About Steve Bristol
Steve Bristol is the Assistant Head of School for Enrollment Management and Strategic Planning at the Hun School in Princeton, New Jersey. He is a coach, mentor, and someone that deeply cares about the success of the young people in his school.
**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 great episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today we, you have on someone that I met through an event called the US college expo. He was one of the US admissions representatives who was speaking to students about how they could pursue their education in the States. And he is the director of admissions and financial aid at the Hun school of Princeton in New Jersey.
Sam Demma (00:59):
He is also a former coach, a mentor, and someone who really cares deeply about the success of his students. It’s very evident in this episode that Steve Bristol, today’s guest has a mission to help as many students as he can while also, you know, keeping himself young by being surrounded by the contagious energy of today’s youth. I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I enjoyed recording it, and I will see you on the other side. Steve, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. It is a pleasure to have you on here. Start by sharing a little bit about who you are and why you got into the work you do with young people today?
Steve Bristol (01:38):
It’s my pleasure Sam. Thanks for the opportunity to, to chat with you. I’d love to give you an altruistic reason about why I work in schools and, and how I wanna shape the youth of America and of the world so that, you know, they’ll take better care of the world, and all of that, but really my motives are pretty selfish. It keeps me young. Oh, working with kids is, you know, it keeps you in touch with your own youth. I, I took a couple of years in my career where I went and I worked business schools and in those four years, I think I gained 15 pounds, my eyesight went, I had to start where and glasses, you know, that lifestyle just didn’t work for me. I felt like I’d aged 20 years and four years. And so I came back into schoolwork because it does keep you energized and keeps you young. So my motives are, are purely selfish. I do care about the future and I think kids are, are gonna lead that charge. But but I can’t be as generous with that as I probably should be.
Sam Demma (02:46):
That’s awesome. I love the authenticity. I’m curious to know, at what point in your own career search, did you make the decision? Yep. I’m going to work in education. Was there a defining moment or was it just a progressional choice? Yeah,
Steve Bristol (02:59):
There was actually was a kind of a moment there. I’m a product of the system. I went to a, a, an independent boarding school in, in the us nice for high school. And as I worked with a college counselor there who was helping me sort of decide what kind of colleges to go to. And, and at one point, you know, I was a little bit lost and , and he said, well, you know, what would you like to do after college? And, you know, at that point, I, I wouldn’t been exposed to very much. So I said, yeah, maybe I’d like to come back to a place like this and, and teach and coach. And he said, well, in that case, you know, go here, come back in four years and I’ll give you a job. So that combined with I did a, a lot of summer camp work as a teenager. And and so you get sort of your experience working with kids that way and living with them. And, and so when I did graduate from college, I, I went right into boarding school work where I ran a dorm, coached a couple of seasons and taught classes. And so I, I was the stereotypical, triple threat. They call it boring schools where you do a little bit of everything.
Sam Demma (04:08):
That’s awesome. Tell me more about the summer camps. Were you young when you did those? Not that you’re old now, but well
Steve Bristol (04:17):
yeah, I started working summer camp camps, probably in maybe 11th and 12th grade. I think I started, I did it for I was a camp counselor for three or four years, and then I took some time off and I came back and sort of became an administrator and ultimately became a co-director of a, kind of a traditional summer camp in Maine, which, you know, little SPO, little waterfront, little camping trips, you know, a very sort of, you know, very boarding school-like kind of place where you, you want kids to have a balanced experience and, and, and get exposed to a lot of different things. One of my worries with our kids today is that they, they need to be specialists. They need to be great today. You know, as eighth grader, they need to have found their passion and pursued it and, and be a young little expert. And, and I would rather kids keep trying some new things and to continue to be beginners at things for as long as they can. And I think summer camp and school can do that for kids.
Sam Demma (05:23):
No, it’s so true. There’s advice that this marketer, Gary V always gives, and he says, you don’t have to find what you like right away. That’s why when you go to a buffet, there’s a thousand options. And the way you figure out what you enjoy is you take a little piece of each little bin, you try it and you stop eating what you don’t like, and you keep eating what you do like, and yeah, I think sometimes kids limit themselves to one little portion of a buffet instead of trying all of it and
Steve Bristol (05:47):
Absolutely true. I, I actually used the buffet analogy in my own work here as I talk to families and I talk to them about, you know, hun, where I am now being a, a, a buffet where, you know, there’s lots of different clubs and activities and sports and music and art and all of those things who knows what’s gonna capture your attention. And, and if, if there’s anything we learned, it’s, you know, kids are gonna change as they grow up. They, they don’t need to lock in quite so early.
Sam Demma (06:16):
That’s so true. And right now at hunt, I know there’s some very unique challenges that all schools are facing. And I’m curious to know someone recently told me the state of education is like throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks . And I’m curious to know out of the spaghetti, you’ve already thrown in the challenges you’re facing, what seems to be working really well. And what are some earnings you’ve also had.
Steve Bristol (06:39):
It’s a great question. And, and it is, and the spaghetti analogy I think is, is a pretty accurate one. there’s a little more thought behind it before we throw it, but yeah. You know, obviously, you know, the hunt school, Princeton, where I am now, we’re a, we’re a boarding in day school in Princeton, New Jersey. And so we have local kids who are day students. We have domestic borders. So kids from around, you know, 18 different states in the us. And then we have kids that come from, you know, 20, we’ve got, these are trying to manage. What we’ve done is we put our kids into two teams and they come to school on alternate days. So kids come every other day for in-person classes and that’s reduced the density in our classrooms. A lot of our international kids are, are studying virtually and they’re logging in from home and attending classes that way.
Steve Bristol (07:44):
It’s, it’s a phenomenal challenge for teachers that are on the, the, the ground floor of this that are standing in a classroom with, you know, five kids sitting at a table in front of them and another seven kids on a screen behind them. And, and how do you serve both of those groups and, and, you know, and work intentionally in our classes are small and we, we want to give personal attention. And so they’re trying to engage all of those kids into the conversation and into the class, and, you know, and, and into practical work, instead of, you know, the old kind of teaching where the teacher just lectures and the kids take notes, we’ve moved pretty far away from that to where our classrooms are really dynamic and active and interactive trying to do that. Both virtually and in person at the same time is I think is a phenomenal challenge on top of that. You know, we’ve gotta keep everybody safe. You know, we, we’ve got, we’ve put in a phenomenal amount of safety and health protocols. We all get screened every morning before we come to school. Yeah. You know, I get my temperature checked and I get a little bracelet that the screener gives me that says, I’m, I’m good to go for today. But it’s, you know, the health and safety piece is, has dominated our work all summer long and, and on a daily basis.
Sam Demma (09:07):
Yeah, no, that’s, that, that makes a lot of sense. Things are definitely changing really, really fast. And sounds like unschool was doing a great job of adjusting on the fly and trying to still be of service to students as much as they possibly can. I’m curious to know when you were a student, did you have someone in your life who like maybe a coach who guided you, who pushed you that helped you when you were at a low point in your life? There might be a coach that sticks out in mind. And the reason I’m asking is I’m curious to know what that coach did for you, so that other educators listening might think about doing the same thing for their students.
Steve Bristol (09:45):
Yeah. I, I, I have a very specific experience that really set me in a lot of ways. It’s been the foundation of my own teaching coaching. I was a senior in high school and, and was a pretty serious soccer and lacrosse player, but I didn’t really play a sport in the winter. I’d done a little basketball, but, you know, I peaked on the JV team I think was as good as I ever got. And the athletic director came to me one day and asked if I would help coach the freshman basketball. They had a lot of kids out there. They had a teacher that wasn’t really, you know, he was more of a science teacher than a coach and, and kind of needed someone out there to help keep order. So, because the athletic director was also my advisor, I thought it would be a good idea to, to sort of do whatever he asked me to do.
Steve Bristol (10:34):
He where I knew it, I was coaching my own basketball team and we had a group below the freshman, you know, sort of freshman B is essentially who I was coaching. So these are the least athletic kids in the school. I’m doing it in a sport where I don’t feel a tremendous amount of confidence. You know, it, it was a recipe for disaster. So we went to our first away game and the athletic director drove the van and, and brought us there. And, and he just sat in the bench and he didn’t say a word the whole time, and I never shut up. I mean, I talked those kids through every step, every pass, every shot, I was just a, a constant voice in their ear in, in, you know, my trying to help them, you know, be successful and win the game and do all of those things.
Steve Bristol (11:22):
And, you know, when the dust settled, we, we lost by about 40 points. It wasn’t even close to being competitive. And I, you know, I’m destroyed, I, this is my first experience. It’s very public, you know, all, any coach knows, you know, your, your work is public. And so when you have a bad day, you know, there’s people watching. And so I’m kind of hanging my head and the athletic director came over to me and he said, you know, you actually did a pretty good job. He goes, but you make the kids nervous. You talk too much. Sometimes just let the kids play. And that idea that sometimes just let the kids play mm. Has guided, you know, I’ve done a lot of coaching since then and have had a fair amount of success and not every day was like that. But I can, I can think of specific games where I used that advice, where I realized I kids are doing a great job. They didn’t need me to keep coaching. The part of my job was to step back and let them be successful. It was about them, not about me coaching a win, and, and to tell yourself in those moments to just be quiet and just let, what you’ve been hoped would happen happen. Yeah. But I think coaches and teachers forget to recognize.
Steve Bristol (12:37):
And as a parent now, sometimes I gotta let my kids play and sometimes they’re gonna fail and fall and all of those things, but, you know, that’s part of teaching. And part of teaching is knowing when to keep your mouth closed and just let kids experience things.
Sam Demma (12:52):
I love that so much. That’s, that’s an amazing piece of advice. And have you in your role now maybe you can even talk about this as a coach or as a head of enrollment. Have you used that same advice personally with your students and have seen any massive transformations or some students that have been deeply impacted the same way your coach impacted you? And if there’s a serious story about how someone’s life has been changed, you can change their name for privacy reasons, but the reason I’m digging for it is because an educator might be listening right now. Who’s a little burnt out. And I wanna remind them that the work we do in education and coaching it has the power to transform lives. So if you have any stories that this take out to you it would be cool to hear. And so,
Steve Bristol (13:37):
And, and I think particularly as, as you say, under these circumstances, this is really hard. And the challenge for teachers under the best of circumstances is you don’t typically see the results yeah. Of your work. You know, you’ll have somebody come back 10 years later and tell you how impactful you were and things like that. And, and but in the moment there’s days where it just feels like I’m not making a dent here, you know, they’re, they’re just coming back. And they’re the same kids today that they were yesterday, despite everything I tried to do. So I think my best advice, advice to teachers is, is to remember, there’s a long game here. Yeah. That you, you, aren’t gonna change kids in a day, but being steady and being consistent and approaching your work with their best interests at heart does pay dividends. And, and part of that is you just have to trust that, that it will.
Steve Bristol (14:37):
For me personally, there, there’s been a lot of times where, you know, kids have come back and, and surprised me in, in what they’ve remembered that I said at one point, or, you know, a lot of times it’s embarrassing stuff where they’ll say, oh, I remember that time you did that. And I’d be like, yeah, those were the things I’ve tried to forget. . But I had a, a, a tremendously talented and had a really, really difficult time. And , and he, and I had sort of exchanged messages and I didn’t realize the extent of it. And he came into my office and, and began to talk to me about things where I could really tell something was very, very wrong and, and I didn’t realize it. And after he left his mom called and as a woman, I had a really good relationship with, for many years and, and said, I’m so sorry.
Steve Bristol (15:33):
I didn’t, you know, I didn’t tell you in advance, so you could be prepared. Mm. And what we found out is he, he was bipolar and they didn’t know it. And that came out and he was home from college with nothing to do. And, and I said, well, come to look, cross practice every day. And you’ll be my assistant coach, and you’ll stand next to me and you’ll learn how to coach and work with kids. And, and he came every day and, you know, he, as he’s learning to adjust to his new situation and medication and things like that, he had safe space to come to every day. Mm. And, you know, and to this day, you know, he’s the father of twins and in his, you know, probably mid thirties we still talk about that spring. You know, we’ve stayed in touch, he’s in great shape now. And he tells me, his mom still sends me a note once a year, that says, you know, you changed his life because you, you took him in when, when he was lost. And, you know, it was, to me, it was sort of an obvious thing to do. He is a great kid, you know, I love having him around. And, and, but it was at a time in his life when he needed somebody to invest a little extra in him.
Sam Demma (16:43):
I love that. That’s an amazing, it’s an amazing story. And you mentioned, you know, small actions in there somewhere. My teacher, Mike always told me, you know, small, consistent, massive changes. Absolutely. And it applies to education. It applies to mentorship with young people, and it just applies to everyday life, whether you’re trying to change something personally or something in a school or student’s life. If there’s a, that’s
Steve Bristol (17:07):
Interesting, I think one of the big to do is to sort of teach through the positive as opposed to the negative. I think we’re all very quick to point out when kids make mistakes and candidly, that’s really easy to do. You know, I, I can, I can watch a field hockey game and tell you when somebody makes a bad pass. I don’t have any idea how to teach someone to play field hockey and I can think the more we start to celebrate the positives that kids do and teach through their successes. That’s where I think we start to really generate a lot of momentum. And if we spend all our time just pointing out when they make mistakes, well, then that’s what they’re gonna hear.
Sam Demma (17:48):
Hmm. No, that’s so true. And on the topic of great advice for educators, if someone’s listening, who is maybe teaching for the first year and thinking like, what the heck did I sign up for? This is not what I was expecting. What advice would your current self have to give your past self or someone else listening?
Steve Bristol (17:58):
Boy, that’s a really good question. My when I started, I think it, it was, as I sort of said earlier, it was all very personal to me. Yeah. It was, you know, am, am I a good teacher? Am I doing this? Are, are they responding to me? It was very me centric. Mm. And I think, and you know, obviously, you know, you look at it now, it’s, you know, you have to get to know your kids and, and get to know them personally. So that when, you know, I, I talk about working in boarding schools as sort of being, you know, a surrogate parent. And, you know, when my kids come home from school and they’ve had a bad day, I know it.
Steve Bristol (18:49):
But before they’ve even opened their mouth, I can read their body. I can feel it in the air that this was not a good day. And we’re, we’re gonna have some work to do tonight. If teachers can get to that point with their kids in class, where you can kind of read their body language and know when they’re with you. And when they’re not boy, you can ha you know, now you can create an at fear where they can be comfortable, and if they’re comfortable, they’re gonna find a voice. And when they find that voice, they’ll start to engage with each other. And that’s when, you know, that’s when the magic happens and finding a way to make kids comfortable in your class as opposed to uncomfortable. And I think when I started teaching, I wanted them to be uncomfortable because I was so uncom, I, I just needed to control things, making sure they’re comfortable.
Sam Demma (19:40):
Hmm. That’s a great piece of advice. If I was teaching right now, I would say, thank you. good. That’s amazing. And if anyone’s listening and they, they’re inspired by this convers, they wanna reach out, maybe bounce some ideas around, or get some coaching advice from a former or former or current basketball coach. What would be the best way for them to reach out?
Steve Bristol (20:02):
I’d love doing that and I love, you know, as you can tell, I love talking about education and would welcome anyone that wants to reach out on anything. Along these lines, you know, you can reach me through the, the Hun school website at www.hunschool.org and under the admissions tab. There’s a, a funny picture of me in my email address. Or my email is SteveBristol@hunschool.org, and would welcome strangers, reaching out love, talking about this stuff.
Sam Demma (20:32):
Awesome. Steve, thanks so much for taking some time today to chat. It’s been a huge pleasure.
Steve Bristol (20:36):
My pleasure Sam. Thanks so much for creating the opportunity and, and sharing all of this information with, with folks. I think it’s real important today.
Sam Demma (20:44):
Cool. Thank you. And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you want to meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network. You’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise, I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.
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