Coaching: The Power of Being Seen as a Leader
Mukta Sambrani believes in community schools. A New Leaders alum and principal of Lincoln Elementary School (Grades TK-5) in Oakland Unified School District, Sambrani is committed to engaging parents, teachers, community partners, and volunteers in developing global citizens. Nestled in Chinatown, Lincoln Elementary supports a predominantly immigrant student population. The school has won two significant awards under her leadership: one for its multi-tiered systems of support and the other for its pandemic responsiveness.
“We are serving this community with a conviction about the rights of every child and the hopes and dreams that immigrant parents bring to the United States,” she explains. Like many of her staff, Sambrani identifies with the immigrant community she serves. In fact, she first heard of Lincoln Elementary when she was in her 20s. Newly arrived in the U.S. and enrolled in graduate school, she started her educational journey as a tutor at an ESL center which served Lincoln students. Little did she know that she’d one day be principal.
“We are serving this community with a conviction about the rights of every child and the hopes and dreams that immigrant parents bring to the United States."
As part of her leadership journey, Sambrani participated in our Principal Coaching services as part of New Leaders’ long-standing partnership with Oakland Unified School District. She wanted to deepen her practice and further her capacity to build an inclusive and culturally responsive learning environment for all her students.
We sat down with Sambrani to learn more about her school, her leadership approach, and what keeps her motivated. Here are highlights from our conversation.
What makes Lincoln Elementary unique?
Lincoln Elementary is a historic school. We've been in existence for more than 150 years. In 1865, the mayor of Oakland founded a school for the children of the city of Oakland employees. It opened its doors to 60 students.
The demographic of the neighborhood has evolved over the years, and the school with it. We’re situated in the heart of Chinatown which embraces a wider immigrant community. We serve over 700 students with about 42% of our students coming from Chinese-speaking homes and the balance speaking different languages, representing all the different cultures of the world.
I, like many of our staff here, believe that education is the passport to the world.
We are a community school and very grateful to be a generational community. For many of our students, Lincoln is the school that their parents, aunts and uncles, and in some cases grandparents attended. We have staff members who also attended Lincoln. And many, like me, who know first-hand the immigrant experience or are children of immigrants.
We strive to make every opportunity possible for our students. Our students should be able to do anything they want to do, go anywhere they want to go. They should be able to read and write, have a philosophical discussion, solve any problem here or anywhere in the world. I, like many of our staff here, believe that education is the passport to the world.
What excites you as a school leader? What keeps you going?
I love finding connections—especially when a relationship has been damaged or a conversation is not going where it needs to go. That moment when you find the common thread between the teacher, the parent, the student, the administrator, and the community member, that’s when you can get somewhere. That common thread is the beginning of how everyone can grow together toward the same outcome, which is what is best for students.
What was your focus for the first half of the year and what are you prioritizing for the second half of this school year?
I feel like this is the year of resilience. Everything so far has been centered around social emotional learning, pandemic recovery, and learning loss mitigation. There are huge gaps that teachers and administrators are trying to fill. We have many supports and interventions in place in our school community.
As we go into the second half of the year, we’re challenging ourselves to have authentic and real conversations with our students and with ourselves. It’s time to push hard on rigor and relevance, to look at the data, to look for outcomes and it is time for accountability. We’d like to see our students rise. We’ve held them up, now they need to float or better yet, swim for themselves.
How has New Leaders played into your leadership journey?
I’ve had the good fortune of being in the New Leaders world even as a teacher. My first high school teaching role was at a school with a principal trained by New Leaders. When I went to middle school as an assistant principal, the principal was a New Leader. So the focus on data-driven instruction and the vision for equity were ingrained in me.
But once I started being coached by a New Leaders coach, I felt truly seen as a leader. My coach pushed me to really dig deep and examine my own history as a learner, as an educator, and as a school leader who wants equitable outcomes for all students of all backgrounds.
The coaching is customized to me and the problems of practice I’m facing. It’s no nonsense and results-driven. Through the coaching I realized that all the things I’ve been trying to do out here on my own actually have a name and it’s called the New Leaders methodology. I’m happy to be fully in the New Leaders world. It is mine now.
Being a principal can be hard because people are quick to judge what you do. With my New Leaders coach, I feel seen in a big way. And that helps me see and hear others.
"Once I started being coached by a New Leaders coach, I felt truly seen as a leader."
What advice do you have for K-12 leaders right now?
I know you're tired, but hang in there. We've come this far. Don't give up. You have more allies than you know. Every teacher, every community provider, every parent sees you. We’re all working toward the same goal for academic and social learning for young people. It may not feel like it, but the world sees you. You are appreciated. We are grooming and shaping the success of these young people to lead the world in the future.