Ty Rhodes grew up in Winfield, Kansas, the son of two career public educators. He received his Bachelor’s degree in education from Wichita State University, his Master’s from Baker University, and his District Level Licensure from Wichita State. Ty’s first teaching job was in Wellington, Kansas where he taught the subject of Math in Junior High. After one year in Wellington, he had the opportunity to become the head boys’ basketball coach in Hesston, Kansas along with a position teaching Physical Education and Health at the 5th through 12th grade levels. Now in his tenth year as Principal of Hesston High School, he is entering his 21st year overall with the Hesston School District.
As a member of the Wichita State Men’s Basketball team, Ty was recognized with the Shelley Cox Leadership Award following his senior season in 1998. During his coaching tenure at Hesston, he was recognized as the 4A coach of the year. While Principal at HHS, he was selected to participate in the ‘Leadership For Tomorrow’ program through the Kansas Association of School Boards.
Where did the idea for your career come from?
We’ve had the good fortune of implementing some fun, creative, and impactful programs over the last ten years at Hesston. I’m spoiled by the collaborative nature of our staff and school community. Ideas are limited when we work in silos, and our staff members have worked together to create great opportunities for our students. On top of a staff full of excellent classroom teachers, we have programs that have become models for other schools, which include Robotics, a student-run café in our building called The Pit Stop, and an audio-visual program that streams many of our home events. In fact, I’d like to single out the AV program in particular. They do a wonderful job streaming the school’s live sporting events, and they are just incredibly creative in the way that they produce content. Representatives from many districts visit us each year, taking special note of the AV program in an effort to learn how to implement a similar program in their schools.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
One thing I love about being a school principal is the variety I experience throughout my days and weeks. No one day is like another. Some days may be full of scheduled meetings, while others give me the flexibility to be more out and about in our classrooms. One day, I may be in conversation with a variety of student groups, and the next I spend more time with staff or community groups. You can be guaranteed that during the school hours something is going to happen that you weren’t planning on dealing with, which can make it tough to keep focused and feel productive. For me, planning and organization are keys to my productivity. I find it’s really beneficial to keep a calendar and task list.
How do you bring ideas to life?
In the school setting, it is critical to implement a collaborative process. I love working in teams, and I’m a believer that high-functioning teams are a key to making organizations great. Another aspect I think is important is allowing people to explore, be creative, and have an appropriate amount of autonomy over their work. If we can agree on a direction, parameters, and/or a framework, then I always think it’s best to turn people loose.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I’m interested in how the future job market will impact what’s needed or expected at the high school level. There is plenty of data and information to suggest that a four year college degree isn’t the only gatekeeper to a good career and high paying job. Currently, there is a shift in the educational field away from just providing a set of courses at the high school level and sending kids off with their diploma, and towards really diving into helping them plan and prepare for the next phase of their life.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
While I love to use technology and a variety of platforms to provide information to others, I’m always intent on using the most direct line of communication when challenges arise. I want to have face to face conversations. Perhaps this would be best described as more of a principle I live by rather than a habit. In my experience, though, this provides the best opportunity to understand, learn about others, and work through tough moments.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Become an elite listener. Early on I thought I had to know everything, be the expert, and have the next right thing to say. Now, I know I really just need to understand others perspectives, concerns, and input in order to move the needle and lead others.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I’m not full of profound commentary, but I’ll say that the Chicago Cubs should re-sign Anthony Rizzo when he hits free agency for any dollar amount he wants.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Get up early. I’m out of bed between 5-5:30 am during the week so I can exercise before work. It makes me feel better physically and mentally each day. I’m not suggesting that is how everyone should use their early morning hours, maybe some would prefer to read or write or do housework, but I find that time to be productive. My job and my personal life dominate the rest of the day, but being up before everyone else means you are totally in control of that time. And I’m not naturally a morning person! I forced myself to do it until it became a habit. Now, it just feels natural.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I’m not growing a business, I’m just trying to make our school excellent year after year. We’ve really placed an emphasis on participation in extra-curricular and co-curricular student activities. High participation numbers indicate a healthy school culture in my opinion. The class of 2021 actually hit a 100% participation rate. Each of those kids was involved in either a sport or a non-sport activity, and many of them were involved in both. While we want to have excellent classroom experiences, an activities program offers different ways to push kids.
We’ve added programs over the last few years to increase opportunities for kids. Art Club is a great example. Mrs. Hageman, our Art teacher, began the club a few years ago and we’ve had as much as 20% of our student population as members of that one single club. That’s amazing, and it’s so good for kids to connect with both their peers and adults at the school.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
A commonality to any failures I’ve experienced as a leader is that I approached the situation, opportunity, or potential new program by making the assumption that others were seeing what I was seeing, understanding what I was understanding, or believing what I was believing. I’ve become more successful over time by putting myself in the shoes of others and seeking to understand more perspectives. When I’ve failed, it’s because I was too narrow-minded to be able to see the gaps in perspective of those participating in a given endeavor.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
If I could encourage a school to start one new program, it would be Robotics. Not only do our kids have the opportunity to take it as a class, but they also attend a number of competitions throughout the year. Robotics is a hands-on, trial and error-based application of science and math, teamwork, communication, coding, and technology all rolled into one experience. Our top Robotics students dedicate themselves to building, refining, and practicing during the school year and summer just like our basketball players dedicate themselves to training and working out throughout the year. It’s really grabbed the attention of a large number of students, as well as our community.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
It cost me about $100 for gas and food to head down to Bentonville, Arkansas for a day trip to hit the mountain biking trails. It’s a great way to disconnect. When you’re on a challenging trail, you can’t worry about anything else. I love being on a bike, and don’t do it nearly enough.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I’m admittedly a little bit of a simpleton when it comes to using technology, at least when it comes to using a wide array of technology. We use the Google Suite at Hesston, so I have a tab with my Calendar and a tab with Drive open on my computer at all times. They are my go-to organizational tools. I work with a variety of committees, teams, and small groups, so I house all that work in Google Drive for ease of use with my co-workers and collaborators.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I wholeheartedly recommend The Culture by James C. Hunter. I found there to be many nuggets of wisdom in this book that are useful for any person leading and developing teams. I don’t love fads, and the author really grounds his work in timeless principles.
What is your favorite quote?
“Feelings are a poor barometer for the truth.”
- Collaboration and consensus are critical to maintaining a high-functioning team.
- High-functioning teams are crucial to the success of any organization, private or public.
- Although telecommunications technology is wonderful, in some situations there is simply no substitute for a face-to-face conversation.
- Understanding the perspectives of others is key to effective leadership.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.