Podcast S2. Ep.18: The Importance Of Telling Your Story - Todd Nesloney

Character Strong · October 16, 2019

Todd Nesloney is the Director of Culture and Strategic Leadership for the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association (TEPSA). He has also served as an award winning principal of a PreK-5th Grade campus of over 775 students in a rural town in Texas. He has been recognized by the White House, John C Maxwell, the Center for Digital Education, National School Board Association, the BAMMYS, and more for his work in education and with children. He is a best selling author and host of the podcast series "Tell Your Story" He is passionate about doing whatever it takes for our students and helping others tell their story.

We talk with Todd about the value of telling our stories and how when we tell our stories it gives us the opportunity to remember that we are not alone. He also reminds us that we need to share our stories because we never know the potential impact that it can have in the world around us.


“...we don't want other people telling the story of us, our classroom, our students, our school. We're the ones in the dirt and grime of it. We're the ones that need to be telling the great things that are going on, and negativity sells and people are so negative online that it's like, I don't want just the complainers to talk about what's happening at my school. I want to show them how great the things are that we're doing and how hard people are working for these kids.”

Todd Nesloney

Episode Transcript:

  • John: Welcome to the CharacterStrong podcast, where we have conversations on school culture and leadership. Today we're talking with Todd Nesloney. Todd is the director of culture and strategic leadership for the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors association. He has also served as an award-winning principal of a pre-K through fifth grade campus of over 775 students in a rural town in Texas. He has been recognized by the White House, John C. Maxwell, the Center for Digital Education, National School Board association, the Bammies, and more for his work in education and with children. He is a bestselling author and host of the podcast series, Tell Your Story. He is passionate about doing whatever it takes for our students and helping others tell their story. Are you ready? Let's get character strong with Todd Nesloney.
  • John: All right. It is such an honor to have Todd Nesloney on with us today on the CharacterStrong podcast. I finally have been able to get in the same space as you and talk, my friend. How are you?
  • Todd: I am doing great. I am so excited to be here and honored you would ask.
  • John: Well, thank you. Well, I mean if you only knew, I think I shared this once, I was talking with, I think it was like I'd run into Beth Huff or something at a conference. I'm like, how big of fans we are of just the work that you do and appreciate you sharing that regularly because we need that inspiration from each other, and so just thankful for the work that you're doing. You got obviously an incredible resume and I would say that my experience though from watching your work is that right behind that is a great deal of just humility, love and passion for the work. And so just want to say thank you for that and honor to dig in today, even though our time is usually shorter on these podcasts. We say, "Cut the fluff, get right to the stuff." So let's talk. Let's talk about some stuff. I know that one of the things that you're passionate about, let's talk about today, the importance of telling your story.
  • Todd: Yeah. You know, this is something that I've been speaking a lot about because I've just seen the value of it myself. I'm such a believer that if you are not telling your story, somebody else will tell it for you.
  • John: So true.
  • Todd: And I know in education, we don't want other people telling the story of us, our classroom, our students, our school. We're the ones in the dirt and grime of it. We're the ones that need to be telling the great things that are going on, and negativity sells and people are so negative online that it's like, I don't want just the complainers to talk about what's happening at my school. I want to show them how great the things are that we're doing and how hard people are working for these kids.
  • John: Yeah, so true. And it's probably the same thing. You might know this even more than I. It's just not coming to mind, like that idea though of what we focus on, obviously we start to see more and more of it. It's like the red car effect or whatever, like you buy a red car and then you start seeing that red car everywhere. And how easy that is to also see it in the negativity, right? So we have to be intentional, but the more that we're focusing on the positive great things that are happening, the more we'll see that as well.
  • Todd: You know, I think you're exactly right. What I also think about is, when, sometimes in our jobs as educators, especially in administration, it can begin to feel very lonely. You can feel like maybe you're not doing stuff that's good as other people, or that you're not really sure if you're doing anything right, or you just feel like everybody's on your case and is this the right job for me? And what you find is when you get out there and tell your story, when you tell about the things you're struggling with, but also the great things you're doing, because every one of us are doing great things. It's why we're in this field. So don't judge yourself prematurely over how good your things are.
  • Todd: But what I love is when you get out there and tell pieces of your story and share your excitement and your vulnerability, you'll see how much it connects you so much deeper to others. And when other people will come alongside you and say, "Oh my gosh, me too." And you're like, "Wait. I'm not alone?" Or when you hear somebody else's story, you're like, "Oh my gosh, that person who I look at as super successful is struggling with that too." Like, whoa. It's like, yeah, we're all human, but we very quickly forget how difficult things are that we go through and we're not the only ones going through it.
  • John: Yeah. And just the idea, we're wired for story and yet how many times that we can at times obviously be inspired by when really great positive things and we do want to hear that and we do want to share that. Don't take away ... You know, we definitely want that. But yet it's usually the times when the vulnerable side comes out, the authentic, just vulnerable, and we share at times what we're struggling with and how many times ... like that a lot of times where people connect because I see you as a real person, right? It's like, "Oh, me too."
  • Todd: Yeah, you're exactly right. And you know, don't get me wrong, it is absolutely terrifying to be vulnerable, especially in front of strangers because people behind a computer screen have no shame. They will say whatever they want to say. But what I found is, you don't ever let fear stop you from doing anything. And for me, when I personally myself have seen the power in telling my story, but also listening to the story of others because listening to somebody's stories is empowering to that other person as well. And that's where I feel like making sure that people know that, I'm not just saying, "Oh, it's so easy. Get out there and talk about yourself." It's like, no, I know how terrifying it is.
  • Todd: I've been in this social media game for years and I still get really scared sometimes of the tweet going, "Okay, is this idea totally stupid?" Or, "Oh my gosh, this isn't even that big of a deal, but I'm going to go ahead and share it on," because I've got to keep to my own word. But it's not an easy thing to do and some days are easier than others, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be out there sharing the great things you're doing.
  • John: That's right. And then, I mean, and I just love, and just to honor what you said, because I think there are many people, you're a great leader in this space, that there also is that time of like, there's that combination that is so needed in leadership of tough and tender and sometimes standing strong. It's like, if this is what I believe in, am I really speaking up for it? And I mean even to, and we don't have to go deep into it, but even just yesterday, I think I saw you posting about something. I'm like, "You know what? That is so on. I am so with you." And I think it was on clip charts or something like that.

“...having those vulnerable moments is so important because you never know how your story is going to impact someone and everybody takes things in differently, but that doesn't mean we don't share it.”

Todd Nesloney


  • John: And we've done great work with Dr. Clayton cook at the University of Minnesota and I was literally about to tweet at him and go, "Sound familiar?" Because it's like, yeah we should be taking a stand, and yet people sometimes have a tough time with that. And it's like, no, we need to face ... because as you are deeply into this work, it's like kids deserve it, right? Our kids deserve to have people sometimes speaking up and saying, "Is this what's best for kids?" And that could be a tough space to be in.
  • Todd: And you have to be brave enough to sometimes be the voice for those who can't speak up for themselves. And I think that's where it's important to remember, sometimes when we get in these conversations, people think that only certain people should be or are allowed to be talking about things and it's like, no. When we raise our voices together and when we speak out against injustice and speak out against things that we know are wrong, then that's where change happens. You can't just sit in silence and wait for things to change. It's like, I'm also a believer in we've got to stop saying this, "Oh, if you just believe in kids, they'll do it." It's like, no, we've got to get in there and do some work too.
  • John: That's right. That's right.
  • Todd: It's like the whole adage of prayer without any action is wasted. It's like you've got to get out there and we've got to stand up. We've got to use our voice. We've got to speak out for these kids who don't have the platform to speak up for themselves and do what's best for them.
  • John: So good. Well, I mean there's so many places I want to go with this, so I'll probably going to be hitting you up and go, "Okay, now let's have part two, part three," but to try to stay on the topic today, the importance of telling your story and even Stories from the Web, right? One of your pieces that you have written. And so maybe tell me, is there a story that you'd be willing to share? Either a story that connects with you, and/or from the work that you've done that could kind of tie some things together today.
  • Todd: You know what, there's so many stories I can think of. I'm trying to think of which one I'd like to share. You know, I also host a podcast series myself called Tell Your Story, where I look at amplifying the voices of others because somebody once gave me the advice of make sure if you are given a platform that you amplify the voices of others louder than you amplify your own. And so that's why I've been out there. And that's the whole reason I wrote Stories from Web is I wanted to take and amplify the voices of people who don't get any recognition. And I think about so many ... In that book, and it's my proudest work I've ever put out just because of the honesty and vulnerability and the opportunity to recognize other educators in the field.
  • Todd: But one story in particular in there, there's a chapter in that book called, it's okay to grieve. And in that chapter, the adults who write for it, and myself, we each share stories of ways that we've grieved in our own lives and things we've been through. And to be able to read the vulnerability on the page of one teacher sharing about losing her fiance in a car wreck. Another one sharing about losing her grandmother during school one day. And then another one sharing about suffering several miscarriages and thinking she was the only one going through that. And the stories are powerful in and of itself.
  • Todd: But I remember when we passed the book out to the staff that day when we all got it, and one of the teachers went into another room and she just came to me and she said, "I just, I cried in this other teacher's room." And I said, "What happened?" She goes, "Well, I flipped to her story and read about suffering the miscarriages." And she said, "And I had to just go give her a hug and tell her thank you for writing that story." She goes, "because for years I've held that to myself thinking I'm the only one that went through this and I don't have any right to talk about it." And she said, "Reading her story and hearing those words," she said, "it reminded me that I'm not the only one that went through this, and somebody else feels the same way." And she goes, "You don't understand how much I don't feel as alone in that pain anymore."
  • Todd: And it's just such a reminder to me of that's where having those vulnerable moments is so important because you never know how your story is going to impact someone and everybody takes things in differently, but that doesn't mean we don't share it.
  • John: That's right. Well, and it's just one of the things that's resonating with me from just this conversation is how important it is then on both sides. One, giving staff the opportunity to share their stories with each other, to connect with each other, which starts with giving time to connect with everything else that we have going on. As well as on the student side, that when we are giving students the opportunity to learn from each other, to hear each other's stories, I just think about the power that can happen from that. And then also the student to staff, staff to student. And if we're really going to do the deep work of creating an intentional climate and culture, a place where people want to be versus feel like they have to be, then we have to make time for stories.
  • John: Is there any things that maybe you leave with us today? Like just practical ways that you were able to put a focus on that in the work that you are doing or just things that you could leave us with thinking like, okay, it's important to tell our stories. How do we do that? As a school or as a classroom teacher or whatever, in my role.
  • Todd: Get out there and share the great things you're doing with your students. I mean, use social media. Of course, I'm going to say one of my favorite hashtags is kids deserve it because I'm looking at the hashtag all the time and I'm looking to share the great work of other educators too because I know I have a platform and if I can retweet or give someone a shout out or tell them they're doing a great job, I want to do that. And the more people we have online sharing the greatness, the more opportunity we have to show others the hard work that goes into education for those who don't work in the field and have no idea.
  • John: Yep. So good. Well, thank you for being a champion for that. And so maybe to close out then today, what are some other ways, the different ways that people can connect with your work and/or you, if they're wanting to learn more or even just like you said, like hashtag kids deserve it?
  • Todd: Yeah, you can find me on ToddNesloney.com. It's got all my social media. I'm everywhere. So, whatever social media platform you're comfortable on-
  • John: There you go.
  • Todd: It's probably all Ninja Todd or something. But yeah, my website is the best hub to get to all the work that I do and any ways to connect with me.
  • John: That's awesome. Well, thank you for making the time for us today and grateful again for the work you're doing. I look forward to talking with you again soon.
  • Todd: Yeah, definitely.
  • John: Thank you for listening to the CharacterStrong podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, feel free to share on your social media. Please rate, review, and make sure to subscribe for future episodes on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play. To learn more about CharacterStrong and how we're supporting schools, visit characterstrong.com. Thanks for listening. Make it a great day.

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The CharacterStrong Team is a partnership of educators, speakers, and students who believe in creating sustainable change in schools and helping young people develop the skills of service, kindness, and empathy.