I believe that parent and community involvement and participation is an essential element in the success of a school in accomplishing its mission. Shaping my beliefs are three distinct experiences in public education, my own time spent attending a large affluent mostly white district in Orange County, my thirteen years of teaching in a poor agricultural latino community, and the secondhand knowledge of my husband’s job working at a tiny super secluded elementary school in the wealthy Santa Cruz mountains. The blend of these experiences highlights the importance in maintaining a balance between the trust a parent has in his or her child’s school and the ability to raise questions and advocate for what’s best for the child. Important aspects of parent participation in school include attending events and conferences, participating in school site council meetings, assisting in fundraisers, volunteering in the classroom, and attending board meetings. For a variety of reasons, parent participation is a struggle in Pajaro. One thing that my school excels at, however, is bringing the community together in times of celebration. Pajaro Middle has a long standing tradition of hosting a Posada or Winter Celebration dinner with families from all over the community. Many parents cook, decorate the gymnasium, volunteer to serve, provide music, gifts, and entertainment for children of all ages. Though part of a large district, Pajaro’s slightly rural isolation encourages a tight-knit community where parents and teachers enjoy spending time together. These times promote a feeling of togetherness and reinforce for both family and school employees the reasons we are there.
I believe that in the 21st century curriculum and instruction must be innovative, engaging, differentiated, and relevant to children’s interests while still meeting the Common Core standards. When thinking back on my time in school the most memorable experiences and learning opportunities came from teachers who gave us a chance to express ourselves and be creative with our assignments. There are many variables in regards to curriculum and instruction that could be discussed including the Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, integration of technology, differentiation for English Learners, and Project Based Learning. What I will discuss the importance of creating engaging lessons that are relevant to a child’s experiences and that encourage them to ask questions, think critically, and problem solve. Last year a team of seventh grade science teachers worked on a project with students asking them to identify some of the challenges here at school and then collaborate on ways to solve them. Several students pointed out the trash and general overall dirtiness of the campus. Using multimedia they documented their findings, collaborated to identify solutions, and presented their ideas to the student council and school community. From not leaving gum on the ground to picking up trash that others leave behind, student PSAs highlighted the the issues and inspired students to take pride in their school by being more conscientious about littering. Looking at the careers that exist today in a global knowledge economy it is important for students to know how to work together to form solutions. The jobs of the future will undoubtedly require those skills as our society continues to look for solutions to global warming, poverty, and other challenges.
I believe that a positive school climate is essential to the academic, social, and emotional progress of a student and that discipline should follow a restorative model. My beliefs are founded in my experience working with students who encounter daily struggles outside of school with the understanding that there are times when students' emotional and physiological needs supersede their academic needs at school. There are many aspects of discipline and culture that shape school climate, including the implementation of circles in the classroom to strengthen relationships between students and teachers, time dedicated to teacher professional development and collaboration, and taking deliberate steps to make all community members, visitors, and stakeholders feel welcome at school. Above all, I believe that school climate and culture can be shaped by the Do No Harm model. Developing a school vision with a Do No Harm foundation recognizes that as a school we are not only focused on students acquiring academic content but that we are working to educate them on becoming thoughtful, kind, and responsible members of the community. Included in this philosophy is the goal of teaching students how to regulate their own behavior, and rather than emphasizing consequences we discuss how students’ actions cause harm to themselves, others, or their environment. The student handbook and school rules will be developed around these parameters as well. Courtesy policies in the classroom and school, a restorative justice approach to discipline, classroom circles, and conflict management teams are all examples of tools I would use to support the development of a positive school climate and Do No Harm model.
I believe that technology is a vital part of 21st century learning and that schools are not only faced with the task of preparing our students for careers that don’t yet exist but also teaching how to appropriately communicate and conduct oneself outside of the school digital environment. As a technology coach I have enjoyed working with teachers to transform lessons and create projects that inspire creation, collaboration, and the sharing or publishing of ideas. There are many important aspects of technology use in schools, including the importance of digital citizenship and educating families and parents (incorporated within the Do No Harm school culture model), what types of technology are available, what applications teachers are using and the different programs being implemented in schools including 1:1 initiatives. Above all, however, the biggest need I see in technology integration is support and professional development. Over the past four years in a coaching position I have witnessed technology (chromebooks mostly) placed in the hands of students but being used ineffectively due to the lack of teacher training. Professional development in technology is vital in a program’s success. In classrooms where technology is embedded seamlessly and innovatively student engagement and achievement increases. At secondary schools, especially at those running 1:1 initiatives, an on-site coach is essential, as that person can individually tailor lessons to specific grade levels and content areas, model, collaborate, and support struggling teachers. As a school leader it is also important to embrace and model technology use with staff. Running staff meetings through Google Classroom, providing video tutorials to teachers on specific topics, and using tools like Padlet to encourage idea sharing and promote discussion would at the same time streamline leadership tasks and promote the use of these tools in instruction.
My first non-negotiable centers around the belief that every child is good. It is essential as a leader to separate a children’s actions from the person. I have heard teachers and administrators write students off as “the bad kids” and “gangbangers”. I’m not sure there is anything I have seen in my career that I abhor more than this. As a school leader I would not allow any student at my school to be ridiculed, put down, or shamed, whether to his or her face or behind their back. As educators our number one priority is the child, and we must always believe that s/he is capable, kind, and good.
Another non-negotiable of mine is respect. In all relationships at school, mutual respect is essential. Every child deserves to be treated each day with respect, kindness, and dignity. Similarly, teachers need to work alongside their colleagues in a respectful and cooperative manner, even when they do not see eye to eye. People that I work with can expect the utmost respect from me, and I will also hold them to the same high standard.
Thirdly, tolerance is a non-negotiable. Discrimination based on race, gender, or sexual orientation will not be tolerated. Through building a culture of kindness, compassion, and respect with a Do No Harm focus, tolerance will be woven into the fabric of the school.
Lastly, I have chosen safety as a non-negotiable. I will do everything in my power to ensure that children are protected from threats, both physical and digital, from within and outside of the school’s walls. It is non-negotiable that every child feel safe and secure when they come to school each day.
My leadership style is democratic, and more specifically I see myself as moral leader. I believe that I am drawn to moral leadership because it encompasses who I am to my core. When people suffer, I suffer. I am a highly sensitive person. I see individuals who struggle and I want to help them.
As a sociology major in college I was drawn to learning about, and participating in, social justice movements surrounding inequality and human suffering. I have taken this passion for social justice with me into education, with the goal of bettering the lives of the children in my community. As a teacher I have often found my strongest connections with the students that bring with them the most trauma. It hasn’t always ended well. Sometimes you invest everything in a child and they still fall down, hard. As painful as that can be, each time it makes me fight harder.
I also take this passion for social justice into my career as a leader, understanding that every student has a story, every parent deserves to be listened to, each teacher deserves recognition for her/his relentlessly selfless efforts. Moral leadership embraces the tenet that each human has value and requires that every individual be treated with equal respect. My leadership style is to lead first with my heart and create an institution that will, as Sergiovanni describes, “transform its students not only by providing them with knowledge and skills but by building character and instilling virtue”. (Sergiovanni, 2007, p. 22).
Sergiovanni, T. J. (2007). Rethinking leadership: A collection of articles. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
My career in education began thirteen years ago when I became an after school program teacher at HA Hyde Elementary school in Watsonville, California. I taught for two and a half hours a day, while I worked through my teaching credential program, helping students with their homework, facilitating enrichment activities, and teaching basic computer skills. I later moved into a part-time position as a computer teacher at HA Hyde Elementary School.
My first full time classroom teaching job was at HA Hyde where I took over the classroom from my master teacher when he moved into middle school. I stayed here for eight years, teaching a self-contained fifth grade bilingual classroom. Daily curriculum focused on Language Arts (in both English and Spanish), ELD, Math, Social Studies, Art, and PE. Science was the only subject I didn’t teach (and have still not taught to this day, aside from subbing).
For the eight years that I taught at HA Hyde I was the school’s technology liaison - part of a network of technology leaders in the district who met regularly and provided professional development to staff. I also served on the school’s leadership team for two years.
My next position was a brief one. I worked at the district office as a math curriculum coach, guiding elementary teachers from various school sites on the transition to Common Core. I assisted in creating and administering district benchmark tests and designing pacing calendars that aligned the California State Standards to Common Core.
In November of 2013 I became PVUSD’s first site-based technology integration coach at Lakeview Middle School. I launched the county’s first 1:1 Chromebook initiative, working with Google Certified Trainers to introduce the staff to essential skills and guiding the launch of a program, the success of which drove the implementation of more such initiatives.
I am currently in my fourth year as a Technology Integration Coach. I am now at Pajaro Middle School. I model lessons daily in classrooms, collaborate with individuals and teams of teachers, provide professional development, and ensure that all students have a functional Chromebook to take to class each day. Aside from these principal duties I regularly communicate with parents, support the office staff and administration in technology use, develop digital citizenship lessons, tutor students after school at risk of not graduating, and lead a Chromebook repair squad of at-risk students giving back to their school.
Outside of my daily duties, I regularly lead district-wide Professional Development workshops in Google Apps for Education and other technology tools teachers use in the classroom. Most recently I have become part of a district-wide committee focusing on Restorative Justice, meeting with administrators, counselors, and teachers to develop a plan for implementation in our secondary schools.
I’ve only ever taught in a high poverty district. Growing up in an upper middle class family in southern California I was sheltered from many of the challenges and traumas that the students I now teach are confronted with on a daily basis. It took me several years in the profession before I began to recognize the particular behaviors of students as a product of the community in which they live, where they might share a room with six other people in a house with three families, where the only meal they might receive is at school, and where they are expected to perform at the same level as children who want for nothing.
As a sociology major I was an activist in college. I flew to NYC to protest the Republican Convention. I shut down intersections in protest of rising tuition. I published zines and hosted a pirate radio show. I have long desired to focus my life on social justice, and education is the avenue down which I have embarked, recognizing that the most vulnerable of our citizens can also be the most powerful if nurtured, encouraged, and challenged.
Moving into middle school after a decade at elementary has impacted the vision for myself in leadership. As children become young adults they more than ever need somebody behind them to succeed. Though my current position is not directly with students, I have developed a strong bond with a handful of at-risk students whom I tutor and provide emotional support and guidance. One lives in a household with no parent, one is pressured daily by neighbors to engage in illegal activities, one has a family member struggling with a serious illness and doesn’t know where his next meal will come from.
I feed these kids, I talk to them, I listen. I encourage, I educate. More than anything I believe in them, and I do what I can to build them up.
As I discuss in my habits blog, this close relationship with students has caused my vision as an administrator to shift. This is also in part due to my involvement in an emerging district committee focusing on restorative justice. My focus, once on instructional technology and curriculum, is now on the students. I know that not all will share my passion for social justice, but my desire is to lead and inspire teachers to make their students feel welcomed, valued, and cared for at school while gaining the knowledge to be successful adults.
We must always remember that every child has a story.
“Students who are loved at home come to school to learn, and students who are not come to school to be loved”. I come back to this quote by Nicolas Ferroni often, as I did today when I sat down to articulate what I believe about children and their education. To me, there is nothing more important than providing children a place to go where they are loved, valued, challenged, and taught to think critically about their impact on the world. I have known many students over the years who have not been provided the basic physiological and emotional needs that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs identify as necessary for a student to succeed academically. The school that I lead will be a place where students come to learn, to prepare themselves for college or career, but most importantly, a place that they are nurtured, respected, and seen as whole beings all of whom have something wonderful to contribute to the community in which they live.