Finding a Support Network and Giving Students a Voice

Principal Kelley Begley McCall—or Mrs. Principal, as some of the students call her—puts her trauma-informed background and her love for education to good use at Clear Creek Elementary School in Shawnee, Kansas.

A passion for Begley McCall is creating a safe space at school for all children—including those with gender dysphoria. To her, that means going gender-neutral as much as possible and doing whatever it takes to make all students feel at home in her school. 

“I get to the heart of the matter of each kid,” says Begley McCall, “instead of just seeing them as a number or a situation or a problem.”

With a focus on learning through play and connecting with every single student—no exceptions—Begley McCall is able to support her students as they navigate social-emotional skills in addition to reading and math skills.

And with support from her family, her faculty and staff, and a trusted online group of #MomsAsPrincipals, she has found a home at Clear Creek and has her sights set on even bigger things for her students and school.

The Challenges:

  1. Where do I find a support network outside of my immediate school and community?

  2. How do we give students a voice?

  3. When an initiative isn’t as successful as it could be, how do I improve it and get teacher buy-in during the change process?

Principal Spotlight:

Kelley Begley McCall
Principal, Clear Creek Elementary School, Shawnee, Kansas
Twitter: @mccall_kelley
Instagram: @an_inspired_principal

With four children of her own and six total siblings, Kelley Begley McCall says she can look at pretty much any kid and see in them one of her family members—a skill that has proved helpful as she connects with students in her school.

In this video, Begley McCall gives you a tour of her school, from the new playground and new kindergarten playroom to refreshed technology space. You’ll learn ideas to:

Connect with other moms (or dads) on Twitter. #MomsAsPrincipals started as way for female principals who blogged to support each other and blossomed into a robust online network where women support women as they lead their schools and work to be present at home and navigate “mom guilt.” (There’s a spinoff group called #DadsAsPrincipals, too.) If you want to join the Voxer group, contact Begley McCall (or any of the #MomsAsPrincipals) to be added to the group.

Go to the experts—the kids!—when making some decisions. The school needed a new playground, and Begley McCall sent her fifth-graders on a field trip to try out playgrounds and decide what they wanted at their school. Fun, right? But wait, there’s more. The students then created presentations they showed to faculty and staff that highlighted what new equipment they thought the school needed, what old equipment could be kept, and what repairs to the old equipment might be needed. Clear Creek sent the presentations to the playground companies and the school board, and they made these kids’ playground dreams come to reality—within budget.

Say “yes” and build a positive climate. “I’d rather not say no to anything a teacher comes to me for,” says Begley McCall. “I’d rather fail forward.” Case in point: The addition of a kindergarten playroom, where students can go to stations to explore school, writing, a grocery store, a vet clinic, dramatic plays, housekeeping, and sensory stations, gives students the opportunity to learn in a structured play environment. One “yes” from Begley McCall brought a technology teacher’s big ideas to fruition by turning the literal old school tech lab into an interactive place for students to use technology and learn.

Three main takeaways:

  1. Find one thing you love about a kid, and you’ll find 10 more right away. If you haven’t connected with a student, that’s on the principal.
  2. Value play as much as you do reading and math instruction. Play at school is different than play out in the community; it’s designed to be a safe space for kids where they can learn how to socialize.
  3. When something isn’t working, enlist the help of the teachers to find a solution.

Share your strategy: How have you transformed a school space to celebrate students? Go to the NAESP CIL webpage to tell us—and you could be one of the next principals we profile.