#278 – The Leader’s Algorithm, with Pablo Muñoz

Unpacking Education April 10, 2024 42 min

In this episode, Pablo Muñoz joins us to talk about his book, The Leader’s Algorithm: How a Personal Theory of Action Transforms Your Life, Work, and Relationships. Pablo is a career educator who has served as a social studies teacher, a director of curriculum and instruction, an assistant superintendent, and a superintendent for two school districts. In both of those districts, he helped transform low-performing districts into award-winning, high-achieving schools. Over the course of our discussion, Pablo shares what he has found to be the keys to that success.

Paul Beckermann
PreK–12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

Low expectations increase disparities. High expectations elevate everyone.

Pablo Muñoz, from his book, The Leader’s Algorithm

High Expectations

Pablo is a believer in high expectations, something that he believes is at the core of student success. As a superintendent, Pablo wanted students to achieve at higher levels despite perceived personal and systemic disadvantages. This desire to lift up students drove his mission for student success.

He says, “I wasn’t going to allow students to leave my school district unprepared to succeed at the next level, whether it was work, or college, or the armed forces.” He adds, “We were going to design a school district that was going to be able to compete against more affluent communities and private prep schools.” The following are a few highlights from our conversation:

  • About Our Guest: Pablo Muñoz is the Managing Director of Muñoz & Company, an educational and leadership consulting organization. He has 30 years of experience as a teacher and administrator, and he was a superintendent for 16 years. He was also named one of the George Lucas Educational Foundation’s Daring Dozen—a prestigious group working to reshape the future of education.
  • The Leader’s Algorithm: This book is a culmination of what Pablo has learned during his 30 years in education. He says, “The book at its basic level is an educational leadership book. . . . I wanted to write a book that could help aspiring, new, and current school administrators.”
  • The Algorithm: Pablo uses a formula to summarize what he calls the Leader’s Algorithm. That equation is: “Personal Theory of Action + Execution + Accountability = Transformation.” He explains, “The Leader’s Algorithm is a simple equation that puts strategic thinking to work. You write and share a personal theory of action. You execute that personal theory of action. . . . and you do that with public accountability.”
  • Macro and Micro: Pablo explains that it’s important to examine a school district at both the macro and micro levels. At the macro level, he wanted to design schools that could compete at the highest levels. At the micro level, he acknowledged the specific needs that students had. He reflects his thinking at the time, saying, “We do have high poverty, and we do have high numbers of English language learners, and we do have a range of students performing at different academic levels for a whole assortment of reasons.” Those needs needed to be addressed in the context of the macro goals.
  • Expectations: High expectations begin with leadership, and Pablo argues that leaders must communicate and demonstrate high expectations for a system to follow in that direction. He believes that previous superintendents could have done what he did in the districts he served and adds, “I just had higher expectations and took the necessary steps . . . to change the school district over time.”
  • Policy Development: One place where a leader can impact change is through policy development. He says, “That’s one place where you can actually actualize your vision and your mission.” One policy that impacted change in his districts was the raising of graduation requirements. The two districts he led raised expectations from 120 credits to 150 and 160. He says, by doing that, “You’re basically adding another year of credits.” It raised the bar for students in a tangible way.
  • Feedback: Another critical element to inspire change is providing actionable feedback. With his “Two Q Strategy,” Pablo believes that expectations must be set for both the quantity and quality of feedback.
  • Theory of Action: Pablo believes that this is the core of the book. He explains that a theory of action is “a hypothesis that certain actions will lead to certain results . . . Ultimately, you want to take your theory of action and execute it, so it’s no longer a theory.” Pablo believes that it’s critical for this theory of action to be written down and shared publicly. It should be clear and transparent. He summarizes the basic structure of an action plan, saying, “If I do A, B, and C, then you will get X, Y, and Z results.” For him, the “then” portion is tied to the district’s mission statement.
  • “One Thing”: For Pablo’s one thing, he says without hesitation, “Lead from the heart with love.”

Guiding Questions

If you are listening to the podcast with your instructional team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:

  • What is your school’s mission statement?
  • What is the Leader’s Algorithm?
  • What needs and goals do you see in your district at both the macro and micro levels?
  • What high expectations do you have for students in your classroom, school, or district?
  • What policies might drive high expectations to action?
  • How is actionable feedback provided in your school system?
  • What is your personal theory of action?

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