PMP355: Using Reflective Questions with Jen Schwanke and Will Parker

Will Parker runs through a series of reflective questions by author Michael Bugay Stanier in this week's episode of the PMP.

In this episode, host Will Parker prompts guest Jen Schwanke with seven thought-provoking questions derived from the book, The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever by Michael Bungay Stanier. This reflective dialogue aims to explore leadership challenges and ways to overcome them. Buy the book here.

Question Overview:

  • The Kickstart Question: What’s on your mind?
  • The Awe Question: And what else?
  • The Focus Question: What’s the real challenge here for you?
  • The Foundation Question: What do you want?
  • The Lazy Question: How can I help?
  • The Strategic Question: If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?
  • The Learning Question: What was most useful to you?

Key Discussion Points:

Jen’s Leadership Struggles: She discusses her struggle with juggling many areas of life and work, expressing guilt about not being able to fully contribute to all of them.

The Challenge of Expectations: Jen talks about the pressure of living up to others’ expectations or perceived expectations and the importance of giving herself permission to be herself.

What Jen Really Wants: Her goal is to make a positive impact where she can, understanding that her contribution might look different from others.

The Power of Conversation: In response to “How can I help?”, Jen emphasizes that conversations like this are instrumental in uplifting leaders.

Strategic No’s: She expresses a desire to decline “dead ends and energy sucks”, focusing her energy more constructively.

This episode encourages leaders to engage in reflective exercises. Use these seven questions in a journaling session or invite a friend for a discussion. If you’d like a personal reflection session with Will, reach out to him at Listen to the full episode to get a better understanding of these discussion points and more!

A note from Will Parker

Hi, Friends.

Will Parker here. I wanted to give you a few updates. I just returned from speaking at an event in San Diego and enjoying some vacation time. My wife and I also celebrated our anniversary of 30 years! Many of you know that Principal Matters is now my full-time work, which means more opportunities for learning and growing with leaders like you.

This week I’ll be traveling to Columbus, Ohio, to provide a keynote for the Ohio State Department of Education’s School Sponsorship Program. On August 8, I will lead professional development for Morrison Public Schools in Oklahoma. August 14, 17, and 21, we will launch Executive Coaching and Masterminds with two cohorts of Ohio leaders. August 22 begins ongoing Masterminds for the Palo Alto High School Administration Team. And August 29, I will be with the Archdiocese of Louisville admin team for in-person events with principals participating in this year’s Principal Matters Grow Academy and Impact Mastermind.

If you’re interested in any of the offerings available for the coming school year, check out the services link at or email me directly at

We are also enhancing some content available through the Principal Matters weekly newsletter. Not only does the newsletter include a summary of the show notes, but also it includes helpful resources and updates from sponsors and Principal Matters Associates.

For instance, beginning in August, the newsletter will include additional content provided twice a month by my friend, Dr. Nick Davies, an elementary associate principal for Vancouver Public Schools. Nick will share a written summary called Three Takeaways for Leaders, content based on his podcast “Monday Mornings with Dr. Nick.” You will want to read these helpful summaries by subscribing to the Principal Matters newsletter on my website at

Also, this month SchoolCEO, one of our sponsors, is conducting a leadership survey to explore the dynamics involved in superintendent/principal relationships. Your feedback is crucial. Find out more in the Principal Matters newsletter. Go to and click the subscribe link.

Thank you for doing what matters, and I hope you enjoy today’s episode!

Three Leadership Takeaways: “Drink A Lot of Water” by Dr. Nick Davies

I met with Ted Howard, an assistant superintendent for Seattle Public Schools. Ted wasted no time giving me great advice and mentoring me in my personal leadership journey. Without prompting, Ted touched on all of the areas I always ask leaders about, so I just asked clarifying questions and took pages of notes! He emailed me articles and told me to check out the Conscious Leadership Group: Ted’s passion and love for supporting students and anyone who works in the school system was extremely clear. His advice was so practical and useful right now that I titled the article after something he said at the end of our conversation: Don’t forget to drink a lot of water! 

Find Sustainability as a Leader

Ted and I spent a lot of our time together talking about the sustainability of being a school leader. He did not use those words, but that was a commonality with what he talked about. First, Ted mentioned the need to have a mentor in this work. When you have a good mentor, they have a huge impact on you. Take advantage of those mentors in your life and physically spend time with them (when possible). Additionally, talk with and connect with people from all over. Spend time in different schools with different leaders to learn what they are doing. You are only as strong as the mentors and people around you! Additionally, when it comes to sustainability, you need to be able to renew yourself and your body. It is so easy to forget about ourselves while we serve others all day. We all want to do great things in our buildings, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. Take the time to slow down at work and at home. Ted talked about how when he was a new principal he would get home and look for a project to finish because our work as school leaders takes so long to see the impact! The problem with this mentality is that your brain is a muscle, so when do you let it rest? How do you let it rest (without any digital tools!)? 

Be Interested and Really Curious 

Ted told me that being really interested and really curious about everything has been a habit that has helped his career. He is always continuing to learn and grow and always asking questions. For example, if 99% of our teachers are proficient (common at least for the state of Washington), why do we have such a high failure rate in school? Do we not know how to evaluate teachers? Or is our system getting the results it is set up for? Additionally, many people do not truly know what their role is. Explicitly laying out what is expected of everyone in the building can relieve a lot of problems. Furthermore, Ted talked about how he likes talking with people who have a business mind. As educators, we have a huge buffer of time. There are 13 years to take a student from kindergarten to high school graduation! Businesses have to focus on the immediate and have a greater sense of urgency. Those different perspectives can be beneficial to what we are doing.

If you love kids, you always give them chances 

Since Ted is an assistant superintendent of the largest school district in the state of Washington, we talked a lot about systems and leading other leaders. He did, however, always bring his comments back to kids. Ted talked about how our business is to educate students, but we are really in the people business. When you are running low on energy, go to classrooms and be seen. When you are in the classroom, don’t forget how to be a kid! If students don’t energize you, then you might be in the wrong profession! Staff may say a lot of things about their leader, but they need to always remember that you care about kids. That said, adults can and do fail students. As a school leader, if we always give students chances, one of our blindspots can be giving the people we lead chances. We want to bring out the best in people. When they fail, help them get back up and encourage them in the moment. 

I always ask leaders for book recommendations, and Ted had a couple which are below. He said, however, that leaders are often so pressed for time and energy that they need to find ways to continue to learn in a shorter format. I agree! So stay tuned for the next two weeks as I talk to Kim Marshall and Jenn David-Lang, who make books and articles more accessible to leaders! 

  • The Power of Servant Leadership – Robert Greenleaf 
  • Leading at a Higher Level – Ken Blanchard 

Thank you, Ted, for your time and advice! — Dr. Nick Davies

Dr. Nick Davies is an elementary associate principal for Vancouver Public Schools. He is a Principal Matters Associate and posts his own weekly podcast version of the following content at “Monday Mornings with Dr. Nick” which can be found at

Think someone else would benefit from this episode?
William D. Parker
William D. Parker