The Rock Star PrinciPAL

Working for a good principal can change a person’s life; working for an amazing principal can change a multitude of lives.

A principal that is willing to dive in – to curriculum, to student behavior needs, to parental conflict resolutions, and to classroom decisions – can change the way a person teaches and change the positive pathways for those students. I truly believe that a principal – an amazing principal – can change a student’s life forever – without ever teaching them in a classroom. The way that the principal chooses to support, help, and believe in their teachers can change attitudes of defeat – both from students and teachers – to attitudes of perseverance and dedication. That’s leadership.

I have been working in the Opportunity Zone for almost four years and can honestly say this has been a life-changing experience. Without the support of my current principal and her belief in my talents and abilities, I would have left after my first year. My principal saw something in me the first year that I was not able to see in myself. She saw a vision of success for me when all I saw were behavior issues and a classroom that I felt I couldn’t reach. When I said “I’m not sure I can do this. Is this for me?” When I was unsure of my talents, she listened with intense compassion and walked alongside me to ensure my success. She checked in, she validated, and she challenged me to be better – I have consistently been challenged to “do better.” My principal placed expectations of excellence on me and refused to falter with those standards. I believe that people want to be better, want to be successful, want to feel that they are a part of something bigger than themselves – I work for a principal that believes in “better” and holds her teachers and students to those standards. She has created a work environment where teachers feel the pressure, but also know that they will be supported. Our road is not easy, but we are not walking it alone – to me, that’s leadership.

Standing in front of my students, I now feel empowered and capable. I truly feel that I am a teacher that can help and support my students’ academic and emotional needs – I have the ability to meet my students where they are and take them far beyond what they believe is their cap for success. I know my students will succeed, because I have a support system that has refused and will always refuse to let me fail. That’s leadership.

When I think of the word ‘leader’, often this image comes to mind of a person sitting on top of an unreachable podium, unaware (or unconcerned) of the struggles of the ‘little person’, decreeing orders and commands from a position of comfortable power. I have seen people in power, or leadership roles, exert themselves in a way that is unapproachable and exhausting for those that have to work under them. It is not often that we, me, you, get the chance to work for a person that has true vision, dedication, support, drive, persistence, compassion, knowledge, and unwavering determination. I, however, have had the absolute pleasure of calling my princiPAL “boss” for three years – although, not consecutively. To work for a person that strives to see the best in me and seems to find unimaginable ways to support my career, has been truly life changing. The powerful understanding for me is that I know my students reap the benefits of my PrinciPAL’s belief in me. That’s leadership.

My princiPAL has changed the way that I view leadership. I now strive to be a person that listens and understands with compassion. I feel that I work for someone that walks alongside me. I am constantly in awe of the advice and direction that is allotted to me when asked. Principals carry with them the ability to fully shape and mold the climate and culture of a school and I count myself very lucky that I have had the opportunity to become a leader under such incredible leadership. That’s leadership.


Mary Retchko is a seventh grade English Language Arts teacher at Dalewood Middle School in Hamilton County, TN and her princiPAL is Arielle Hayes. Mary grew up in Atlanta, GA, before getting her Education degree from Georgia State University. She is currently working on her masters in Education at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.


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