October is National Principals Month! To celebrate our schools’ leaders and shine a light on the role that these educational leaders play in building successful school communities and helping their students thrive in a complex world. To find out what it’s like to be a principal today and talk about some of the changes they’ve seen over their careers, Today’s Modern Educator is talking to principals across the country this month. We’re kicking off this series with Rhonda T. Inskeep, Principal of Bollman Bridge Elementary School, which is part of the Howard County Public School System in Maryland.
Here’s what Ms. Inskeep had to say:
Today’s Modern Educator (TME): Can you tell us about yourself and how long you’ve been the principal of Bollman Bridge Elementary School?
Rhonda Inskeep (RI): I’ve just started my 29th year as an educator and my 4th year as principal of Bollman Bridge Elementary School. I came to Howard County Public Schools as a 4th grade teacher in 1996 and have also worked as a math coach where I provided professional development to teachers. I was an assistant principal for 5 years before becoming a principal of Bollman Bridge Elementary in 2015. For all except one year, my career as an educator has been at Title 1 schools.
TME: What made you choose a career in education?
RI: My father strongly influenced my decision to become an educator. As a member of our local board of education he was passionate about providing people with opportunities for learning and growing. Seeing the impact of his work on our local community inspired me to find a way to foster those opportunities for learning and growth in my career.
TME: How have schools and elementary education changed since you started teaching?
RI: So much has changed in the time that I’ve been an educator. One of the areas that has seen most change is in how we address the social and emotional needs of students and how educators respond to them. We now understand their critical impact on academic performance and, instead of dismissing these needs, we’re looking for ways to respond to them and remove barriers to learning.
Another area that has changed significantly is the priority we now must place on keeping students safe at school. It’s always been a priority, but we’re a long way past fire drills these days. We’re now teaching our students and staff to respond to many different emergency situations, including lockdowns and intruders, which changes our role as educators and adds to the social and emotional needs of our students.
And finally, the curriculum and our academic expectations for students have changed so much. Students are expected to be doing so much more at an earlier age than they were 29 years ago. From reading at a much earlier age to incorporating critical thinking into every subject area from reading to math.
TME: What is the most rewarding part of leading a school?
RI: For me a large part of what makes being a principal rewarding is definitely learning from, and working with, the teachers and staff at our school. I’m fortunate to work with amazing people who give everything they’ve got for our students. They inspire me every day as I see their dedication, compassion, and empathy for our students.
As an educator my favorite part of the day is first thing in the morning when students are arriving for the day, seeing the excitement on their faces. Knowing that we’ve created an environment where our students want to be each day and feel safe and valued is very gratifying. As a principal, if I’ve managed to create that kind of environment with my teachers and administrators then we can provide students with opportunities – some that they might not have had otherwise – to thrive and grow.
TME: What advice would you share with the next generation of school leaders?
RI: My advice is to find trusted colleagues – those that have the same values for learning and education that you have. Lean on them, seek their advice, and learn from them. Our jobs as educators and administrators are demanding; we’re teaching our students to navigate through an ever-changing and complicated world. It’s a responsibility that can’t be taken lightly and will weigh heavily on you at times and having that support network will surely help.
Ready to help your team of teachers build their skills? You can find resources for Elementary School educators here.