An Opportunity to Grow Professionally

I recently finished up a great year-long professional development opportunity that was offered to me by my school district. Towards the end of the last November I was nominated along with several other colleagues in my district to participate in the Strengthening Teacher and Leader Effectiveness (STLE-D) Grant funded by NYSED. The STLE-D Grant funded projects to principals, teacher leaders, and aspiring principals to provide schools with the resources that are necessary to focus on improving curriculum and expanding instructional strategies. Each participant was encouraged to create a signature practice that would enhance not only the entire school community, but also refine personal leadership skills. Learn more about the grant here.

I focused my efforts on improving pedagogical practices and creating a shared vision around literacy practices. I wanted to take a space in our school that was dedicated to housing our guided reading materials and re-envision the space to become more organized, accessible, and more effective to teachers. Over the next year I plan to take our school’s “Book Room” and transform it to become the “Guided Reading Lab” where teachers can access guided reading materials and students can have access to digital tools to further their learning about different topics they are reading about. My goal is to create a space for teachers that is more inviting than our current space that stores our books. I want teachers to openly dialogue about their own best practices and to share their ideas about literacy lessons that have proven effective in their own classrooms. Books are such a valuable resource in the lives of our young students and to strengthen their importance is something I feel very strongly about. Over the next year I’ll share the progress that our Guided Reading Lab is making and how my grant project has taken shape in my school.

Heather Wolpert-Gawron, a teacher, blogger, and author, shared some great thoughts on classroom libraries and their value in teachers’ and students’ lives. She says, “I believe that a classroom library is the heartbeat of a teacher’s environment. It is the window into an educator’s own personality, and it reflects the importance of literacy in the classroom. I believe that every teacher — no matter what subject he or she teaches — should have one.” If this is Heather’s thoughts on a classroom library, imagine the power that a school book room can unlock for teachers and students; this is what I hope to do for my own school.

Libraries are the heartbeat of the classroom.

Libraries are the heartbeat of the classroom.

Three Lessons from an Experienced Principal


There are times when we don’t realize that through our actions we are leading and teaching others in meaningful ways. I think that the remarkable way we can influence others without knowing it is at the heart of teaching and learning. I recently had my internship advisor visit me at my school to check on the progress of my internship experience. As we walked the hallways of the school I was learning so much from her words and her actions, whether she realized it or not. Here are three pieces of wisdom she unknowingly left me with that I know will impact my future work.

1. Stop and smell the flowers…literally!  We took our time to walk around the hallways of the school to truly get a sense of the environment and spirit of the school. We popped into several rooms that reflected the culture of the organization including the cafeteria, library, computer lab, book room, and faculty room. We also walked around the outside of the school to see the playground and front of the school. As we came to the main entrance of the school I walked forward to the front door while my advisor stopped in front a lilac bush to the right of the entrance. She stopped, gently took the flower in her hands and smelled the fresh, delicate scent that the flower was giving off. She didn’t realize it, but her small action of smelling the flowers was so powerful to me. She was appreciating the beauty in the small gift that nature provides us, which can be translated into larger lessons within the school organization on a daily basis with decisions that need to be made.

2. Organizational theory will impact your practice in tremendous ways.  Up until this year I was never exposed to books by authors like Peter Senge, Thomas J. Sergiovanni, Lee G. Bolman, Terrence E. Deal, or John Kingdon. These scholars explain the ways in which those in leadership positions can significantly impact the culture of an organization. I have to admit that I needed to reread and revisit these texts to understand them because I am not used to using theory to guide my practice. My advisor recommended that I keep these texts close to me and glance through them daily. I agree that revisiting the following texts is helpful in building a positive school culture: The Fifth Discipline by,Peter Senge Educational Governance and Administration by, Thomas J. Sergiovanni, Martin Burlingame, Fred S. Coombs, and Paul W. Thurston Reframing Organizations by, Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies by, John Kingdon

3. Appreciate the people in the organization – they will become your family.  On a daily basis I have to say that I am truly impressed with the caliber of educators that I work with. The staff in my school keeps kids’ needs in mind at all times and they go above and beyond to deliver instructional plans to students. As my advisor and I visited the spaces in the school building she pointed out that small thoughtful gestures make a world of difference to the visitors in the school and the staff members. She often says that her school is like her family and I believe this statement to be so true. Small acts of kindness show people that they are cared for and this can make a world of difference for positive school culture. The quote above by Henry Adams “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops” has always been a favorite quote of mine. I believe that all teachers significantly impact the lives of their students in meaningful ways. For me, my internship advisor has provided significant learning lessons for me, even beyond her awareness.

It’s Not What You’re Doing, It’s How You’re Being

One of the reflective practices of my internship experience for educational administration coursework is to provide a critical incident that has served to be a poignant moment for me in the past four months. The critical incident serves to be a reflective practice that makes you stop and think and asks you to question your beliefs, values, attitudes or behavior. It can be a specific moment in time or it can be a larger process of discovering parts of yourself that you never knew were there.

Every day of my internship is providing me with a learning experience. I entered this experience full of enthusiasm to participate in the daily tasks of a principal. As the first weeks passed by I was growing concerned that I was not making the most of my internship – I was becoming impatient with the process and yearned to do more.  I was consumed with the mind-set that I needed to appear busy as evidence that I was working hard. I thought that having long lists of “To Do” items that could be crossed off as they were handled was an accurate depiction of the job of a principal. I do tend to work best when I can accomplish a goal and then move on to the next item in an efficient manner. However, I soon realized that the job of a principal is not as neatly packaged as I had thought it to be. The critical incident I would like to describe is one that I am experiencing every day of my internship. It is not one fixed moment in time, rather this moment I would like to describe is the larger process that I am coming to terms with. This internship has afforded me the great gift to evolve as a human being, something most young people cannot describe as a by-product of their day-to-day experiences in their career.

As time has passed I soon realized that to-do lists will not grant me access to the larger vision of the job of a principal. To-do lists, albeit necessary for organization and task completion, can pigeon-hole the larger vision and mission that a community of educators yearns for. Upon reflection, the depiction I had created in my mind of a principal was one that was very narrow-minded and transactional. Throughout the first weeks of my internship I was growing impatient feeling like I was not doing anything. However, rather than doing I realized I needed to rethink my personal and professional goals that I hoped to attain from my internship. I asked myself several questions, existential in nature, and not expecting to find an answer immediately. I believe these are the most important kinds of questions as they are the markers that signify change, growth, openness, and above all mindfulness. I asked myself the following questions:

What do you hope to gain after this experience?

Why are you doing this now?

How are you seeing yourself?

How do you think others see you?

These questions are difficult and I still ponder them daily as a practical self-reflection activity. I think that these questions and the thinking process involved in pontificating collectively function to be the critical incident that I am undergoing every day of my internship.

Throughout this process, I have learned so much from my professors, colleagues, classmates, and from educators that I have virtually met through blogging on WordPress and social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. Every day I am learning that a principal’s job is more about observing, thinking, and connecting to the people in the school community than it is about handling managerial tasks that can be flippantly crossed off as they are completed. My beliefs about the role of a principal have undergone alterations, which I originally had not anticipated. The internship experience is a continuous learning process. I am learning more about myself but also so much about the people around me through the observation and analysis of the inner-workings in my building. What I first considered to be a journey in advancing my career is turning out to be more about self-discovery, truth-finding, and learning how to just be.