Interview with Annette Breaux

This past February, I had the pleasure of hearing Annette Breaux present at the NASSP Ignite Conference.

Annette Breaux

She is by far one of the most engaging, entertaining, and practical education speakers I have heard. She is also an avid writer who focuses on student achievement, classroom management, and new-teacher induction.

Annette is the author of at least eight books, her latest being The Ten-Minute Inservice, which she co-authored with Todd Whitaker.

My goal in posting interviews with successful leaders in education like Annette is to inspire us to reflect on how our own choices, goals, and actions can affect our lives, our leadership, and our teams. I am thrilled that Annette agreed to a Q & A for Principal Matters

After being inspired by Annette, be sure to check out other great guests who have shared interviews with me.

Meet Annette Breaux
WDP: First, we want to get to know you. Please tell us who you are, your background, and what led you into educational leadership.
Annette: I began my education career as a classroom teacher, in 1984, in Thibodaux, LA. I spent 20 years with Lafourche Parish Public Schools, as a teacher and later a curriculum coordinator.

During my time as curriculum coordinator, I began speaking publicly, and I also wrote my first book, 101 Answers for New Teachers and Their Mentors. I then served as the New-Teacher Induction Coordinator at Nicholls State University where I worked with student teachers.

When my speaking and writing career took on a life of its own, I decided to pursue that path on a full-time basis.

WDP: As an educational leader, what would you consider your biggest wins so far?
Annette: The biggest win of all has been the privilege of teaching every student who ever walked through my classroom doors. I know I learned more from them than they ever learned from me. I miss the classroom every day!

It’s a huge “win” for me any time I can help a struggling teacher or administrator to rethink what’s not working for them, take responsibility, and forge a new path to a more positive outcome. This means that every student whose life is touched by that person will benefit!

My biggest wins have also included the privilege of speaking to teachers and administrators throughout the country and beyond. I do not take that opportunity and honor lightly. Whether I am stepping onto a stage of thousands or standing before a faculty in a school auditorium, I know that I am addressing one of the most influential groups of people on Earth!

And the last biggest “win” I’ll mention here is that I have had the honor of co-authoring books with two of education’s greats – Harry Wong and Todd Whitaker.

WDP: No one leads well without also experiencing failure along the way. Can you describe a failure you have faced and how you overcame it?
Annette: When I left the classroom to serve as a curriculum coordinator, I was also given the task of training (and retaining) new teachers. During the first three years, we simply provided new teachers with some basic orientation training and gave them each a mentor. At that time, I wasn’t even aware of induction. Our attrition rate was dismal – hovering at 50%. This was failure, and it was unacceptable.

Then I met Dr. Harry Wong. I told him about our attrition rate and how we wanted (and needed) to do more for our new teachers. Dr. Wong introduced me to the concept of induction for new teachers. He said, “Don’t reinvent the wheel. There are several school districts throughout the United States who have stellar induction programs. Learn from them.” He gave me the contact information for these districts, and I got busy.

Then, I simply combined the “best of the best” and formulated an induction program for our new teachers. Within one year, our attrition rate went from 50% to 15%! The program later became Louisiana’s statewide model.

So this initial “failure” turned into an effective training program for our new teachers, it introduced me to Harry Wong, it helped to launch my speaking career, and it afforded me the opportunity to write a book about induction with Harry Wong. I’ve been writing and speaking ever since.

WDP: That’s such a great story! What is something that is really working for you or your team right now, and what lessons have you learned from this?
Annette: I am honored to have co-authored several books with Todd Whitaker. Together, we’ve conducted ongoing research on what constitutes exceptional teachers and administrators. And based on our experiences, we’ve learned that effective people are very efficient. They know how to get a lot done in a little bit of time. This led to our book, The Ten-Minute Inservice.

In it, we show administrators and school leaders how to conduct short, effective, ten-minute training sessions that ignite, inform, and empower teachers. We’ve enjoyed tremendously positive feedback from administrators who are using it. They, in turn, are sharing their ideas for creative ten-minute inservices that they’re conducting with their own faculties.

WDP: Strong leaders are constantly learning. What is a great book or resource that has helped you grow and that you would recommend to others?
Annette: I could name so many great resources. But one that immediately comes to mind is Turn the Ship Around by David Marquet. Its resounding theme involves turning followers into leaders by energizing and empowering people and getting them to take responsibility and ownership.

WDP: What advice do you have for leaders who struggle to balance work/life demands?
Annette: Don’t let your personal life spill over into your professional life, and don’t let your professional life negatively affect your personal life. Make time for both. Effective leaders strike a balance – they work diligently, but they make time for the most important people in their lives – their family.

WDP: Thank you so much for sharing. Please offer one parting word of wisdom for the rest of us, and then tell us how we can connect with you.
Annette: Never take yourself too seriously! Our schools have far too many serious-looking adults who don’t appear passionate about education. Kids need happy adults in their lives – positive role models! You can’t help a student (and an administrator can’t help a teacher) by being yet another negative influence in his life.

Lighten up! Learning and leading should be an adventure, and the positive experiences should always tip the scales over negative ones.

Work hard, but have fun doing it! When students think of you, they should think of you as one of the most positive people they’ve ever known. Like I always tell teachers, “If there’s not a big kid living inside of you, then there’s not a great teacher coming out of you!”

WDP: What a privilege to connect and learn from Annette Breaux! You can find all her books online and connect with her via Twitter at her handle @AnnetteBreaux.

For more inspiration, check out all of Annette’s books:
101 Answers for New Teachers and Their Mentors
New Teacher Induction: How to Train, Support, and Retain New Teachers
REAL Teachers, REAL Challenges, REAL Solutions
101 Poems for Teachers
Seven Simple Secrets: What the BEST Teachers Know and Do
50 Ways to Improve Student Behavior
Making Good Teaching Great
The Ten-Minute Inservice

Now It’s Your Turn: One of Annette’s strengths is teacher induction and training. What are some of your best resources for training and retaining great teachers?

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker