President’s Perspective: To All My Friends and Colleagues …

by Barbara Chester, NAESP President
June 2011, Volume 34, Issue 10

“The challenge” was first handed to us that spring day when we graduated from college. It was simple. All of us heard, in one way or another, the words that came to define our careers—even our lives: “With the gift of knowledge and education, go forward and create the best for yourself and for the lives that you touch.”

As for me, I took that challenge with me the year following my college graduation when I opened my very first classroom. My goal was to create the best learning environment for every child who came through my classroom door. Subsequently, when the opportunity came for my first principalship, I expanded that challenge to encompass all the children and all the classrooms within our school.

“Rethink Possible”

This month completes my 29th year as an elementary principal and my 36th year as an educator. I hope that over those years, my actions and decisions did, in fact, create the best learning environment for all my children, staff, and communities, and that I did, in fact, meet the challenge that so inspired me all those years ago. What an amazing experience it has been!

Last July when I was sworn in as president of NAESP, I expanded the challenge once again. Representing all members of NAESP, I knew that our task was to continue to make decisions that would be best for our Association and our members. Interestingly, an additional phrase entered my vocabulary as I watched a commercial on television: “Rethink possible.”

Over the course of this past year, we encountered a variety of situations that required the NAESP Board of Directors and staff to scramble to work to ensure that we too met the challenge, just in a different environment. We had to examine traditional ways of doing business and operating procedures that many had come to assume were the norm, to rethink the possible, to continually look at decisions from the 30,000-foot view, and to examine not only the immediate situation but strive to envision the Association as it might look in the future. That, too, has been an extraordinary experience!

This month also brings the end of my term as president, and I am proud to say that I have had the opportunity to work with an incredible board and staff. It has been my honor to serve on the board and as president, represent colleagues throughout the country. I have had the privilege of traveling to many states, listening to stories, observing our strong state affiliates at work, and seeing firsthand the wisdom, courage, and commitment that every principal demonstrates in performing his or her tasks.

As I have reinforced with so many individuals and audiences in my travels, principals everywhere work hard to meet the challenge every day. We do a job that many others—including our fellow educators—find overwhelming and somewhat unrewarding. At every state conference and gathering of principals I attended, I heard a common refrain: Principals tell their stories with heartfelt passion and profound dedication, despite their frustration with a nonstop onslaught of uncontrollable situations and a near-daily barrage of inaccurate commentary opining that all schools are failing. And yet school budgets are being slashed and expectations for teaching and learning are ever-rising.

Well folks, I am here to tell you that I know and have witnessed principals who, in spite of those overwhelming situations, make a positive difference in the lives they touch every day. They each strive to create the best possible climate for the children they serve, in spite of the negativity, long hours, no-win situations, and diminishing rewards. There’s no plainer way to say it: Principals meet the challenge with every decision they make and every action they take to educate children. Don’t let anyone tell you differently!

Continue to Take the Challenge

Principals are an incredible group of individuals who are vital to the most diverse, complex, and open education system in the world. In no other country is every child welcomed into school, regardless of his or her individual needs or situation. And while educators in all types of schools work hard for kids, principals in our public schools especially meet the challenge, rethink the possible, and demonstrate extraordinary leadership every day. I hope every single one of you will continue to take the challenge, to rethink the possibilities for your children, and to be proud of our profession and the job you do every day.

Words cannot fully express my gratitude for the opportunity to serve you, to meet so many of you in person at state conferences and in schools, and to represent the principalship. It truly has been an honor. As my dad said, “Not bad for a farm kid!”

Thank you and warmest regards,

Barb Chester

Copyright © 2011. National Association of Elementary School Principals. No part of the articles in NAESP magazines, newsletters, or website may be reproduced in any medium without the permission of the National Association of Elementary School Principals. For more information, view NAESP’s reprint policy.