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Success Story Interview with Naomi Smith



– Hello everyone, and welcome to the backstage pass of successful early childhood leaders. We’re pulling back the curtain of the what, the how, and the why they do what they do to get these transformative results. I’m Chanie Wilschanski your host, and I’m excited to have here with us today, Naomi Smith. Naomi is the director of academics for Torah Academy and the Jewish Preschool of the Arts in New Orleans, Louisiana. And today we’re gonna talk about how self-care, self-awareness, has truly impacted the way that she’s shown up for yourself, for her team, and for her family. Naomi, thank you so much for being here and I’m really excited to dig into this conversation today.

– Thank you.

– So lets take a little trip down memory lane, all the way back to last year in June. Before you joined us at the live event in New York, what was going on in your school at that time?

– Basically we were growing very quickly, and we had grown very quickly and we were having those growing pains, and I knew I needed to learn more, to be able to do more. And so that’s why I did the conference.

– Yeah, and so the conference was two days, there was a lot going on a lot of content a lot of jamming in and stuff. And so when you came back from the conference, you joined our directors inner circle and we’ve been working together since then. What has been for you, the smallest action that you’ve taken that maybe was the like the simplest, but has given you such exponential gains since joining us in June?

– Lemme think on that one, I think that the thing that’s really been a big change for me is there was a statement, that was made, and I don’t remember who said it at the conference but someone said something about, whatever’s going on in your school, if it’s like a positive thing or a negative thing if like it’s this thing that’s prevalent in the school, you need to look at yourself, and those are not the exact words but it was something to that effect that made me think, I am really am like the catalyst, I’m the thing driving the school and that was a real big, really big shift in my perspective and since then I’ve been focusing a lot on self care and you know taking care of myself so that I can take care of others.

– [Chanie] Yeah.

– That’s you know, we talk about that all the time. I talk to my teachers about it, but I wasn’t really doing it for myself.

– Yeah, and I love this piece over here, because I think, I feel like all the different speakers were sharing that and we were all, that was a big theme of the conference in that way of how you know, whatever’s happening at your school is just this reminder of just a reflection of who you are, and so a phrase that I heard recently that I think really sums up, what you’re saying right now is the school leader is the emotional thermostat of the entire organization. And where your emotional well being is at any given moment during the day, is what you’re gonna be seeing in the school, and I think that’s terrifying and also a huge privilege both at the exact same time, you know?

– Our responsibility.

– Yeah, so lets go into I know that you as a person are on this incredible journey and just meeting you last year in June and talking to you now like, you’re just a completely different person, a completely different individual the way you show up is just so differently, and I don’t even see you in person even through these calls I see you showing up so differently, and I think a lot of it stems from how you shifted that focus of I really need to take care of me, and so can you peel that, lets try to peel that onion a little bit because I think self care is a, has become a buzzword that isn’t being used properly anymore and especially in school leadership so could we just un-peel a little bit of what does self-care look like. You’re a mom, you’ve got young kids at home. Let’s unpack that a little bit here.

– Well, Ill tell you that in you know in the self care process I did have to you know, identify, I had to think about myself, which is a foreign thing. But I had to identify, you know, what needs that I have that were not being met because that is impacting my staff, and so what I realized is I didn’t have any time for myself. So I did do a lot of focus on time blocking, from the meeting, and I did collect all the data meticulously for over two weeks.

– [Chanie] Good.

– And that really gave me an idea that helped me pin point like it’s the time, I don’t have any time for myself. I am just taking care of other peoples needs constantly, and I’m gonna burn out if I keep going.

– [Chanie] Yeah.

– So, then I started to build time in for myself. So now I build in time after teacher meetings, I have reflection time for myself. I have note taking time for myself, I have been locking my door. I close my door, I tell my secretary when I need to you know don’t come in, unless… Don’t come in at all because if the place burns down.

– I’ll know, yeah.

– So um, I think a big part of self care is really just taking the time to think about yourself, and think about your practice, and how you feel. So for example in my school we had a big issue that I wanted to work on, which was clutter. There’s clutter collecting, and I’ll tell you this is one of the ones that really, it’s hard to look at yourself, you know it’s hard to say, maybe I need to set a better example with clutter.

– Wait I wanna pause for a second before you move on. This is huge, okay, so lets start off with, so clutter is probably a huge sore spot for anyone that’s listening to this because as an owner, as a director when you run tours, clutter is the first eye-sore that parents see, and when parents are coming in for the first time you wanna make the best impression possible right? That’s why we always clean up before mother-in-law comes, clean up before guests come, because clutter is a bad impression right? Now, I love what you just said, but heres why I wanna pause ans repeat this for anyone that didn’t pick up on it. You noticed clutter was a problem, but before you asked the question how do I get them to clean up the clutter you said, what did you say?

– Maybe I need to focus on clutter myself and set the example.

– Oh my gosh I love this, that’s why I had to repeat that because I think it’s huge. Okay, I’ll let you continue.

– It was really you know, it’s such a tiny thing but it was life changing for me as far as perspective, because it changed my perspective it made me say I can, it helped me to realize the little things we do in just who we are, and how we show up and what we do, that impacts the schools so greatly in a positive way, like my personality or the things that I’m good at, that impacts the school in a positive way.

– [Chanie] Yes!

– So do our weaknesses and if there’s something like you know, you wanna really work on decreasing clutter in your school, you know I would say that the first step is to say, what does your office look like, you know?

– So lets walk through that, when you asked yourself that question, what was the next step? Because asking the question is scary part one, kind of executing the answer to that question is terrifying moment two, so.

– Well, I can tell you it’s not a quick, these things are habits, they’re habitual. So there’s no quick fix right? It doesn’t like, did I clean my office, like right then and there? Yes, I did like do the the first clean up, but that’s not the problem, it’s the habitual aspect of it, it’s creating routines for yourself. At the end of everyday I make sure my desk is clear now, and am I perfect? Like is there ever a day where it doesn’t happen? Of course. But I know where I am now you know like, it’s been great, and the school is much more clutter free.

– Wow okay, we need to unpack this, ’cause I love this Naomi. This is just, this is, I’m hearing this for the first time. Also so this is an ah-ha moment for me in just realizing again, the power of the habits in systems right? And so we have these cluttered offices, we have cluttered counters, or maybe our file cabinets are clutterly or whatever it is, and it’s so hard to hold up the mirror and say one second, what I’m seeing in my school is what I’m… Because it’s like you know with my daughter she was, she was, she’s starting to show signs of like, she’s a little anxious about something, or she was nervous about going somewhere, and I was like okay that’s really interesting, and then my husband and I were talking about it ’cause you were like you know what should we do? Should we call in someone to like observe her, see if we need to do you know some more help, or whatever it is? And he was like look, heres the bottom line. You have, you’re an adult right now and you’ve mastered so much of the things of the things that your concerned about or worried about, or whatever it is. But if you think about yourself two or three years ago, you’re always worrying about stuff, you’re always stressing at this, and that, and that, kind of thing and he’s like, that is mirroring, and she’s kinda picking up on that ’cause she’s most similar to me right? And it was such an ah-ha moment for me to realize how okay, if I really want to help my daughter, yes, I need to bring in outside help as well, but I need to look at how I’m showing up, and am I stressing too much in front of my kids? Am I worrying too much about every little thing? Because she’s seeing that. So when we talk about habits and routines, and this is what Linda Fob is gonna be talking about at the live event, is what is the habit that you wanna see your teachers doing more of? Well first lets focus on how we’re gonna make that habitual for you. And then how we gonna teach that to your teachers, so I really appreciate your honestly Naomi, because I think it’s hard to say this, because we all wanna show this beautiful side of ourselves, but that’s what the backstage is all about over here, like this is the beautiful side, because this I the side where I’m realizing how much more I could be on the other side, when I work on these little things. So I just wanna thank you for doing that ’cause it’s transformative to whoever is watching. So, I love that clutter piece. So take us to some of the other things where you’re a mom of young kids, I know, you know, like anyone else that’s watching just wants to get home on time, wants to be with their family. Tell us some of the little micro changes and shifts that you’ve done to be more present for your family.

– Well, I will say that when we first started I was staying at work when we first started the program, at Torah and with the early childhood, we started there, and I was staying until 6:00 everyday and I have two small children, like very small, and that was too much and I was definitely burning out, and I wasn’t able to really come home and be present. Because I was working with children until six o’clock in addition to all of my director work, and I will say that I just made a decision that we have to always be overstaffed, always. We are always overstaffed and I am always hiring, and those are some ways that I have been able to free up a little bit of time for myself so I’m never filling in. Unless it’s a true emergency, I’m not gonna be in the classroom unless I’m observing, you know emergencies happen they do, but they happen less when you have–

– [Chanie] More staff.

– Yup, so and I’m always hiring, and that has been very helpful, and I also recently implemented some things, which we’ve talked about, which are just kind of shifting gears when you get home. So that’s something I’ve been doing. I go and I water my plants whenever I get home.

– Yeah you were telling me about that yeah. Tell us why you do that. What does it activate for you?

– So I gardening is you know it’s a hobby. It’s something I’m passionate about, and it’s a way of creating art for me, and so it’s something that I really have come to love in the last few years. And so it’s a relaxing thing, but it’s also a time to be alone. So I take a few minutes, I go water the plants, and before I do that I change clothes. So my husband had actually suggested that. So kind of have, basically, it doesn’t have to be changing clothes, but just to have something that helps you switch gears.

– [Chanie] Yes!

– You know, work is over. Now I’m focusing on the kids, I might work again after their asleep for a little bit, but.

– Yeah, and this is so interesting because Todd is gonna be talking about this at the live event where he was coaching this military guy who worked in the navy and this guy kept saying like, as hard as he tried he kept bringing this navy seal and this drill sergeant into the household, and he also had young kids, and it bothered him how he ran his house like a navy. He’s like a navy ship, and Todd told him, and he said I’ve tried to change my clothes. He said but it but it still didn’t help as much. Like it helped a little but not as much. And so Todd had told him, put on a baseball cap, put on something that is really activates this side of you that reminds you okay, I’m putting on this hat right now, not my navy hat, not like, I’m putting on baseball cap dad, and now fun, energetic, loose, not as many rules dad is gonna show up right now. so I love that you’re activating that part, because when someones listening to this they can think, oh that’s so silly, just changing your clothes, like how does that help? It does, enclothed cognition is real. Think about when you put on a black dress, and you get your hair done, and you’re wearing makeup, you are walking differently into that hall as opposed to you know sweats and a t-shirt or something like that, you’re gonna walk differently, period. So I love that you’re doing that. I think it’s so powerful, and again, small things, exponential gains so I love that. So lets go into this you know, you came to our event last year, you’ve been a part of our inner circle, and I’m excited to see you again this year at the event. Tell us what is bringing you back this year, you know, what are you most looking forward to?

– Oh that’s everything.

– Yay.

– So I wanna say that actually going to the event I think was my first step in self in my in this, self care, self awareness journey. Because just making that step, you’re making a commitment to yourself. You’re saying this, I’m making this investment. It’s like an investment on yourself, and it really is life-changing, and so I am just really looking forward to all the new things I’m going to learn. I’m looking forward to spending time with other professionals and just being able to spend time, no interruptions.

– Wow, I love that part yeah.

– Just thinking and working with like-minded people with no interruptions is just a wonderful thing.

– Yeah, yeah and it is it’s powerful, it’s transformative, because you’re working on your business and on yourself, more than anything else, and going the way and working on yourself has a ripple effect that’s hard to even quantify, in so many different ways, because it just effects so many, it just permeates so many different parts of your being. So one of the things that we had chatted about beforehand and just right before this call was how what you’ve learned at the live event and then throughout the inner circle, you have been translating into your personal life as well. So can you share with us just one or two of those things that that are life skills, ’cause that’s what the live event is about? It’s leadership and skill development, not just you know for being a owner or director.

– I actually wanted to make that point, for whoever’s listening that this is not a typical conference, so it you’re a educator, you’ve attended lots of conferences, and I’ve been to lots of conferences. And this is not your typical situation where your gonna go listen to some people, and take some notes and go home. The practical, and go home and maybe implement it, but the practical application aspect of your program is just, it’s amazing, because you definitely are going to implement it in your life because your already doing the mental work at the conference.

– [Chanie] Love that.

– It’s there, it’s there even if you go home and you don’t pick up your notes for two months, you’ve done so much mental work at the conference that you’re going to see a difference in your life. And I would like to say that is personal to answer your question as well. All of the changes, because I have been focusing on myself and self-care and self-awareness, it’s impossible for those changes in me not to impact my family as well as my school family. So I’ve definitely seen some positives as far as creating good habits at home, and when we were doing focusing so much on getting rid of clutter at school, we got rid of clutter at home.

– Wow.

– My daughter came to me and said–

– How old’s your daughter?

– She’s four.

– Okay.

– She came to me and she was cleaning up her stuffed animals they go into the tent, and she goes, mom do you think maybe we should give away some of these stuffed animals? I had not talked to her about this.

– Wow.

– On her own. So she’s, this is something, I’m not talking to her about my work, I’m not talking to her about cleaning the house, other than you know normal like, we have to clean up our toys right, but I’m not talking with her about what I’m working on for myself, but she still picked up on it.

– She is, and I think that so again, just what you’re saying over here like, what we’re saying before. It’s terrifying and it’s a privilege at the same time, because if our kids pick up on the slightest thing that we’re working on ourselves and becoming better at, that’s amazing but at the same time it’s like one second. So all these bad habits I have to work hard to replace them with good ones that serve me, and serve my life and serve the business, and serve the school, because that’s gonna have a ripple effect on my marriage, myself, on my kids, on everything. So I love that story. Thanks so much for sharing that because again, just she’s four, she’s four, and look what she picked up on. So she’s smart cookie also.

– Yeah.

– So lets go into just bringing everything full circle is what strategy, or tip, or hack, or something have you used that has helped streamline some of the processes, or you know, given some of your time back, so you can you know focus on self-care with your staff. I know you have spoken about Google forums. so can you tell us a little about that?

– Yes, so one of the things that we focused on at the last conference was creating systems with the 90 day goals, and that was something that we had started doing at school already, but very on a small scale. And after the conference I really used a lot of time analyzing all of our systems that were currently in place, where the holes were, what we should do, and one of the things that we did is that we said okay, if we look at the time-blocking, and we look at my self-care, and we look at all of these things, what’s taking the time away? Its people–

– [Chanie] Good question.

– Coming with questions. What types of questions are they coming with? So we looked at them, we analyzed the data, and we said okay how can we make it where no one has to come to me if they need to purchase a supply, or if they can’t find something, or if they are going to be absent, or if their sink is broken, you know whatever it is.

– Yeah.

– They don’t need to come to me, because we have created these Google forums and it’s really simple it’s just a regular old Google forum, but what was the not so simple part is the training the teachers to use it. So we have been doing that all year this year, and it’s going very well and of course it takes time, and people need reminders, but I just smile and say did you do a forum for that, because I wanna make sure I get that in for you by Friday, and we order on Friday.

– Yeah and so for those of you that are watching, we are gonna have in the show notes in the comments access to some of the samples of Naomi’s Google forums that she uses and also little breakdown tutorial on how you can actually create that for your staff, but like Naomi was saying, the little caveat to that is knowing how to introduce this to your staff, and how to follow up and understand that it’s habit formation, and at our live event that is something that we are gonna be talking about as an umbrella of how do you introduce things to staff, how do you maintain those habits, and all of that. So the implementation part will come from joining us at the event, but heres a great tool just to help you get started with that. So bringing everything full-circle, Naomi, I know you had said something interesting how there’s so much mental work that’s down at the live event, and so you know, even if someone didn’t pick up their notes it’s kind of in their body and in that way, or in their brain.

– Right.

– And so someone who’s thinking about joining us at the event, and is thinking wow, it’s such a significant investment, it’s time, it’s money, it’s time away form my family, it’s time away from the school, what would you tell someone who’s on the fence and is just thinking, I do really want this, but it’s just it’s so much?

– I mean, I think you won’t regret it. Like you’ll just never regret it. I think that anything that is this transformative you’re not going to regret it. I think you know I wouldn’t miss it. I’m so glad that I took that chance, I took that risk. It feels risky, but it’s worth it.

– Yeah, yeah awesome and I love that you said that it was a chance last year. It was a risk. You’ve never been to the event. You didn’t know what to really expect in that way, but the bet paid off as they say. Naomi, thank you so much for being here with us today. Thank you for your time, and just for sharing all these little insights, and stories into what’s going on, and how you’ve really created that transformation in your school. So thank you so much for being here with us today.

– Thank you Chanie.

– Alright.