Dr. Shawn Joseph has put teaching and faith at the forefront of his life in and out of education. His accomplishments in learning are many. After graduating from Lincoln University, he earned a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and a doctoral degree in educational administration and policy studies from George Washington. Embarking on a career in public education, Joseph taught English and served as a school administrator and central office administrator before being hired as superintendent of schools in districts in Delaware and Tennessee. His time running the Metro Nashville Public Schools as superintendent made equity a priority and managed to increase academic performance for all student groups in reading and math. A published author, his most recent book is Finding the Joseph Within: Lessons Learned Through A Life of Struggle, a memoir of faith and perseverance. While Joseph recently took a tenure track position at Howard University’s Graduate School of Education, he manages Joseph & Associates, a consulting firm focusing on expanding equity within education.
Where did the idea for Joseph and Associates come from?
It was a natural transition for me to go from teaching, serving as a leader in school districts and the superintendency to consulting because I had been mentoring lots of school leaders around the country and supporting a lot of people in their work even when I was doing the work. Once I left, there were lots of people who knew, and I now had the time to provide greater support to them. In my research pursuits as a university professor, I’m able to apply what I’m learning since it perfectly aligns with my consulting goals.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My typical day involves me reading a lot and talking to clients throughout the country. I seek to understand what their needs are so we can work on meeting them through coaching sessions or planning. I am involved with graduate students by serving on dissertation committees and supporting students in their research. I teach, so I’ll be planning for my doctoral level courses. I’m in and out of a number of different activities throughout the week. No week is quite the same.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I constantly seek to understand people’s challenges. I go out to try to find what has been studied in the area I’m researching and determine the potential solutions that others have found to be useful in their particular context. I believe that if you can find an example of how someone else has solved a problem in a different context, and propose a small project in your particular context, it becomes much easier to study whether you’ve gotten results or not. In this way, ideas come to life through active research.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Nationally we are talking more about how to meet the needs of all children and how we get students the resources that they need to truly be successful. Equity is sort of a buzzword right now, but in reality, I think there’s a recognition that we have left lots of children behind and we’ve got to do something about that. People don’t know how to solve the problem. Many people don’t even understand why the problem exists. It excites me that we’re having more conversations about it now and there seems to be a greater willingness to put the real issues that we haven’t talked about on the table now.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I’m used to managing multiple projects. I’m used to getting up early and going to bed late and putting in the time that’s needed to be successful.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell him to work hard and be good to people. Be a great listener and really work to understand different perspectives. Don’t be quick to judge. Try to understand how your perspective impacts others. Be awakened to your impact.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
People have different truths, and it’s hard for people to hear someone else’s truth without labeling or judging them, or without it having a negative effect or impact. We tend to wear masks and suffer in silence because we are fearful of the political ramifications of telling the truth.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
You must constantly put yourself out there to be networking and collaborating with people and to identify new opportunities to help new people. You’ve got to be willing to have the initiative to go seek ways to collaborate.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Collaborating with other businesses and really creating a network of partnerships to engage in multiple areas with people has helped me to grow my business. I don’t strive to do everything by myself. I always seek to bring on team members because then you can be in many more places. I can focus on what I do best and allow another company to focus on what they do best, and together we can provide the best service to our clients.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Marketing. I think as a small business, sometimes it’s hard to get your name out there and particularly to compete for larger business. One of the ways I’ve tried to overcome it is partnering with other companies that have different strengths and different capacities than what I have and coming together to tackle bigger projects.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Particularly for a business starting in an urban environment, it’s really important to think about how you identify a diverse team, particularly your leadership team. Too often, we go after business in diverse markets and we loudly profess that we care about diversity, but our leadership is not diverse. I encourage businesses to partner with women, people of color, others with different backgrounds, and to have a fuller perspective as you’re thinking about planning to support diverse communities. You need a diversity of thought on your leadership team. I’d like to see a recruiting firm that can help focus on that kind of hiring, to make sure the executive leadership reflects diversity by locating high quality people with diverse backgrounds.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I bought some books that centered around leadership and faith to keep me motivated and reminding me where my strength comes from.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I’ve been obsessing over the Motley Fool website as I start to put my thoughts together about my retirement. I need to begin thinking about the best ways to invest and make sure I continue to grow my retirement. Motley Fool has a number of services that really help.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I wrote a book called Finding the Joseph Within. It focuses on the story of Joseph from the Holy Bible and gives lessons in that context. It reminds people that in life you are going to have hard circumstances and challenges, but your faith can release your favor. If you stay focused in those moments of challenge, they will prepare you to be successful in the future. The wisdom you gain from your challenges will help you achieve higher levels of success in the future. It’s a reminder of God’s promise to us.
What is your favorite quote?
“Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
* Read my book Finding the Joseph Within.
* Challenges in life are inevitable, but if you focus on learning from your challenges, you gain the wisdom to be successful in the future.
* This is a critical time in our nation’s history where we must think about equity and how we go about ensuring that all students have what they need to be successful.
* Recognize and remember the impact that you have on others.