A leader rounding with an employee to increase retention.

What is rounding like in action? Join Dr. Janet Pilcher as she interviews Dr. Deanna Ashby, Senior Director of Coaching at Studer Education, to hear about how rounding has positively impacted three of her partner districts in Kentucky. DeDe shares insights into how Graves CountyOldham County, and Meade County Schools have each customized rounding to build meaningful connections, share feedback and action steps, and address specific needs. Listen now as Janet and DeDe role play an actual rounding conversation about DeDe’s experiences at the Kentucky School Board Association conference, providing a firsthand example of what rounding entails.

This episode addresses questions such as:

  • How can rounding help leaders build connections to recruit and retain employees?
  • Who should leaders round with, and how often?
  • What results have partner districts experienced as a result of implementing rounding strategies?

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Episode Transcript

Deanna Ashby: It’s important to us for our folks to know that their voice matters.


[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 in this week as we focus on what it takes for leaders to achieve important outcomes.

And today we’re going to focus on what it means to create positive workplace environment outcomes—outcomes that focus on ways that we retain individual employees so that they can continue to be an important part of our teams. As we engage in this work, we want to focus on our high-performing employees so that they stay with us and so that they’re engaged and connected.

If you’re enjoying this podcast, I’d like to encourage you to rate us and review us on Apple Podcasts. You can open our show on the Apple Podcasts app. You can leave us five stars if you’d like and tell us what you like about the show. And if you’re enjoying this new format, please take time to just connect with us. Take a couple minutes to reach out.

So let’s get into the episode. Last week we dove into core leadership fundamentals and discussed the practice of rounding and its significance in improving workplace culture by building relationships with others. I’ll leave a link to that episode in the show notes.

Today we’re back to discuss this tactic more in depth with Dr. De De Ashby, a Senior Director of Coaching at Studer Education. De De brings nearly three decades of public school experience, including five years as a superintendent, to coach education organizations on strategic planning, continuous improvement, developing leadership capacity, and building positive cultures to recruit and retain employees.

I’m glad De De’s back on our show today to share her knowledge and expertise and the work that she does out in the field with our partner organizations. Her public education experience includes serving as a high school business and marketing teacher, a guidance counselor, elementary and high school principal, and eventually the superintendent of Hopkins County Schools of Madisonville, Kentucky. Her recent accomplishments include being published in the AASA School Administrators Magazine and a presenter at both the AASA and Carnegie conferences. We’re glad De De is here today to talk about her experiences and rounding and highlight a few partners who do it really well.

We’ll also demonstrate a role play for you so you can hear how a rounding conversation goes between a leader and employee. So let’s jump right in.


Janet Pilcher: It’s with pleasure that I welcome Dr. De De Ashby onto our show today. Back onto our show, De De. It’s always good to have you and for you to be here as one of our key coaches, as well as to showcase some of the partners that we work with across the country. Welcome.

Deanna Ashby: Thank you, Janet. It is always a pleasure to get to talk to you and get to be part of the podcast. Thank you again.

Janet Pilcher: Absolutely. We’re going to talk about rounding today. And the reason for it is we have connected with our partners. I’ve connected with our partners on podcast episodes. And one thing that we found is that rounding is one of the most popular tools and tactics that really help build positive cultures and help the leaders understand the processes that need to be improved and people that they can recognize and harvest the wins and the bright spots.

And so I just wanted to do a little bit of a deeper dive, De De, today, to focus on some questions to tee it up and then really spend most of our time on some partner stories that you have and some partner examples.

So let’s just start with the value. What do you see as you’re coaching and as you’ve experienced rounding in the field? What value do you see in rounding based on the work that you do and the experiences that you’ve had?

Deanna Ashby: Well, it is a great tool, Janet. And I’m so excited to be able to share success stories around it. So obviously, rounding to me is about intentionality. Just being present in the moment and having one-on-one time or one-on-one time with a group, so to speak, because that’s the fun thing about rounding is it doesn’t always look the same. And you can do it for so many different groups in so many different ways and purposes.

So, you know, the research shows overwhelmingly that the teacher shortage, the classified staff shortage, we see that in so many different things that we read, and that is really the top goal for so many superintendents in districts are how to fill those positions. So now more than ever, just using that intentionality of rounding to have those conversations to re-recruit and retain quality employees. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a bus driver, a food service worker, a teacher that’s AP Calculus, right?

It doesn’t matter. It’s just that one-on-one time to talk with them and really being present as we would say at Studer or where your feet are. Being present where your feet are to listen with ridiculous attention and then taking that information and using it to lead change, to have impact within your organization.

And you know, the thing about rounding is when you talk to people is it’s free, it’s easy, it’s, you know, doesn’t really take that much time once you really get into it and you understand, but it leads to such huge impact in an organization. Because people step back and say, “oh, wow, you really did listen to what I said, and you really did take action.” Or if you couldn’t change something that we talked about, “you followed back up with me, you followed through on it and let me know.” And so I just think it’s such a great tool and tactic to use.

Janet Pilcher: Yes, it really is. And we’ve seen so many successful examples along the way. And I love what you said, too, about helping us retain people that we work with each and every day. Sometimes people or districts or organizations will think they have a recruitment problem, especially with the teacher shortage and the staff shortage.

And sometimes De De, I’ll ask, “well, you know, do you have as much of a recruitment problem or a retention problem? Because if you could retain more, you wouldn’t have as big of a recruitment problem.” And rounding is certainly a process that we use that helps people have those engaged conversations where people understand that they’re heard, people care about them, and that we’re taking action to improve. So appreciate the setup.

I’d like to now give you an opportunity to talk about some of the partners that you’ve worked with who do this exceptionally well. That’s how we learn from the people who are in the field doing it exceptionally well. So tell us a little bit about some of the work that you’ve recognized along the way.

Deanna Ashby: So I reached out to three of our partners in Kentucky. And as I shared, I think, earlier before we started the podcast, they were so excited because they love rounding and they wanted to share their success stories. Because that’s part of who we are as leaders is telling our story.

And so the first district is in far Western Kentucky. It’s a rural community. It’s Graves County. And they’ve only been a partner with us for about a year. And so when the superintendent reached out to me, he was kind of laughing because he said, you know, at first when I introduced it to them, they thought, “wow, this is going to be a lot of time. I don’t know how I’m going to do this.” And you know, Janet, we’ve seen that when we first introduced it.

But he said that rounding has been a simple strategy that they’ve implemented in their district that has led to significant impact on their culture. He said principals have scheduled time with anybody that connects to their building. So every bus driver that pulls up, every food service worker, every teacher and instructional assistant, and that they meet with them. And these were his words “on their turf”.

So it’s not coming to the principal’s office, but the principal going to them, where they are. And he said that, you know, besides the time concern, now they realize that this is a time investment—

Janet Pilcher: Yeah.

Deanna Ashby: —and that those leaders are now singing the praises of this process, said that just little time to talk has had such great areas for growth. And so, you know, big things come in small packages. So that small amount of time has led to big growth, not only for the schools, but also at the central office for them. Because they have been, as they’ve talked with those principals, come up with ways from the central office on things that they need to change based on that information. And so the clear message there is it’s important to us for our folks to know that their voice matters. And I thought that was just so impactful.

The second district I want to highlight is a partner that’s been with us for a couple of years. So we’re now leaving the western part of the state and going to one of the furthest east districts that we work with in Oldham County, which is really centrally located. But this is a very urban district and it’s just right outside of Louisville, Kentucky. And so they really embraced rounding and taking it to the next level. And that’s the beauty of this to me.

But the superintendent rounds with each leadership team a couple of times a year in the schools. And then after he finishes rounding with that leadership team, he and just the principal hang back and then they round on what they just conducted in the previous rounding session with the leadership team about how can that lead to action steps and how the superintendent can support the principal in doing that.

So then they collect all the information that they’ve received from all the schools. And then they have developed what they call the Oldham County Roadshow. And I thought this was so interesting. And so then they go back out a couple of times a year and they have like 20 schools and then to the central office. So this is a big time commitment.

And they use what they call their roadshow to highlight “here’s all the feedback that we received from our rounding. And here are the action steps that we are now taking to make our district better, to accelerate student learning, to make sure we’re doing everything we can to recruit and retain employees.”

So they have everything from elevate pay to more flexible professional learning, using voice to drive improvement and provide the data to show what they’re learning. And here’s the kicker. They don’t just communicate this to the schools. They also take this road show to the fiscal court, the Rotary Club and Kiwani.

Janet Pilcher: [laughs] I love it.

Deanna Ashby: So it becomes a whole community event. And at the end of all of this, they will ask them, “OK, based on our rounding, the information we’ve shared now that’s leading us to accelerate our actions in these areas, give us a percentage, and they have some type of way that they then can calculate: are we on the right track or the wrong track?” And so, so far, they’ve received 96.7 percent that the decisions they’re making, the policies that they’re changing are on the right track. So there’s a scorecard entry for you. [laughs]

Janet Pilcher: Absolutely. Well, in the feedback, you know, what’s key, it’s the conversation listening. But what you’re really talking about that they do well is that they do something with that information, they communicated, it’s very visible.

And, you know, what you just said, De De, reminds me of most people will come with you in terms of those decisions if they know where it comes from, how it’s connected to input, and where it moves forward. And that 96-ish percent shows just that. That’s, that’s fantastic.

Deanna Ashby: Absolutely. So I’ve got one more to share with you. And this is from a mature partner that’s been doing this for a while and it’s Meade County Schools. And so they also have different levels of rounding. So the superintendent, Mark Martin, actually rounds about five times a year with advisory committees of a group of classified, a group of certified, but then also a group of students, which I love. I love when we round with kids.

But then he also rounds with his board members, which I think is hugely impactful. And then he dedicates 11 days out of his calendar, where he goes and spends the entire day at that school. So he is available to round every planning period or with different professional learning communities or grade levels to hear from them firsthand.

And so again, intentionality leading to impact. And so I would say to new partners, “you know, you don’t get there overnight. All of that doesn’t happen the first year. This is a process that you build on.” But I just thought those were three great examples of three partners that have really embraced it with fidelity.

Janet Pilcher: Yes, it’s so good. And, you know, De De, when we talk about rounding, there are some core questions that we ask. And sometimes, you know, it’s very purposeful in the way that we build that rounding approach. And that, you’ve talked about three different examples. It’s the same process, but it’s intended for some particular outcome. And so you can manage those questions around whatever purpose you’re trying to achieve. And that’s the nice part about rounding, I believe, too, is it builds that flexibility.

Deanna Ashby: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Janet Pilcher: Let’s, let’s talk a little bit. One of the things that we’ve been doing as, as I’ve been working with the coaches is we’ve been role playing a little bit. So we’ve talked about examples from three exceptional partners in the way that they round for our audience. You and I will round with each other. So when people are like, “what does it really look like? What are you talking about when you say rounding? How can we get a sense of what it is?”

And so we’re going to, De De and I are going to role play that. I’m going to really be who I am and De De is going to be who she is in this role play. And De De, you and some others on our team had an opportunity to attend and be with our partners and meet new people at the Kentucky School Board Association Conference. So I’m going to very purposefully round on how that went and get information from you so that we can learn from that session. So, appreciate the opportunity to do that with you.

Deanna Ashby: Absolutely. I’m excited.

Janet Pilcher: Sounds good. So let’s start. De De, I know you and the team were there connecting with, as I mentioned with our partners and what worked well with that conference? What, what really came out as some highlights from that conference?

Deanna Ashby: So the Kentucky School Board Association, this was their annual conference that they hold in Louisville every year. And so board members from across the state and their superintendents come and this is the opportunity for board members to get their credits that are required through Kentucky law to serve as board members. And so it is just a great opportunity for us to get to meet new people, to see our partners and their boards, and really to listen and learn and hear what’s going on out in the state and what their needs are.

And so we actually this year, the last two years, have set up a booth, and this is probably the only conference that we have a booth at in Kentucky. But it’s a great opportunity for us to be boots on the ground. And just to meet these folks where they are and to listen and learn as I’ve talked about.

So, we always leave that conference and have a better understanding of where we are in Kentucky and what the needs are because Janet, as you know, our work is not cookie cutter. It is not one size fits all. We meet people where they are. And that’s why it’s so important for us to have our ear to the ground about the challenges that they’re facing because some of the things that they face in Eastern Kentucky may look different in Western Kentucky. And so it was a very enjoyable time, always good to connect and listen and learn.

Janet Pilcher: So let’s talk about that. So what did you learn as you had, as you were listening and looking at their challenges and obstacles, and what’s the good work, what’d you learned while you were there?

Deanna Ashby: So Janet, I know that you will love this because I know what a big sports person that you are and you like to cheer on your favorite team. So of course in Kentucky, you know, University of Kentucky basketball is just huge. And so you’ll go to an airport and everybody’s got on their UK sweatshirts, right? You know, they always wear that with pride.

So the marketing team and the business development group really worked hard to get ready for this conference, and they, we always have little giveaways and things. And so they had ink pens with basketballs on top of them, treat bags that we had basketballs on them and stuff. And then this was the first time I’d ever seen them do this, but they did what they called a March Madness Board. And so those of us working the booth, there was this big notebook paper where they had a bracket of like a March Sweet 16 kind of, you know, how you predict who’s going to win on the end. And so board members and superintendents that would come by the booth, they would take them through this March Madness Bracket, and they did this for like, two days.

And there were things on there like “what’s most important to a board? What are the biggest challenges?” And it would be things like “valuing and appreciating team members, developing future leaders, prioritizing key strategies to have the greatest impact, creating and inspiring workplaces, aligning priorities and opportunities for kids across our district.” So all the things that we do with Studer Education through culture and through strategy.

And so what’s interesting, and I listened to this, overwhelming the winner was recruit and retain high quality staff. And so they made pictures of the bracket and this process along the way. And so it was, people would come back to the board to see,” you know, well, so am I winning?” You know, “is the one I picked, you know, how far along has it advanced?”

And so it was so interesting because Janet to me, that speaks to what we just talked about, you know, the value of rounding. Now, what we’re doing with rounding and what we’re leading with our districts connects to the voice that we heard from the field about the biggest challenge that those districts and those partners are facing. And so I just thought that that was a really neat activity, and I have to commend our events team, marketing, and business development for putting their heads together because it really made it fun.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah, it is and we and what a learning and what a way to do that, and to get people engaged in the conversation and have a little fun. You know, that’s the other part to have, have fun. And it’ll be great to see the information that comes from that because that’s really important to us, De De is, as you said, is really to understand what the needs are what the challenges are. We have processes that we use, but we also connect that to whatever the highest needs and challenges are out there so that we’re, we’re a true partner in that process.

So, you know, one of the things I think will be really important for us is to talk about opportunities. So, you know, what were the opportunities that they brought to the table, you know, for us to consider?

Deanna Ashby: So truly, it just boils down to the opportunities to meet the needs of those we serve, because we are we are servant leaders in our mission field and just to be able to meet them where they are. And then it gives us great information that if there are things that are challenging to those districts, you know, how we can align our work and what we offer to those that are that are trying, you know, to do the very best that they can to enhance teaching and learning environments for the kids of Kentucky. And, you know, not just Kentucky. I know I give those examples, but Janet, you know, I work outside of Kentucky, you know, in different parts of the US for other reasons with Studer, and, you know, this is the common theme throughout the whole US.

Janet Pilcher: Yes.

Deanna Ashby: And I’m even going to guess it, you may deal with this at higher ed too, right?

Janet Pilcher: Absolutely.

Deanna Ashby: And these are just great pieces of information about how we can meet the needs of those that we serve and are going to serve because there’s a lot of people that aren’t our partners yet that certainly we want to be able to help in this area.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah, so good. Well, I’ll end with this question because, because you’ve recognized our team, you know, as a whole and love the fun activity and love the pictures on social media along the way. But is there anyone on our team who was especially helpful while they were there?

Deanna Ashby: Well, absolutely three people. Victoria, Mary Ellen and Bill Adams. It is when you work those conferences, and Janet, I’m getting a little older. I’m going to just tell you. [laughs]

Janet Pilcher: [laughs]

Deanna Ashby: I was tired when it was over. You get up early and you stay up late because you work the exhibits and then you go to, we had so many partners that presented or superintendents that served on panels and so we attended those.

And then, you know, you see them, you know, at receptions and dinners and different things. So it is sunrise to sunset and so Mary Ellen, Bill Adams, and Victoria just did a fabulous job. They came prepared, and I think what’s fun though is they really had a good time along the way, even though the work is hard. There were so many giggles and laughs about things that they heard, things that they learned, and they just had a great appreciation for those that are in the field such as our board members, our superintendents, but also the Kentucky School Board Association staff for their warm welcome and hospitality.

Janet Pilcher: Yeah. So appreciate the work of our team and appreciate our partners for the presentations that they did. The board members who come, De De, I mean, that’s a, that’s not an easy job. Just like with educators, board members are trying to do the things that are best for their community and our ability to network with them. Their opportunity to network with each other. And what I love what you said to is have fun, get to know each other, have some laughs.

It’s important to build the networking along the way, and I enjoy the connections with our Kentucky partners, our partners across the nation, but know the good work that our Kentucky partners are doing in the three stories that you shared earlier. So thank you so much for being there and leading our way in Kentucky.

Deanna Ashby: Absolutely. And Janet, thank you for rounding with me, not just in this podcast, but at other times because certainly as we say at Studer, we eat our own cooking, and certainly you demonstrate that by rounding with us, and I appreciate it.

Janet Pilcher: Thank you. It’s very enjoyable. And I think that’s one thing that you showed with your leaders today. You have to start it and sometimes you’re like, “oh, it’s one more thing to do.” But like you said, it saves time in the long run. And you just like it. Right. You just get to know people in a whole different way and you’re, it’s a structured process for ways that we engage that we collect information and act on it. And we’ll do the same with the rounding with rounding of today or rounding with our team. We will act on what we learn from it. And you showed great partners doing just that.

Thank you, De De. Thank you for your time today. And I know you and I had an opportunity to create what we call our Nine Principles Academy program, and we have a course on rounding, and you and I had an opportunity to do a lot of the work connected to that. So, look forward to that coming out this summer.

Deanna Ashby: Absolutely.


[Outro music plays in the background.]

Janet Pilcher: Thank you for listening today. As you heard, rounding is a tactic you can use with your employees, students, and families to build environments of trust and achieve important outcomes. Listening to what people have to say and paying ridiculous attention to their responses gives us valuable information and builds our emotional bank accounts.

If you enjoyed this episode, make sure you’re subscribed to the podcast so you can listen every week. I welcome you to be part of our show and to continue to connect with our colleagues across the country who are doing great things in our schools and organizations.

Thank you all for tuning in to this episode of Accelerate Your Performance. 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, everyone.

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If you enjoy the podcast, explore Janet’s latest book, Hardwiring Excellence in Education. Each chapter focuses on the Nine Principles® Framework offering tools and tactics to enhance leadership skills and elevate organizational performance.

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