Being a school principal is rife with challenges in even the most predictable of circumstances. Transitioning into the principal seat in between school years to lead a staff you haven’t yet met, can layer on even more obstacles to the already difficult work.
Lauren Norwood, principal of Burke Elementary in Chicago, has faced this experience with enthusiasm and commitment. As the instructional leader, she has committed to improving student achievement while pursuing avenues for developing the adults in the community.
So, how does she do it?
Being Present - During a recent meeting, a third party mentioned that the success of a recent initiative was due in large part to “Lauren’s presence, communication, and work.” When thinking about how to manage her time, Lauren always puts the things that matter most first; team meetings, classroom observations, coaching meetings, etc. Not only does she prioritize these core activities but she is fully present at each of them. She asks hard-hitting questions, probes for more information, pushes her staff’s thinking, and listens with thoughtful expertise and perspective. As a result, she is acutely aware of what is happening in classrooms throughout the building.
Collecting Evidence - A by-product of her being present is that she is able to collect data, both qualitative and quantitative, to keep her informed about progress the school is making and about student achievement. When she meets with teachers in individual meetings, she consistently has concrete student data and observational evidence to ground the conversation and provide meaningful next steps to her team. Data is more than just bottom-line numbers to Lauren and this makes all the difference in how she is able to interact with and lead her teachers.
Clarifying a Vision - Using all of this evidence at the individual level with teachers is a true strength of Lauren’s, but she doesn’t stop using it there. She has also used this year to gather evidence to further refine and clarify the school’s vision. She can see larger trends emerge from the influx of evidence and filters it through what is most important for her school community. This is invaluable to Lauren as she determines how she wants to act on this vision and communicate a compelling picture of where the school and its teachers’ instruction need to head next.
Consolidating Resources and Priorities - With a clear vision in mind, Lauren is primed and ready to evaluate the various priorities and abundant resources in the community. She assesses the school’s needs, identifies gaps, and seeks out ways to address those. This school year, rather than adding new, competing, or redundant organizations to the ecosystem, she sat down with the organizations and stakeholders already working within the school and had them realign their work to address the needs she identified that were most in support of her vision for the school.
Lauren knows her work is just getting started at Burke Elementary. She also knows, though, that the trajectory and velocity of the school are both moving in the right direction. She’s optimistic about student outcomes and the future for the community. Lauren’s approach to leadership, humility to ask for help, and desire to be a continual learner make her a great asset for the Burke community and a great model for aspiring leaders.