President’s Perspective: What We Do Matters

By Mark White
October 2014, Volume 38, Issue 2

It has been my privilege to represent and serve you as NAESP President since July 1, 2014, when I accepted the NAESP gavel from 2013-2104 President Nancy Meador at our annual conference in Nashville. Nancy represented NAESP with dignity, honor, and style. She set a high bar which I will strive to meet.

I have had the opportunity to visit several states already and meet with principals and association leaders from Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. In addition, at the annual conference in Nashville I enjoyed great conversations with many terrific leaders and with your outstanding NAESP Board of Directors.

Thus far, one point that has struck me is that principals everywhere have many commonalities and share the same challenges—despite the distance between us and issues in our states. Across the country, principals are challenged by new testing requirements, new teacher and principal evaluation systems, and attracting new teachers. At the same time, I see tremendous strengths in the hard-working leaders who are juggling all this “newness.” Principals are dedicated to their students, teachers, and communities. Daily, they demonstrate the qualities of leaders—including courage, values, strong positive communication skills, work ethic, a coaching mentality, and a sense of accountability.

I have a sign that I keep beside my desk that reads, “What We Do Matters.” It is true for principal leaders today in so many ways. You have chosen to make a difference because you know that what principals do matters for children. Simply put, you are a difference-maker because of your chosen profession, the principalship.

This month, during National Principals Month, NAESP is celebrating the successes of sixty-one National Distinguished Principals who have made a difference at their schools. Their inspiring stories from every state remind each of us of what is possible. Check out the NAESP website to learn about them, their ideas and stories, and the NDP program.


We all welcome and provide the best induction we can for teachers new to the field, and it has been my privilege to do so many times over the past 25 years at Hintgen Elementary School in La Crosse, Wisconsin. This fall, however, I have had the privilege of experiencing the excitement of a new first-year teacher in a different way—through the eyes of my daughter, Maria. A new second-grade teacher in a nearby school district, Maria enters the field from a graduate teaching program, after spending three years writing grants in the nonprofit world. She made this shift into education because she wants to make a more direct difference in the lives of children. Needless to say, her parents are very proud of her! Her excitement, dedication to her students, first year challenges, and wonderment at every stage as she begins her first school year has brought me back to thinking about why we all engage in the challenging work we do, and why all of us made the decision to become educators ourselves.

The school enterprise is at the heart of everything in society, and we can influence so much from our positions. In order to do so, as I told Maria as she nervously prepared for her first day as a teacher, it is all about the connections we establish with our students, parents, community, and each other. I have told my staff many times that no significant learning happens without a relationship being established first. I would also add that no significant learning happens for our staff unless we establish those trusting and caring relationships with them first. The curriculum, assessments, planning, etc. will all come in due time and may challenge us daily, but the relationships we establish with our teachers, students, and community will nourish us and our schools throughout the school year and beyond.

As a result of my strong belief in relationships, I firmly believe that we cannot succeed in this work alone. Principals need support from both their national and state associations to advocate for them, provide needed knowledge and professional development, and to connect them. We chose membership in NAESP and our state associations to do so; please encourage others to do the same to keep the collective voice of principals strong. Without your membership and the membership of others, our voices will soften and cease to support us.

I hope your school year is off to a terrific start and that you take the time to celebrate all of the good things that are happening while establishing and strengthening your relationships!

Mark White is president of NAESP and principal of Hintgen Elementary School in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Copyright © 2014. 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

Deadline approaching for NAESP Pre-K-8 Principals Conference call for proposals.Submit a proposal by Dec. 8.