Linking Leaders PodCASt

Episode 5: Building Community and Transparency in School Leadership

January 10, 2024 Connecticut Association of Schools
Episode 5: Building Community and Transparency in School Leadership
Linking Leaders PodCASt
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Linking Leaders PodCASt
Episode 5: Building Community and Transparency in School Leadership
Jan 10, 2024
Connecticut Association of Schools

In Episode 5 of the Linking Leaders PodCASt,  we chat with Dr. Keshia Smith-Davis, principal of Great Plain Elementary School in Danbury and 2023 Connecticut Elementary School Principal of the Year.  Listen up as Dr. Smith-Davis talks about how flexibility, transparency, and a commitment to continuous growth have helped drive her success. 

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In Episode 5 of the Linking Leaders PodCASt,  we chat with Dr. Keshia Smith-Davis, principal of Great Plain Elementary School in Danbury and 2023 Connecticut Elementary School Principal of the Year.  Listen up as Dr. Smith-Davis talks about how flexibility, transparency, and a commitment to continuous growth have helped drive her success. 

Speaker 1:

Hi and welcome to the Lanking Leaders Podcast. Lanking Leaders Podcast features tainted conversations with top educational leaders who come together to share experiences and explore pathways to success. In each episode, we engage with dynamic leaders to uncover real-life stories, practical strategies and bold insights on timely and relevant topics. Listen up to the link up and let us help you expand your network of innovation and support.

Speaker 2:

Good day. I am Dr Alicia Bowman, host of the Lanking Leaders Podcast. I'm thrilled to be recording our fifth episode of the series and honored to introduce Dr Keisha Smith-Davis, esteemed principal of Great Plain Elementary School in Danbury, connecticut, and the 2023 Connecticut Elementary School Principal of the Year. In addition to Dr Smith-Davis' accolades, great Plain Elementary has been recognized as a kind school, connecticut School of Distinction and a national blue ribbon school. Keisha, welcome to the Lanking Leaders Podcast, thank you Thank you for having me Thrilled to have you.

Speaker 2:

So to get us started, Keisha, what are the key qualities or habitudes, the kind of habits and attitudes that have contributed to your success as an educational leader?

Speaker 3:

I would say, as a leader, having a vision, making sure that I have a direction for the school as well as myself, a purpose, being clear about what it is that we'd like to do for our children as well as our families, empathetic and understanding and seeing things from various perspectives. I think leaders should be able to adapt to different situations because now we you know not that we haven't lived there before, but we've always been in a time in which we have to change, and it's easy now to have to change and pivot in a moment's notice. I think it's important for me to continue to learn as a leader, never to stop growing. So I'm always trying to read the latest information on information, attend workshops. You have to be resilient.

Speaker 3:

Integrity is important because people have to be able to trust you and communicate Like what is it that you want people to know? Go over expectations. I think, as a leader, that's important and being able to be objective and be able to listen to what's happening and show in love. I think that has a lot to do with leadership, absolutely.

Speaker 2:

Thank you and maybe if you could say a little bit more about this. I was calling your website and I saw your campaigns Choose Love and Say Hello and to me those are some examples of how you've created a positive school culture, both for your staff and your students. Can you elaborate on those a little bit more and make an impact on your school community?

Speaker 3:

So choose a lot of the organization. You're able to go on the website on the site and download activities, and so what we do is we did things with our students every week, talked about different activities. We have community time, in which our social worker as well as our psychologists are meeting with each grade level every week to talk about what it means to be kind, how to be friendly, how to be ready for school when things happen. How do you respond when a person is being either unkind what's the difference between someone being unkind and being bullied? Try to make sure the community, as well as students, understand that. In the end, it's about how we feel our hearts, how our hearts feel at the time, and kids relate to that because their weapon, the first thing, is snatching that friendship right away. So that choose love is important. Becoming with hello is a nationwide thing and it's part of the Sandy Hook Promise, and so we participate because that's important.

Speaker 3:

Again, with kindness and not feeling isolated and a be kind school.

Speaker 3:

Because of all the activities and things that we have done, we were chosen in 2019 by Benz Bell as one of the be kind the first be kind schools in the nation, and we're excited about that because we would send things to other schools and notices.

Speaker 3:

So I would say in the past five years you'd always hear more and more about school shootings and more violence and what our school would do is send letters to those principals, those teachers, items, and we kept a map in our building as to all the places we were sending stuff to all through the nation and just letting them know that we're definitely here for them. And I think the closest, of course, with Newtown and then New Rochelle, brings a lot to people and it brings it home. So this is something and bringing parents in with Benz Bell is something that you know resonates with people. Everyone wants the best for their children, everyone wants to be the best. So the kindness and choosing love and start with hello and see something, say something, all the different things that you can possibly do to talk about kindness is very important because the bottom line is everyone wants to be loved, wants to be cared about.

Speaker 2:

So and those are things that are so simple yet not so easy, but we know our students, with some instruction and opportunities to learn about them, and then they will be the ones to hold each other accountable and create that community, and so it's so nice to hear that. Simple phrases yet easy to hold on to. So, kisha, if I did my math correctly, you've served as principal of Great Plain Elementary for about 20 years, which is admirable to say the least. So, in order to sustain over the past two decades, can you share one or two of your strategies for successfully managing the many roles you have as a leader, both personal and professional?

Speaker 3:

So being able to manage your time and prioritize things are important.

Speaker 3:

Wow, when you say manage the school, you have to love what you do, no matter what, and when you come in every day, everyone has to feel that energy.

Speaker 3:

I feel as an instructional leader, it is my job to make sure that everyone is not only just on top of things but they're excited about their day as well, from the time they come in the door until they leave, and so try to make sure that I balance that with my own life and when I leave here to try to handle those things, that between here and home, so that you can just be a normal person but you love what it is that you do.

Speaker 3:

You have to think about what's important with your children and people and how we treat everyone. I think it becomes very easy to do in life if you love or care about what you're doing. You don't think about, as I need to do this first, that second and prioritizing your stuff. I think it's important to delegate Uh-huh Can't be all and you all, I think to share and have people know that you trust and believe in their decisions as instructional leaders in the classroom and around the school, Because without everyone else. A principal no matter who you are, you can't lead unless you have the support of everyone around you.

Speaker 2:

Absolutely, absolutely that shared and distributed leadership and letting others know you believe in them, and there's a reason why they're there, because they can do the important work. So, keisha, what's one shift in education that's captured your attention recently and why?

Speaker 3:

I would say technology, I heard being able to adapt and change and use various platforms to communicate and to teach our students, but we're able to tailor what all the children need now, because before you know it was, you know people would do one size fit all.

Speaker 3:

I think now, looking at all these different mediums and materials that we have now accessible rather than on the computer or being able to speak to someone individually and getting that stuff going and getting that stuff to children in their hands, and then teachers to think of different ways to teach children, because now we have kids from various backgrounds at our school and that's important that you be able to do that make decisions based on the needs of kids and allowing kids to be able to and staff members to pace what it is that needs to be taught, and that I think with the technology AI that's just changed everything and what we do to support teachers as well as students. I think it's something with the change in the shift. I mean, you have to change it. If you don't, to me, you're back in antiquated.

Speaker 2:

I agree, keisha. It's that I heard something recently that said, you know they were referring to AI and just saying that you know, ai is not going to take our jobs. It's the people who use AI that are going to take our jobs, and so it's one of those things where we have to find the right balance. But by ignoring or, you know, digging our heels or being fearful or afraid, we're certainly not going to be benefiting our school community. So do you have a book that you think all cast members should read or listen to? Maybe a podcast?

Speaker 3:

I would say Mindset, by Carol Dweck On the growth mindset. I think in order to do anything, we have to start with the mindset. In order for us to change the culture, the background of the community or wherever you are, you have to work on that mindset. If you think you can and believe that, then it will happen. And that takes time. You know that's not something that happens right away. I am blessed to have been or be at this school and to think. Things change over time and people start believing that, yes, our kids can learn, our kids are able to do it. Also, in reading and trusting and believing that you know you have the best interests of kids, sometimes you do have to say get on the bus or go. I mean, it's hard. If you believe in and ask these children we service every day, then we have to change what we do and know that everything won't be the same. It's good. Everyone's different.

Speaker 2:

Absolutely, and that goes back to what you just read before as your vision and your core beliefs and how important they are. Growth mindset is a classic, that's for sure, but again, one of those things that is simple to understand but not always easy to get everybody to be able to believe and then act. That's what we do Feel. One thing and there's probably tons, so I don't want to limit you to one, but that you've learned from your elementary students at Great Plain that has had a profound impact on how you choose to lead.

Speaker 3:

I'd say to be open, transparent and Go with the flow. No, you know, moments notice, things will change and will upset you as opposed to you know they're going to. I gotta say they are. They're not afraid of anything. No, they're fear there. They're not. Being fearful of things also helps us as an adult, especially me, to understand and do this, and especially now we link with this technology and test scores and Closing the gap which is really, to me, changing the mindset and attitude in order to change that. I think that they have helped me a lot with that great.

Speaker 2:

So you talked a little bit about this before, about how you continue to learn. That that's one of your successes as an educational leader. What actions do you take to grow individually? I?

Speaker 3:

Definitely seek feedback. I think that's important. I have to self-reflect, prioritize what I do. I think just continuously updating with new data and ideas to try to be better and do better Definitely helps me as a leader and a learner. There's always room to grow. No one's perfect. No matter where you are, how, how you think you are even earning this wonderful award as being elementary principal of the year, I'm still gonna have to grow and and to get here, had to learn from other individuals and colleagues. So you know, I think that's something that you have to continue to do reflect and Accept the feedback and then change. Like people tell you think, but you have to be action actually great.

Speaker 2:

So, keisha, what's one thing I should have asked you, but I didn't? I.

Speaker 3:

Was saying more about community engagement. We talked about leadership, but I think more about how, as a leader, you get your community and your parents involved in order to make changes in your school. I mean, we're always talking about what we can do as leaders or what we do to change things in our school, but we can't do anything without the community.

Speaker 2:

That's true. Do you have any strategies or Ways that you've found to be highly successful for engaging your, your community?

Speaker 3:

I think being transparent, definitely talking about where you are as far as a school, the data, the why students participate in school, what they're going to actually learn, why they're here, my role, their role, expectations being clear. I find that that, you know, helps you with running a school, keeping Valley orderly, but people feel, state and get involved. I think talking and having different Translators, different languages that spoken, having different activities To celebrate everyone that you can that you possibly can as far as Culture and background, because it's so much at one time everybody's different and making everyone aware of that people are different and that that is hey and the transparency would be the the biggest thing. As successful. Our success at Great Plain would have been making sure everyone knows up front what the expectations are, where we stand, at the school, in the community.

Speaker 3:

We want your child to be safe here. Our job is to learn and basically you only have two rules. Rule number one the adult is always in charge for safety and learning, as we say. So, because that is our job, we're going to always listen to you, support you as well as your parents, and and that's who we are. Rule number two Should you forget, go back to rule number one. Our job is to keep you safe and to provide the best education we can at Great Plain Elementary School. It's excellent.

Speaker 2:

Kisha, where can people go to find out more about you and your work?

Speaker 3:

Thank you. Um, they can all. They can go to Great Plain Elementary School, which is Danbury Public School. They can go to the website. They can also email at Smith ke. That's sm it h ke at Danbury, dot k 812.ctus. I'm available anytime.

Speaker 2:

Thank you so much. We are recording this podcast in October, which is National Principles Month. And Kisha, I hope you found this conversation to be a celebration of your hard work and dedication to the Principalship. The goal of the linking leaders podcast is to connect the exceptional educational leaders across our state and I'm confident that your energetic and loving, transparent leadership style will spark ideas, create conversation and Inspire action from colleagues throughout Connecticut. Dr Kisha Smith Davis, principal of Great Plain Elementary School in Danbury, connecticut, and the 2023 Connecticut elementary principal of the year, thank you for joining the linking leaders podcast. Our sincere gratitude for sharing your time and talents and To our listeners will connect with you next month for a new episode of linking leaders.

Speaker 1:

Thanks so much for joining us for this episode of the linking leaders podcast. This episode is brought to you by the Connecticut Association of Schools, serving schools and their leaders since 1935.

Educational Leadership Qualities and Strategies
Fostering Growth Mindset and Community Engagement