October is National Principals Month! To celebrate our schools’ leaders and find out what it’s like to be a principal today and how the role has changed, Today’s Modern Educator is talking to principals across the country. This week, we talked with Erin Leonard, Head of Lower School at Wakefield School in The Plains, Virginia.
Here’s what Erin had to say:
Today’s Modern Educator (TME): Can you tell us about yourself and how long you’ve been the Head of Lower School at Wakefield School?
Erin Leonard (EL): I started my career as a first grade teacher in the York County School Division in Virginia. From there I’ve had a variety of different teaching experiences including teaching the International Baccalaureate program to third, fourth, and fifth grade students at the American School of Milan in Italy. My first experience as principal, or head of school, came in 2014 when I accepted the position of Head of Lower School at All Saints Episcopal School in Tyler, Texas. And this year I am I’m delighted to have joined Wakefield School as the Head of Lower School.
TME: What made you choose a career in education?
EL: I chose a career in education, because of the impact I can have on children’s lives. Children’s curiosity and positivity is something to be treasured and to be entrusted with nurturing and caring for them daily is a great honor. But I also really enjoy working with parents as well to help them through the joys and struggles of raising their children. Developing those relationships and building and being part of a community is what makes being an educator so special.
TME: How have schools and education changed since you started teaching?
EL: I’ve been teaching for 23 years and a lot has changed since I began teaching in the early 1990s. Schools have become more child-centered, more innovative and teachers have evolved to be learning facilitators where the process of learning has become just as important as the content that’s being taught.
Technology has obviously ushered in many changes to the learning environment, but at the same time the fundamentals often remain untouched. To be a useful educational tool, technology must be purposeful and, much of the time, pens and paper serve a student just as well as a tablet. It’s important that students have strong foundational skills in handwriting, number facts, and the like so that technology tools can take on that purposeful role in their learning.
I look at the Makerspace that we have built at Wakefield School this year as a perfect example of that spirit. The space enables children to have hands-on learning experiences, building mazes or taking apart old electronics to see how they work and it also allows them to take a design from a drawing on paper to a 3D object. However, the most important lesson students learn in the maker space is about taking risk, failing fast, and being resilient.
But for all that has changed, what has not changed is that schools at their core about building relationships. At Wakefield School building our children’s social skills through our school’s courtesies and through character education is an important part of the learning environment. These skills, along with those skills cultivated in the maker space are the essential tools for this generation of learners to succeed.
TME: What is the most rewarding part of leading a school?
EL: Without a doubt it’s seeing the joy of a happy teacher, a happy student, and a happy parent, when all the pieces come together and they’re off on their educational journey. I’ve been very fortunate to be at schools where the communities are passionate and positive and everyone values education.
TME: What advice would you share with the next generation of school leaders?
EL: Have a sense of humor, love the children, and be a good listener. Above all, to be effective a leader needs to listen more than they talk, and to really hear what is being communicated, rather than what they want to be communicated. And finally, assume positive intent. With that outlook you’re not only ready to engage with others but also to find, and nurture, the potential of each child and each member of your school community.