How One School Leader Is Valuing Her Teachers
What is top of mind for New Leaders alum and principal Cristina Segura? Student recruitment and teacher retention. “They’re super connected,” explains Segura. “How many students we enroll impacts how many teachers we keep for next school year—and that consistency in our teachers is so important for our kids. We want to provide a strong instructional experience. We want teachers who really care about our students and love being here.”
Segura, like school leaders across the country, is determined to develop, value, and retain her teachers, despite early exit trends across the field, limited numbers of bilingual candidates, and competition from neighboring districts with higher salaries. A “pandemic-principal,” Segura’s first year as principal at Esperanza Elementary School in Oakland Unified School District was the same year Covid-19 hit.
Self-described as feisty and not scared of hard work, Segura first walked into Esperanza Elementary School as an interim substitute teacher in 2008. She went on to pursue her teaching and principal certification and participated in New Leaders Emerging Leaders program. “The principal at the time saw something in me,” Segura explains. “She told me, this is the work I need to be doing.” Eleven years later, Segura stepped into the principal role.
"We want to provide a strong instructional experience. And, we want teachers who really care about our students and love being here.”
Her journey into school leadership forced her to see more in herself than she realized. She is now working hard to do the same for others. Here are five leadership insights that drive how Segura is building a shared vision, fueling collective action, and creating the conditions in which families, students, and teachers want to stay.
“You deserve a coach.”
This is the professional support Segura offers as part of her recruitment efforts. “I like to let people know up front that I believe in coaching, that they are going to see me in classrooms, that I don’t want them to feel like they can’t ask for help. We’re all learners here.” Her goal is to recruit and hire teachers who are open to receiving feedback and growing professionally—and then provide them the individualized coaching support they need. “I always want to push myself,” she adds. “I want like-minded educators here.”
"You deserve a coach. ... I always want to push myself. I want like-minded educators here."
Team structure, accountability, shared vision
Every year, staff have opportunities to be on teams to drive instruction, support recruitment and hiring, and facilitate family outreach. Segura prioritizes her leadership actions that build high-performing teams, actions that include setting up systems and structures for team meetings, establishing clear roles and expectations, investing time in building relationships, and holding each other accountable. The end result: a unified mission. For her hiring committee, for example, this looks like candidates who “sense that we have a similar vision, that we share core values, that we’re on the same page.”
Create a ‘just-right’ PD calendar with teachers
Last spring, Segura decided to host a Saturday session for teachers to help plan the PD calendar for this school year. Her goal was three-fold: reflect on what professional development is most important; identify instructional strategies that need to be uplifted, particularly in math; and create a plan that builds the capacity of experienced and novice teachers alike. “Having the teachers in the room was super powerful. In the past, what I heard was we’re given the PD calendar, but we don’t know ‘the why.’ Now their voices are included. They felt ownership all year.”
"In the past, what I heard was we’re given the PD calendar, but we don’t know ‘the why.’ Now their voices are included. They felt ownership all year.”
Everyone wants to be valued as a professional
Segura is also quick to admit that it’s hard to know how each individual staff member wants to be recognized. Her preference is food, but many on her staff shared that they appreciate hand-written notes. “So I went wild feeding people and writing notes,” she explains. But doing the PD calendar as a school helped her shift her approach. “I could just sense that my teachers really saw that I value their expertise, that I see and respect them as professionals. It was a huge moment for me in my leadership journey.” Developing the PD calendar is now an annual teacher event.
"My teachers really saw that I value their expertise, that I see and respect them as professionals. It was a huge moment for me in my leadership journey."
Lean on your team
From strategically supporting the teachers on special assignment (TSAs) who serve as instructional coaches to developing family outreach with unified messaging on the importance of their dual language program, Segura is proud of her teams. “I am able to lean on my teams, to really trust them,” she observes. “I see them working together, collaboratively problem solving, breaking up the work and deciding who does what.” We know the best leaders are not go-it-alone superheroes. Like Segura, they intentionally build the capacity of others to transform their school vision into a reality.
When Segura walked through the doors of Esperanza Elementary School back in 2008, she did not know that she was taking the first step to school leadership. Like many principals, she received that well-known “shoulder tap”—the moment another leader sees your leadership potential and helps you navigate a course forward.
“I went into New Leaders on the advice of my coach. It’s the best professional development I’ve ever had—how to coach teachers, how to be a grade-level team lead, how to push myself. It was so hard and so good. New Leaders helped me to see myself as a leader. I don’t think I ever had before.”
Her advice to leaders right now
Stick it out for more than three years. If I had quit during the pandemic, which I wanted to do, I would not be where I am now. This is the first year I feel successful and I know I am having an impact on our students, families, and teachers. I didn’t feel like a failure before, I just struggled.
So my advice is that it is going to be really hard. It’s never going to be easy. Every year is going to challenge you in different ways. But if you stay focused on your mission and vision as a leader, if you build strong teams, you’ll have those small moments when you know it was worth it—for yourself as a leader and for the community you love.