Dear School Leader: Please Hang On

From navigativing pandemic-related challenges to staffing shortages, education leaders are struggling to maintain their own well-being. We asked our New Leaders alumni to share what keeps them moving forward.
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Brendan O'Day

Dear School Leader,

You’re going through a lot. COVID-19 has dramatically changed your role and impacted your life. From navigating staffing shortages to managing pandemic-related schooling to supporting the well-being of your entire school community. And somehow, you’ve managed to remain focused on high-quality instruction and improved outcomes for all students. What you’ve accomplished under these conditions is nothing short of amazing.

But we’ve only read the research about the challenges school leaders are facing. You’re living through it. We asked our New Leaders alumni—principals, district leaders, assistant principals—who stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you at this moment in time, what keeps them motivated to move forward when it all seems like too much.

What we heard was an emphatic commitment to students. The drive to create a more equitable education system. And a sense of responsibility in return for the exceptional educators who shaped their own lives.

We hope the words of our alumni bring you solace and inspiration when you’re feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders.

“What keeps me motivated are my students. I continue to press forward despite many obstacles because my students deserve a school, a community, and a leader that cares about them and their future. I continue to do this work because if I only reach one child, then I know I've made a difference.”
Marsandra Brown, Assistant Principal, Chicago, IL

“I have children of my own (grades 5 and 9) who I watch navigate their way through the pandemic. They inspire me to make better choices, build better relationships, and advocate with a stronger voice on behalf of all children. Parents are stressed and less involved. I am the voice that will not quit on our students, our future.”
Renee Jones, Principal, Prince George's County, MD

“[What motivates me is] the chance to contribute to something larger than me and to fight for a world that reflects our best selves.”
Alexander Phillips, Head of School, Chicago, IL

“[What motivates me are] the black and brown students in underserved communities who deserve a chance at a quality education and breaking the generational cycle so they, too, can be contributing citizens and have meaningful impact in their communities and beyond.”
Denise Gaffor, Charter School Authorizer, Newark, NJ

“I lead in the community where I grew up. It was great leaders and teachers who helped me realize my potential and gift. It is a joy to continue to carry the torch and give back for as long as I am still passionate about the work.”
Dana Tutt, Principal, Upper Marlboro, MD

“Even though it has gotten really hard over the last few years, especially during COVID, for me it's all about the kids. I have worked in schools with majority Black and brown students, and I think they deserve the best instruction we can provide. As a Black woman educator, I believe students of color also need to see educators who look like them and know that they have someone who cares about their well-being and academic success at school. The education system, as is, is not designed for everyone to be successful. But I think if we hold on tight and reimagine schools, we can create conditions where students AND staff are thriving. I recently transitioned to an Assistant Principal role so I can hopefully challenge and change some beliefs and mindsets around working with students of color.”
L’aurelei Durr, Assistant Principal of Instruction, Oakland, CA

“Every time I witness a student succeed, I want to keep going in some capacity.”
Vikki Stokes, National Lead Principal Coaching Facilitator, Chicago, IL 

Remember, School Leader: You matter. What you do every day matters. Students are our future, and you make a difference so powerful that it can change the entire course of a child's life.

Thank you for all that you do.

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We know that school leaders need support now. New Leaders is committed to advocating for continued investment in school leadership to provide this much needed support. Read more in our latest policy brief.

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