Professional Educators

California: Transformation Tour in Richmond

By Christy Levings, NEA Executive Committee

How do you define leadership?  Is it being brave enough to try all new things when the comfortable that you know might be okay?  Is it taking a stand and giving it your all? Is it demanding excellence from yourself in order to support excellence in your colleagues?

I saw leadership at its best this week at Lincoln Elementary in Richmond, CA.  I saw talented professionals who are by anyone’s definition leaders.  Every employee in the school is demonstrating leadership – standing up and pushing themselves in order to move their children forward to be more successful in life.

Do not be mistaken, I am not talking only about the highly experienced and highly professional principal.  She is doing fabulous work and more importantly, she understands how to work with a staff of talented professionals.  As one teacher said, “She just gets it.”  She understands that respecting her staff and making decisions together allows them to feel respected as professionals. She also works to create a working environment that pushes and prods the entire staff to use their talents and unleash their creativity.

The decisions they are making as a team to move the instruction and academic success of these students forward is fascinating to discuss with the teachers.  It is an energy draining and full court press approach but not one of just layering program after program on top of each other.  They are taking measured steps to expand the school day and year as well as the materials they are using for instruction.  The standards for each grade level are definitely driving the instruction and the textbooks and other academic materials are just tools for the teacher.

These professionals have taken on a huge task.  They are willing to accept no excuses for academic success.  It was so impressive to see the “we can solve it” approach the staff had about every problem or barrier that might keep a student from being successful in school.  Moreover, let me be clear that their students arrive each day bringing with them a full range of complex issues including the effects of poverty, the issues of learning a new language, the lack of health care, and sometimes the issues of homelessness.

This school needs a chance to prove how high they can fly but they may also need someone to catch them and give them rest occasionally. This is tough work and they need our respect and our help to make them feel supported in this undertaking. The resources the federal grants will give this school will be well used at Lincoln but the rest of us must make sure their work can continue after the grants run out.  We will need to show our leadership in forcing both the state and national departments of education to show leadership that will support and maintain the extraordinary work I saw at Lincoln Elementary.

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