Podcast by InnovatorsBox®

Curious Monica: Season 3

Ep 4: Transforming Youth Education with Empathy and Excellence with Krista Purnell

Curious Monica – a Podcast by InnovatorsBox®. Hosted by Monica H. Kang.

The Curious Monica podcast features candid conversations with innovators in thriving organizations across various industries. In each episode, host & founder of InnovatorsBox, Monica Kang interviews her friends in diverse fields about what they do and why they love what they do. If you’re curious too, you’ll gain incredible insight into the workplace patterns that can change the way you think about work, no matter what industry you’re in or who you are.

Be open and stay curious. It may lead you to new opportunities that you didn’t expect. Looking back at all her chapters in education, Krista Purnell shares how staying open-minded helped her thrive and grow.

From a 5th-grade math teacher in New York to now the Director of School & District Success at Gradient Learning, Krista has been devoted to education and social impact for over 18 years. The secret to her impactful leadership has been the balance of empathy and excellence. A delicate balance of two key leadership skills that she led as she learned how to empower and inspire youth while managing stress, burnout, and work/life balance while educators continue to be underpaid and overworked. Still, she persists and shows up because she has seen how good education changes people for good. Good karma comes back in her students and the schools she works with and she is eager to see more. You move mountains with others not alone.

As we honor Black History Month this February, we are humbled to share Krista’s inspiring journey into education and leadership. Connect with Krista Parnell on LinkedIn and her organization.

Ready for a narrative that transcends boundaries? Subscribe to Curious Monica by InnovatorsBox, where host Monica H. Kang unfolds stories that inspire. Visit curiousmonica.com for more empowering interviews.

Guest: Krista Purnell

Director of School and District Success, Gradient Learning

Krista Purnell is a passionate, lifelong educator whose mission is to provide opportunity, access, and empowerment to students, teachers, and administrators. She began her career as a middle school math teacher before serving as an instructional coach and then as a Director of an educational non-profit before joining the Gradient Learning team. Currently, she is a Director of School & District Success managing a team that coaches school leaders across the country toward reaching whole student outcomes for their students. Her "special sauce" is leading with empathy and excellence, which allows her to both build a strong team culture and develop individuals to reach their full potential. While Krista resides in Los Angeles, she is a proud graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She also holds an MA in Educational Leadership from Montclair State University in New Jersey. She is also an alumna of the American Express Leadership Academy. When she’s not at work, Krista loves traveling the world, riding her Peloton, enjoying delicious food and drink, and being an auntie!

Episode Shownotes

1. Title of the Episode:
“Transforming Youth Education with Empathy and Excellence with Krista Purnell”

2. Host:
Monica H. Kang

3. Guest:
Krista Purnell, Director of School and District Success at Gradient Learning

4. Key Topics Covered:

  • Krista Purnell’s journey and passion for education from her early experiences as a student and teacher to her current role in educational leadership.
  • The challenges and rewards of being an educator and the impact of mentorship on career development.
  • The importance of resilience, openness to opportunities, and continuous learning for professional growth.
  • Strategies for managing stress and maintaining work-life balance.
  • The role of empathy and excellence in leadership and team development.
  • The significance of representation in education and the efforts to improve diversity and inclusion within the industry.

5. Highlights:

  • Krista Purnell’s evolution from a math teacher to a leadership coach and now a director at Gradient Learning.
  • Her reflections on the value of seeing educators who look like her and the importance of representation in educational leadership.
  • Insights into managing burnout and prioritizing self-care for educators.
  • Krista’s advice for future leaders in education, emphasizing curiosity, resourcefulness, and strong communication skills.

6. Quotes from Krista Purnell:

  • “Your no’s get you to your yes. Just because someone else doesn’t see your vision doesn’t mean that it’s not valuable.”
  • “It’s okay to have a long game. Care for yourself along the way. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
  • “Every time I went to look for a new job, the market had changed. Staying up to date and current on trends while holding onto core skills is crucial.”

7. Some people suggested that we should learn from:

  • Jackson McCrea Whiskey – Black woman owned whiskey brand from California
  • Brittany Packnett Cunningham – Educator and activist
  • Kimberly Harris of Myki Forever – Supporting parents in navigating the entertainment industry 
  • Cassie Betts – Founder of MISLA, teaching kids coding, AI, and other valuable tech skills 
  • Tiffany Green – Founder of Uprooted Academy, helping 1st gen kids access the college application process
  • Sol & Jennia Frederique Aponte – Founders of Art Melanated, a community that amplifies artists of color 
  • Ryan Wilson and TK Petersen – Founders of The Gathering Spot, a social networking club centering people of color

8. Resources Mentioned:

  • Jackson McCray whiskey
  • Brittany Packnett Cunningham’s podcast
  • Promise 54, an organization working on diversity and inclusion in the nonprofit space.


9. Contact Information for Krista Purnell:


10. Closing Thoughts by Monica Kang:

Encourages listeners to stay resilient, be open to opportunities, and maintain a balance between striving for excellence and self-care. She highlights the importance of community and support networks in navigating one’s career and personal journey.

11. Episode Length and Release Date:
Episode Length: Approximately 52 minutes
Release Date: Feb 27, 2024


00:00

Krista Purnell
You. 


00:01

Monica H. Kang
When we look back in our careers, no matter where we are working now in our time as a student in school and our early teachers make a huge difference, some more positively, some negatively, and maybe some less so. But in all our time with those teachers, first teach us the values we have, the experience we might want to shape and maybe even jaws we want to have in the future. Krista Purnell definitely noticed something that she was onto when she found herself getting excited about work she’d creating and just the whole principle of education very early on in her childhood, thanks to her early exposure from her family, she realized how education and just learning was fun and meaningful. But there’s many paths to education and in fact this is an industry that many do get burned out. 


00:58

Monica H. Kang
And so she also, as she continued her passionate and lifelong journey as an educator, wanted to find a way how we tackle opportunity, access and empowerment to students, teachers and administrators better. How can I bring out the best in you? And how can we design better systems? Thanks to her special sauce in leading with empathy and excellence, she’s really thought a lot about how to build strong teams, cultures, develop individuals from youth to adults. And now being in LA, she’s really thought a lot about what we can do differently and why it’s so important to do so in education. 


01:37

Monica H. Kang
So whether it’s looking back at her first job as a teacher, a math teacher, in fact of third and 8th grade in New York, New Jersey to where she is now, here is Krista, sharing how holding on to your passion and being curious and resilient is the key to finding your career. Excited to continue to celebrate Black History Month. In sharing this story with you and what I learned from Krista today, let’s dive in. 


02:09

Monica H. Kang
First question on that, which is you have been devoting your entire career in education. Do you remember the first point when you wanted to build a career in education? 


02:22

Krista Purnell
Yeah, I guess wanting to and it being my purpose are probably two different things, I think. When I was little, I always joke how I played school next level. I would make my grandmother be my very first student. I was always making worksheets and there were grade books and I was very detailed. So the writing was on the wall that I was supposed to be an educator then, but I resisted it for a long time. My sister was a teacher and I saw how challenging it could be. So I was like, you know what? I have different plans. I was really into science, so I was like, well, what did they tell girls growing up in the if you’re good at science, be a doctor. So it’s like great. That’s what I want to do. 


03:04

Krista Purnell
And things my path unfolded and I realized that maybe there was a different calling for me. And sometimes I say I think it picked me. I didn’t pick it, but it’s been a great experience as I’ve had different roles to be impacting education and children love that. 


03:21

Monica H. Kang
Well, want to piggyback on that insight a little bit more going to your childhood? Because I think often how we’re first brought up, that nurturing nature, experience, influence a lot. You’ve already hinted a little bit that you’ve been exposed to the importance of education. You’ve already geeked out and enjoying what it’s like to build worksheet. I don’t think most kids would have had the chance to do that. Tell me a little bit more why that surrounding was so organic. What were other things? Did you like going to the library? I’m curious if you can share a little bit more about young Krista, how. 


03:52

Krista Purnell
It was back then. Oh, my goodness. She was a proud nerd. But I definitely was a big library kid. It was one of the few places I was allowed to go independently. So I would spend hours and hours checking out books, reading books, entering the library competitions for reading. So I had a really strong foundation of reading. My dad actually taught me before I went to school. It was something he was passionate about me learning and spent a lot of time helping me learn how to read. So that was really a gateway into so many new things and worlds, and it just really expanded my creativity and my curiosity. So I think that was a big piece of it. Another special thing my dad and I used to do was going to museums a lot. 


04:33

Krista Purnell
So I have a real passion around art and culture. And so I thought that was really unique experiences that were beyond the classroom that I had. And then my mom, I say, taught me all the practical things. She taught me how to cook, how to drive, how to clean, how to be creative in your home, how to manage bills. And so I got a really robust experience from the two of them and realizing that they were definitely my first teachers and just being able to pass some of those things along to others has been a treat. 


05:06

Monica H. Kang
Love it. And in fact, you shared that your very first career chapter, you were teaching fifth and 8th grade math. Bring us back to that time in New Jersey. New Jersey is also home for you where you grew up. 


05:20

Krista Purnell
Yes. So I grew up in southern New Jersey, went to college in North Carolina, and then familially, my brother and his wife had just had a baby girl, and I wanted to be closer. She’s now 21, so that feels a little strange. Time passes. 


05:37

Monica H. Kang
You were baby. 


05:40

Krista Purnell
She was so tiny, and now she’s in college, so it’s just like the passage of time. And I’m like, oh, wow, I’ve been at this education thing a while. So I did the Teach for America program in Newark, and that was my first placement. And so I taught fifth grade math. But what I’ve learned in my career is being open to opportunities. And so there was an opportunity at that first school for me to support some 8th graders as they were preparing for their end of year exam. And so I was like, eigth grade, I teach fifth grade. Why would they pick me for this? But I learned early to take advantage of opportunities and see where they lead. And so through that opportunity, it actually opened up the door for my next job after that, where I taught 6th grade and eigth grade. 


06:28

Krista Purnell
So it was one of those things that stuck with me around. Take advantage of the different opportunities where you are in your career, and they typically lead to something else new or just a different way to learn. But those first years were hard. I would still say I’ve been in my career over 20 years, which is wild to say out loud. And that was probably still the hardest job that I had. I’ve had more responsibility, I’ve had other challenges, but being a classroom teacher is really hard. And I think folks don’t give it enough credit. 


07:02

Monica H. Kang
And in fact, we’re kind of seeing the impact currently in the market where so many of the teachers are saying, enough is enough. We’re feeling burnt out. How are you feeling about that right now? 


07:13

Krista Purnell
It is really tough. It’s a really tough time. I know within my current organization, we’ve done different research and polls of the educators in our community, and people are burnt out. I don’t think the pandemic did us any favors. I think that just exacerbated and highlighted a lot of challenges that have long existed. And then were forced to be in our homes and try all these new tactics. We were all forced to reckon with it. So it’s such a rewarding opportunity being an educator. And I think collectively, I’d love to see us as a society recognize that more and put more support behind our teachers. And it’s complicated. There’s no silver bullet. I think there’s lots of ways we can address it. 


07:56

Krista Purnell
I mean, I think financially, I don’t think we pay our teachers well, and we’re sending our children, our precious future in these classrooms. And we’re not investing in the people that are with them all day. And so I think there’s a financial component, but there’s also pouring into their development. So they are growing, they are seeing success. And some of the work that we do, I think, enables that. And I’ve gotten to meet some really incredible teachers over the years, and so just that encouragement of them to keep on going and keep on digging in because we’ve got some rock stars out there and I want us to keep them well. 


08:32

Monica H. Kang
Speaking of people, tell me more about the people that influenced you along your journey in education that inspired you, because, as you pointed out, for 20 years, there’s been a lot of ups and. 


08:43

Krista Purnell
Downs, and why do you stay? I could have been one of those people who left, and I have left the classroom, but I haven’t left education exactly. I found that my personal skills were better used elsewhere, but I think being a classroom teacher, I saw both of my sisters do that, and so I was like, wow, that’s hard. But to see the impact that they had on their students even years later. So it was like, okay, there’s something to that. So getting to see them was really exciting. And then I think, as I continued to go in my career had different mentors or coaches. I remember the coach I had at my second job who’s just a master, excellent math teacher, and that just sparked something in me and the way that he made learning how to be a better teacher accessible to me. 


09:34

Krista Purnell
I really appreciated that because that’s when I felt like I actually got good at my craft. And I just really was excited about the progress that I was making with my students because I was getting more tools in my tool belt. So that was really helpful. And then I think, as I’ve gone on, I have another very special mentor of mine who I think saw something in me almost 1015 years ago that I’m seeing now show up in my career. So when I was at that role, that was, gosh, 2000 and 711 ish in that range. And he’s like, I really see a path for you in leadership, organizational leadership. I can see that. And I was like, okay, that sounds interesting, but it wasn’t until the past few years where I was like, actually, that is where my passions are. 


10:26

Krista Purnell
That is what I’m good at. That is, like, the types of problems I like to solve. How do you work effectively as a leadership team or an organizational team structures all of those things. So it was neat to sort of see that come full circle in my career. 


10:42

Monica H. Kang
Love it. So important and a humble reminder about the whole cycle of you being empowered by others, you empowering others, learning along the way, depending on what our capacity is. And it brings in picture. I want to still piggyback on that time teaching math, because I know that is actually a very important part of the period that became the trajectory of everything that happens later, which we’ll visit again. But first, why math? And two, I’m curious, what are some experiences and maybe values that you gained from that time that has been life changing, that has continued to be valuable as you continue your own journey and even as a human being? Because I know you’ve often shared about this. 


11:29

Krista Purnell
Yes, I would say, well, I was actually assigned math through the program, so I was open to what I wanted to teach. I knew I didn’t want to quite go to high school. I’d had experience with smaller kids, but I was like, wherever I’m needed is where I want to go. And so I was assigned math, but I grew to love it because it’s so practical. I think I’m a practical person. People say, when do you ever use some of that stuff? Okay, maybe not calculus, but the basic math operations, the problem solving. As adults, we problem solve all day, every day. And so helping kids think through a question, what do the words mean? Does that word indicate you’re adding? Does that word indicate you’re subtracting, really helping them also develop those reading comprehension skills through the word problems? 


12:20

Krista Purnell
So I think it was kind of a fluke that I ended up there, but then I really dug into it and enjoyed it because I thought it was really practical. And it was the type of thinking that serves kids in their future, regardless of their path, that rigorous thinking through problems and strategizing, et cetera. I think some of the lessons I’ve learned in the early years, they were really hard. They were really hard. I think there was a level of humility I had to learn as a very young professional, as someone who had experienced a lot of success, probably came across as a bit of a know it all, and I didn’t know it all, and I had some very humbling moments. 


13:01

Krista Purnell
And I’m grateful for the people who pulled me to the side and helped me get back on track, but I think just understanding the broader landscape and that everyone’s experience was not the same as mine. And I think there was a lot I had to learn about people. I grew up in a very suburban typical, what you see on tv, suburban New Jersey town that was my life, and that’s what I knew, and I had to really reckon with. Other people may not have the same privileges or advantages that I have. Even though we look the same on the outside, we have very different experiences. And so what can I learn? How can I be of service? How can I refrain from judgment? Because I don’t know the whole story. 


13:48

Krista Purnell
And so if you’ve ever heard of that idea of how do we break away from single stories about any group, about anything, I’d have to find the reference. But we’ve talked about that before in my current work. But avoiding the single story and really seeing people as individuals and really meeting different needs, I think that was a big one. Resilience, because it was hard and I could have quit. I could have easily said, this is not for me, I’m going to go do something easy, kick it in an office. But I knew that my purpose was larger than that and there was an impact there to be had, and so I had to stick with it. I also can be a little bit stubborn. So I think that was part of it. Like, I refused to quit on myself. 


14:32

Krista Purnell
I refused to quit on my students. I refused to quit on what I’ve committed to because I am a woman of my word. So I had to dig in and figure it out. And so I felt good that getting to the end of that year, getting to the end of the next year and that experience, that even though it was tough, I stuck it out. I learned I did the best I could. And I think at the end of the day, if I did nothing else, I loved my students. And so if they felt nothing else, I hope they learned something else. But if nothing else, they had a caring, loving person in front of them that wanted the best for them. And that felt like, okay, that is something I was able to accomplish. But it actually takes me to. 


15:18

Krista Purnell
There’s a former student of mine who I’m connected with on Facebook who is now a teacher. She was in either my first or second class, and that has been the biggest treat. It’s the biggest treat because she’s an incredible teacher. She’s gotten awards for her teaching and to see that and just to see how she’s thriving. And I’m like, little tiny part of that story, but that’s been really cool to just witness that and see her paying it forward and to see her in her classroom and making a difference and that another colleague of mine had commented, because I commented when she had gotten this award, they’re like, how do you know her? I was like she was in my very first class. That makes me feel a little on the older side. But you know what? Here we are. 


16:07

Monica H. Kang
That’s amazing. I mean, it comes back in full circles, but reminder that you never know what grading if you focus truly on just giving and pouring it out. And I know after a certain point you’ve transitioned teaching math into instructional instruction now, leadership coach, tell me a little bit more what that means and why that transition. 


16:32

Krista Purnell
Yes. So after my experience in the classroom, I was looking for a new challenge. I wanted to broaden my impact, and I think that’s always been a guiding principle for me. I want to be able to impact more people and I want to work from my strengths. Now, I love children. I loved my time there, but I actually realized I work better with adults. And so it’s like, how can I take what I’ve learned and the strategies and the structures and support in a different way? So my original transition into instructional coaching, I moved into a role at a small, independent charter school in Manhattan. And part of that was helping them set up how they did their benchmark assessments with their students. 


17:16

Krista Purnell
And so a big part of education, at least at that point in time, was, how are we learning real time, how our students were performing, how are we doing item analysis to see where there might be gaps that we need to fill in our instruction. And so because I had some of that experience on the ground as an educator, I was then able to take that and help this new school establish their whole system from the ground up, which I thought was a really great, it was really a great opportunity professionally to actually build something and create something from scratch with plenty of support, but really building the systems and structures for that program to thrive and for teachers to be able to get that data and be able to think critically about, here’s where my students are doing well. 


18:00

Krista Purnell
Here’s where we’re missing the mark. Here are the students. I need the support in a different way. And so for us to connect the assessment with the instruction. And so that role eventually evolved. And so that’s one of the benefits, I say, of working in a smaller setting. There’s pros and cons to every setting, but I found for me, working in that smaller setting, I had lots of opportunity to create and iterate, get feedback, make it better, make it stronger. So in my second year there, a colleague had joined me in the role. We were able to plan together. And again, we built this sort of triad of curriculum, instruction, assessment. We would jokingly call ourselves a CIA office because of those three things, but really building a model of coaching and support for the teachers. 


18:46

Krista Purnell
How are you making sure you’re creating and implementing strong curricula? How are you then translating that into instruction that moves the needles for your kids? How are you then using your assessments to inform how you make those adjustments? So it was a really unique opportunity to be able to do that and work on a really strong team. Probably one of the strongest teams I’ve ever worked on. And there are still some of them very close personal friends of mine who I go to when I’m problem solving to this day. And we haven’t worked together in about ten years. Yeah, it was a pretty powerhouse team that I look back on very fondly. 


19:24

Monica H. Kang
And is that citizen schools or is citizen schools? 


19:30

Krista Purnell
It was actually before that. Citizen schools was after that. That was that new Heights academy with. 


19:35

Monica H. Kang
That experience that helped you then also to citizen schools, where I understand to build on that, you now start overseeing 30 plus staff, 300 students as the director of that nonprofit. That’s a lot of overseas. And tell me again that transition, which is I’m seeing a pattern. You keep expanding and expanding. 


19:52

Krista Purnell
Tell me that kind of story. And I think, like I had said before, as I got opportunities, it’s just like soak them up. You may not understand it now, but it’s going to open up a door later. And that has persisted my whole career. So while I was at new Heights again, we continued to evolve how were supporting the team. This was a growing school. It’s a very small charter school. It was growing from originally a fifth grade cohort and 9th grade cohort to five through twelve collectively over that time. So there was a lot of iteration and growth and the needs change as you have a larger staff, larger team. And so where that role evolved to was more coaching and developing of teams, which I really enjoyed. 


20:35

Krista Purnell
And what I learned through that experience was the impact of managing or like supporting or influencing, not just I have positional authority, so you have to do what I said. I didn’t have positional authority. I had to really influence and support and be creative in how I did my observations. The observations I did at their classrooms weren’t formal, they weren’t that, but it was, how can I support you in getting better? How can I get practices around supporting this team of educators to reach the goals that they’ve set? And so again, highs and lows, I learned a lot. I had a lot of successes, I made a lot of mistakes, but having that experience, I then decided, okay, I want to have more ownership and more responsibility and have the actual management responsibility. 


21:25

Krista Purnell
During that same time, I did my graduate work at Montclair State in New Jersey. So I did my educational leadership degree there. And so again, the pieces started to come together that I was ready for that next level of leadership and management, which then took me to citizen schools. I was there about five years and so started in our New Jersey office. And again, I learned so much because that was new. So it’s now like the buck stops with you. So things are a little different. And yes, you can lead by influence, and yes, you can take other people’s perspectives and opinions, but at some point, you have to be the decision maker. So that was stretching, learning, growing. What is it when you have to make a decision and maybe everyone doesn’t agree with a decision? 


22:10

Krista Purnell
What does it look like when you have to make a decision and the buck stops with you and you have to then navigate lots of other people’s opinions, feelings, whatever? Sometimes the decisions I’d make were really difficult, but again, things that I’ve learned. So every time you go someplace new, it’s like, oh, that thing doesn’t faze me because I’ve done it before. Something new might face me, but the old stuff doesn’t phase me because I’ve been able to learn and grow. And I had some really great leaders and mentors there as well that helped me become a better coach, a better leader, a better people manager. Just like there was. Again, soak up the learning, because the manager I had there first was just excellent. 


22:54

Krista Purnell
And I just learned so much from her about leadership and systems, structures, tools, all kinds of things that I still use today to help people understand where they are in an organization, understand how you might build relationships, understand how you might just help people grow in different ways. So I really am grateful for the experiences I’ve had. 


23:19

Monica H. Kang
Love it. Well, before we continue to go on to your career trajectory, I want to take a step back and take a look at all that you’ve shared. And one of the things that’s really standing out is your power to openness, being open, being proactively seeking. And I’m curious, how do you first learn that as a value that is important for you? Was there an experience? Was there a moment at time, looking back, because I’m hearing the consistency, which is really powerful. And part of me wonders, like, jeez, I wonder how Krista first learned about how important that, like, was there a beginning to that value? 


23:54

Krista Purnell
That’s an interesting mean. I think I was always naturally a curious child and a curious person. So I think some of that is just innately who I am. 


24:06

Monica H. Kang
Okay, thank you, mom and dad, always. 


24:08

Krista Purnell
Yes, thank you, truly. Because they allowed me to follow the curiosities and try different things. So some of it, I just think is like nature. That’s who I am as a person. I’d say beyond that, I’m trying to think about whether or experiences in high school or college. I mean, I think I liked opportunities, I liked success. I think in that way I’m probably very much a Capricorn enneagram three. Like all of those things I feel like I live up to. And so, yes, I want the gold star. Oh, there’s an opportunity, great. I want to take it, I want to lead, I want to be in that role. But I think then honing it when it doesn’t make sense, like in that first job where I’m like, why are they having me do this eigth grade class? 


24:58

Krista Purnell
That literally makes no sense to me. But that’s what they asked me to do. So it’s my job to do it. And then I think having that happen, just reminding myself when there are opportunities to take advantage of, take it. It’s either going to grow something in you, it’s going to open up a new door, it’s going to add to your skill set. There’s usually not harm in taking stuff on unless you’re burnt out. Right? But if there’s a chance, hey, we want you to be on this hiring panel work great, of course, because then it’s both giving me new skills that I didn’t have before. It might also be exposing me to people in my organization that I haven’t worked with before, which is helpful just to have those networks and those relationships. 


25:46

Monica H. Kang
Well, speaking of burnout, I mean, we touched upon this at the very beginning, but as we acknowledge, this is an industry that, because it attracts a lot of passionate leaders and individuals like yourself, many of them also do get burned out. And you’ve mentioned at the beginning how it was hard entering and working as a teacher. And so I’m curious about the equal balance, because as I’m hearing your passion even now, I’m curious, like, jeez, does Krista ever burn out even now? Like, how do you manage your stress? And when you face those difficulties, what helps you to continue to stay encouraged and open? Because even if you have that nature nurture, we’re still humans. We could shut down. And have you faced those moments and what helped you then get back up? 


26:31

Krista Purnell
Yeah, I think some of that comes with age and wisdom and maturity. I don’t have to work all night. I think when coming up as an educator in that era, it was kind of cool to be like, oh, I was up so late planning my lessons and doing all this, and now I’m like, why? There’s got to be a better way to be more effective and efficient than having to have this badge of honor that you were up all night and you didn’t have any balance in your life. And so I’m hoping that this generation can find that because there are ways you can be both excellent and have a healthy balance. 


27:07

Krista Purnell
And so I think that does go back to some of what I was sharing before around I know there’s no silver bullet by any means, but if we invested in our educators and made their workloads more balanced, they would have time to do other things. I’m like, don’t we want that? These are the people that, again, we send our children to them and for them to operate at a high level to make sure our kids have what they need, they probably shouldn’t being paid so poorly that they have to go get a second job. Because if they have a second job, that means that’s taking away from their balance or capacity, their ability to be effective. And so it’s not all about the money. I think some of it’s about, again, investing in their development and their skills. 


27:52

Krista Purnell
But it’s hard because very limited budget sometimes not every school or district is set up to have coaches or people that can really pour into others. And so I know for me I had to get to a point where it’s like you have to have your own space in your own life. You have to be a whole human right. And so I think about, not so much for me personally, but that idea of, God forbid something happens, your job is going to be reposted the next day because there’s a business to run and people are going to have. So why are you pushing yourself to such a brink when in some cases aren’t we all replaceable, right? Like, we can have great skills and be proud of our skills, but at the end of the day, we’re probably all replaceable to some extent. 


28:47

Krista Purnell
And so how do you have boundaries? So to the point around being open, taking advantage of opportunities, sometimes the opportunity you have to say no, it actually isn’t going to help you because you’re going to be burnt out. And so you might have to say no. So it’s about being strategic, knowing yourself. Where does that add to your long term goals or what have you, and where do you actually need to take a step back and really pour into self? So, for me, exercise is important. I prioritize that breaks are important. Again, I can be very, I don’t know, very tactical with my plans. I have to put it in my calendar. I live and die by the calendar. 


29:28

Krista Purnell
So it’s like, okay, I’m putting in my break because it’s an appointment with myself that you have to get up from the computer and go do the other thing. And so, for me, that is a strategy that works like having it on the calendar, having a way to document my schedule. I map out my workouts for the week. I map out my meal planning. And again, it’s not 100%, and I don’t always get it right, but starting from a plan has always really served me well. 


29:54

Monica H. Kang
That’s really powerful. Tell me a little bit more. Also, overall, how, Krista, you would describe your leadership style? What’s your strength, and what are important values for you? As a. 


30:06

Krista Purnell
Yes, yes. My leadership style, I believe it is a balance of empathy and excellence. I’d say those are the two words that resonate with me the most. Ee. 


30:19

Monica H. Kang
Yeah. 


30:21

Krista Purnell
I have a high bar because our work is so important. And in my current role, where the folks that I support. Yeah. Gradient learning. So the team that I support there supports our school leadership teams, who then support our teachers, who then support our students. So I know that we have a high bar. We have to be excellent to serve our school partners, to make sure kids are getting what they deserve. And so there’s a high bar, and I’m going to push. But I also have an open relationship where it’s like, you can tell me if it’s too much pushing and we can have a dialogue about that, because I want open doors. I want open communication. There’s a standard. There’s a bar, and I’m going to help you get there. I’m 100% in the trenches with you. Let’s get there. 


31:09

Krista Purnell
But we’re going to get there because that’s the expectation. But I’m also going to do that very humanly and with a lot of heart because people are human in this work. And so how do I also draw on their strengths and help them maximize their strengths and what they’re doing? So I think when I think about the individual relationship as a leader to a management role, really knowing the person. So I spend a lot of time doing that up front if they’re new to me and really coming back to who they are, what their strengths are. How do they activate their strengths? How do I ask really good questions to get them to do the lifting, to do the thinking, to do the growing? And then when I think about teams, it’s the same thing. How do they see each other’s strengths? 


31:56

Krista Purnell
Go to that person? They’re really good at X. This other person’s really great at Y. And I’ve seen my current team, some of that happen organically outside of me, which is the dream. Right? Like, I’ve created collaborative structures and spaces, but then I hear through, like, one to ones, oh, I set up a call with this person and we worked through this problem together. I love it. That’s the goal. But they start to build those habits independently. And so really, just how do I help each person shine is sort of how I go into those spaces and in that meeting. And sometimes it’s actually, you’re being too hard on yourself. You’re not giving yourself enough credit. I need you to own your strengths a little bit more. And for others, it’s like, okay, it’s time to push to the next level. 


32:40

Krista Purnell
You said you want a next level. How can we do that? I’m going to push you there. And so it’s like a little bit of a dance, but that’s what’s worked for me. And just being transparent. If I don’t know something, actually, I don’t know that. Let me see if I can find the answer or actually, I know that and I’m not at liberty to say that right now. So when I can, I’m going to. 


33:00

Monica H. Kang
Come back to you and being firm about it. 


33:03

Krista Purnell
Yeah. And it’s like that teaching tactic from years ago, being like a warm demander. So you’re not being harsh or cruel, but you’re being firm and direct about whatever the thing is. 


33:20

Monica H. Kang
Yeah. I love that reminder that in all of that, the heart is that I’m here to bring out the best in you. How can I bring out the best in you? You’ve emphasized that many times in your insights, and it’s so powerful because I know that’s very much of you were already leading a little bit into it, which is the work now. Now you’re connecting all of that with currently in your role at graduate learning. Tell me a little bit more now what your day to day looks like today in your role at graduate learning. And what are you doing also there? That’s different. 


33:49

Krista Purnell
Yes. So in my current role, I’m a director of school and district success. So I manage a team of folks who then work with our school leadership team. And then there’s particular strategies I work on for different projects that we have. And so what I like about my current role is it’s fully remote. I think it’s actually a good fit for me because I can have a little bit of a small attention span. So I remember working in offices, and the time I worked in an open plan office was the time I was the least productive, because I need to be in a flow. And when people interrupt that, it takes me a long time to get back. And so I’ve learned that about myself. So I’m actually much more productive working remotely. 


34:29

Krista Purnell
But we have a really strong remote culture because we’ve always been remote. So I think it’s a nice balance of the times we come together are really productive and strong, and then it’s like, all right, you’ve got your own space and time to achieve your goals. But my day to day varies, I’d say. But over the course of the week, it’s my one to ones with my direct reports, the prep time for that. And some of that looks like they’re getting feedback on a document that they need to produce or use in a meeting. So I might be previewing that to come prepared to our call with really good questions for them. Sometimes I’m giving them feedback on a call that they executed. So I’m looking at the video, I’m taking notes, coming ready to talk to them. 


35:17

Krista Purnell
So there’s the prep for that and then the actual meeting. Then there’s leadership team meetings over the course of the week, where the different subsets of leaders in our organization come together to monitor progress against our goals, against our roadmap, et cetera. So I’d say that’s like, the bulk of the week is I actually am in a lot of meetings. That’s probably the most of what I do. It’s like, meetings and then prep for meetings. 


35:43

Monica H. Kang
I hope this is a fun one, at least. 


35:46

Krista Purnell
Yeah, and they’re not bad. I don’t mind it, the way it shapes out over the week. It’s like, okay, this is more of a prep day. This is more of a meeting day. And then there’s stuff interspersed. Yeah, I see every one to one is different, because every person that I work with is different. So that sort of keeps me on my toes, because it’s like what each person needs is different. The schools that they support are different. So it doesn’t get stale, because it’s always like. Because the work is so dynamic, it’s not like, okay, check the box. Same thing. It’s like, okay, what new challenges await us this week? How do we problem solve together? 


36:25

Monica H. Kang
Well, this builds to the question of what are skills that are going to be even more important for future leaders who want to be in a position like you, Krista, doing the type of work you do. Because AI and technology, and of course, you’ve already been, as you’ve hinted, in this space, you’ve seen a lot of the changes in the past 20 years, how you probably started, what our skills were important versus now are going to probably shift quite a bit and even. 


36:49

Krista Purnell
More so in the next 1020 years. 


36:50

Monica H. Kang
So if you have advice to share for those out there who’s eager and tuning in right now, I’m like, crystal, that sounds amazing. I want to be there too. What advice would you have to share with them and what skills they should upskill? 


37:02

Krista Purnell
Yeah, I think that’s really an interesting point. And I also found even in the past 20 years, every time I went to look for a new job, like every five or so years, the market had changed, the world had changed. And so even some of the roles and things that are present now in organizations were not a thing in the start of my career. So within my company, we have a marketing and communications team and there’s people who manage social media and digital products, and there was no such thing as a social media manager 20 years ago. We would have been like, what is that? And so I think in general, some of the things I’ve mentioned being curious about the world, about people being resourceful. 


37:43

Krista Purnell
So I know one thing I look for a lot as a manager is when we’re problem solving, have you used your resources? And you may not have answer at the end of this, but did you do some digging? Did you say, I checked here and here, and I still don’t have answer. Great. You shouldn’t come to the meeting saying, I have a question I don’t have answer to, but you’ve not done any digging. So there’s something about that resourcefulness, that curiosity, trying to problem solve that I think bodes well for folks. I think, yeah, continuing to build communication skills because even in a world of technology, that’s what will set you apart. Because while there’s great tools we can use, there are tools, right? 


38:25

Krista Purnell
So like a Chat GPT, it can whip you out a great email, but you got to check the email to make sure that the voice and the tone is correct or that the language is correct for your given audience. So there still is a skill that you need to have, even if this tool is giving you a jump start or however you choose to use it. So I think having those kind of skills, so being aware of the technology and sort of staying up to date and current on the trends, but still those core things still translate through it. Like, are you a strong communicator? Can you ask good questions? Are you resourceful? How do you continue to be of value and be of service and not just hang back, fall back, wait for the answer? 


39:13

Monica H. Kang
And I’m hearing from Krista, you’re sharing a lot of the attitude and how we take the intention is really powerful. Of course, building on that, one of the things you’ve already highlighted, I want to go back to that wonderful going, circle back moment of seeing your own student becoming a teacher. And I think it’s so important that we realize how these skills are not just for these specific jobs. It’s going to have those longer term impacts. And one of the impacts I know we want to, of course, be very remiss to address as we celebrate, continue to celebrate black History month this month in February, the lack of representation in different fields and even so in education. 


39:52

Monica H. Kang
I feel like the stories, when somebody comes on the show and says, like, because I happened to somebody who was a teacher, who was a black or african American, that I was like, wait, there’s another teacher who looks like me that made a difference. I’m sure you’ve probably been on both ends where both as a student and a teacher and a mentor and mentee. Tell me a little bit more how you feel about where that is in the market right now. Are we making some progress? What are you worried about? Excited about? 


40:19

Krista Purnell
Yeah, that’s a great question. For me personally, I only had one teacher that looked like me from k to twelve, and that was for a semester. So basically, I went 12.5 years of my life never seeing a teacher that looked like me in my community. And so that is part of why I really appreciate the ways in which my parents invested in me and encouraged me, that I could be whatever I wanted to be, that I had the talent, the skills, the drive. And I know that not everyone has that right. And so I think that was a gift that I was blessed to have because I didn’t have that. And I knew that as I ventured through my career, if I could be that for someone else, because a lot of times it’s like, if you see it, then you can believe it. 


41:05

Krista Purnell
And then some of us have to be the I didn’t see it, but I did it anyway. But I think that’s been a part of my trajectory. Both the students I serve see a teacher that looks like them. The young professionals that I serve see someone in leadership that looks like them, that they can do it, too, that they can do it, too. And you do have it within you to be that leader, to be that trailblazer. And I hope that in organizations, that they value and recognize the talent. I know something I’ve appreciated in my current work is how when we go through hiring processes, there’s anti bias training because we all have it. Right. There’s that implicit bias that creeps in, well, this person didn’t go to Harvard, so x, y, or Z. Right. 


41:51

Krista Purnell
But that doesn’t mean that they might not fit this role really well. And so how do we make the awareness of that so that we can have more diverse pipelines, which then will result in more diverse work staff? I would say in general, there’s always room to grow. I think I’ve seen, as an educator, I’ve seen a lot of black teachers, black leaders, where I see the most gaps are in those next levels up. So probably not as many on the superintendent level or the people who have much more robust decision making. I think sometimes there’s a little bit of a, I don’t know if it’s a glass ceiling, but I think that sometimes it’s hard to jump to that next level. You don’t see that as commonly or in other spaces at the CEO level, at that table. 


42:37

Krista Purnell
And so just continuing to encourage organizations, encouraging organizations to really look at that. I know our organization has partnered with an organization called Promise 54, and they do a lot of that work with organizations, and they’ve put out white papers and other things, articulating, hey, here’s the progress we’ve made, and here’s where we still have room to grow. So I appreciate a lot of the work that they’ve done to illuminate that, I’d say especially in the nonprofit space. 


43:10

Monica H. Kang
So I want to continue on the learning for all of us as well. One of the questions I’ve asked all my guests, especially for this curious Monica series, is helping us learn from others as well. So, Krista, as we celebrate Black History Month, who are at least three innovators that you think I. And our guest who’s listening, right. Our listeners should learn from, who happen to be a black innovator. So they don’t have to be an education only maybe some can be. But the only thing is that they happen to be black innovators. 


43:44

Krista Purnell
Okay. Who are three people and, like, current people. Oh, my God. It’s like the list so long. 


43:51

Monica H. Kang
That is good. Well, we’ll start with three, and you can share more. Yes. 


43:56

Krista Purnell
Okay, we’ll start with three. So I will actually name some personal friends to start. So two personal friends of mine are two amazing black women who have crafted their own whiskey brand. It is the first black woman owned whiskey brand out of California, and I’ve been a part of their social impact group. And just that, to me, is pretty exciting. Like, a very typically male dominated space in the spirits industry and so called Jackson McCray whiskey, shouting out my friends Sheila Jackson and Natasha McCray. And they also just really have a passion for giving back. And so that’s their brand, that’s their product. But then they also have a real heart for giving and supporting women. And so they have their JM 100, which I’m a member of our social impact group and are really invested in wellness and wholeness. 


44:47

Krista Purnell
I’d say they are really current, real live innovators right now. I would say other innovators. I’d say one of my favorite activists advocates. Her name is Brittany Pacnett Cunningham. She has a podcast. She’s an incredible person. Former teacher, also, she used to be the executive director of teacher America in St. Louis. And I just appreciate her voice in the space right now, given everything going on in the world. Let’s see. So I’ve done some product base, some activism I’m trying to think about. 


45:27

Monica H. Kang
I love how you’re thinking different. Like, if I can think of the. 


45:33

Krista Purnell
Categories that will help me, I’ll shout out, my sister. Let’s go. So, in the entertainment industry, my sister Kimberly just recently launched her brand to support parents whose children are in the industry. So my niece, Michael Michelle Harris, is an Emmy award winning child actor. Yes, we’re so proud of her. And my sister has been so instrumental as her mom, guiding her through this whole Hollywood world and experience. And now she is setting up workshops and other ways to pour into other parents to help them navigate auditions and what happens when your child’s on set. So she is innovating right now in the space as well. I probably could come back to you with a whole incredible list of other folks that I also know. So if you have show notes, I’ll give it some more thought. And I can give. 


46:34

Monica H. Kang
And, in fact, one of the things I will be following after this via email. And for those who are listening, you simply just have to go to the show notes. I’ll have the spellings, the contacts, so that way you can also follow up to learn how. And you might be surprised, go to the show notes because we’re probably going to have more names from Krista that you’re not hearing from this audio that she’s going to send later. So you have to look at the notes. But Krista, thank you so much. 


46:58

Krista Purnell
An invaluable time. 


47:00

Monica H. Kang
Two final quick questions as we wrap up. I’m sad the time’s already there. 


47:04

Krista Purnell
Goes by too fast. 


47:06

Monica H. Kang
I know, but one, we talked about a lot of different topics, a lot of different gems of wisdom. What’s at least one final thing you want to share with innovators out there as a word of wisdom, wherever they are in their journey, keep going. 


47:21

Krista Purnell
It’s hard, right? It’s hard to do something new. It’s hard to blaze a new trail. It’s hard to engage when it’s like maybe you’re getting no’s. So depending on what field folks are in, they might get a lot of no’s. No. We’re not interested in that innovation or in that product or in that idea. But your no’s get you to your yes. And just because someone else doesn’t see your vision doesn’t mean that it’s not there, doesn’t mean it’s not valuable, doesn’t mean that you don’t have something to share. And I just think about a lot of the folks, even who’ve won awards recently and how long they’ve been in the industry. Right. Not everything happens quickly. And I accomplish all this by 25. It’s okay to be in the long game. It’s okay to have your successes in your beyond. Just keep going. 


48:18

Monica H. Kang
Keep going. I love it. And the reminder that this is a marathon, not a sprint. 


48:22

Krista Purnell
This is life. And learn to appreciate that. Right. And care for yourself along the way. Absolutely. It is a marathon. And so if you’ve ever run any distance, there’s water stops. You might have to stop and have a banana or have those goo things or whatever it is like to replenish. Some miles are faster, some miles are shorter. It depends on the terrain you’re managing for that whole long distance. And not just like it’s never consistent. It’s not like I ran a ten minute mile pace from start to finish and no conditions changed. So it’s like anticipating the challenges and it’s okay. There’s going to be bumps, anticipate them. 


49:05

Monica H. Kang
And be okay with it. 


49:06

Krista Purnell
And be okay with. It’s a part of the journey. 


49:10

Monica H. Kang
Final question, what’s the best way people can follow up with you and learn from you? 


49:15

Krista Purnell
Oh, great. Probably on LinkedIn, last name. I’m typically on there. Yeah. Just sharing things that I see and being a part of the different communities on there. So I’d say for younger professionals, make sure you’re on there, make sure you’re connecting with people. Find a group that meets your industry, need creators, educational professionals, and start to build that way. Because I find a lot of things. It’s not just about who you know. Right. Like, you have to have skills to back things up. But I find that networking is really helpful to open up doors and open up conversations. And so I offer that to a lot, to people. Hey, there’s this role. I’m happy to talk to you about it for a few minutes because I know people offered that to me as well when I was job searching. 


50:10

Krista Purnell
So I think it’s important to have those strong networks and how can we all be of service? If I can have a 15 minutes conversation with someone that unlocks something or helps them feel like they can apply for that other thing or that their idea is valued, I’m here to do that. 


50:29

Monica H. Kang
Thank you. And again, slight piggyback on the network. It’s not just about jobs, it’s friendships. 


50:34

Krista Purnell
That’s. 


50:34

Monica H. Kang
Oh, this is actually how I got. 


50:36

Krista Purnell
To stay in touch with Krista, because. 


50:38

Monica H. Kang
We met at American Express Leadership Academy, which is one of the networks shout out to the network. They are now accepting new applicants. So you should check out if you are a nonprofit or a social enterprise. But were part of the alumni committee, alumni member, where we taken part in one of the leadership programs at some point and connected. And I was really inspired, really, as you can see from Krista’s energy even now, virtually or through the audio. And so we’ve stayed in touch. And so as I was preparing this story, I absolutely knew that I had to have Krista on the. 


51:11

Krista Purnell
So I’m so glad we had this conversation, Krista. Thank you. That was probably one of the most impactful of the different opportunities that I’ve had, because I think about you, I think about so many others that I still am connected to from my original cohort, from the alumni cohort. And even if people don’t see each other or talk to each other all the time, there’s something really powerful about that group of professionals to really be. 


51:36

Monica H. Kang
Able to tap into, because you’re not meant to do this journey. 


51:39

Krista Purnell
So no, in any part of life, career, or personal, so it’s okay to have a team. It’s okay to have a community. 


51:48

Monica H. Kang
Love it. Love it. Well, thank you, Krista, so much, folks. We’ll be back again with another story next week, but we will see you soon. 


51:55

Krista Purnell
Bye. Thank you. Thank you. 


52:03

Monica H. Kang
Thanks so much for tuning into today’s episode. It was so great having you. I hope this has inspired you and empowered you to know that your voice and stories matter. This is your host, Monica Kang, founder and CEO of InnovatorsBox. And a little shout out to the wonderful team who made this possible today. Audio Engineering and producing by Sam Lehmart; Audio Engineering Support by Ravi Lad; website and marketing support by Kree Pandey; Graphic Support by Lea Orsini, Christine Aribel; original music by InnovatorsBox Studios, which you can also check out in any music platform and executive producing, writing, hosting and interviewing by me, Monica Kang, founder and CEO of InnovatorsBox. Please give us feedback, questions, thoughts we to hear from you, send a [email protected] have a wonderful day and we’ll see you soon. Thank you. 

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