Leadership Philosophy Statement I am a Humble Warrior. With an opened heart, I am giving. With an engaged core, I am strong. Always rooted to the earth, I am balanced. Ever stretching myself to the limit, I am flexible. Humbly, I bow forward. When I reflect on leaders that I have admired, I see these qualities in them: selflessness, strength, balance and flexibility.
Selflessness My mother is a “humble warrior.” She is also a child care provider. As a child, I had a hard time understanding why we struggled to make ends meet when my mom was doing what I saw as the most important job in the world: raising children for a living. They start as helpless infants, being nurtured and loved by my mother. She sees them through their most amazing and drastic authentic learning. Under her watch, they learn to eat, drink, walk, talk and connect with others. My mother was everything to me and everything I wanted to be. At the age of three, I began to take on the role of caregiver. I watched over my little sister like hers was my own life. I then began watching over the daycare kids like they were family. I nurtured them and taught them all that I knew. I have been teaching ever since.
When I was six, I knew I wanted to be an art teacher. I knew this because I loved being around kids and I loved art. I did not realize how important art education was until I started teaching it in 2003. Like most teachers, my first year was challenging. High Tech Middle was a brand new school and I was twenty-three and “green.” Although I was new, my kids loved my class. They loved it because I was passionate about what I was teaching and I knew that they all had so much potential. I believe that more than anything else, this is what kids need. They need to be loved and need someone to believe in them. Teaching art is and will always be my passion, but my vision expanded beyond my classroom. I wanted to help create a school culture where every student feels loved and sees their own highest potential.
High Tech High School is a place where teachers can be leaders. I experienced this as early as my first year at High Tech Middle School when our Director, Ray Trinidad would encourage me to take lead on various things at school. Ray had energy that was contagious. He made me get excited about what we were doing and in turn want to contribute. By the end of my third year teaching, I was a teacher leader. I had taken on roles at school that categorized me as such, but more importantly, I felt like I was making a difference at my school.
In 2007, I helped open High Tech High North County. My new Director, Nikki Hinostro encouraged me to take on even more. Now I was helping lead meetings, discussing school culture, and even picking out wall colors for the new building. Nikki often talked to me about what being a leader meant. She said that part of being a school leader was to think about things from everyone's perspective. I watched her as she lovingly dealt with difficult issues with both staff and students. Nikki had a vision of a school whose guiding force was to let all kids know that they were loved when they came to school. I appreciate this intention, and through this lenses I was able to see myself as a school leader for the first time.
As a school leader, I strive to be someone who is confident in her beliefs, yet humble in presence. My Grandmother is a “humble warrior.” My Grandmother likes to sit down with my sisters, cousins and I and talk politics and education. She says that she wants to hear what “the young people” think about our World. Like all great educators, she loves to learn and she loves to share what she knows. More importantly though, she wants to hear our voices, perspectives and opinions. Sometimes listening is more important than sharing.
Being a Dean of Students, I see this selfless act of listening being one of the most crucial aspects of my job. It seems that everyone needs a good listener and often that is all that is needed. I have found that when I focus on creating a loving and comforting environment students respond by trusting me. It is my intention to create an open positive space for people to come and be heard. In turn, parents come asking about how to better support their children, but also to share their frustrations and concerns. Teachers come for support in dealing with their students, but also to run ideas by me. I want the students to know that I am there as a support system not as a disciplinarian. I want to be there to listen to students when they are having a hard time and when they are doing well.
Strength and Balance Part of remaining calm throughout the day is being balanced in life. Balancing my life gives me energy to handle and react to difficult situations at work. Years back, I experienced a personal trauma that changed my life. As my personal life as I knew it began to fall apart, a new life began to blossom. Through teaching art at High Tech High, I found a confidence that gave me the strength to change my personal life. When I was in my third year of teaching, I realized that hundreds of students had learned to love art because of the way that I taught it. They loved me and looked up to me. In my professional life, I was making a difference. For the first time, I understood the importance and the magnitude of what I was doing. These kids believed that they were creative and most of them thought that they were “amazing artists.” That year, in an effort to change my personal life, I found yoga. I found peers that I could relate to, look up to and be challenged by. I found myself and in return I also found love.
Three years later I was offered a leadership role at High Tech High North County. I did not take the decision to become Dean of Students lightly. I knew that I loved my job and giving it up for something new was a risk. I also knew that I loved this school that I helped create. I was the right person for the position.
One of my main goals is to become a strong builder of positive culture. There is a fine balance here. As Dean of Students, I hear the difficult things that young people are going through first hand. I see these teenagers struggle with life experiences that they should not be dealing with that their age. And I see young people make bad choices. It takes strength to continue to see the good in people. Although, I am the one who enforces discipline at our school, I strive to do it in a loving way. I always focus on moving forward and learning from our mistakes. I believe that my role as a leader should be one that supports students through anything that they feel they need. I want to be a positive presence for the kids as much as I can. I make a strong effort to go in and out of classrooms just to check in with a student or teacher. It is important to me that students know that I care about them. I work with the students to find solutions and build character.
If anyone is a “humble warrior” it is Marcus Bell. As the Dean of Students at High Tech High for many years, he is someone I look to for support. Marcus can appear intimidating. He is tall, strong and seems incredibly confident at all times. Looks aside, when you are in his presence there is a calm ora about him. His face is relaxed and never threatening. He seems to stay balanced all the time. He stands tall like a tree rooted in to the earth. Like being in nature, being around him relaxes others. He uses language that is stern yet kind and caring. When I am dealing with difficult situations I try to remain calm and exude a peaceful demeanor. I try to look at everyone's perspective and remain loving no matter how hard that may be at the moment. Like Marcus, I strive to have an unyielding balance in temperament.
Sometimes it is challenging to focus on the positive. This takes strength. I have had days where students are crying, teachers are frustrated and parents are angry and I go home thinking “what have I done?” It is days like these where having a calm demeanor is vital. This is where personal strength and balance become crucial aspects of being a strong leader.
Within my first few months of being Dean, I realized how much strength I would need to continue in that position. I had a student who was in my art class before I left the classroom. He loved art and he was good at it. Most of his experience as an artist had been through graffiti and tagging in the neighborhood. When he got to my class, I recognized his talent and worked with him a lot. He learned how to se a brush and he was so proud of his accomplishments in art. We had a great connection. When he was in my class, he stopped tagging and stopped getting in trouble. He would stay after school and work with me on a regular basis. At the end of the year, I had just become Dean, he came to school high and was expelled. I had to sit in meetings with a mother and her son as they pleaded to let him stay at our school. They were sure that having to leave High Tech High would ruin his life. This experience was sad and I cried my way through it, but I knew that I had to think about the school as a whole. This was one of the hardest experiences of my career. I know that I am stronger after living through it. I also know that I have this student's respect because we still keep in touch.
Flexibility Being a member of the High Tech High Community for over seven years, I have learned to be flexible. Naturally, in working with students of all learning styles, I have to know how to differentiate, adapt and change. It is often challenging to differentiate and still be fair. Being a school leader is interesting because each and every student is different, every situation is different, every family, teacher and incident has its own unique piece. I am putting things in place that help me to be as fair and consistent as I can be while still personalizing. I strive to be consistent with our students so they know what to expect when they come to me. This does not mean that every student gets the same response or consequence, but I want them to understand what behaviors are unacceptable and why. I also want them to know that I will listen to their side and be an advocate for them if need be.
Being flexible means thinking outside the box, figuring out ways to be pro-active not reactive. It is important to understand our kids and how they may react in certain situations. If we can be a step ahead of them, we can prevent many (not all) of the negative behaviors. If we can speak to all of our classes about using respectful and appropriate language and set up classroom norms early on, we will have fewer students using the language we do not want to hear. If we can give our students tools for asking for help in difficult situations, they may not feel that they need to take care of them on their own. If we train our students to take responsibility for their school and be proud, they may be more likely to encourage their peers to make good choices.
Something that I am currently working on at my school is reinventing our Ambassador Program. I see this as a wonderful place for students to become strong leaders. In the past, our Ambassadors have been student leaders, chosen by the staff who help give tours to visitors. As I met with our group this year, I realized that they wanted to do more. They began helping out with information sessions, hosting prospective students and interviewing prospective teachers. When they saw that I trusted them, they ran with it. They assigned leadership roles within the group, created a website and began leading their own meetings. These students want to help make their school a better place and they are willing to do what it takes. I believe that our Ambassador program has the potential to change the school culture in such a positive way. I see these students taking on adult responsibilities with grace and passion. They are focused and determined and I love hearing there voices. I believe that students learn best from their peers. If I want to have a positive school culture the best way to make that happen is through our students.
Humble Warrior Being a Dean of Students is humbling to say the least. I find myself more often than not doing work that goes unnoticed. Eventually, I realized that this would become my ultimate goal as a school leader. A strong leader leads through her students. If she leads them down the right path, others will follow.