In the whirlwind of what becomes our daily lives, we sometimes need a really big reminder of what is important. I would be the first to admit that, from time to time, I need a wake up call. I admire those around me that are always focused with the absolute right priorities. I do a better job of this some days than others. What truly amazes me though, is that it is easier for me to see it in others. I can clearly see when someone else is being distracted or missing the big picture. Or, when someone really understands what is important…
For the past several months, I have been working with Robert Morehead Middle School in the Dollarway School District in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Principal Paulette Bell started at the school at the same time as I did as the school improvement coach. She had never been a principal before. As the new principal, she knew that there were expectations of her that students would become more successful at the school. That really is the primary goal of our school improvement work.
I have to say that she approaches this work with integrity and grit. She does not back down from what has to be done. She tackled school culture first, bringing a sense of order and calmness to the school that was evident in the very first weeks of school. In fact, she is like other brand-new principals that I have worked with; she has spent much of this first year getting her school in order.
Before the winter break, we had a great talk about the importance of her transitioning to less managerial leadership daily habits to more of a focus on instruction and student achievement. Don’t get me wrong, she absolutely has had student achievement as her first priority this entire year. She just is on a steep learning curve (like we all were when we started) of trying to become knowledgeable in so many aspects of leading a school.
As I continue to coach her, I see Ms. Bell listening and reflecting. I have watched her grow as a school leader and I am very impressed with her ability to understand the big picture of what has to be done. She is taking steps to transition to an instructional leader. I am sure some of this seems overwhelming and some of it seems like small baby steps. In our school improvement work, it takes time for change to happen, especially when you are working to influence and impact others.
I was at the school this week. Ms. Bell talked to me about student data that she was collecting and she told me that she was starting to have conversations with individual students about their achievement. This is new work for her. She is learning how to read the data and really understand what it tells her about the next steps with her students. After I left, I received this picture. It is Ms. Bell, at her desk, with a student. They are looking at the student’s current reality; what the data is telling them about the learning. Together, they are making a plan of what has to happen next in order for this young lady to be successful.
This picture tells a very significant picture. This principal gets what is important. She is prioritizing her time to meet with individual students and she is using data to give her evidence of what is and what is not working. And, she is learning. I see her professional growth as a new administrator. I know that she has difficult, busy days and she has so many things that she wants to touch and impact. Her decision, to meet with individual students, at this very important time of the year is the right work. This week when I am back with her, we will look at every student, every grade and make a plan for the next few weeks. It is that time of the year when you want to be sure that you are doing all you can for each student. Student by student/skill by skill.
Ms. Bell’s students and teachers are lucky to have her. I am blessed to work with her. Have a great week. See you next Saturday.