About Darrin M Peppard Ed.D.
Darrin Peppard (@DarrinMPeppard) is an author, publisher, speaker, and consultant focused on what matters most in leadership and education. Darrin is an expert in school culture and climate, as well as coaching and growing emerging leaders, and is the author of the best-selling book Road to Awesome: Empower, Lead, Change the Game.
Darrin was named the 2016 Wyoming Secondary School Principal of the Year by WASSP/NASSP and was the 2015 Jostens Renaissance Educator of the Year. In 2017, Darrin earned his Doctorate Degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Wyoming. Darrin was inducted into the Jostens Renaissance Hall of Fame in 2019.
Darrin now shares his experiences from over 25 years in education, specifically those learned as an education leader during the past 13 years. As a ‘recovering’ high school principal, Darrin shares lessons learned and effective strategies from over 25 years in public education to help leaders (both adults and students) to become more effective and positively impact the world around them.
**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.
Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. I’m super excited to share with you today’s interview. Darrin is someone that I was introduced to by another High Performing Educator, as someone they thought I should interview on the show. And after having the some conversation with him, I can wholeheartedly and honestly tell you, Darrin is one of the most kindhearted, most influential and most open people that I’ve ever had the chance to speak to and interview on this show. His stories are amazing. His passion, his energy, his lessons, his advice. There’s just so much wisdom packed in this man. I would say he’s made a dent in education, but I don’t think a dent is a big enough representation of the impact he’s made. Darrin Peppard is a school district superintendent, a speaker and author, and a consultant who focuses on what matters most in leadership.
Sam Demma (01:00):
Darrin’s an expert in school, culture and climate, as well as coaching and growing emerging leaders. He is known for his keen insight culture. First leadership style and dynamic personality. He’s won numerous awards, been named principle of the year. He’s been added into the Johnson’s Renaissance educator of the year, and then the hall of fame. There’s so many accolades this man has collected and achieved and accomplished over the years, but on all honesty, all those things aside, Darrin’s just an amazing human being who has a lot of great stories to share. And I hope you get just a peak into some of those stories listening to this episode. I hope you enjoy it. I’ll see you on the other side, Darrin, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. It’s a huge honor to have you on the show today. Why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about yourself and your recovering principle mindset and how you got into this work you’re doing in education today?
Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (01:57):
Yeah, absolutely. Sam, thanks so much for having me on this is this is really a treat. So, so yeah, I, I consider myself a recovering high school principal you know like you and I were talking before we came on. It’s a, it’s a winding journey. And you know, certainly an interesting road that has led me to where I am now and, you know, being being through being a coach being a, a principal and now superintendent that principal role, I is still the role that I look at. And you know, it’s, it’s the time that I probably cherish the most in my professional career. Certainly a great opportunity to impact kids, a great opportunity to, to impact adults. But then also to work, you know around systems and being able to work, you know, work in and affect systems.
Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (02:49):
You know, we were talking a again right before we started, you know, I go back to what really got me into education was when somebody asked me to help ’em coach a, a basketball team and I’m like, yeah, absolutely let’s do this. And it was a fifth grade girls basketball team. And so, you know, that is not a lot of high level in depth basketball, but it’s more, it’s just relationships and, and having some fun and, and, you know, just getting to be kids and work with kids. And that’s what hooked me to ultimately become, to become an educator. And so yeah, that’s, that’s I guess a little bit about me.
Sam Demma (03:28):
No, that’s awesome. And before your friend asked you to help coach the basketball team, where were you headed in life and was there anything else aside from that ask that he gave you that directed you in that direction?
Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (03:42):
Ah, man, that’s a great question. So, so, you know, when I when I started college you know, I, I, I played tennis and basketball in high school. I was a, I was a really good tennis player. I was a basketball player. I was not, I wasn’t a very good player. I was just on the team, but you know then I had some injuries and, and some of those kinds of things. And I honestly, I was a little bit lost when I got into college, you know the person I probably connected with the most, at my high school. At, at a point I’m gonna talk about staff I’m sure. And, and how everybody has an impact on kids, not just teachers. And , this actually even is, is true of my life. Our high school athletic trainer was the person who had the most profound impact on me.
Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (04:29):
I unfortunately during basketball, I spent more time in the training room than I did actually on the floor in games. I just was, you know, I just had the bad luck of getting injured a lot. And trainer John was, was somebody who really kind of inspired me. And so that’s where I thought I wanted to go. I wanted to be an athletic trainer and I don’t know, somewhere along the line, I kind of lost, lost my path. And, and to be honest with you, I, I actually dropped outta college and I got into the private sector. I was, I was working in retail sales. And yeah, fortunately when when my friend reached out to me and said, you know, Hey, I need somebody to help me coach this team. I don’t know what you know, it was it was a heck of an opportunity to inadvertently you know, or, or maybe there was some kind of destiny there to, to help me find that path. And know he, even after that, it was, you know, Hey, let’s, you know, notice this other team. And, and it really gave me a chance to connect with a passion. I didn’t know I had, and that was working with kids and supporting kids and helping kids as they, as they grow through life.
Sam Demma (05:40):
You’ve been able to experience some multiple roles, principal teacher now, superintendent as well. You just mentioned all staff have the ability to make a difference for educators listening, who might question that, that they have the power to also play a huge impact. What would you have to say? You alluded to the fact that you really believe that every member of staff can make a change.
Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (06:01):
Absolutely. I, I think every single member of of every staff, or again, like I say, staff, you know, staff plus faculty we don’t, we don’t separate ’em in our district. We, we make sure that everybody understands that we’re all in this together and we’re all part of something special. I just, you know, through the course of my career, I, and, and again, I even go back to, to when I was a student, you know, I’ve seen those moments where it’s the coach that is impacting a kid more than the classroom teacher. Certainly they’re classroom teachers that make profound, profound impacts on kids. I absolutely don’t want to downplay that, but I think about man, when, when I was a high school principal, one of the people in my building who was probably as impactful as anybody else was a guy named Cleve and Cleve was our maintenance guy.
Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (06:53):
Cleve was a retired engineer and just came to work at the, because he just wanted to make an impact to be around kids. And you know, so the role we gave him was in addition to just some general maintenance, he was our guy who set up for all of our athletic contests. And he was the guy who was there to, you know, make sure the water jugs were filled. And, and yeah, he did all of that, but man, that, that guy just, he just cheered his face off for every single one of our kids and our kids knew him and they loved him. He knew every kid by name. And then every one of our schools, there’s a Cleve, whether it’s a maintenance person or it’s somebody who’s working in food service, or it’s a bus driver we don’t, we don’t realize sometimes just because we get into routines and we get into our day to day, you know, I, I drive my bus and this is my route, or you know, I, I’m a special education para and these are the kids I go and work with.
Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (07:51):
And this is my schedule. We don’t realize just how many eyes are on us and how much the things that we do every day impact, impact kids. And, and you don’t know until, until years later I I’ll share a quick story with you that here probably I’m gonna say six months ago, I got a message on Facebook from a former student. And I mean, it’s a kid that I had as a high school student. I, I had him from one year. He was part of a group of kids that I actually had at both junior high. And then when I moved to high school, those kids then were there a year later, but I only had this student one year and I never really thought that we built much of a relationship. I mean, we knew each other, but you know, it wasn’t like some of the other kids in that group because I’d only once, but he reached out to me and it was a really profound thing that, that he said to me, he, he shared with me that he felt he owed me an apology over.
Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (08:55):
Just the way he had been as a student. He said, you know, I didn’t tell a lot of people this he said, in fact, you probably don’t remember me, but you’ll remember my girlfriend. And I, I mean, I remembered him instantly, but he said, what you don’t know is I was homeless. What you don’t know is I lived in a car and I was embarrassed. And, and so I acted out so that people didn’t know those other things about me. And I mean, this is, you know, I don’t know, 15 years later. And he felt compelled to reach out and tell me the story. Wow. And, you know, to know, to know that I had an impact on, on that young. And and for that matter that I still have an opportunity too. You know, we’re still, we’re still in contact. Yeah. What I, I guess I tell that story for this reason, whether you’re a teacher or in any other role office, secretary, principal, you don’t know the impact you have on kids until much, much later. And sometimes you never know, there’s so many hundreds and thousands of kids that every educator touches every day. And you’re making a difference and you know, right now it’s hard. Holy cow, is it hard right now, but you’re making a difference and you’re changing lives one kid at a time.
Sam Demma (10:20):
What a powerful story. Tell me how you felt when you read that message in your inbox.
Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (10:29):
Well, I mean, as we’re talking about it, six months later, I’m tearing up about it. So, I mean, you can probably imagine you know, first we’re and I saw his name, I thought, no way wow. I haven’t heard from him in forever. And and then as I started reading that, I, I just, you know, I had to sit down. I was like, oh my goodness. And certainly, you know, I was, I was grateful that he reached out to me is filled with a little bit of pride, you know, certainly that, that I had made an impact with him. But then I also, I guess, as I reflected through the, through the course of the next few days, I also kind of was maybe a little bit upset with myself or disappointed in myself because why didn’t I know, is it possible that I didn’t take the time?
Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (11:28):
I should have to maybe get to know him better? And I don’t know, maybe I could have helped him that because, you know, as he went forward in his life, there were some struggles with substance. There was some struggles with other things. And, and I don’t know, maybe I could have made a difference, maybe I could of to help him in that regard. But I don’t know. I guess I would say it was mixed emotions. But, but ultimately, you know, I still go back to what what I, what I cling to with that story is whether I realized it or not, I was making an impact on that kid.
Sam Demma (12:03):
Yeah. And sometimes we’re a harshest critic, so mm-hmm, , don’t be too critical on yourself. Yeah. How do we make sure as educators, we can be that cleave, we can be that Darrin for our students, especially in a time like COVID 19, how do we ensure our youth feel appreciated, cared for and heard?
Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (12:24):
Man, that’s a really good question because, you know, one of the most difficult things, I think all of us face right now is it’s really, it’s challenging, I guess, to fill the cups of others when your cup is empty. And so one of the most important things I would say, and, and I’m probably, I’m gonna say something and I’m not doing a good job of right now. And so I’m gonna challenge myself to, to, to refocus on this, but we’ve gotta take care of ourselves. If we want to continue to make a difference in this super challenging time, we have to take care of ourselves whether that’s, you know good eating habits or, you know, getting some exercise, getting enough, sleep, drinking enough water drinking enough water. So one, I’m not doing a good job with probably not getting enough exercise, but we have to be able to make sure that that physically and mentally we’re ready to answer the bell every morning.
Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (13:23):
And if we’re able to do that, then I would say the next thing is, you know, focus on relationships. You know, the academic piece doesn’t work without the relation anyway. And right now we probably need to put twice as much time into relationships. I mean, we, we hear the phrase, social, emotional learning right now. A lot. It is very much an in Vogue term. It’s an appropriate term but really at its core, it’s about having those relationships in place. So we recognize those challenges kids are going through. And so that kids feel comfortable reached out saying something, you know, or asking a question. I think that’s, that’s just the biggest, biggest things we can be doing for ourselves right now. You know, there’s, there’s all kinds of training and all kinds of, you know, other things we can do books we can read, but if we don’t number one, take care of ourselves and number two, build those relationships. None of that other stuff matters.
Sam Demma (14:23):
It’s foundational. It’s definitely foundational. Speaking of books, what is the Road to Awesome? What does, what does that mean to you and explain why you are compelled to write a book with that title?
Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (14:36):
Yeah. So Road to Awesome. And there’s, there is, there’s definitely a story behind that. So and it’s like, like the road awesome itself, it’s long and winding, but so I’ll tell you when, when I go back to my first year as a as an assistant principal, so my first administrative job we, we had a pretty challenging culture in, in our school. We really had well, I’ll just put it this way. The, the philosophy in our school was catch, ’em doing it wrong. And that might be kids and it might be adults. You know, we even as a leadership team and I don’t think we were intentional with this, but this is just how it worked. I mean, the phrase that the other administrators used and, and I, I know I picked up on it very quickly and fell right into the culture.
Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (15:30):
I’m not saying I, I stepped away from it. I fell right into it too, you know, was, I’m gonna ding that kid. I’m gonna ding that teacher. You know, it, it was all about catching people, doing things wrong. And we were in this staff meeting middle part of my first year. And this particular part of the meeting was mine to facilitate cuz we were talking about, you know, what are we gonna do about hats and cell phones? You know, really, you know, important stuff used foundational. So yeah, that’s yeah, facetiously that’s, it’s not foundational that’s, those are things we really should be wasting time on, but that’s, that’s what we were focused on. You know, kids have their cellphones out and you know, they’re wearing hats, what are we gonna do about it? So somewhere between, you know, if we start hanging ’em up on the little on the wall and those little calculator holders, or I don’t know, suspending kids or wherever, you know, people were chasing this, somebody raised their hand and just said, why does it always have to be about what they do wrong?
Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (16:28):
And I had it be about what they do. Right. and, and I looked back at that now in time and, and I can tell you, the lady’s name is spring. She’s a school social worker, a brilliant young lady. It was like, bang, you know, the, the road splitting two for me right there. You know, we, I can keep going down this path. You know, we, we focus on what people are doing wrong. You know, maybe, maybe we can, we can exit this path and try another one. And let’s, let’s try to focus on what they do. Right. it led me to the Josten’s Renaissance program and, you know, I mean that, that’s a philosophy of recognizing rewarding and reinforcing the things that you respect. And we put that in place and we started working really hard around that and changing the way we did our work and changing the way we focused on things.
Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (17:23):
And you know, it’s amazing how, you know, people will rise or fold whatever level of expectation you’re willing to hold them to. And if you’re using that recognition and reinforcement at a high level of expectation, they’re gonna meet that level of expectation. They’re gonna come right up to it. I mean adversity for stuff like that, you know? And I mean, let’s, let’s make it about, let’s make it about kids who are doing a great job in the classroom. Let’s make it about kids doing a great job in, in athletics or in activities or whatever, you know, in community service. You know, I mean, we shouldn’t just be focused on, you know, our football team or whatever, you know, know, I mean, we had one of the greatest bands I’ve ever been around as, as a high school principal. And I know a lot of that was we hired a great person for it, but he took that same philosophy.
Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (18:19):
And, you know, he went from like 60 kids to 130 kids in the band and, you know, superior ratings all the time. And so, so fast forward just a little bit. And I’m at a Josten’s Renaissance Conference and I’m presenting with somebody who at the time was was a teacher I had hired now just genuinely a, a, a true friend of mine a guy named Bradley Skinner. And we showed this little video clip Kid President, who everybody loves Kid President. And he said something along the lines of using the the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken” you know, what, what if there are two roads I want to be on the one that leads to awesome . And even though I’d been on this road for a long time, I’d never had a, I’d never had a phrase for it.
Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (19:06):
And Road to Awesome was born. And we, and we still are using that as a hashtag. It became a hashtag at our school. We had to paint it on our walls. I mean, it just like grew and grew and grew to where everybody knew, you know, Rock Spring High School is we’re all about the Road to Awesome. And when it came to west grand, it brought that with me and we’re on the road to, and so over the last year or two, I, I really had started thinking, thinking, and I really wanna write a book. And I, I wanted to write a book about leadership and about, about what the things that I think, not, not that everybody should follow, but just, I think these are the six things that truly make a difference in leadership. And, and that doesn’t mean being a principal leader.
Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (19:52):
I mean, that’s any leader that I’m a classroom teacher, teacher leader, I’m in the business world, I’m a leader, I’m whatever. So six things in the book really that I focused on you know, leading with a clear vision building positive culture and climate empowering your student, empowering your adults, telling your story as educators, man, we stink at that. We are not good at telling our story. You know, unfortunately it’s, it’s standardized test scores or, you know, things that people say on Facebook that determine story of our schools. And it shouldn’t, you know, we have great things happening in every school across not only the United States through Canada. I mean, everywhere, there are great things happening in schools and we just have to do a better job of telling them. And then the last one is, is coaching. And, and, and by that, I mean, everybody, everybody can benefit from a coach as a leader. I can benefit from another leader as a, as a principal, as a teacher, whatever I can benefit from an outside perspective supporting me and, and helping me to, to see things differently. So as we’re working through the book it only made sense that the book had to have the title Road to Awesome.
Sam Demma (21:13):
Awesome. No pun intended. Yeah, there you go. I was, I was really, I was really enjoying when you were speaking about the difference between pointing out what the students were doing wrong versus what they were doing. Right. I was actually watching a Ted talk yesterday by someone by the name of Dr. Ivan Joseph. Who’s a self confidence expert and he’s his talk has over 20 million views. It’s a great one. He took on two soccer teams to coach at Ryerson, which is a university here that were both on a five year losing streak. No one wanted the job. He stepped up and took it it and used basically what you just told me to create two winning teams that both won the national championship over the next five years. And what he said was so often coaches, and we can replace that for any human being points out what the athlete does wrong.
Sam Demma (22:04):
You know, you’re not kicking in the ball, right? Get your knee over the ball and lean, you know, lean back and stare down before you kick the ball, or it’s always gonna go too high. And he’s like, instead of doing that, you can point out what someone else on the team did really well. So John goes and does a terrible job, but then, you know, Stacy goes and scores and, you know, beautiful form. He can say, Stacy, well done. Your, you kept your head down. Your knee was over the ball and the student or the soccer player, John who didn’t kick it well is taking in what he’s saying, but not having his ego hurt or feeling bad about himself. And that hit me so hard because, you know, even with pick the, the volunteer initiative, I run, we manage six or seven people. And sometimes we, we don’t think before we SP be to that degree and we can be critical to too hard sometimes on the people we manage or even ourselves.
Sam Demma (22:55):
And I just wanted to highlight that. Cause I think the point you raised is so, so important. I can even pinpoint as a young person when my coach spoke negatively to me and how it affected me personally which is, which is really, really powerful. Anyways, Darrin, this has been a very fruitful conversation. There’s so many nuggets and things that are coming out of this. If you could sum up your entire brain, all the wisdom that you’ve gained over the past, I think you said 26 years teaching and give advice to your younger self when you were just starting in education, what, you know, couple points of advice would you give yourself that you think would be helpful along the journey?
Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (23:37):
Well, you know, not, not to keep hammering on the same thing, but I go right back to what you were just talking about. I know there were times where as a classroom teacher or, or as a coach where yeah, I probably focused more on, you know, what we were doing wrong. Mm-Hmm and you know, I think I would, I would remind myself or tell myself that don’t take yourself so seriously, you know, take, take a breath, remember that it’s about relationships. And at the end, at the end of the day, when you’re, when the students that you have in the classroom now, or the kids that you’re coaching on the court are 30 years old. They’re not gonna remember whether or not we won this game or that game. They’re gonna remember how you made ’em feel. Mm they’re gonna remember.
Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (24:27):
And they’re gonna reach out to you because of the relationships that you built with them. And I mean, I, I know that I did that well, but I know there’s always, you know, I look back there’s ones. I know I could have done better. And so that would be one of them would be to, to just, you know, Don worry about the wins and losses, worry about the relationships because that’s, that’s what it’s really all about. And I don’t know, maybe I would tell myself, maybe you should journal what you’re doing because, because I was writing this book, I know there were stories that slowly came back to me, but I know there’s just hundreds and hundreds and more stories that you know, both good and bad, you know, one’s where I certainly don’t look very good because of, because of what I did, but there’s a lesson that came from it. Mm-Hmm and you know, I, I wish that you know, I would’ve written all that stuff down, you know, but I guess those are probably the two things I would, I would go back and tell myself.
Sam Demma (25:25):
Cool. I love that. That’s so awesome. And I’m guessing you journal every day now.
Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (25:29):
I do as much as I can. Yeah, absolutely. You know, it’s, it’s mostly, it’s mostly the old you know voice journal nice as, as much as it is writing.
Sam Demma (25:39):
Awesome. Well, Darrin, thank you so much for taking the time to chat today. If another educator listening wants to reach out, talk, talk about your book, talk about idea is, and what’s working in your schools right now. What would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?
Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (25:53):
So I would say there’s two different ways you know, any and all social media, I’m Darrin M Peppard just write like that, whether it’s Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, that’s, that’s how you can find me. The other thing too, is, is on my a website. I mean, there’s a way to contract me through the website, which is shockingly roadtoawesome.net. So absolutely those are, those are two great ways to get in touch with me. And by all means, if there’s anything I could do, somebody needs somebody to vent to talk to. If I can share a little bit of advice or wisdom or, you know, even if somebody’s just got a great where they wanna share with me, I’d love to hear it.
Sam Demma (26:30):
Awesome. Darrin, thank you so much for coming on the show today.
Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (26:33):
Yeah. Thank you, Sam. I really appreciate it.
Sam Demma (26:36):
Such impactful stories. I don’t know if your eyes like mine almost leaked while listening to this episode, but if it touched you, if it moved you, if it inspired you in any way, shape or form, please consider reaching out to Darrin. He’s someone who would love to connect to you. He’s someone who would love to have a conversation. He’s someone who would love to share ideas with and bounce things around and be a soundboard for you. And if you found this valuable considered leaving a rating and review on the podcast, it will help more educators. Like you find these episodes during these times, so they can benefit from the content and the inspiration in the stories. And if you personally have something you, you think should be shared with other educators around the world, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org and will get you a spot on the, a podcast. Anyways, I’ll see you on the next episode. Talk soon.
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