I always talk about how, as a new teacher, your principal is important to your future.

James F. Lane

Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction

Richmond, VA

During my teaching career and then as an assistant principal, the principals I worked with helped establish me in my career. I was a band director who had gone straight from college to the classroom, but as a band director I still played music freelance—I think every musician thinks that at some point in their life music is going to be the only thing that they do. So, I wasn’t 100% sure I was going to stick with teaching, even though it’s what I went to school for. But as soon as I got into the classroom, my principals really inspired me to make a difference in kids’ lives.

I taught at an inner-city school in Durham, NC, called Rogers-Herr Middle School that had a high percentage of students living in poverty and challenging situations. My experience at that school taught me that every child has incredible talents, and my job as an educator was to move them forward. I think the principal at the time, Eunice Sanders, and her assistant principal, Ron Roukema, saw something in my classroom that they thought was special in terms of my ability to inspire my students and potentially other teachers. So, they encouraged me, giving me extra opportunities to experience leadership.

Eunice and Ron would talk to me about how they viewed teacher evaluation and teacher motivation. When it came time to start applying for jobs, I knew that my colleagues had me in their corner, not just as references, but as people I could count on to promote my skills. For example, I worked with another principal during my part-time assistant principalship, Alexis Spann, who not only encouraged me to get into administration, but hired me for my first full-time assistant principal position.

One of the things that I always talk about with folks is how you rarely get promoted in any job if your supervisor doesn’t love your work. I talk to aspiring principals, even today, about how important it is to be great where you are and build a relationship with your principal so that when someone calls to ask about you, the principal can speak directly to your skills.

Ron and I still stay in touch to this day and talk about education, and I talk to Ms. Spann frequently. These experiences have had a deep impact on me as a superintendent, and I always talk about how, as a new teacher, your principal is important to your future. We talk in education all the time about the teacher shortage and, certainly, there are pipeline issues, but so many times I believe we could solve a lot of these issues with better retention policies as well. We need to compensate teachers better, but one of the other things we need to do is support teachers better.

Dr. James F. Lane is the Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction. He was one of 100 superintendents in the nation selected to attend the 2014 ConnectEd Superintendents Summit at the White House in recognition of his leadership in the use of instructional technology by his schools.

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