Female leader animatedly discussing work with colleagues

Would you like to strengthen communication within your organization? Listen along as Dr. Ryan Carpenter of the Estacada School District discusses how he establishes effective two-way communication through his implementation of daily huddles and scorecards. He explains how scorecards drive success and enhance communication while huddles allow teams to build culture, chemistry, and ensure alignment with strategic goals. As communication at all levels is integrated throughout the process of achieving excellence, join us to hear how Dr. Carpenter hardwired this principle into the fabric of the school culture.

This episode addresses questions such as:
  • How is a huddle organized and implemented to ensure it is focused and productive?
  • How can daily huddles help your organization meet its strategic vision?
  • What benefits does the scorecard process offer for engaging with stakeholders?
Episode Transcript


[Intro music plays in the background.]

Janet Pilcher: Hello everyone welcome to today’s Accelerate Your Performance podcast. I’m your host,  Janet Pilcher. Thank you for tuning into our show today. This podcast is all about leadership, and I don’t mean leadership as a position. It’s about how we can all see great leadership in action so that we can all be leaders in our organizations, and the focus of leadership is connected to the Nine Principles framework highlighted in my new book, Hardwiring Excellence in Education.

Joining us back on the podcast today is Superintendent of Estacada School District, Dr. Ryan Carpenter. Today, Ryan joins us for part two of a two-part series to tell the story behind the story in chapter 8 of Hardwiring Excellence in Education.

It’s focused on Principle 8, Communicate at All Levels. People know what they do matters. Communication is a cornerstone to Ryan’s leadership in the Estacada School District in Oregon. Ryan practices all the Nine Principles therefore our conversation show how Principle 8 threads through all other principles.

Last week we focused on our conversation with leaders being the model for communicating with keywords at key times. We’ll talk more about that today and specifically, Ryan showed how he uses many tools to reach varying audiences and does so with great purpose that is evidence-based.

We also focused on how Ryan and his team gained input from surveys and rolling out the results to create action plans that guide leaders on how to monitor continuous improvements.

Today, Ryan and I discuss how communication is a thread that runs through additional tools and tactics aligned to the Nine Principles. We focus on how to use the scorecard to drive success and communicate effectively, and we’ll connect back to a key communication tool, the leader huddle, that Ryan uses so well with his team.

And, as you know, Ryan has served as the Superintendent of the Estacada School District since 2017. For more than four years the Estacada School District has been in pursuit of sustaining high levels of improvement science methodology and has been a partner with Studer Education since 2019. Ryan has received recognition and awards for his leadership over the years. Estacada Schools also received the highest honors from its employees in 2020 and 2021. Estacada was selected the Oregonians top workplaces in the state of Oregon.

So, it’s with great pleasure that I welcome back Ryan Carpenter today.


Janet Pilcher: So, let’s talk a little bit more. About your ability to expand 2-way communication. You use daily huddles with your executive team. And you do this so well, so can you talk a little bit about what that is and why you do that?

Ryan Carpenter: Yeah, I love daily huddles. The Estacada school district faithfully does daily huddles. This is not just the strategy read in a book and in our school district. It’s hardwired and living, and it’s really critical.

So daily huddles is the tool, I believe, that keeps leaders closest to the systems in action and in the actual work of the front-line leaders. I think the daily huddle is truly the thing that is the hard wire to the things actually going on in the front lines, to allow your leadership team in the back to be able to support the people engaged in the work.

And so, okay, let’s talk about daily huddles. So, in Estacada, as an example, we have 2 daily huddles a week, and we do them virtually, so it’s not a big meeting, you know. If this thing is more than 30 minutes long, then you’re doing it wrong. I just wanna say that.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah.

Ryan Carpenter: For a quick huddle. Huddles are quick. You don’t solve problems in the huddles. You just listen to what’s going on throughout the organization.

And so, our huddles are for people who are interested or are taking notes, possibly. We have huddles on Mondays and Wednesdays at 9 O’clock am on the Google Chat. On Mondays, I like to- I like to have them because I like to see what the week looks like for our organization and our school district.

And then on Wednesday, I like to circle back to see what we were gonna do on Monday. If, in fact, we’re on track to accomplishing that. This is not accountability though. This is listening, and that’s really important. I’m not taking notes. I’m not writing anything down that requires actions. I’m just listening to the leaders and listening to their needs. And I’m listening for themes, specific themes that we can deploy our resources to help serve our people.

And so, we- in these huddles, we focus on 2 things. I typically take about 3 to 5 minutes just to give superintendent announcements. Here’s some big things that are coming up in our school district. We’ve got a home football game on Friday. We’ve got, you know, grandparents coming in for a community breakfast on Tuesday, and it’s just important.

You know, we’re- we- We see that we need 3 more paraeducators. As the superintendent, I have authorized that. And here’s why. And here’s what we’re doing with that. And so, everybody can understand the why of key decisions that are coming.

And then, the second part of those quick, short huddles is each person on the screen, because remember it’s virtual so we’re all in boxes, gets the opportunity to one celebrate a win. And that win has to be somebody else who is on the screen because we want to intentionally thank the service that we’re providing for each other as a leadership team.

The second thing is, we ask them after they celebrate the wins. We ask that the next thing that they share are key decisions in the next 24 hours that they’re faced with. And so here is something that’s coming up today or tomorrow that I’m gonna have to make a decision on. And here’s what I’m thinking.

And then number 3 is what barriers could prevent you from success in the next 24 hours. And then number 4, who do you need to speak to on the screen today about that specific hot topic?

I wanna create a space that says, “Hey, Janet? You know, I have that meeting with the parent at 10 O’clock this morning. I- can I call you as soon as this meeting’s over, so we can do our dialogue.”

Like it’s just that opportunity to get to the front of the line and to make sure that we’re there to support each other. The thing that I wanna point out, though, for our listeners, is first of all, who’s on the screen? This is the superintendent, the superintendent’s cabinet. I include building principals, and that depends on how big your school district is.

But I think it’s critical to have principals on that screen. And this year we’ve actually included our vice principals. They don’t speak when we go around the horn, but they still get to be there, and they get to listen-

Janet Pilcher: Right.

Ryan Carpenter: -To what’s happening around the district. Because at the end of the day, it’s gonna be a teacher or a parent who’s gonna approach that vice principal, and say, “Hey, what about this?” And they’ll at least be on boarded with the hot topics of what’s going on inside that school district. And so, this huddle is no more than 30 minutes.

And we’re in the Estacada school district. We’re efficient enough that we’re doing it now inside of 15 minutes.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah.

Ryan Carpenter: But please note that this is not a time to ramble off your calendar agenda like nobody wants to hear your agenda for the day like vomit, right? Like, nobody wants that.

Janet Pilcher: [laugh] Yeah.

Ryan Carpenter: We wanna hear about key systems issues and key decisions. And if you don’t have any of those on Monday, like, skip it.

Here’s a win. Let’s keep on moving in order to keep things fast. So, Janet, your second question of that was, what are the impacts that you see from this huddle?

And what I see from doing a huddle now faithfully for the last 3 or 4 years is, I see that it builds great team culture and chemistry. We’re coming together twice a week, and we’re really quickly thrashing out some very complex system issues.

I see that it keeps everyone informed on the hot topics and decisions and the why. And that’s so critical. It’s important that our high school knows what our elementary schools are doing. It’s important that HR knows what’s happening in the transportation department. Very critical.

It also allows more effectively and efficiently deploying the supports to leaders who need help in development. So, when I say I’m listening for themes, I’m listening for where I can deploy our cabinet-level leaders to support the leaders who may be stuck or who may- this may be their first experience.

Because we’re hiring new people all the time, and they get younger and less experienced. I feel, and you know, we’re trying to work through everyone’s first time going through some type of a situation, and we wanna be there to support them in that.

The fourth thing is, it helps improve on service, our service excellence score. I said we survey that twice a year we wanna be committed to great service.

And then, lastly, Janet, for me personally, the impact of huddles, to me, is that I can make sure that we are aligned with the strategic vision and the strategic plan that we promised our community. We said we would do.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah, I think that’s- and that’s such a great example, the huddle. As I’m listening to you, you know, as part of the principal, it’s communicate at all levels. I mean, this is a- this is a true, a true tactic.

The leader- the huddle is Ryan. That really helps us communicate at all levels, because- what it- people are hearing the same information, right?

Ryan Carpenter: Yes.

Janet Pilcher: And so, when they’re out communicating to others, they’re hearing the same information. And that communication cascaded becomes easier because it’s just natural, because we’ve heard it all at the same time in a very short period, and on things that could bubble up that could be problems. We’re gonna- we’re gonna self-correct before they ever get to be a problem.

Ryan Carpenter: That’s exactly right. And that’s the purpose. It’s intentional. And communication is so critical inside of that.

Janet Pilcher: Absolutely. So, you know the other, the other tool and tactic. I wanna talk about because, even though it’s a measurable tool, a tool that tracks our measures. To me, the scorecard tool is also a great communication tool. You know, it’s a key driver to what we’re trying to accomplish. And we’re always talking from it. And we’re always talking to it in terms of trying to achieve the goal.

So, you use your scorecard to track rounding information as well as progress measures on the scorecard. So, what do you think that scorecard process brings to you your leaders and the, and the district?

Ryan Carpenter: Sure. Well, the scorecard is hardwired inside of our systems, and- and each leader and the scorecard really for us is- it’s our compass. And it tells us that if we’re doing what we said we would do to our community.

The scorecard is the tool that guarantees that we are, that we remain focused and aligned on the work and outcomes that we promised our community through our strategic plan.

And you say, strategic plan. Yes, that thing that’s sitting in the dust on the bookshelf there in our school district.

Janet Pilcher: [laugh]

Ryan Carpenter: And again, if you’re a improvement leader and working with Studer, that scorecard or that’s a scorecard and strategic plan.

Like it is, it is the foundation of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. The scorecard also in our organization holds us accountable to doing what we said we would do, and not necessarily in a punitive way. But going back to the surveys that we talked about.

Each leader in our school district builds plans to improve the lowest-scoring things on that survey. And so, this scorecard is really that last moment, you know, when you finish your round of golf and you finish, you know, filling out the scorecard as you return back to the clubhouse.

That’s what that is for our school district, too, and that is the final. When the work is done, the 90-day improvement cycle is completed. This allows you to come back and say, “How did my plan do in accordance with what I thought it would do and what I said I would do?” And then we again celebrate what worked well, and we improve on what didn’t. And that’s the best way to support that improvement culture.

You know it- it also helps you measure what matters most. You know, so often we’re just inundated with data these days. And you know, when we’re all in our beginning of the year administrator meetings like we get to only talk about paradigm and philosophy and strategy, and we all put our fists in the middle of the room together, and we say, Ready, break. And we’re just gonna be champions for you know, textbook philosophical practices.

Janet Pilcher: [laugh]

Ryan Carpenter: And then kids come on the first day. And then you know, then the employees return, and everything goes out the window.

And so, the reason why the scorecards are also so handy is because it always brings us back to the things that we said mattered most in our school district. And it allows us to simplify the work.

I’ve seen over the last 4 or 5 years of doing this work with you, Janet. I’ve seen leaders who started so busy, and then over the course of doing these the next 3 or 4 years, they’re still busy. But they’re busy on the right things because they’ve been able to determine by using the scorecard that this is something that is important, and it’s going to make a difference versus this is something I can deal with later. It’s not a priority.

And the scorecard has been masterful and really changing our leaders, behaviors to be better leaders and less managers. If that makes sense?

Janet Pilcher: It does, it does. And I love, you know, the word I wrote down is, it’s your compass, right?

Ryan Carpenter: Yes

Janet Pilcher: And all of all of what you just talked about in terms of the use. And the impact, really, is that compass you come back to it.

You can’t- When you venture off. It’s something to come back to that keeps you grounded in terms of what you’re trying to accomplish. And how you know you’re successful or not, and how you make those modifications along the way.

Ryan Carpenter: Yes, and that scorecard is also a key communication piece.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah.

Ryan Carpenter: Again, as we fulfill our promise to our community through the strategic plan, my scorecard is communicated to the world, and you can even look at it. Now if you go to estacadaschools.org you click the superintendent page.

My scorecard is right there for you to see, and you can see how well and not well I did over the last 3 or 4 years, no different than a teacher communicating to parents on a student’s learning progress through a report card. This is how we communicate to our community through our report card of holding ourselves accountable to achieving the outcomes that they aspirationally have for their local school district.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah. And you know, Ryan as- as we’re talking about the why and the what, and the how here, the other piece, to it. You- you’ve seen good results in your district, right?

And that’s the, you know, that’s always the promising part, I mean when you don’t see good results. You know what to do. But you’ve also seen some really good results and outcomes.

Ryan Carpenter: Oh, my goodness! But it has taken time to accomplish those results, I think, to any new leader who’s listening to this. And like, you know I’m gonna start this now, just remember that you have to go slow in order to go fast.

And so, you may not see results tomorrow, just like a diet. You know, you don’t lose 40 pounds in a week, unfortunately yet.

Janet Pilcher: [laugh] Yeah.

Ryan Carpenter: But you do have to allow that time to happen. You have to allow the culture to shift. Things are gonna get bumpy. You’ve gotta keep that throttle down and you just gotta stay focused on what matters most, and the scorecard keeps you aligned to that.

Janet Pilcher: That’s right, that’s right. And it is. It is what we’ve talked about today. It’s really building that culture piece so that you can shift and accelerate and see those results.

Just, you know, you- you and your team have done an unbelievable job with execution of the tactics that are, that are paying off for you. So, as we as we close today, we’ve really focused on communication and move that in and out of a number of the other principles and tools and tactics and those principles.

But let’s end with this, Ryan. So, for leaders looking to enhance communication across the school district, because that is one of the lowest scored items on our employee, you know—

Ryan Carpenter: Yes.

Janet Pilcher: tends to be one of the lower-scored items on our employee survey when we- administered it the first time, people are really struggling here, you know.

But where would you tell? Where would you tell leaders where to start? Would you tell them what to do? What advice would you give to them?

Ryan Carpenter: Sure? Well, today, when we’re talking about communication. I can’t give advice without saying first that leaders go first.

If you want your team to be great communicators, if you ask them to be vulnerable out there in the public, real world. You have to go first. You can’t just point your finger and say, “Go, do this.” It’s not going to be sustainable.

And so, you really have to model that you don’t have to be a gregarious, outgoing person like I told you earlier, I hate icebreaker games like I just hate engaging that way. So, you don’t have to be special. You just have to try, and you have to tell your story.

I also think you have to be prepared to be honest, and sometimes that requires admitting places where your organization or you as a leader have room for improvement.

I can’t tell you as Janet goes around the country, and as I get the awesome opportunity to travel with Studer and Janet around the country, like I see so many people who do fluff piece communications where everything is always happy and everything is always rainbows, and you just get only one superficial communication from the school district or your organization, that everything is perfect.

I think the moment you start engaging your employees, your parents, and your community in an honest conversation, then that’s when you get to start really rolling out a true relationship where there’s co-ownership in solving the problems together.

So then, when you rise as a leader, and when you rise as an organization, it’s collectively owned by so many people who were a part of the process. I speak to you today only as just one leader inside the Estacada school district.

There are so many people who have helped our school district become a model for improvement science has become a model for communication and so many other things, and it was because we started together, and we failed, and we failed, and we failed, and we failed.

And I just wanna say that over again, because the best thing as a leader that I would give you advice is you become vulnerable. Try a Facebook live, I dare you. Like, talk about how scary that is.

Janet Pilcher: [laugh]

Ryan Carpenter: Just get there. That’s awesome. But, you know, you have to just celebrate the things that didn’t work.

And here’s why, in my final statement here, Janet, here’s why I think celebrating failure is the best recipe for success.

Because you get to make a quick pivot on something that you have data and is verified to not work. And just that information alone makes you a standout leader in the process because there are so many organizations in so many school districts who don’t look at that stuff until the end of the year when it’s too late to do anything about it.

And so, being able to acknowledge where failure is, understand that there’s room for improvement, and then engage people through the surveys, through communication, through huddles, and then ultimately through your scorecard, which also has high and low data inside of it. And just being honest about the things happening in your community or in your child’s school, or in the organization which you lead. That would be my advice. Go first.

Janet Pilcher: That’s so good, Ryan, and you know it connects back to- we’re talking about mainly Principle 8 today, Communicate at All Levels. But you know we’re kind of ending with a wrapper around the whole conversation about your leadership, which is such a model of Principle 6, Be Accountable.

And you know, I start in the- in the first 2 paragraphs, in the second paragraph I talk about one of my favorite, probably, paragraphs of the book, Ryan. And it’s really, what are we really trying to do in order to achieve results?

We’re trying to get people deeply connected to the book, right?

Ryan Carpenter: Yes.

Janet Pilcher: Get people deeply connected to the work. That’s not coming in and motivating people. We just create environments where people are deeply connected to the work because they’re trying to achieve the right outcomes. And they’re connected to the input process to help achieve those outcomes.

And we- and we intentionally, with all the things that you talked about today intentionally build an environment where they have that opportunity. And that other piece that you’re talking about, that’s in that chapter, is in order to do that we have to face the brutal facts.

As Jim Collins would say, we face brutal facts in front of us, and when we do, we really engage people in a way that helps us take those steps to achieve excellence.

Ryan Carpenter: Yep, no doubt. And I can, as living proof, verify that those things are true. And some of our greatest gains in our biggest growth areas came from the- just having the cold, hard truth about things that weren’t going well and being vulnerable and honest and open to say, help us improve this. And that’s where the rocket ship takes off.

Janet Pilcher: It does. It does. Thank you so much. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to partner with you, learn with you, and really build impact into our profession.

And we need it more than ever right now, Ryan, we need great leadership more than ever.

Ryan Carpenter: Yes, it is. And Janet, thank you for providing this. I mean, this is such a growth tool itself, just to listen and to hear others, and if nothing else people who are listening today, or others who stumble upon this just know that you’re not alone out there in this world of trying to be an improvement leader of trying to really develop yourself as a leader and not a manager.

This is just one example of that, but please reach out. There are so many great people and go attend Studer conference around the country. There’s some great people who are trying to do the exact same work that you’re trying to do. And we get to come together for those few opportunities to be able to share what’s working well. And also, as you’ve seen me on stage, possibly sharing what failed and how we get better from that.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah, so good. Thank you so much. And we’ll see you soon in October. So, look forward to seeing you, Ryan. So, thank you for being with us.

Ryan Carpenter: Thank you so much.


[Outro music plays in the background.]

Janet Pilcher: I’m so grateful to Ryan, so grateful to the Estacada School District and the work that they do each and every day to hardwire excellence in their organization.

To achieve the most important outcomes for students and families. Ryan is indeed a model leader, and he teaches others in his district how to be great leaders and provides that support to them. And we have just a great opportunity to build that partnership and to work alongside our colleagues in Estacada School District.

And to learn more about Ryan’s journey and others that we work with, as well as just what you’re doing out there, please join our virtual book club. It’s about leadership and it’s been underway for, for several months. I’d like to invite you to join us. We meet twice monthly to dive chapter by chapter into my new book, Hardwiring Excellence in Education: The Nine Principles Framework.

If you want to grow as a leader and lead at the next level, this club is for you, so please register at studereducation.com/hardwiringexcellence.

Also, our biggest Leadership Conference of the year, What’s Right in Education, is coming up in October. I love this time of year. We get to hear stories behind the stories of many of the partner districts that we work with. Would love to have you network with us and hear the stories and tell some of your own.

Join us to learn alongside our colleagues, focusing on hardwiring excellence in education. We’ll highlight leading practices and explore the remarkable achievements and the innovations of the educators across the country. It will be a great learning opportunity, great networking opportunity, and we’ll have a lot of fun.

So please head over to studereducation.com/events to register for the conference.

As always, I thank you for tuning in to this episode of Accelerate Your Performance. If today’s topic is meaningful to you, please feel free to share this episode with a colleague or friend. And as always, I look forward to connecting with you next time as we continue to focus on the Nine Principles Framework so that we can be our best at work. Have a great week.

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