Freeman Hrabowski Calls on Principals to Create a “Culture of Support”

Conference News Online – 2013

By Christopher Wooleyhand

At the Opening General Session, Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, shared an inspirational message on the transformative power of education. The first step to making students successful, he said, is to believe in them.

“Who you are as a leader is defined by what you think of others,” said Hrabowski, renowned for his efforts to advance the progress of black students in math and science.

In his address, Hrabowski encouraged principals to be leaders among teachers, children, and families, and to build a community of support for students.

“We must work to gain the attention of our students, to connect with them, and to get them to think critically,” he observed. “There are two groups of students in our schools, those whose dreams are fulfilled and those whose dreams have been forever diverted.”

The difference between the two groups? Education.

Hrabowski used his personal story to reiterate that point. He spoke of how his mother discovered at a young age that the more you read, the better reader you become. For her, reading became a vehicle toward independence and self-confidence. Hrabowski, clearly influenced by her, said society needs to focus as much attention on early childhood education as it does on secondary education.

As the leader of a university known for its success in math, Hrabowski also challenged school leaders to consider their role in raising the performance of all students, especially in STEM subjects. Improvement in math begins with improvement in reading, he said. To solve math problems, students need to have strong reading skills. He encouraged attendees to reflect on their own views toward math, suggesting that we be careful not to transfer negative “math biases” to students. Such biases create angst in students which limits their interest in pursuing math-related careers. Further, he noted that the high number of college students leaving math and science majors could be lessened if schools focused on building communities that teach them how to support each other.

Walter Reap, principal at Germantown Elementary in Annapolis, Maryland, was motivated by the keynote speech.

“Dr. Hrabowski connected the work of principals, teachers, and students in a way that clearly defined the importance of relationships and vertical approaches to supporting learning,” said Reap.

Fellow principal Joey Page agreed. “[Hrabowski] created pause in the ‘busy-ness’ of our job and reminded us of the importance of our influence” said Page, principal of Richfield STEM School and president of the Minnesota Elementary School Principals Association.

Hrabowski appropriately concluded his inspiring speech with a quote from Mahatma Ghandi:

“Your beliefs become your thoughts; your thoughts become your words; your words become your actions; your actions become your habits; your habits become your values; your values become your destiny.”

Christopher Wooleyhand is principal of Richard Henry Lee Elementary School in Glen Burnie, Maryland.

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