I have had the privilege and honor of serving as the principal of Cimarron Elementary for five years. What is remarkable about my journey is that my path was not a traditional path to the elementary principal seat. In fact, prior to becoming an elementary principal, the last time I was in an elementary school was as a 5th grade student. I was never an elementary school teacher, and outside of occasionally teaching Bible class at church, I did not interact much with children under the age of 11.
As I reflect on my time at Cimarron, what humbles me is that I went in not knowing the inner workings of an elementary school; but as I exit, I wholeheartedly believe that I am a better educator and a person because of my time spent at the elementary level. There were a number of things I did not know or understand about the elementary experience or the day-to-day logistics, systems and structures that are so critical to the daily operations. However, what I did know was how to empower those around me to not only bring out the best in themselves but how to utilize their strengths to bring out the best in me. I needed the team to help me on this leadership journey. I knew I didn’t know how to do everything, but I was confident that I could learn how to do what mattered most, which was to create an environment where teachers and students felt safe to dream, dare and thrive.
Leadership does not know levels. As educators we often put ourselves into boxes of expertise based on the certifications we hold. Our certifications make us feel safe saying, “I am an elementary person,” or “I can’t handle older kids.” We all have our personal preference when it comes to age groups or content areas, but a leader who is a learner can work out of the box when he or she is called to do so. I want to be a learner of children, not a knower of a specified age group. If I had restricted myself to only secondary level leadership, I would have missed out on the best five years of my career.
Becoming an elementary principal was the biggest act of vulnerability that I have ever practiced. I started my new role by saying to my staff, “I don’t know how to do this, and I need your help.” I showed up, and I was ready to be brave. I have a strong desire to lead, but more importantly than that desire is my heart for kids. It is my heart for kids that compelled me to challenge myself to lead at the elementary level. I focused on my strengths and surrounded myself with a team of committed staff members who helped me figure out the rest. In the beginning, I am sure there were a number of critics in the cheap seats who took bets on how long this secondary person could last in the elementary arena. In fact, some days I questioned my decision to lead at that level. But by practicing vulnerability, I was able to get people out of the stands and into the arena with me, and that made all the difference.
Behind every successful principal is a staff lifting him or her up. A leader is only as successful as their followership, and there will be no followership in the absence of leadership. My success as a principal has nothing to do with my content expertise, my meticulous analysis of data, or how well I discipline children. My success is rooted in my ability to be authentic in the pursuit of excellence. My individual success is rooted and grounded in the support and followership of my staff, students and community.
Thank you to my amazing staff at Cimarron for believing in me, following me, encouraging me, and lifting me up as your leader. I am blessed to have worked with each of you, and I am a better leader because of our time spent together.