#HSGPrep Insights from 4 Teacher Leaders-turned-Administrators

Meet education professionals in the Hope Street Group Teacher Fellow Alumni Network (TFAN) from each state program’s webpage linked here, and on the National Teacher Fellow alumni page. Alumni leadership roles are outlined here.

Lorna Baniaga-Lee
2016–2018 Hawaii Teacher Fellow
2018–2020 Teacher Advisory Council Member
Interim Assistant Principal
James Campbell High School
Ewa Beach, Hawaii

In the three months in my new role, I’ve come to realize that the most challenging part of being an administrator is NOT the hour-by-hour “fires” or the day-to-day tasks of running the school’s operation. The most challenging part is finding the time for honest self-reflection that should happen at the end of a day or week. It is so easy to get consumed in our daily tasks that we are often too tired to reflect on our actions and experiences, good or bad. This gives our own self-doubt a greater power over us and blocks our ability to accept and embrace the unknown to keep us moving forward.

As leaders of a school, it is imperative to take the time for self-reflection to plot a path for self-improvement. But most importantly, we need to remind ourselves of our greater purpose: to provide quality education for our students.

Dru Davison
2012–2013 National Teacher Fellow
Fine Arts Advisor & Administrator
Shelby County Public Schools
Memphis, Tennessee

Often times, the competencies that differentiate potential leaders from everyone else are having pervasive curiosity towards complex problem solving, desiring to broaden their scope of influence in order to scale their impact, and the willingness for the most basic, but often most lonely and unsung competency, showing up.

Amanda Ward
2015–2017 National Teacher Fellow
Associate Principal
Bainbridge High School
Bainbridge Island, Washington

As a school leader it is easy to focus on the tyranny of the urgent. While it is essential to be a problem solver and work through issues as they arise, it is even more important to keep your core values at the front of your mind. We must remember why we do this work and where we should focus our attention.

I frequently think about how I can ensure that my work each day provides equity and compassion to students, staff and families. The challenging work, the hard work, the time-consuming work is shifting instruction to meet the varied needs of learners to create greater equity. However, often these conversations take a back seat to discipline or other urgent issues. Yet, at the same time, effective instruction not only opens up opportunities for students, but it also can prevent crises from arising. The teacher who knows each of her students not just as learners but individuals, can help proactively advocate for the needs of a child before a discipline issue arises from a lack of needs being met.

We must constantly force ourselves to remember that how we allocate our time reflects our values. And, maybe most importantly, we need to focus on the little wins each day that bring a smile to our faces and joy to our hearts.

Greg Mullenholz
2013–2014 National Teacher Fellow
Ashburton Elementary School
Bethesda, Maryland

With the continued focus on College- and Career-Ready Standards under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the role of the administrator as an instructional leader has also been a continual focus. Gone are the days of the principal as a building-level manager, one focused on budgets, logistics and operations. This is still a heavy emphasis of the role, but with the huge shifts in both content and pedagogy under these new and challenging standards and with states now at the implementation stages of their approved plans, the role of the principal has necessarily shifted. Principals have to have a keen understanding of the progressions of the standards in literacy and mathematics so that they can make informed decisions when analyzing student data. If the expectation is, and it should be, that principals harken back to the days of the “principal teacher,” states and districts need to make financial commitments to building the capacity of, continually supporting, and ensuring the reliability of principals as instructional leaders and instructional practice observers. (Read a recent blog by another alumni Teacher Fellow, Jon Medieros, on this very notion, for National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.)

Over the years, the pendulum of the principalship has swung more and more towards compliance-oriented tasks. We’ve become middle managers, creating a filter or a translation between the bureaucracy of policy and the power of classroom instruction. We are tasked with supporting our teachers and the majority of our day should be spent in doing so. However, with limitations on budgets for staffing, the principal is often called upon for the “other duties as assigned” role and has to forsake the valuable time with their staff. As budgets are trimmed, time for teachers and principals tends to be the first to go and yet it is time that is the leverage point for change. Time costs money and local jurisdictions often balance budgets by eliminating professional development days. This is a classic, “expect more with less” approach and it fails to honor the learning process for both adults and children. Time costs money but investments in time allotted for principals to develop their craft as instructional leaders is an investment that has a huge payoff for students and staff as they lead their buildings in a direction of continuous instructional improvement.

As an administrator, I know fully that my role mirrors what author Lisa Delpit describes as her “warm demander.” Each and every time I enter a classroom, I want to join in on the lesson so badly. I either see a lesson going so well that I want to be a part of the awesomeness or I want to jump in and support the teacher in refining their craft. The “warm demander” principal expects greatness from all staff and therefore all students. My role is to convince each teacher of the power that they have in the classroom, help them feel confident in their abilities and develop a sense of self-reflection that has them seeking to continually improve. The idea that the principal has all of the answers is a farce and by being a warm demander, by providing a clear set of expectations and helping staff reach those expectations in a structured and reflective manner, is the role an effective principal needs to play. No principal is better than their staff and is only as good as the level of support that they are willing to provide.