Overcoming Challenges to Find Success

NAESP celebrates a year of telling members’ stories through the NAESP Center for Innovative Leadership.

February 2020, Volume 43, Issue 6

Kansas principal Kelly Begley McCall discussing her students' involvement in planning their playground in the latest Center for Innovative Leadership video podcast.

One year ago, NAESP launched a new program—the NAESP Center for Innovative Leadership (NAESP CIL)—to tell members’ stories of overcoming challenges and finding unique ways to lead students and staff to success in their schools. Armed with middle school principal Hamish Brewer and elementary school principal Andy Jacks as the first NAESP CIL fellows, we set out to find principals across the country who wanted to tell their stories so they could help others facing the same challenges.

A year in, Brewer and Jacks connected with 12 principals—and counting—who taught us one big lesson: Principals, no matter their background, school population and demographics, or location, all share a passion for helping their students succeed. But how they go about leading their schools couldn’t look more different. Here are some innovative ideas from our first year of video podcasts.

Enlist the Community

  • Before Jessica Gomez took the helm at Alice Birney, the school had created a butterfly garden that had gone unused. The managers of a new Walmart distribution center revitalized the butterfly garden as a team-building project. | Connect with Gomez on Twitter at @jgomezprincipal
  • Diane MacKinnon invited members of the community, including a representative from the Chamber of Commerce, to the school for the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new outdoor learning space. | Connect with MacKinnon on Twitter at @diane_mackinnon
  • Scott Hein’s school features a program called “A Beautiful Day.” Community volunteers come into the school, put on “A Beautiful Day” t-shirts, and pass out treats in honor of kids’ birthdays. | Connect with Hein on Twitter at @ScottJHein

Create Unique Learning Spaces

Using grant funding, Bivins Miller’s school built a chicken coop. Students learn how to tend to the chickens and harvest the eggs. Then they sell the eggs, with the funds going to back into supporting the project. | Connect with Miller on Twitter at @BivinsMiller

The gym at Kim Taylor’s school features backdrops like you’d see in a play, with inviting scenes like a living room, where Taylor and her faculty can gather her students for a read aloud. | Connect with Taylor on Twitter at @PrincipalKim

At Don Epps’ middle school, students attend the town’s annual Masonic School Bus Race. At the event, the school with the loudest cheers gets $1,000. Plus, students decorate the donated school buses that take part in the race. | Connect with Epps on Twitter at @DonEppsEDU

Make Students a Priority

Every day, Craig Martin makes time to walk around the school to do check-ins with students he knows have challenges they’re overcoming at home. | Connect with Martin on Twitter at @CraigCMartin12

Steve Smith established an indoor walking path students can use during colder weather, when they aren’t able to get outside to play. Along the route, students are prompted to do wall push-ups or jumping jacks. | Connect with Smith on Twitter at @EdenHallUE

The entire Wylie School District focuses on what it calls the Wylie Way—a character-driven approach that helps students become good students and good people. | Connect with Amber Teamann on Twitter at @8Amber8

Kelley Begley McCall’s school needed a new playground, so she tasked her fifth-graders with figuring it out. The students then showed faculty and staff what new equipment they thought the school needed, what old equipment could be kept, and what repairs to the old equipment might be needed. | Connect with Begley McCall on Twitter at @mccall_kelley

Show Appreciation for Faculty and Families

At Curtis Slater’s school, teachers ask parents to describe their child on a card without using the child’s name. These cards are all hung on a bulletin board. It gives parents a voice, and the students love it because they get to see if they can figure out which description is about them. | Connect with Slater on Twitter at @Slater_Curtis_

A Golden Arrow award lets peers recognize peers among the staff at Cindy Emerson’s elementary school. Three staff members are recognized for their contributions every month during staff meetings, and their photos are posted in the school hallways with a note about their contributions. | Connect with Emerson on Twitter at @emersizzle

Want More Stories of Innovation?

Check out our NAESP CIL webpage for our growing set of resources to help principals overcome challenges.

Then, stay tuned for our May/June 2020 issue of Principal magazine, which takes a deep dive into the big ideas our members have shared through NAESP CIL video podcasts.


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