Patience isn’t a virtue; it is a necessity!
Kristyn Klei Borrero is an accomplished educational leader and coach who has an unparalleled ability to make a profound difference in the professional lives of educators. For the last twenty years, Kristyn has committed herself to improving the education of students in traditionally disenfranchised schools as a classroom teacher, principal, area superintendent, and co-founder of CT3.
Prior to her work with CT3, Kristyn led the research and development of No-Nonsense Nurturer and Real Time Teacher Coaching, widely recognized as two of the most innovative, transformative professional development models in education today.
Kristyn spent more than a decade leading turnaround initiatives for underperforming schools in Oakland and East Palo Alto, California. She propelled schools under her supervision to significantly exceed all state academic benchmarks, organizational fundraising and financial goals, teacher retention rates, and family and student satisfaction ratings.
Where did the idea for CT3 come from?
Necessity. As a principal, I needed to find a way to support my teachers in becoming highly effective much more quickly. After trying different approaches and engaging with different partners, I didn’t see the improvement I wanted, so I set out to create the support my teachers deserved. Working with Lee Canter, I studied high-performing teachers to observe their highest leverage practices and created real time protocols to help struggling teachers emulate these practices. What we eventually named No-Nonsense Nurturer® worked! Once other organizations saw the work, they wanted training for their coaches. Thus, CT3 was born to support other organizations and provide effective, timely, culturally-relevant, rigorous, belief-changing feedback.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I’m not sure I have a typical day! I spend a good portion of my time throughout the year traveling to meet with schools, districts and organizations across the country, as well as visiting our associates working with educators in the field. I’m able to be productive by relying on my team, who can keep me out of “the weeds” so that I can focus on supporting partners with the strategic plans to transform their schools. I am productive on airplanes and in hotel rooms when I need to write or keep up with team communications.
How do you bring ideas to life?
At CT3, we have a tool called the innovation funnel through which we review, vet and debate new ideas. This process ensures that ideas fit with our core mission and that we have the infrastructure in place to execute them successfully. If that proves productive, we begin writing about and researching possibilities. Provided that goes well, we pick a trusted partner and we test the new idea, adding additional partners, if necessary. If we see impact, we take the new protocol or product to market. This can be a lengthy process but it’s imperative to get it right for the life-changing work we do.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I don’t like trends because they are likely to be forgotten in a short period of time. However, what excites me is the transparency with which educators are willing to address educational inequity. I firmly believe educational equity and opportunity is the civil rights movement of my generation, and that movement is inspiring and necessary for our work, to ensure that education is the gateway for change and opportunity in our country.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I firmly believe leaders need to read, but I struggle to find the time. Listening to books on Audible helps me be productive when getting ready in the morning, driving or walking through airports.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Patience isn’t a virtue; it is a necessity! I am definitely more patient now than I was a decade ago, although I still wouldn’t consider myself a patient person. I am obsessed with supporting educators in the most culturally relevant and efficient ways, and like most entrepreneurs, I believe my work is incredibly urgent. However, sticking to proven processes and asking the hard questions before taking our work to educators is imperative for others to be successful.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I think that outside of education, coaching gets the attention of top executives and is seen as a positive. Unfortunately, in our industry, we tend to operate with more limited resources so coaching is often seen as intended for struggling teachers or those new to our field. I advocate spending coaching resources on top performers as they will become better coaches and leaders for those who are developing, new or struggling.
I am continually surprised how often I run into educational leaders that say things like, “that school is doing well, they don’t need coaching” or “we aren’t worried about them, so we aren’t dedicating resources there.” Our deficit-based mindsets and limited resources in education are holding us back. Everyone in our space deserves constant, effective coaching.
When we are learning, some discomfort in understanding new things or protecting our practice can happen, but coaching doesn’t have to hurt. Folks should feel accomplished and challenged after a good coaching session. I have been blessed and have always had a great mentor or executive coach. I certainly wouldn’t be able to do the work I do now without all their input and impact on me and my practices over the last two decades!
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Check in on your goals daily. My executive assistant manages me, I don’t manage her. We check in daily to review my goals and my calendar. We talk about how I should be spending my time. She questions if I am taking care of myself or if I am focused on the right things (she doesn’t always have an opinion, she just knows to ask me the questions to push my thinking). She helps to ensure that I take care of the big picture without forgetting any of the details.
If you don’t have an executive assistant, hire a great one as soon as you can afford it. These folks make you more productive and allow you to concentrate on the things you should be working on and thinking about. A good support can give you back 20 or more hours a week. Until you can afford a support like this, find a trusted friend who will commit to helping you review your goals and calendar once or twice each week. Have them push you to make sure you are concentrating on the “right stuff.”
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Hiring. Hire people who are smarter than you and make you smarter. Hire people that will disagree with you. Hire folks who are a culture fit for the organization, as you can always alter a job description. Hire folks that don’t look like, sound like, or think like you do. If you hire for diversity, culture, and brains, these people help you get to solutions faster and can make more impact more quickly!
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
One? How about one hundred?! I believe most entrepreneurs are successful because of their willingness to fail, if they can learn from it and turn that failure into an opportunity.
I think one of the first failures we had helped to build CT3 into what it is today, with something we call Real Time Teacher Coaching®. After researching the work of high- performing teachers for No-Nonsense Nurturer, we trained more than 20 coaches in the organization. The teachers were eager for the work and ready to improve, but they weren’t catching on. One of our coaches said, “If I could only be an angel on their shoulder, I could prevent the train wreck from happening!” The lightning bolt struck. We needed to coach teachers in real time, at the moment of instruction, to change how they thought about their own abilities.
We worked diligently for more than 18 months to codify what now is Real Time Teacher Coaching, which enabled us to support teachers in experiencing successes in their classroom. With this revelation, we could work on protocols to coach teachers on these once unnoticed mindsets and improve their practice for their entire career. Our original failure turned into what I think is one of the most effective and efficient ways to coach!
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
At CT3, we work to support and coach culturally competent, rigorous educators. What I have realized is that there is difference in how educators of differing generations accept and process feedback. I would love another organization to concentrate on these differences and how they impact teachers’ ability to build their capacity and skillsets. How you coach a baby boomer can look very different than how you coach a millennial.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Professionally, I use ride-sharing services for many of my commutes. This allows me to get on a Zoom call and connect with a client or a teammate during a commute. For $35 I can get a lot of work done in 45 minutes!
Personally, massage or acupuncture. Self-care is important. With the rigorous travel schedule I keep, a massage can really relax my body (and my brain). Acupuncture is a great stress reliever and helps to prevent illness.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Zoom. I am not very technologically savvy, but I much prefer video conferencing over phone calls. I get to see people’s reactions, better understand their perspectives and build stronger relationships. I travel a lot because nothing replaces an in-person meeting but video conferencing is a nice tool to have.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I have read and listened to “SWITCH” by Chip and Dan Heath several times. I get something new out of it every time. It wasn’t written for educators but uses some examples from education, which I find helpful. The Heath brothers’ writing pushes me to think “outside of the box” and view the work we do through different lenses. Change management is tricky but this body of work gets you thinking.
What is your favorite quote?
“I have come to a frightening conclusion. I am the decisive element in the classroom. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child is humanized or de-humanized.“(Interpretation of a Goethe quote)
I love this quote not only because I believe in the power of education to change lives but because I think education is the equalizer in our country for those who have been historically marginalized. Teachers have the power to change lives and I believe our work, when done well, is life-changing for teachers.
• Relationships come first. You can’t do impactful, life-altering work without them.
• Sometimes you have to ask the hard questions that no one else will ask in order to make transformation happen. Get comfortable with the discomfort.
• Whenever possible, have face-to-face conversations with folks. It’s even possible with a team who works entirely remotely!
• Make sure that each person you hire on your team makes you smarter. Surround yourself with those who challenge you and who think differently.
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