This week is about amazing leaders… all I was introduced to this week in one way or another. A couple of the stories are from brand new leaders… principals with their very first schools, during the first days of the school year. How exciting for them…well, and, busy and scary and overwhelming and almost every other word that you can think of to describe a daunting, important challenging role to take on. Add to this mix, a school improvement coach showing up and your cup might be overflowing! Not for these two ladies who embrace it all…
Meet Ms. Paulette Bell. Ms. Bell is the new principal of Robert F Morehead Middle School in Arkansas. As soon as I met Ms. Bell, I knew that I was going to enjoy working with her. She said three things to me, right off the bat, that won my heart. As soon as we started to talk, she told me that her primary reason for being is to improve learning and that she would do whatever it takes to be successful in this regard. (So, for any of you who know me, you know that she won my heart right then!). The second thing she said was that she understood that she had to be extremely consistent ensuring that everyone understood her expectations and that she had to” walk the talk”. I know it is one thing for the principal to SAY these things but I have first hand evidence that she is doing just that. On day four of the school year, I met with parents, teachers and students and there was clear consensus that Ms. Bell has already made a huge impact on improving the culture of the school with her consistent, high expectations for order and structure. And, when middle school students are saying that they LIKE the order and structure in the school, you know that you have the right focus.The third thing that she said and ,that I will never forget was this, “Every student deserves to start with a clean slate… every year…every week…every day… every class…”. That is such a great way to see your work in the school.
My second experience with a new principal this week was with Mrs. Sarah Stobaugh at Morrilton Intermediate School also in Arkansas. We had such a great day together doing very intentional planning around the next steps to ensure student success. What I really appreciated were the questions that I was asked. The conversations were not one-sided, it was not “sit and get”; Mrs. Stobaugh was reflective, inquisitive and so willing to collaborate and learn as we worked. I see her focus on instruction as a real strong skill for her and I know that she is going to take the time to build caring relationships while at the same time, have high expectations for her students and staff. I know that she plans to have her school be an exemplary school for others to come and learn from and I do believe that she will achieve this. What a great attitude to have as a new leader.
And now on to the third principal story. Ms. Melisa Rivera is not a new principal and starting her third year with me as her school improvement coach. Needless to say, I love working with her and this one statement that she made to her staff on Wednesday says it all: “You know this school and what we need to do and I will always have your back”. I am so proud of her professional growth and what Cherokee Heights Elementary, in St. Paul, Minn is becoming! So proud!
The fourth educational leader I want you to learn from this week is someone who I have never met (and I hope that he doesn’t mind that I am writing about him). You see, I heard of him from one of the parents in his school community; a parent who was so excited about his amazing communication that went out to all of 1300 students and their parents prior to school started that she publicly has shared his story. Please meet Mr. Kevin Calkins, Principal of Cathedral Catholic High School in California (www.cathedral catholic.org). He journaled all summer thinking about what advice he would give “his teenage self” and that is what he sent to all.
Here are a couple of my favorites from his message: 1) “Life is not a straight line. But that doesn’t mean it’s ok to be directionless. Believe it or not, there will be several times in your life – leading right up through adulthood! – where you will take a path or a job that you think is leading you to where you want to be only to discover that’s no longer true. But these are not wasted experiences if you learn from them; they are not mistakes if you right the path.” 2) “Read. It makes all the difference later in life. It matters when you are young, too. And read for fun.” 3) “Do all kinds of things, not just the things you are comfortable with or good at”. This personal touch is such a great way to begin building relationships with his school community. The parents also love that he has a weekly “Principal Corner” message on-line to keep the parents up to date and many, many other examples of intentional communication. So much of our leadership work requires us to be able to communicate well with others. Kudos to Mr. Calkins for being such a fine example of what that looks like in our schools.
And lastly, I want to tell you about a Superintendent that I had the pleasure of meeting this week. Mrs. Barbara Warren is the Superintendent of Dollarway School District in Arkansas. Just spend five minutes with her and you know that she totally believes in her people. She wants them to feel safe and comfortable as employees, families and, of course, students, and she understands that this cultural piece will lead to a climate that is conducive to moving achievement. She is determined to lead the “district of choice” in Arkansas and I know that her strong commitment to her people will get her there.
So, I close with a question for reflection. What can you do to improve your intentional focus around communication, consistency and learning? Thank you for reading. See you next Saturday.