PMP362: Be The Driving Force with Dr. Don Parker

Dr. Don Parker is a leading voice in professional development and educational transformation. Since beginning his educational journey in 1997, Dr. Parker has served in diverse roles, from teaching in Chicago’s inner-city schools to mentoring future educators as an Adjunct Professor at National-Louis University. As a former principal at both Posen School and Lincoln Avenue School, he made significant strides in areas like parent engagement, staff collaboration, and most importantly, student achievement. Known across the U.S. for his insights, Dr. Parker has presented at state and national conferences. His breadth of experience has allowed him to integrate evidence-based techniques to positively influence student behavior and learning outcomes. His book, ‘Building Bridges: Engaging Students Through the Power of Relationships’, underscores his philosophy on educational success. His newest book is Be the Driving Force: Leading Your School on the Road to Equity, from Solution Tree Press.

Here’s a brief summary of this week’s episode:

Dr. Don Parker was a previous guest on episode 189 in April 2020, and again for episodes 198 and 199 on Equity in Education with Marlena Gross Taylor and William Stubbs. We’ve also shared time together at state and national conferences. In this episode, he talks about his new book, Be the Driving Force: Leading Your School on the Road to Equity, you can find here.

During this interview, Don first shares why he believes: “Principals either drive school equity or tap the brakes on it.” He talks about the power of what educators bring to student learning in the attitudes, beliefs and actions we each embrace about student potential. His quotes include: “It starts at the top. Belief drives attitude and action. Leaders must know you are the key to the motivation, environment, and potential for student and staff success.”

In his own leadership, Don shares how he led a school that was initially plagued with racial inequality and staff division. He taught his teachers the principle of what he calls the Q-Tip: Quit Taking it Personal, when it comes to the ways students or parents respond to learning. He also teaches how our policies must reflect our beliefs and why restorative practices only work when educators connect relationships to outcomes.

Finally, he shares a powerful and personal story about his daughter, Rhonda Rene, who suffers from FOXP1 syndrome, and how Don has learned as a father and a leader that change first begins with us. 

Listen to the entire recording for amazing takeaways and stories!
You can connect with Don’s new book to find out more about the importance of leaders being the driving force behind the principles, vision, climate, equity, policies, procedures, communication, and responsive learning necessary for stronger student outcomes. Find Dr. Don Parker and his resources at

Three Leadership Takeaways with Dr. Nick Davies

Principal Matters is proud to include contributing posts from Dr. Nick Davies, 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

One Step at a Time

Jenn David-Lang is a former teacher who now writes the Main Idea. She reads books and synthesizes them into smaller pieces so they are more manageable to read. She has the time-starved teacher and principal in mind as her audience. She is also a coach, speaker, and runs mastermind groups. Jenn told me the story of when she was supporting a teacher and they were supposed to read a book together. When she realized the teacher had too much going on, she wrote a summary of it. The teacher liked it so much, it gave Jenn the idea for the Main Idea! Jenn was interviewed on the Principal Matters Podcast on Episode 168. Here are my takeaways from our conversation. 

Schools are learning places

We have the expectation that our students are learning every day, but do we have the same expectations for leaders? Since Jenn has been doing coaching and running masterminds, she has met with leaders who have done the work for decades without any professional development! The expectations for a principal are so varied; no one is completely prepared for that job. In a non-exhaustive list, Jenn mentioned how principals need to be inspirational speakers, writers, big picture thinkers, instructional leaders, and they cover all of the small details in schools as well. For example, little follow ups if a teacher asks for something to do significant work to build trust. Jenn also talked about how it can be challenging to be completely honest with your supervisor or your administrative team. As a result, leaders need to visit other schools and spend time with other leaders who are in different situations than they are. Principals cannot always live in the urgent quadrant and need to take time for their own PD!

Bird by Bird

Our conversation turned to communication, marketing, and how she was able to spread her message. She mentioned that the book Messaging Matters by Will Parker was very helpful for her work. Everything she does in her work is either building trust with people or taking it away. That is the same with leaders. She said that she gets the word out about her work “Bird by Bird” or one person, one message, one step at a time. What matters is the quality of the work. She has to be noisy about it, but not a professional marketer. She then connected this to schools. Schools need to be marketing themselves to their community. Her idea was to have teachers take a 30 second video of themselves to talk about what they love about the school. Sharing that could go a long way with the community. Same thing when it comes to you in your role. If you apply for something new, people will look you up. What is out there can set the tone about what people are thinking about you. 

No one is going to tell you what to do next 

Although we only spent a few minutes on this topic, it was one of the first things that Jenn talked to me about. It was clear that this was a strong theme for her career. She mentioned how as her career progressed no one ever told her what should come next. She was a good educator who wanted to move around in the education world. She didn’t, however, want to become an administrator. There are more avenues out there, but they aren’t always obvious. No one told her to start writing, and as I mentioned above, it just came up organically. She was thinking out of the box, and as a result, she found a successful path that no one else was doing! 

Thank you, Jenn, for your time and advice!  

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker