Currently, I am enrolled in a graduate program where I am working toward a master’s degree in school administration. A couple of weeks ago I had an assignment to write a letter to my administrative role model. The intent of the letter was to tell that person the significance they have had on my decision to become an administrator. My administrative role model is actually the person who convinced me I might be qualified to take this path toward administration.

Leigh Jones (@lajRCSdirector) was my principal for two years. During those two years I worked harder than I ever have in my life, but I absolutely loved getting up and going to work every single day. She pushed me beyond my comfort zone and I grew tremendously as a teacher and a leader. She is currently a high school principal in Rockingham County, NC where she was recently named that district’s principal of the year.  Last week she was recognized as North Carolina Region 5 principal of the year. The letter I wrote to her is below. In it, I explain why I feel she is completely deserving of this award. Thank you Leigh for being a great leader!

February 6, 2013

Dear Leigh,
For one of my classes, I have been asked to write a letter to my administrative role model. It didn’t take me a second thought to decide who that person would be. From our first meeting, I knew you were going to be an influence on my career and in my life. There are so many things I have learned from you that it’s difficult to narrow it down to just a few, but in order to maintain the brevity of this letter, that’s what I will do.

First and foremost, you have taught me that it’s important to take risks. You are an innovator and never fail to challenge the status quo. Through careful planning and methodical approaches, you have been able to bring about change in the schools where you have worked. Your ability to establish and maintain relationships with your staff creates an environment where teachers will support both you and your initiatives. When you know something is what’s best for kids, you will fight until implementation occurs. Under your leadership, I was able to take risks both in and out of my classroom. Because of this, I grew as a teacher and a leader.

From the first article you placed in the staff mailboxes, you modeled the importance of being a learner. Your willingness to stretch and to continually be a learner yourself, sets the tone for the staff and creates a culture of learning within the school. From pedagogy to technology, you push people to stay on top of current trends and issues in education. Teachers realize the importance of learning for themselves which directly benefits the students.

You told me once that the most important quality of an effective leader is humility. Without a doubt, you are one of the most humble people I know. Through you I have seen that humility in a school leader is exhibited in a constant focus on the team. Whenever praise is directed at you, it is typical for you to redirect the focus toward the staff and students. It is never about you. So much so that when you recently were in a car accident, you were shocked that the staff and students at McMichael missed you so much.

I’m not sure if you remember this, but the night before your first day of school at McMichael, I sent you an email. In that email, I had written a letter to your students where I let them know a little about their new principal. None of the students ever actually saw the letter. In fact, until now, you and I are the only ones who have seen it. In deciding what to include in this letter to you, I realized that message contained my thoughts on your leadership with students. You build relationships with students and make a difference without even realizing the effect you have. Here is that email:

August 14, 2011
Dear Students of McMichael High School,

On Monday morning you will begin a new school year and at the same time, encounter a new principal. There are a few things you should know about your new principal. She will greet you loudly every morning with an enthusiastic, “GOOD MORNING!!!” If your pants sag, she will assist you in pulling them up. She will expect you to come to school and be there on time. If you don’t come, you can expect her to show up at your door or to send someone else to get you. She will hold you accountable for your actions. She will impart discipline…fairly & consistently. She will get in your face and be all up in your business. She might make you cry. She will probably make you mad. She will definitely make you want to cuss.

There are some other things she’ll do that you need to be aware of as well. She’ll make you laugh. She’ll fight for you no matter what. She’ll treat you with respect and expect others to do so as well. Her first priority will be to do what’s best for you. She’ll fight like crazy to remove the barriers that stand in the way of your learning. She’ll create an environment that makes school a fun, welcoming, safe place to be. She’ll love you like you’re her own. She’ll be your number one fan, your advocate, your coach and your mentor.

I hope you quickly realize just how lucky you are to have her! Good luck!

Thank you Leigh, for being a mentor and for encouraging me to push myself into this next step in my career. If not for you, I would not be in the Principal Fellows Program. Since I now realize I don’t have to actually work in the same building in order to learn from you, I look forward to many more years of you teaching, challenging and encouraging me.

Melanie