PMP390: Mindshifts for Leaders with Dr. T.J. Vari

Dr. T.J. Vari is the Deputy Superintendent of the Appoquinimink School District. T.J. is a former middle school assistant principal and principal and former high school English teacher. His master’s degree is in School Leadership and his doctorate is in Innovation and Leadership. He holds several honors and distinctions, including his past appointment as President of the Delaware Association for School Administrators and the Paul Carlson Administrator of the Year Award. He teaches educational leadership courses at the master’s and doctoral levels. He has co-authored 5 books, including his latest two 7 Mindshifts for School Leaders: Finding New Ways to Think About Old Problems and Retention for a Change. He is a national presenter on school leadership topics and the co-founder of TheSchoolHouse302, a leadership development institute.

District Highlights

T.J. is proud of the work his district is doing with Pathways to Work, and Portrait of a Graduate. 94% of their students who go to college are persisting from year 1 to year 2.

Dr. Vari confronts two myths in leadership:

  • Myth #1: High Schools prepare you for college.
  • Myth #2: High schools prepare you for a career.

Students must have a viable credential or certificate to be prepared for work, and students deserve pathways for careers and college that place them on the road toward those ends.

Turn-around restaurant manager

Next, T.J. talks about how his years in the restaurant industry taught him how to turn underperforming stores into profitable businesses.

5 takeaways for school leaders

  1. Some things work. Discover them and use them.
  2. People must be shown a way and then supported in their performance.
  3. You must measure growth and ask ‘How do we know we have been effective?’
  4. We must cultivate places of belonging.
  5. Pressure without support is not fair.


In addition, Dr. Vari touched on the premise of the book he co-authored on mindshifts for leaders. He explained how the COVID years taught us that we can find transformative solutions to hard problems. Now we must replicate that cycle in an ongoing way we know what is important, what is urgent, and what is persistent. The book 7 Mindshifts for School Leaders lays out 7 models for addressing problems and finding solutions.

Advice for APs

For new Assistant Principals, Dr. Vari, asks them to keep two questions in mind each day:

  1. Do I need to solve the problem in front of me?
  2. Am I the right person to solve it?

These questions will help APs steer away from the overwhelming requests for assistance that others can be trained to help answer while they remain available for their roles and responsibilities.

Advice for New Principals

For the new Principal, Dr. Vari suggests keeping three buckets in mind:

  1. Your vision/mission
  2. Your people/programs
  3. Innovative solutions

Those areas are the responsibility of a building leader to be a part of guiding, directing, and supporting.

Stay Connected

You can stay connected with Dr. T.J. Vari at the website:

Past episode

Dr. Vari was a previous guest on PMP 285 with Dr. Joseph Jones and Dr. Salome Thomas-EL, talking about educator retention. Find that interview here.

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker