Tom Willis in conversation with Patrick Watson
Listen or Watch Now
Listen to Patrick Watson, Superintendent at Bloomfield Hills Schools on the Culture Eats Everything Podcast in conversation with Thomas Willis. Mr. Patrick Watson is the Superintendent of Schools at Bloomfield Hills Schools. In this role, he serves the students, staff, and community with his enduring commitment to creating opportunities for students, encouraging them to explore a variety of unique experiences, hands-on activities, and diverse course offerings.
Mr. Patrick Watson spent most of his educational career in the West Bloomfield School District at West Bloomfield High School where he worked continuously to inspire students and staff for 26 years. He started in the classroom teaching, was a dedicated coach for baseball and basketball, served in the dual role of District Athletic Director and Assistant Principal, and finally as principal.
Mr. Patrick Watson received his Bachelors of Science in History and Psychology from Eastern Michigan University. He returned to EMU where he earned a Master’s Degree in Secondary Education and Teaching and a Specialist in Education in Educational Leadership and Administration.
His extensive community involvement includes serving on the With One Voice and Kevin’s Song Advisory Boards on Suicide Prevention. He received the Spirit of the Community Award from the West Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce and is active in the National Alliance of Black School Educators. In his free time, Mr. Patrick Watson plays softball and pickleball and enjoys spending time with his adult children.
Checkout our book - https://www.phoenixperform.com/book
Know more about Tom - https://www.linkedin.com/in/thomasawillis/
Hey Patrick thanks for joining me on the podcast today. It's so great to see you sir you as well thank you we um we want to jump right. You're the you're the superintendent of the Bloomfield schools here in Michigan and um been doing that for a few years now. It all started I think going way back to 10th grade so could you share that powerful story with the audience here.
I went to four different kindergartens in one year um that's not something normally most parents have their children do. You know kind of worked my way through school and you know really had you know some struggles in particular with mental health and you know things were really difficult to my family 10th grade year. Just a lot of negative things going on and you know at that point I thought you know maybe it just isn't worth it anymore maybe a better off if I'm not here I'm not around and so I had kind of skipped school for about a whole week didn't show up.
Then I decided that you know what I'm gonna go to school one last day I'm going to say goodbye to you everyone and then that's kind of it you know I had a plan for you know how I would take my own life and you know so I show up to school and it's on a Monday and one of the first people I see is mistakes and she looks at me and she says and how are you no where have you been I haven't seen you we've missed you and that was the first time I really felt that there was an adult that really cared about me that really solved me.
It was literally at that moment that I decided you know what I'm not going to do what I have planned um if nothing else I've got Miss Davis she cares about me she actually noticed I wasn't there and she wasn't even my teacher that year but she knew me through Athletics and some other things and that really meant the world to be in that moment and it's led me to the point where I'm very passionate about mental health work.
I've done a lot of work on that in that space I sit on two boards uh that work on suicide prevention and so it's been a passion of mine and I still see Miss Davis now um You know here we are over 30 years later she is still someone I can talk to if she's still a part of my life and I still probably every other weekend playing pickleball uh which is which is kind of something I picked up as well and it gives us a chance to say hello to connect and you know I share with her you know how she's literally saved my life however if it wasn't for her I wouldn't be here.
I would have the family I have now you know my wife of almost 30 years three unbelievable kids and and it's just meant a lot and when it came time to what do I want to do with my life where do I want to be a doctor do I want to be a police officer what do I want to do for a career uh for me I knew it was education because I knew I couldn't be the only person out there that was struggling with these things and thinking of these things and if there was a way.
I could somehow even if it was just for one person make a difference in their life and give back uh that education was something I had to do and so this is my 29th year in education and I don't know if I've made a difference or not but I know I've made every effort to be there for the students I've had I've always told my students that you know I'm not your teacher for this year I'm your I'm your teacher for life you can reach out to me and talk to me anytime uh and said the same thing as the building principle and I say the same thing now as a superintendent and there are students I talk to that are now in the early and early and mid 40s uh that we're still on I'm still in contact with on a regular basis and I've watched them grow up and go through life and have children become successful and it's it's just phenomenal wow that's that's um I've heard the story before Pat obviously but you know.
Every every time I hear it it's like it hits me in a different way and what struck me about it this time was just how powerful a motivator that must be in your life you know to be doing what you're doing now and to have that ever present for you you know how how do you use that in a daily basis with the work you're doing now serving thousands of students top of Mind always is every single person you come into contact with every day they have a struggle that you don't know about there's something going on in their life and so as I work with students staff community members I I try to keep that front of mind um because you don't know what people are going through and a lot of times you know especially coming off of if we're off of covid who knows but dealing with some of the things and some of the things that people said in some of the emails just understanding that they're dealing with something right is typically is it really personal when people are really upset and that you know it's so important to be kind to people and treat people with big you know dignity and respect we're losing a lot in my opinion the Civil discourse you know watch the most recent debate for you know the upcoming election for governor a lot of finger-pointing name calling and things like that things we tell our students you can't do you know right if you're doing a debate in your class you'll say that's not how you have a debate that's not acceptable we don't talk to people like that here's the structure you need to follow and just trying to make sure I do those things I would expect others to do which honestly to me treating people with dignity and respects is to Bear minimum
yeah and especially these last few years I know have been challenging for for all schools superintendents across the country and around the world really um and you've always maintained that cool calm demeanor um and it's I love that there's a an angle here that it's really about being of service to the other people to be to be that way so that you're you're able to help them because you never know what they're struggling with whether that's a board member or a parent who's outraged or a student who's done something that uh is regrettable um that really they deserve that dignity and respect as a starting point right and life is hard right and so we all have to learn how to do hard better so often we fall into the Trap of you know if I can just get through this week it's going to be better I can just get to Thanksgiving break it's going to be okay if I just get to winter break it's going to be okay if I just get this spring break I just get to the summer at some point we need to shift our mindset we just have to do hard better life is hard right yet for many of us we still have it better than the majority of the world you know poverty in the United States is still at a high level my son traveled to Senegal in West Africa over winter break last year Poverty Looks different in different countries right so we have to learn how do we do hard better because it's great to look forward to things we all look forward to things I'm not saying you shouldn't looked forward to a great golf outing you're going to have with your buddies on the weekend but those things that are hard in life there always will be something that's going to be hard that's going to be a challenge so we really need to we need to do hard better I love that love need to learn how to do hard better it's uh I just read a book called life is messy by Matthew Kelly and it's um part of his point is just that that life life is messy that's not a debate and so much of our Ang so much of the mental energy that we expend is trying to get control over life that is not controllable and the more we can let go paradoxically the more freeing it is you know um and but it's hard to remember that especially in those difficult moments how do you when you're in the moment you know when you're in a particularly challenging let's say board meeting or a particularly challenging meeting with a parent or set of parents how do you maintain that sense of mental control I think parents would be a good example right because everyone should advocate for their child and I've done it for my three children so when I'm in those type of contentious meetings with parents I don't take it as a personal attack or me or the school district they're advocating for the child so I look at from the lens of what can I do in my position that is appropriate to support what their child needs because you have you know if you have children you should Advocate everyone should and I just try to remember that in that moment is about the kids right how do we get the adult issues out of the way as someone that coach for a long time same type of thing how do we get the adult issues out of the way so kids can have the most enjoyable experience but for kids so much of schools about moments and memories right I graduated way back in the 80s I'm not going to have a conversation with you where I say you know what in 1986 in sophomore Algebra 2 when we had the lesson on logarithms the exit ticket was amazing at the end right no one says that kids don't talk like that but it's my teacher did this my teacher did that this occurred at school that was fun we heard a funny story it's about making those we went to homecoming we went to prom you know I I can't tell you what I had for dinner last week but I can walk you through the Ann Arbor here on Ann Arbor Pioneer Football game in October of 1988 and how we blocked the punt at the end of the game ran it back for a touchdown beat Pioneer were SEC Champs and who came on the field with us to celebrate and how we went to the Arab afterwards and hung out and talked like I can talk to you about that like it was yesterday but I can't tell you what I have for dinner right it's about moments and memories and so that's the focus yeah yeah moments and memories and and keeping a perspective you said earlier you know that we got we gotta realize how good we have it you know in this in this country I remember Mother Teresa saying um you're you're poor and she was talking to Americans you're poor live like kings and queens compared to the poor back in India and um I think that's true no matter what level we're at that we we're always comparing we're always got ourselves stuck in the land of judgment and comparison and it steals so much of our joy and and steals so much of our perspective that boy oh boy in general we have it quite good if we could just remember that on a daily basis how how do you um think about this or how do you apply this to the work of leadership obviously you're school superintendent you've been doing it for for a few years now um you're looking to build your team make a stronger team build the culture make it a higher performing culture talk to us a little bit about your philosophy for for building culture to me a big part of that is setting a vision but more importantly is building those relationships and the only way I know how to do that is one conversation at a time I feel you really have to invest in people and people need to know you care you know it's important for me to know as much as I can about all the people I work with and you know what do they enjoy um what do they do for fun what are the concerns they have uh in particular teaching staff right so if you're a 27 year old teacher in your third year and you're not married what's top of mind to you is to be different than when you've been a teacher for 20 years and you've got two three or four kids at home and you're married and you're trying to plan for knowledge right your priorities change and to try to be present in those conversations and to be not just disabled but engaged right it's one thing to walk through a building and everyone can say yeah we saw Pat he walked through the building we see him once a month he walks through the building but am I taking the time to engage at a personal level with everyone and know about them and know their name and know the name of their significant others and know what they did during the summer or what they're looking forward to me that's how we build culture because people need to know you care and to me one way I feel people know or that control my care is really knowing about them and who they are all right so if you said to me in a conversation over vegetarian and then we had a meeting that I knew you were going to be at and made sure you had a vegetarian meal and you said oh I didn't even think to ask for a vegetarian meal huh how did this happen oh Pat mentioned something he said you were vegetarian you want a vegetarian right that shows I've invested in you and I think those are the things that I'm trying to exhibit and also model because those are the expectations I have for everyone in a leadership position which is everyone in the district you don't need a title to be a leader I think that's a misconception as a former coach that always have a player would say if I really wanted to be a captain this year so I could be a leader you don't need a title to be a leader you can lead right and so that's the way I view it everyone should be a leader yeah I've told this story before but the the most inspiring person I've met the most inspiring leader I've met in the last seven years of doing this work across the country what would you guess is was her title path
kindergarten teacher yeah close close I did have a kindergarten teacher when I was a superintendent who uh Donnie he was six foot eight you know working with all his little kids it was awesome and he was great but no not that it was like it was a janitor at Wayne State University you know this this woman was on fire for what she did absolutely came in and lit up a room with how excited she was about providing a a safe and clean space for kids so they could grow up and and go out and serve the world because they deserve that honor and dignity and respect because they came from chat a lot of them came from challenging backgrounds and you know she just went on and on and was like you know the hair on your neck would stand up and it's a great example because she didn't have a single person reporting to her right and she uh didn't have a title that the world really thinks much of right and yet she was unbelievable leader because she could inspire people for a much bigger purpose and I think that's that's something that all of us leaders could could use uh a dose of reality on is that we don't it's not about the title you know it's about who we're being and it's about how we show up for people you actually did this for the audience before we started recording Pat asked me um we haven't talked in a few months and Pat said How's your basement which is amazing that he remembered I had the water leak issue and they took the time to ask and so you really do live this stuff you really do show that you you care for your people around you and in your life um so what what about um uh getting results you know school systems uh running schools leading schools is challenging work for sure no matter where you're serving whether it's in the inner city of Detroit like I was or it's in a a an affluent District outside of of a city you know being education especially last couple years is challenging and so how do you think about uh producing results and what does success look like in a school system in your opinion so I think you know what does success look like to me it's a load of question depends on the pair right for some parents is seven eight nine ten eleven EP classes um 1580 on Sat uh worst case scenario ambition to U of M because they couldn't get into IV I'm sorry did not get enough for others success is measured as my son has graduated um by my child no longer self-harms right so it is all based on your perspective as far as like mind you um there's several data points one obviously is academic achievement and again we'll measure it as a system which with this year's scores we did really well you know we were the only School in Oakland County that raised an affinity only scores for our 2019 scores for one of the few in the state that actually did wow which is great but if you're if your child is not one of those students your student actually fell behind what does that mean to you right your child still needs additional help I can't sit here and say did you not see the rankings did you not see how well we did because that doesn't apply to your child though right so how's that relevant to you um it's very important that we continue to teach our students to be critical thinkers and now with the access to media from all over the world at all times how are you a critical consumer of media of news how do you vet it right I remember gosh this is before Colgan I can't remember the exact story but I watched four news channels I watched the CNN broadcast I got a report on it I watch Al Jazeera got a report on it I watched BBC out of Canada got a report on it and watched Fox News I felt like I was watching four different stories but it was all on the same topic I'm thinking I I don't even know where to go with this you know here I am multiple degrees pay attention what's going on I couldn't imagine 15 16 year old me looking at a phone and thinking oh my gosh well fazan it was on the Internet it's just it's real like if it's on Twitter if it's on Instagram this is real it this has to be what it is so having our students become critical thinkers we also want them to be engaged citizens right show up participate that goes back to being a critical thinker you can decide to feel however you feel but make sure you weigh the evidence you you've done your due diligence research then how are we giving our students providing them opportunities to have coping skills to learn coping skills you know every time we do something for our child we take an opportunity way for them to grow and learn but I get you know as a parent of three that other perspective which is I don't want them to be unhappy I want to make sure they know I I support them you know it's really I think that ties really turned in my opinion maybe a little too much and we do too much for our children I know I did that with my son my oldest and I was better by then here's what I mean you know oh you forgot your lunch I'll call your mom your mom will bring it to you don't worry about it and that happened throughout Elementary School my youngest one she didn't forget her lunch until first grade and the school reached out I told her okay well she'll eat when she gets home she'll be fine she's not going to die so what does she do she figured it out she talked to the lunch lady made a deal wrote an IOU note got a lunch she never forgot her lunch again right
so how do we provide those opportunities for them to learn to grow to problem solve you know to say you know what you should go talk to your teacher you should go talk to your coach as opposed to oh I'll talk to your teacher I'll talk to you much so if we have students that they will reach their own academic achievement level their own ability to critical things and have coping skills so that they're able to be more successful because everyone you know we can have this debate about what do you need two years of a language for uh why do you have to get through Algebra 2 if you end up you know doing whatever job but there's no one who's not going to need to know how to leverage coping skills to get through life money doesn't solve that your parents can't solve everything you can't solve everything and if you don't have that skill to fall back on then what yeah what we're seeing now look at the CDC report look at the surgeon general's report regarding mental health and suicidal ideations and suicides in the level of 504 it's number of 504 is being written for anxiety and for depression is off the charts one of my hypotheses or my theories on this Pat is that parents have learned how to have forgotten how to say no and no um to their kids what do you what do you think about that I think so I know I was bad with my son again um but by the time we got to the third kid my wife and I we feel like we had it down and it simply it was no you know example was at night time all the cell phones all the devices go to bed downstairs adults and kids everyone no iPhones no iPads okay nothing goes upstairs everything goes bad at the end of the night period And I know our kids especially our oldest at the time you know we're reluctant didn't like the idea but it was no just like TVs nope nope nothing yes you can read a book you'll be fine and I think it's sometimes hard I think a lot of times you know you want to be there for your kids and you know there's always like well I want to make sure they know like here and I want my kid to like me too you know eventually you know my wife and I that's what we realized they may not like us for a while and we might have to figure it out when they're older and see what happens but in the meantime this is what it's going to be this is not a negotiation this is a final decision come on let's go let's go part and parcel together it's it's wanting to be liked and not saying no you know we a lot of parents I think confuse those things and um there are our job at least in my opinion is not to be liked by our children our job is to help raise them and to help protect them from the frankly the evils of the world I just listened to this amazing speaker Chris McKenna's name with protect young eyes cannot recommend him enough to the the audience out there and to the parents out there to go check out his stuff online um again it's called protect young eyes and he he talks about the toxic Trio and I think if I get it right as as boredom Darkness so like nighttime you know and internet so he says you know how many of you parents would invite a strange man into your children's bedroom at night and of course all the parents are like no of course not and he says well for those of you who give your child an iPad or an iPhone or any sort of device that has internet in their bedroom at night that's exactly what you're doing except that's not one strange person it's millions of them who are trying to get your kids attention and not for good reasons and you could see the whole room kind of like taken aback by this example but I think he's he's absolutely right that we're so many so many parents are not willing to say no and to protect their their child because they want to be liked or because their kids friends are doing it or social pressure who knows but I just think it's uh it's almost an a pandemic in and of itself you know as more parents need more courage to say no to their kids I would agree absolutely so um how do you think about this from a super intense perspective because obviously there's only so much you can do you know you're not the parents of these thousands of kids that you're responsible for um but when you're given a chance to which I'm sure you are talk to students informally maybe um especially at the middle school and high school levels what advice do you give them when it comes to social media and internet and whatnot I tried to change sorry and try to share stories that they could relate to um just with the dangers you know others looking at people that have professional careers that have posted something on social media that comes up 10 years later we saw that with several sports players uh we saw a little Kevin Hart with the Oscars a couple years ago right he was going to hostile experience something came back out and one thing we're seeing now is where you know students are putting things that are inappropriate on social media keys are staying taking Snapchats and then when they're getting admitted to universities like hey I'm at going to the University of blank I'm so excited oh that's great Tom glad to hear that and then I turned around and I email the university you just admitted you know Tom do you know about Tom here's what Tom posted in eighth grade in Middle School this is the type of person you've admitted and they'll hear from universities that are then rescinding those offers after finding out that information so it is permanent not to mention you know a lot of people are looking at social media while they're hiring people for jobs and it may not come up when you first get hired but believe it or somebody finds it later is going to come on and it seems like in the society we lived in down um there will be no explanation not that there's everyone that should be acceptable but people are then terminating employment for others based on things that were posted 10 15 years ago wow and so so those are some of the dangers long term it never goes away it's not funny you can't say oh I was just joking that's not the world we live in anymore yeah that um that boss or that school doesn't care if it was a joke back then um it's no longer no longer relevant well um maybe we can we can wrap up here with uh a book recommendation what what book would you recommend to the audience here Pat so the last one I read is a little different um so I recommend it's called The Lean Startup yeah and really you got it I think I have it I I know I haven't I just it's not right there I was gonna pull it out but it's in my bookshelf somewhere so one of the things I want to do within our bomb we're creating these new steam spaces and when it comes to design thinking I really want to pull in some of the things from the book and then you know I've reached out to um a university on the west coast that really is known for their design thinking and to see if we can somehow get a partnership with them and then you know train some of our staff to use that with our students in these new steam spaces that we're creating again focusing on that problem solving that critical thinking you know you're going to fail you know all these things that have been invented uh I'd be maybe difficult for me to believe that you know that whatever has been invented was just one try well I just tried it once and everything worked we put it in place you know whether it's the light bulb or the combustible engine or whatever else now there was trial and error that happened over and over and over and I think that design thinking rather than oh I just quit I I don't want to do it anymore I I just give up you know you know one of my conspiracy theories is that that's why baseball is not as popular with young kids anymore because you're going to fail seven out of 10 times and that's if you're really really good if you're really good but you know right you know if you go to the game and you strike out four times in a row you know you didn't play well that day you know you struck out everyone else so in other sports you know if there's a soccer goal what happened is there someone really to blame is the goalie Defender like no one really knows right no one really knows you're not going to put on the island like you are in that or individual sports like tenants or golf yeah that's fascinating that's really a really interesting Insight but I never thought about that but I think you're you're spot on and it's for everyone to see right like there's the ultimate and personal accountability and personal responsibility and if we can teach young people that it's okay to fail well I think it was Thomas Edison and said I'm not I've not failed I've just found 10 000 ways that didn't work right yeah exactly yeah that's great well leaders need to leaders could use a dose of that too I think we all we all get tied up in our own success and sometimes it's okay to fail it means we're we're trying new things you know if we're not ever failing then we're probably not leading to a terribly exciting future I would agree 100 you're not doing your job if you're not failing yeah well thanks Pat always a pleasure talking to you sir and um uh good luck with the rest of the school year here and we'll talk to you soon my friend all right sounds good thank you [Music]