the kids bring their puppies and baby sisters to the Zoom. So in so many ways, you get to experience even more of a student's life. So it's been a gift really. And while in-person education is what we're about and who we're about, there really truly have been some silver linings to this environment.

Paul Casey:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). And I was an elementary principal so I totally get teacher, vice principal, principal, the journey. And playing with the kids at recess was a bunch of fun. I even sprained my ankle one year playing freeze tag.

Michelle Whitney:

Mine was flag football.

Paul Casey:

Was it?

Michelle Whitney:

So yes. I, yeah.

Paul Casey:

It's like the scar of courage-

Michelle Whitney:

Yeah, it's a rite of passage. Yeah, uh-huh (affirmative).

Paul Casey:

But that is where the joy was for sure. So leaders must keep growing or they become irrelevant. How have you matured as a leader, I'll just say in these five years of being superintendent?

Michelle Whitney:

Oh, that's a great question. I think the number one way that I've matured as a leader is by listening. I do a lot of listening to the people that I'm in service to. So I meet with parents a lot. I've done lots of different ways of doing that. Of course, pre-pandemic I did community coffee events. I've done Soup with the Superintendent. Since the pandemic, I've done some virtual town hall meetings. You go out and listen, but it's listen with intention. And it's really listening to understand those you're in service to, what they need from you, and reflecting on those decisions that you need to make and the kind of leader you need to be on behalf of those you're in service to.

Michelle Whitney:

I also do a lot of listening to teachers and staff in a lot of the same ways by being present, and I have the most amazing thing. I have a superintendent student advisory council. So I have 30 high school students that meet with me six times a year, and we tackle really difficult issues together, whether it's planning for a new high school or changing boundaries or overcrowding issues or social, emotional, health issues. Again, it's about being present with them and listening to them and tailoring my leadership and the way that I make decisions and what I prioritize and focus on in a way that they need me to do right by them on their behalf.

Michelle Whitney:

I would love to tell you it was some professional development training I went to or some class I took, but it really wasn't. It was being present in my system and listening to those that I've made a commitment to represent and learning from them how I can be better and different in order to serve them in the best possible way.

Michelle Whitney:

High school kids know what they need from us, and know what they need from us around very complex issues. The most diligent group of people that I saw work on a set of boundaries in a couple of facilities plan was that superintendent student advisory council.

Michelle Whitney:

So I joke that really we should let the students run the place. I just need to buy lunch and give them a ride. They truly do know what they need from us, and we just have to create opportunity for them to participate. And it's in those moments where I feel like I'm my best self and I'm my best leader for them. And I feel like it's a gift.

Paul Casey:

Learning by listening. Yeah, I was part of a group in Richland School District. I feel like it was called Focus years ago. I don't know if it still exists today. I was part of the faith community then, too, to come in, and it was all the folks that cared about students and could provide auxiliary services. Plus, the principals were in there. Plus, these cream of the crop students were in there, and they blew me out of the water! The maturity of speaking in front of these scary adults, and they're holding their own and saying, "These are the programs that we got growing. These are the thing we needed." I could totally see how that would be an energizing meeting for you.

Michelle Whitney:

Oh, it's incredible.

Paul Casey:

Just to further validate the whole listening post, I had a boss who do a listening post, he would call it. He would invite a dozen of the constituent monthly, and he would ask the same set of questions to each one to hear on the ground level of how to serve them in a nonprofit. And then just yesterday, I'm part of the National Speaker Association, and a board member called me from the Northwest Chapter and just said, "I'm a board member, and I'm just trying to get ground-level intel of how we can best serve our constituency." And I was like, "Wow!" He followed up with an email, and we even played with a couple of ideas for the pandemic of how to speak virtually. I'm like, I think it's always a great move when a leader gets down on the ground with the frontline people, who know all the answers, like you said, they how to run the school, and listen to them.

Paul Casey:

Well, as a superintendent, it must be hard, with a huge to-do list and probably a billion emails coming in, to know how to spend your time, how to triage tasks, how to know what to delegate and what you have to own. How do you sort how to spend your time?

Michelle Whitney:

Yeah. That's a great question, and I'm going to be really honest with you because if I'm not, the people that know me will call me on that. That probably is my biggest weakness, because I believe so deeply in every single person that I'm in service to, and we have a large organization, almost 20,000 students, which represent 40 to 60,000 parents, 2,200 employees, five board members. And every single one of those interactions is important to me. So the whole delegation and all of that is absolutely a work in progress.

Michelle Whitney:

For me, I think one of the biggest pieces that I'm blessed with, and this may sound cliché, but it's absolutely critical is to have an executive assistant that you trust. My assistant is absolutely incredible. She knows what I need to work well. She knows what I need as a person to function well. She's my number one fan. I'm fairly certain I'm her favorite person in the universe above and beyond everyone else. And on those hard days, I know for sure that my assistant still likes me. That's just that, not only does she help me organize myself professionally, she makes sure I'm where I'm at with what I need, my calendar is organized and squared away, but she's also that person that's there to bolster and support on the days when days are tough.

Michelle Whitney:

And I think that executive assistant and, for me, superintendent of management relationship is so important to have a person that you can go, "Oh my gosh. I don't know how to... I'm not going to be able to get all this done," and something that you can delegate and help follow through with those priorities.

Michelle Whitney:

The other piece is I have a great team. And we're learning about the strengths of the team together over the last five years. We've utilized a book called StrengthsFinder 2.0. And that was really a game changer in terms of knowing and understanding where people fell out around those strength characteristics and really now trying to organize work function up against and those and trying to collapse some of the siloed nature of the way work is typically done in a large organization to be able to align work tasks with people's strengths.

Michelle Whitney:

So I'm not a great executor. That's not my strength. I'm big vision, relationships, but the details of beginning to end is not my strength, but I know I have a colleague and a teammate that that is her strength. So when I need help with that task, I go to that person. I think knowing the strengths and talents of the people around you is a real efficiency builder, and then having someone like an assistant like I have, Jenny is amazing, that really can help you prioritize, especially for someone like me that everything is equally important all the time. And that's just not viable in the long term. You can do that for a short period of time, but at some point, you need some help in making sure that you're keeping the right things up front all the time.

Paul Casey:

What do those meetings with Jenny look like? How do you sort, prioritize? What do you discuss? Is it regimented? Is it ad hoc? What does it look like?

Michelle Whitney:

Yeah. That's a great question. I think with Jenny and I, it's evolved over time. We started out with it being scheduled that if I get to go to a kid thing or meet with Jenny on virtual.

Paul Casey:

That's going to bump it. Yeah.

Michelle Whitney:

Yeah. So Jenny was getting bumped all the time. Then it became more ad hoc. Lately, what's been amazing about this virtual environment is she just comes to the meeting, whatever meeting I'm in that I feel like I'm going to need her in, she is in there virtually, and she can listen to the meeting and help me prioritize that way. My thinking post-pandemic, when we're back to a more normal environment, I think that organization works best for us. So those meetings that she can be at with me or helping facilitate or there as a note-taker, I think that, we've landed on that arrangement for us probably works better.

Michelle Whitney:

But I think the key to all of that is you have to figure it out for yourself. That management system with your assistant is going to be very assistant-and-manager-specific in terms of how your personality works. So the key is finding something that works. I don't think it has to look any single way, but it has to work for both of you.

Paul Casey:

Sounds good. Well, before we head into our next question on external relationships, a shout-out to our sponsor. Mario Martinez, Northwestern Mutual. Mario, why should people work with a financial advisor?

Mario Martinez:

Hey, Paul. That's a great question. Really, I think there's two types of people who should be seeking out a financial professional. The one person is somebody who has very limited access to financial guidance. Maybe they're a younger professional or somebody who just hasn't had an introduction to a financial professional yet. And the other type of person is really someone who has a lot of different exposure to different professionals. They just haven't found the one person that they really trust to take guidance from. So there's really an over-information in that sense. Those are really the two types of people that should be looking to be introduced to a financial professional.

Paul Casey:

Fantastic! So Mario, how can people get in touch with you?

Mario Martinez:

The easiest way is to reach out to me directly on my business cell phone, which is 509-591-5301. You can send an email to mario.martinez@nm.com, or you can find us on our business Facebook page, which is Mario Martinez Northwestern Mutual.

Paul Casey:

So it's been very clear, Michelle, that leadership is relationships for you, that you believe that like I do. You've talked about a lot of internal relationships within the school and school system. Now you've got this community around you. So how do you intentionally develop relationships with the City of Pasco and beyond?

Michelle Whitney:

That's a great question. I feel very lucky. The City of Pasco, the city manager, Dave Zabell in Pasco, we have what's called a Create Group. It's the port, the city, the public utility, the county. I'm sure I'm leaving someone out, but it's the leadership of the infrastructure of Pasco. And we meet monthly, and we keep each other updated on those core functions that would overlap. So for me, I often report out on facilities or potential construction projects. They're also very interested in our educational programming. So we give updates there. That, I think, is an incredible unique opportunity for us to partner as a collective for the good of our community.

Michelle Whitney:

I'm also a Kiwanian, and we have representation at all of the local groups like the Chamber of Commerce and so on. I think that's very important. Maybe it's not always me that's at those tables, but there's someone from our organization at those tables that can act as a liaison.

Michelle Whitney:

The other piece, though, for me is, like I mentioned earlier, those community coffees, that I do them monthly. I've done that almost consistently in at least the last four years if not five in some variation, whether it's at the Starbucks, or we did Soup with the Supe at the Booth Building one time. But that really is just an open invitation to anyone who wants to come and sit knee-to-knee, shoulder-to-shoulder with me. And we talk about whatever they want. It's not a pre-canned presentation that I do. They just bring topics and discussion and we talk about, and I answer whatever questions there are. I think those are the relationships, too.

Michelle Whitney:

So there's the organized groups that you would expect an organizational leadership to be interacting in. Certainly we participate in all of those, but there are people out there who want to build relationship or want to be in a relationship with the school district and don't maybe know how, or maybe don't know what they want to do. That's where those more informal opportunities like a community coffee come in really handy for people who just come and say, "Hey, here's a skill or talent I have. I want to get involved. How could that look?" And then I just am a big connector at that point, and I'm like, "Hey, you need to get in contact with that person." The night Jenny's there, and I say, "Hey, Jenny, will you get them in contact?" Then she takes care of making those connections. But it's that central location at the Starbucks community coffee that they know the superintendent will be there and listen.

Michelle Whitney:

Then over the last year or so, I've started to invite some of my executive team there, too, so that there's other people other than just me there that I can connect folks to. So that's been a great relationship builder. Then we have phenomenal programs like our PEAK! Partnership Program where I have a staff who go out and talk to organizations in the community that want to partner directly with schools. So we have some real innovative organized efforts like that as well.

Michelle Whitney:

We don't do the work for educating kids on our own. It's truly a system-wide and a community-wide effort to build that network of support and lift all of our students. And I'm proud to work shoulder-to-shoulder with the best in the community.

Paul Casey:

Well, Tri-City Influencer listeners, Soup with the Supe, so you could steal that idea if you're a supervisor-

Michelle Whitney:

There you go!

Paul Casey:

... not just a superintendent.

Michelle Whitney:

That's right!

Paul Casey:

And post-COVID you can have with you. I love it! So we rarely talk about money on this podcast, but every leader has to know their organization's financials. I know you've got a whole finance department, I would assume, within the district. But what do you have to stay accountable to? What does evaluation of finances look like in your position?

Michelle Whitney:

Yeah, that's a great question. Education finance and funding has been in a state of flux over the last three or four years…Probably longer than that, but since I've been in the superintendency, it's been in a flux and change post-McCleary. So I've had to stay very in tune with learning all the new legislation and how the laws are impacted because it was a complete shift in the way things were done. One, it was legislative advocacy around the McCleary decision, pre-McCleary decision, and then post-McCleary, it was about learning and understanding those aspects of the change in the way education funding was done.

Michelle Whitney:

But then it's really about my interfacing with the school board to build some benchmarks and goals and priorities for a philosophy about the way we spend our dollars. So my interface with the school board to ensure that we're building budgets that are in alignment with their philosophy and their goals and to meet our strategic planning priorities. So that's really the level that my leadership and influence is at is making sure that the way that we're budgeting and prioritizing dollars is in alignment with our strategic plan and our board's vision for our district.

Michelle Whitney:

And then I work very closely with our business office. I typically supervise directly assistant superintendents. My business officer is an executive director, but I directly supervise him because he is in charge of the district finances. And that was personal decision that I made. Not all superintendents or supervisors do it that way, but one, he was new. The funding was new, and I was new. So we all are learning together, and it's again, that spending time together, knee-to-knee, shoulder-to-shoulder learning is the best way, I think, to build team and accountability together, especially around something as important as finances.

Michelle Whitney:

We also do a fair amount, or I do a fair amount of interfacing with the community around things like bond planning and levy planning. And we do that through community task forces. And I had an assistant superintendent who did an extraordinary job in interfacing with a group called the Community Builders who helped us plan out a district strategic plan around our facilities. And then of course, layered on top of that is bonds and how those cycles will work. So it's really a multi-tiered effort as a superintendent in a school district, and there's a variety of stakeholders who are involved in different ways in education and finance decision-making. I think it's a really fascinating part of the work. It's a very complicated part of the work.

Michelle Whitney:

Recently, in the last couple of years, we've had to make some adjustments because the McCleary funding that would require us to repurpose dollars and really there were some areas that we were going to need to reduce. And we got teachers very involved, staff, building-level staff very involved in that. I went out and did a budget presentation, actually two presentations at every single building, and then invited people to come to the table to help us build some budget efficiencies. So we're really working hard to broaden the ownership and leadership around educational finance in Pasco. And we just started to get traction around that work pre-COVID, and then of course, COVID hit. So once we get back to something that appears a little more predictable, we'll get back to that.

Michelle Whitney:

But I felt like that was an extraordinary opportunity to peel back the curtain of finance of any big organization is complicated. I'm really excited about picking that work back up.

Paul Casey:

You mentioned strategic planning. You also mentioned in your StrengthsFinder. Vision is huge for you, by the way, huge StrengthsFinder fan. It's called CliftonStrengths now, but Tri-City Influencer listeners, please look up StrengthsFinder 2.0 the book or CliftonStrengths. There's a $19.99 version which will give you your top five. You'll be like, "Someone's reading my mail when you look at it." You're like, "Wow! This is what I love." And if you can be doing that 80% of your work day, you're going to love what you do. And talk to your supervisor about that. You can do it as a whole team.

Paul Casey:

I can facilitate that for you. It would just be a super fun thing to realize, "Wow, you're so good at that. You should be doing more of that!" And, "Wow, you don't do good at that? What's a way that we can move that around on a team?"

Paul Casey:

So when you think about the next hill to climb as a district, and you think about continuous improvement, what's your process for that?

Michelle Whitney:

Well, right now our focus really was derailed in the face of and the impacts of COVID. My eye now is on transitioning our students back into some kind of in-person learning that's safe for them over the course of the next few months and then really getting specific and intentional about how we bridge the impact of the disruption to their educational experience.

Michelle Whitney:

So we had a really nice trajectory of focus starting in my first year with identifying some outrageous outcomes and strategic plans, and we just refreshed and got a brand new strategic plan approved in January before COVID. So those things really are push-pinned on the bulletin board right now as we're getting really hyper-focused on how do we met the needs of our kids during a pandemic in this just extraordinarily complicated environment.

Michelle Whitney:

We will need to get back to that. Matter of fact, in January, we'll start again with the board re-calibrating our expectations of the strategic plan, and it will then be focusing on what is life after, post-COVID, or as we start to get kids back. It will be about how do we fill those gaps that have been created by a disruption in the traditional education environment. So those processes for me are done in coordination and collaboration with stakeholders that are closest to the work. So we involve our teachers and our students, and there's a lot of listening that happens and serving that happens and focus groups and task force that happen. So I would envision those things starting to occur.

Michelle Whitney:

Once we get back to something that's a little bit more predictable, right now, people's priority and focus is dealing with the current crisis. And it truly is still a crisis for us. We've been in a crisis mode since March 13th, so it's really difficult to get people to, and really probably inappropriate to try to get people to think about something more long range. It's like you wouldn't be thinking of building your next house while your current house is on fire. So we really just need to honor where we are right now and know that there'll be work to be done when we get back to something that's a little bit more normal.

Michelle Whitney:

But my process is really around valuing those closest to the work. They know what they need from us, empowering them in the decision-making, and then being really specific and strategic and intentional about a few key priorities, and I think that was mistake I made early on as a leader is taking on too many things. I'm a person that likes to do too many things, but organizations don't. And I don't mean any single person in an organization. Just systems don't. So when you think about a system like a rubber band, if you stretch it too tight, it'll break, and systems are the same way. So that's been a huge learning piece for me as an individual leader, that you really have to be keyed into systems don't work the same way as you do as an individual leader.

Michelle Whitney:

So part my leadership responsibility is to help narrow people's focus so that we can get really good at a few things versus having our attention spread across a lot of different things. And I'll tell you, we're not quite there yet as an organization, but we certainly have our eye on that. And this strategic plan that we had in place pre-COVID puts us in a nice spot for that. So we'll be able to pick that up post-COVID and move forward.

Paul Casey:

Great. Yeah, that makes total sense. I like to say too much change too fast kills change, and it kills you!

Michelle Whitney:

It's true. It's true.

Paul Casey:

Well, finally, Michelle, what advice would you give to new leaders or anyone who wants to keep growing and gaining more influence?

Michelle Whitney:

So, new leaders, I would just say, be kind and gentle with yourself. Find a network of people that you can talk to and that you trust, and be vulnerable with them about what you don't know. Maybe don't be vulnerable with everybody about what you don't know, but find a few people that you really, really trust because none of us as leaders know everything. There is such great learning in vulnerability. So that would be a huge piece of advice for new leaders.

Michelle Whitney:

And like I said, be kind and gentle with yourself. There are things looking back now, I wish I would have done differently in my first couple years, but I learned from that. We make changes, and we move forward from there.

Michelle Whitney:

Continuing to evolve in your own leadership, while I talked about listening as learning, that's one part of learning. But there really is the piece about extending yourself beyond your current knowledge base and whether it's through a professional organization that you're involved in or a group or a network of people, reaching out and maybe targeting one key professional development that you want to extend, one in a year, and just being really thoughtful and strategic and gentle about that choice. I think that's always a good thing, to pick one thing that you're going to really extend, maybe beyond your own comfort zone and lean into something that maybe scares you a little every year, and making a commitment to doing that. And either doing it as an individual leader or as a leadership team, I think is always also a really a great thing to keep in mind.

Michelle Whitney:

Because it's easy in the busyness of our lives to forget about extending ourself in some formal professional development, too. So there's the informal listening and learning to be a better person and a better professional, but there's certainly that formalized professional development that also meets a need for us as leaders and influencers.

Paul Casey:

Well, Michelle, how can our listeners best connect with you?

Michelle Whitney:

Well, email is always the best way to connect with me. I'm on that thing all the time. Just ask my husband. He'll tell you. But I do take great joy in interfacing and being a support and assistance to fellow leaders. People always say, "Oh, but you're so busy. We don't want to bother you." It is never a bother to sit with someone who needs me to be a good listener. Email's always a great way to get in contact with me, and I'm always happy to help and be of support and assistance.

Paul Casey:

Well, thanks again for all you do to make the Tri-Cities a great place and keep leading well!

Michelle Whitney:

Thank you.

Paul Casey:

Let me wrap up our podcast today with a leadership resource to recommend. Michelle was just talking about getting more leadership proficiencies in your professional development, especially if you're an emerging leader or a young professional. I offer a program called Leader Launcher.

Paul Casey:

Leader Launcher is a Tri-City program for young professionals and emerging leaders where I do a training two hours every month on a leadership proficiency. You'll turn that into an action plan, be able to bring that back to your workplace and use it right away in your workplace. It'll be professional growth or leadership, and you can go to leader-launcher.com to sign up. For a full-year program, you'll get 24 hours of training that you'll be able to then apply right on the ground there at work. So leader-launcher.com.

Paul Casey:

Again this is Paul Casey. I want to thank my guest, Michelle Whitney from Pasco School District for being here today on the Tri-Cities Influencer Podcast. We also want to thank our TCI sponsor and invite you to support them. We appreciate you making this possible so we can collaborate to inspire leaders in our community.

Paul Casey:

Finally, one more leadership tidbit for the road to help you to make a difference in your circle of influence. It's a quote from Zig Ziglar. He said, "What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals." Until next time, KGF, keep growing forward!

Announcer:

Thank you to our listeners for tuning in to today's show! Paul Casey is on a mission to add value to leaders by providing practical tools and strategies that reduce stress in their lives and on their teams, so that they can enjoy life and leadership, and experience their key desired results. If you'd like more help from Paul in your leadership development, connect with him at growingforward@paulcasey.org for a consultation that can help you move past your current challenges and create a strategy for growing your life or your team forward.

Announcer:

Paul would also like to help you restore your sanity to your crazy schedule and getting your priorities done every day by offering you his free Control My Calendar checklist. Go to www.takebackmycalendar.com for that productivity tool, or open a text message to 72000 and type the word Growing.

Paul Casey:

Tri-Cities Influencer Podcast was recorded at Fuse SPC by Bill Wagner of Safe Strategies.

67 episodes