Principal Sarah Hays
The Motivational Coach, Star School Leader Recipient
Principal Sarah Hays shared her tips on how to bridge the gap between school and community. This is the fifth spotlight in a series of twelve, in which we feature the winning recipients of Kiddom’s annual Star School Leader Award. Look for the others over the coming months by signing up for our newsletter, or check out our School Leadership page, which we will update with each new spotlight.
“Emily Dickinson has grit.” An elementary school in Bozeman, Montana brings new life to a dead poet’s name with a motto that pulls no punches. At its helm, Principal Sarah Hays brings more than two decades of classroom experience to the front office, making sure every teacher has the support they need to excel at their work. And their students are all the better for it.
“[Our teachers] want the very best for [our students]. And our kids do well: they score well, and I think they love school. That’s one of the most important things.”
— Principal Sarah Hays, Emily Dickinson Elementary
For Principal Hays, education has always felt like home. She taught English and math at the high school level for sixteen years, and “loved everything about it.” But over time, her connection to the classroom stretched as she stepped into more administrative roles. Though she had never felt the desire to become an administrator, she has crafted a new home for herself in a different part of the school building.
The Principal is a Teacher’s Pal
In her current role, Mrs. Hays communicates with her staff frequently in order to advocate for them as best she can. During her own classroom years, she experienced first hand the way a teacher’s motivation can crumble without the proper feedback and support.
Today, Principal Hays creates a sturdier foundation for her teachers than the one she once stood upon. “I really work to make sure that they feel like they can come to me with concerns, that I’ll have their back when a parent comes to me, that I recognize their strengths.”
The payoff comes when teachers feel confident enough to bring innovative solutions to the table: “We help support them so that they can continue to learn and grow and then that spreads across the school.”
“Sarah encourages us to set personal and student goals (short and long term). She encourages teachers to work together to help find a way to help all learners. Working with a variety of personalities, Sarah is able to meet all of our needs and to encourage all of us to be the best educators we can be. She wears many hats and is always positive with the staff, parents and most of all our students.”
— Tina Martin, teacher, Emily Dickinson Elementary
From Cursive to Coding: Education’s Evolution
Aside from being a champion of teachers’ needs, what’s most remarkable about Principal Hays is her willingness to embrace change. As technology progresses into the classroom, the landscape of a lesson has shifted as well.
Over the course of her 25 years in education, the average K-12 classroom has evolved: fewer templates and worksheets survive from year to year, and more assignments can be tailored to fit the needs of a particular student.
Principal Hays holds one truth certain: “Technology should be helping us gain the information, and then do something great with [it].” She calls her school of 530 students a “Google school,” referring to the apps they use in their 3-5 classrooms.
Emily Dickinson Elementary has implemented curricula from Project Lead the Way, a non-profit that introduces kids to coursework in computer science, engineering, and biomedical science. In this way, technology has become a tool not just for sleek email and chat integration, but also for students to create and imagine new paths for themselves beyond school.
“Technology is definitely a tool. To me, it’s a lot like the pencil was when we were younger. It’s a tool that we’re using to learn and explore and produce.”
— Principal Sarah Hays, Emily Dickinson Elementary
The Bozeman, Montana school district uses standards to ensure that technology is being used effectively. All teachers have been trained on using Chromebooks in the classroom, and K-2 students have access to iPads for production. The school library features a 3D printer that students can use to create monuments and bring other historical figures from the textbook to the trophy shelf.
Students at Emily Dickinson use 3D printers to build statues and monuments, but how does Principal Hays go about creating the foundation they stand on? That relies on the foundations that support students at home. “Build investment in the school by getting to know your teachers and your families.”
After all, a school without parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, and caregivers would not go by the same name. “Once you can build those relationships you can go a long way in steering different things. But it doesn’t happen without that commitment to building relationships with people.”
Recap: What Makes a Star School Leader?
Great school leaders empower their teachers. What teachers do is one of the most difficult, and often thankless jobs. And while we all agree that teachers are the true heroes of every school system, it takes a special kind of leader to enable their teachers with the right support to focus on the important things. Like teaching.
The Star School Leader rubric stands on three pillars, hanging from one common theme:
- Empowering others by setting a positive attitude, culture, and environment.
- Empowering others with the right use of technology as a means and not an end.
- Empowering others through supportive coaching and access to professional development.
To read about the rest of the Star School Leaders, visit our recipient announcement page.
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