Leading with Heart

Outstanding AP Ashley Farrington takes on the principalship with the goal of creating an environment that’s safe, warm, and welcoming.

Moving into the principalship would be challenging in normal times, much less a summer marked by pandemic and protest. But when Ashley Farrington (@FarringtonEdu) was named principal of Wayzata Birchview Elementary School in July 2020, he was ready.

NAESP’s 2020 Minnesota National Outstanding Assistant Principal, Farrington had served in a middle school in the same district since 2018 and logged previous experience as a student support specialist and teacher—roles that allowed him to gain understanding from great administrators while learning how to lead his own teams, he says.

Now, his goal is to lead with equity and humanity. “I am a servant leader who cares deeply about my students, staff, and families,” Farrington says. “I lead with my heart and with equity. I have a passion for creating an environment that is safe, warm, and welcoming for all of our students.”

Building Remote Relationships

As the school year got underway, Farrington was inspired to hear that many students “really wanted to come back to school.” Operating on a two-days-per-week in-person hybrid model, Birchview’s smaller class sizes have helped foster deeper relationships between students and teachers, he adds: “We can offer students more attention than ever before, and that’s been really good for our kids.”

As part of his emphasis on emotional well-being, Farrington strives to maintain connections with students in the hybrid environment. Birchview students participate in a daily morning meeting with their classes whether they are at home or at school. “Teachers lead the morning meetings, giving students a chance to participate in social-emotional learning and community builders with their class and engage at-home learners with the tools they need for the day,” he says.

Seamless Support

The transition into the role of principal has gone better than Farrington expected, in spite of the pandemic. “I am grateful for my incredible staff and families who welcomed me with open arms and really made the transition as seamless as possible,” he says. “My big takeaway has been the more that we are together and supporting each other, the better work that we can do for kids.”

Farrington leads through teams and professional learning communities (PLCs). At Birchview, each grade level has a PLC, and teams meet once a week at minimum; most meet more often. “I try to attend these meetings as much as possible to support and answer questions,” he says.

Clear and effective communication and transparency are key, he adds. “It is important for me to be clear and concise about our expectations to achieve our building goals,” Farrington says. “All stakeholders should be and will be communicated with. I provide consistent communication in a variety of ways to ensure all messages and initiatives are always clear.”

Farrington’s advice to APs is to be ready to lead. “Taking on a building seems like a huge task—and it is,” he says. “But be confident in yourself and what you bring to the table. I have taken the approach of listening, learning, and loving. This approach will guide me through my first year as I get to know my staff and families. It guides my work every day.”

Belinda Lichty Clarke is director of alumni engagement at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and a freelance writer based in Evanston, Illinois

Farrington’s Principles of Leadership

  • All students can learn, and all students matter.
  • Build relationships. “Our work begins with relationships.”
  • Collaborate and share leadership. “We each have so many different talents and strengths.”
  • Communicate often. “Transparency is crucial for me.”
  • Be accountable. “As a leader, I take full responsibility for leading our school to our ultimate goal of exceptional experiences for all.”
  • Be adaptable. “Change is inevitable, and being able to adjust is crucial for successful leaders.”
  • Inform strategy with data. “As I make decisions, it is important for me to use the data thoughtfully.”