Cesar Chavez Principal, Laura Morris: Part Two

After working in Oklahoma City Public Schools for two years, we interviewed teachers, administrators and community members about their work with The Learner First. This is part two of our interview with Laura Morris, a school principal. Part one can be read here. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

What is one thing that has personally changed for you, having gone through this process?

I think it has helped me be more focused. I told Leslie [Learner First Change Catalyst] this last year when we started. She said, “How can I help you?” I said, “You have to just tell me ‘stay the course’.” I tend to go off on tangents. If I read an article, I think we ought to just do it. If I read something on Twitter that I find intriguing, man we have to get on this right now. This is going to be that thing, right?

Until this year, every time I would go into a staff meeting and say, “I’ve read this article”, my staff would groan and go, “oh now we are going to have to do something new.” I think Learner First has helped me kind of stay focused on how my ideas fit or don’t. If they don’t fit those things that we are working on then I need to not do them. If I have an idea, I need to bring them to my leadership team and have an open and honest dialogue about where this fits.

It has also helped me let go. I’m not what I would call a micro-manager, but the idea of sharing leadership is kind of scary to me. I’ve been doing this for 17 years, and a lot has changed in 17 years, including the whole idea of shared leadership. But this process has helped me see that that is the best way to grow my teachers, too – by letting them take things over and guide them and just be there to really provide support for them. And then also to ask them to have questions about what they’re thinking and where they want to take their ideas and projects.

Can you tell me about any stories, or conversations you have had with parents or individual students, in regard to this work?

Well the kids don’t really know the work. They know the results of the work. So, the conversations I have with kids are usually around, “How’s everything going?” We did have a little fifth grade girl. Oh she is so smart. She really struggles with math. We were in a meeting, that fifth grade team and I. We were in a meeting looking at data, and looking at the Lighthouse [Learner First data collection platform] result during the middle of the year, and looking at some of our other data. And we kind of honed in on her, because her teacher was really worried about her, because she is so smart.

Somebody in the meeting mentioned that this girl… she is an actress I guess. I don’t know. She is an actress in shows that my young teachers know. If they would have said “Gilligan Island,” I would have known, but I don’t know this show.

Well anyways, they were talking about that she is a mathematician. She went to MIT or something. And, she writes books about math, for girls. So we looked it up on Amazon and I bought the book for her and brought it to her. The other day I walked by her in the hall and said, “Hey how is that book?”

She said, “I really like it! I’m almost done reading it!”

And I said, “Okay, and is it helping you with math?”

“Yeah, it’s helping me understand that it’s okay for me to get math!”

I said, “Oh! Way to go!” Those are the kinds of conversations I have with kids. And, “Oh yeah, did the shin guards work?” And you know just kind of stuff like that.