A quick note: This will be the final post for 2022. Our next post will be January 4. Please use the “time off” to enjoy your loved ones. If you are curious what lessons or guests you missed in 2022, please enjoy some past episodes.
If you’d like to skip to the “Big News for 2023” scroll ahead. Anyone who takes time to read this entire post or listen to the audio version, you are a really good friend! 😉
Let’s begin this lengthy post with a story.
When I was five years old, my family moved to West Tennessee from San Diego, California. My father had had a long career in the Navy, and he decided it was time to move his wife and five children back home. During his years in the Navy, my dad had bought 120 acres adjacent to the farmland of my grandfather back in Tennessee.
The first time we saw the property, I remember large oak and walnut trees surrounding an empty space that held the remains of the foundation where an old farmhouse had burned years before. This would become the spot where my dad and his brother would dig a 50×30 foot hole for a basement lined with cinderblock walls, including a single entry with ground-level side windows, a chimney in the middle of the structure, and covered with a flat roof. Someday, a two story home would be built on the structure, but for six years, that basement would become our home.
The same day we visited the property for the first time, my dad took all five of us children for a walk across the land. A forty acre field carved out the northern point of the farm, which touched the gravel road that divided our land from my grandfather’s. The southern half of the farm was another eighty acres of field that could be used for crops or grazing pasture. The rest of the land was woods, creeks, and gulleys.
We walked with my dad to the farthest end and through some wooded areas where an old field road lined its way through a tunnel of trees. We stepped out of this enclosure into knee high sage brush. Woods of pines and oaks walled us in from both sides of the large pasture.
I was only five years old, and my goal was simply to keep up with my dad, my three older brothers and younger sister.
Suddenly, my dad stopped.
“Listen,” he said, “We’ve walked a long way from the road, and I’ve been leading the whole way. I’d like you all to find our way back without my help.”
We looked at each other puzzled and curious.
“Well,” said my oldest brother, Harvey. “I think we came from that way.”
He pointed in the direction he thought we should go.
“Are you sure?” asked my second brother Jesse. “I think we’re supposed to look at the sun and figure out which way to go.”
The arguing continued until one of us suggested we walk in the field until we saw something familiar.
So we walked. My dad kept his place behind us so that we were forced to discuss our progress and choose our way forward without his help. Before long, we came to a bend in the field, and ahead of us, we could see where the field led to a familiar space. Not long afterwards, we found the old homeplace.
It is one of my first memories there, and I still remember the sense of relief and joy in knowing we had found our way home – even though we hadn’t yet built the one we would live in.
Lessons in Learning
I think a lot of my life has been inspired by moments like that walk in the field. Although my father never earned much money in part-time farming, he also worked as an electrician and later started his own marine salvage business. Whatever his work, he was always interested in learning.
For years, he owned beehives where he taught us how to retrieve golden honey and combs we would jar and enjoy all year long. We kept two milk cows that had be tended morning and night, and we enjoyed the rich, creamy milk and butter they produced. I dug potatoes with my father and remember the joy of those fresh, soft, red skinned steamy wonders as we ate them with dinner. We fetched water from a spring until my dad dug a well and plumbed the basement home.
At the time, I didn’t realize how often my father created learning moments.
I remember the quiet evenings when the five of us would gather around my dad who would open a book of fairy tales and read to us before we fell asleep. Dad had never finished high school, but he had earned a GED while serving in the Navy, and he and my mother did their best to surround us with as many books as they could. Storytelling was also an important tradition in our family. It was how we held on to memories.
As I think back to those formative years, I can’t help but wonder how much of what I do today is influenced by my past experiences.
I love adventure, and although my path has taken me away to another state, I still enjoy returning back home to West Tennessee each year. My own four children, now three of them adults, consider Christmas time in Tennessee a sacred tradition that I’m grateful we can all still enjoy.
After I found my footing as a young teacher, I saw the classroom as a place where students should not only encounter content standards but also have memorable learning experiences.
For instance, one day I brought bags of found objects to class. Students closed their eyes while I placed items on their desks. They each had one minute to feel the objects, poke and prod them, smell them and lift them. Then I collected the objects. For the next 10 minutes they wrote – describing in as much detail as possible the intricacies of the object they held. Then they took turns reading their descriptions aloud, allowing the others to guess what the object was, its color or dimensions, before I would pull it from the bag to compare it to the student’s description.
Yes, the state learning standards for 9th grade Language Arts included composing a strong paragraph structure using various literary forms including descriptive, expository and argumentative writing. However, I was discovering that their words created imagery, sparked imagination, and could even inspire them and others with joy and curiosity.
Fast Forward to 2012
When I began blogging about education in 2013, I had returned from a memorable visit to Washington, D.C, in the summer of 2012, when I was awarded the State Assistant Principal of the Year from the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
I was so inspired by a room full of fellow education leaders from almost every state who were also being recognized. It was the first time in my education career where my perspective on school was suddenly so much bigger than my own school, my own community, or my own state. I realized that I was a part of a community of other educators who were experiencing similar challenges, joys, griefs, and lessons so much like my own – and yet, also often so different from my own as well.
After that trip, I felt compelled to begin telling my own stories in education. I researched how to start a website, and in February of 2013, I made my very first post at williamdparker.com. Each week, I would write about something I was learning, and I would post it.
For the next two years, this was my habit. In 2015, I decided it was time to gather my blog posts, and I curated them into my first book, Principal Matters: The Motivation, Courage, Action and Teamwork Needed for School Leaders. It was self-published, but it caught the attention of others in the publishing world, and soon I had two different education publishing companies asking me if I’d consider publishing my next book with them. I agreed to work with Solution Tree Press, and my 2nd book, Messaging Matters: How School Leaders Can Inspire Teachers, Motivate Students and Reach Communities was published in 2017.
At the same time, my writing was leading to invitations to present or speak at conferences for education leaders. The same year I was publishing with Solution Tree Press, our state principal association reached out with an invitation to apply for an executive director opening. I said yes, and my twenty-four years of serving in schools then pivoted for the next five years to serving school leaders.
In 2020, I wrote my third book Pause. Breathe. Flourish.: Living Your Best Life as an Educator with ConnectEDD Publishing. The pandemic had shifted much of the work I was doing with leaders into virtual settings. By then my blog had morphed into a weekly podcast. The weekly podcast episodes had begun in 2016 when I was posting audio versions of what I was writing for the blog. Overtime, my solo broadcast became a place for interviews. Later, I invited author Jen Schwanke to join me part-time as a regular co-host as she provided a fresh perspective and energetic voice each time we recorded.
Slowly, I began to see my download numbers increasing. More invitations were coming from groups outside of Oklahoma to present, to speak or to train leaders. In 2020, I launched my first Mastermind offerings for weekly virtual meetings of leaders from across the U.S. In 2021, I began a series of virtual trainings for groups of leaders in other states who participated in either weekly Mastermind sessions or a monthly Leadership series.
For all of these opportunities, I was taking vacation days from my association work, or scheduling virtual meetings in the early-mornings or evening hours. The work inside my state and across the country has been both exhilarating and sometimes exhausting. However, I am so grateful for the ongoing learning, relationship-building and collaboration it has provided.
2022 Year In Review
This past year has been another amazing opportunity for learning moments. I’d like to thank the 32 guests on this year’s episodes who helped me grow:
- Jen Schwanke
- Chris Jones
- Tim Elmore
- Kyle Palmer
- Jethro Jones
- Timothy Alexander
- Principal EL
- TJ Vari
- Joseph Jones
- Eric Garcia
- Pete Hall
- Warren Glen
- Keri Launius
- Garth Larson
- Brent Kline
- Gisele James
- Rachael Smith
- Ian Frank
- Lisa Minor
- Noah Campbell
- Daniel Bauer
- DJ Klein
- Jeff Springer
- Sapna Hopkins
- Anya Kamenetz
- Zac Bauermaster
- Jordan Master
- Kristi Kirschner
- Danny Massey
- Jimmy Casas
- Shenita Perry
- Lute Croy
A big thanks to my co-host Jen Schwanke, who joined me for 15 episodes in 2022.
To date, Principal Matters: The School Leader’s Podcast has had more than 880,000 downloads with an average of 20,000 downloads per month for 2022. Here’s a snapshot of some of those numbers:
All Time = 884,058
Last 30 Days = 21,579
This Year = 248,052
Events in 2022
I was able to finish trainings and offer several new opportunities for ongoing sessions or presentations in 2022:
- January – December 2022 Ongoing Executive Coaching with one-on-one sessions
- January – May 2022 Ohio School of Sponsorships, monthly Leadership Impact meetings
- January – May 2022 Pecos Barstow Toyah ISD Grow Leadership Academy
- February 18, 2022 – National SAM Innovative Project, webinar on Pause. Breathe. Flourish.
- June 3, 2022 – Pecos Barstow Toyah ISD, Full-Day Leaderhip Session on Pause. Breathe. Flourish.
- June 21, 2022 – Leadership Summit with First Education Resources, Pause. Breathe. Flourish. Breakout Session
- August – December 2022 – Grow Leaders Academy virtual monthly sessions with Ohio Sponsorship Leadership Impact Series
- August – December 2022 – Mastermind virtual monthly sessions with Ohio Sponsorship Leadership Impact Series
- August – December 2022 – Grow Leaders Academy virtual monthly sessions with Archdiocese of Louisville Principals
- August – December 2022 – Grow Leaders Academy virtual monthly sessions with Palo Alto High School Leadership Team
- October 5, 2022 – Brazosport ISD, Pause. Breathe. Flourish. Workshop with School Leaders
A big thank you to education leaders Brent Kline, Sheila Vitale, Brent Jaco, Mark Shellinger, Garth Larson, and Danny Massey for listening to the podcast and for inviting me to collaborate with their leaders for ongoing learning!
Books or Resources
All three of my books continue to be helpful in training and resources for school leaders. You can find each title and links here:
Plus, a bonus resource that I’m especially proud of is the free study-guide available for Pause. Breathe. Flourish.
Big News Coming in 2023!!
Now for the big news. Last month, I announced to my state association members that I am resigning from my position as executive director of our state secondary principals association effective June 30, 2023. This allows us the next six months to advertise the opening and to finish out the trainings and conferences that I help assist or facilitate for the spring semester. Beginning July 1, 2023, I will become a full time consultant and independent contractor with Principal Matters, LLC.
Principal Matters, LLC, will provide ongoing content for school leaders, including new books, more trainings, executive coaching and select presentations. Options for 2023-24 will include:
GROW LEADERS ACADEMY – Ongoing year-long curriculum-based training for essential roles and tools for education leadership. This is ideal training for principals and assistant principals. Click here for GROW Leaders Academy Prospectus 2023-24.
LEADERSHIP IMPACT MASTERMIND – Facilitated group sessions with like-minded leaders for collaboration and solutions. Participants are encouraged to enroll in this after completing the Grow Leaders Academy. Click here for Leadership Impact Mastermind Prospectus 2023-24.
CLIMBING TOGETHER EXECUTIVE COACHING – One-on-one sessions with William D. Parker for reflective cycles of inquiry and problem-solving. Normally sessions meet once a quarter but consideration can also be given for weekly, monthly, or bi-monthly offerings. Click here for Climbing Together Executive Coaching Proposal 2023-24.
Principal Matters, LLC, as a fulltime venture also allows me to open the podcast to sponsorships. With an average of 20,000 downloads a month, I am eager to share with listeners some of my trusted resources in education leadership. Interested in being a sponsor? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or complete this interest application to find out more!
The Light Ahead
When I was in high school, I was hiking in the fields and woods behind my childhood home in West Tennessee. It was a wintry afternoon when I set out, and I was wearing plenty of layers, including gloves and a mitten hat. The woods and gulleys near our house are filled with oaks, holly trees, and evergreens. Thick blankets of leaves and pine needles cover the grounds there. Further along the creek bed, you can find a beaver dam. And if you sit long enough on the water’s bank, you may see a gray egret or a flock of ducks land in front of you to forage for food.
As I made my way through the woods that afternoon, I worked my way through the woods and up a fence line until I stepped out into an open field — the same one my father had led us into my first time on the farm when I was five years old. The sun was setting in the west, but I couldn’t see it as the clouds were thick overhead and dusk was quickly turning to dark.
I walked north in the direction of the house, but a few minutes later, the darkness deepened. Suddenly, I realized I couldn’t see but a few feet in front of me. Thankfully, I was intimately familiar with my surroundings. At the same time, it is not easy to find your way in darkness. I could tell that I was still in the field where I had started heading north, but I was having difficulty knowing exactly how far it would be before I’d reach home. The temperature began to drop, and I was feeling coldness closing in.
I wasn’t panicked, but thoughts began pressing into my mind as I walked. What if I go the wrong direction, and I don’t know it? What happens if I get turned around and find myself freezing and lost? This was also before anyone carried Smartphones. At this point, I said a prayer, and hoped I could also depend on my sense of direction.
Slowly, I kept plodding ahead, my boots pushing through dry sage brush. My eyes scanning for any sign that I was on the right path. Just then, I saw a faint light flcker to my right and west. I walked a few steps more and and saw a warm, orange light. I stood still trying to make sense of this small, bright orb when I realized it was a single window. It took me a few seconds to realize it was a window in my house across the field. The entire structure was swallowed by darkness, but the single, orange window shone like the beacon of a welcome friend. It’s hard to describe the feeling I had at the moment.
I had looked at my home thousands of times. I could describe the angles of the roof, the placement of every door and window. But I had never known how beautiful the light of a single window could look when you’re feel cold and lost.
At times when I’m traveling far from home, speaking in an unfamiliar city, or driving the roads of town or state I’ve never visited before, I’ll imagine the light of that window. The warmth of home promises a safe place where you find your food, rest and kin. It is a place where you share stories of your adventures. It is a promised refuge even moment of unexpected darkness.
Sometimes we have the comfort of knowing we are heading in the right direction after all.
As I look at the year we are just finishing and the one around the corner, I feel like I’m catching the glimpse of a light ahead welcoming me to a new adventure. Will you go on the journey with me? I realize we have few guarantees of what is ahead. But I hope you’ve found some lessons from letting me share my stories with you. Lessons like:
- Pay attention to where you’ve been and where you’re going.
- Rely on the wisdom of others and lessons learned to give you insight for tomorrow.
- Be grateful for those with whom you are learning, for those with whom you can share the journey or for those to whom you can tell your stories.
- Savor the moments you’re in, and as you plan for what is ahead, trust your sense of direction, and say a prayer for what is and what is not in your own control.
I hope as you wrap up your 2022 and begin your 2023, that you’ll find the path ahead a little easier to navigate because of lessons we’ve learned together along the way.
Will you keep learning together with me? I’d be so honored to hear from you and about your plans for 2023. Or I’d be glad to explain more about any of my new offerings. Reach out to me by email at email@example.com for a conversation or to just catch up.
Please, let’s stay connected through the community we are building as fellow learners. Wishing you and your loved ones a blessed holiday and happy New Year!