When You Know How to Listen, You Know How to Lead
SCHOOLS | October 15, 2020
When You Know How to Listen, You Know How to Lead
By Dr. Jacqueline Medina, Principal of Talman Elementary 

What does it mean to be an effective principal during remote learning? 

Figuring out the answer to this question has required me to dig deep within myself to remember why I chose to be a school leader in the first place. 

I wanted to be a school leader because I knew I could make a difference in the lives of my students and their families. This mission is what has kept me at Talman for over a decade. 

This year has been the hardest year of my career. Someone once told me that being a principal is a lonely job, and I feel that loneliness more than ever when I lie awake at night — in total darkness — trying to figure out how to help my students and their families make it through just one more school day. 

But then, in the morning, I am reminded that I am not in this alone. My staff and school community work relentlessly together day after day to make sure that every student is engaged and has what they need to be successful. From giving out devices to lunches and supporting students through every new obstacle we have faced, I feel that even though it’s Principal Appreciation Week, they are the unsung heroes. I could not do my job without them.

This sense of selflessness is what defines our school culture at Talman. It starts with taking into consideration the perspectives of students, parents, staff, and community members and reminding them that we are in this together. 

The past seven months have called me to apply everything I have ever learned as a teacher and principal in order to make strategic decisions for my students and community. This means having fearless conversations and not pretending to have all of the answers. It means owning your mistakes and learning from them.

Above all else, I have learned that reaching out and listening to your team can be the smartest thing to do when you have one of those moments where you just don’t know what to do. It means checking in with colleagues because they might have thought of something that you hadn’t thought of.             

Every time I look my own children, spouse, and family in the eyes, they remind me of the importance of family and why I keep pressing on. Pressing on means sharing my students’ pain when the pandemic hits their families. It tears me up inside, but I keep going, and every decision I make is meant to put my students first. 

Pressing on means putting on my best face before my virtual staff meeting to encourage and thank my team for standing by my side as we’ve figured out how to make remote learning work—even in those moments when we were anxious or unsure. 

And pressing on means that while I might lie awake at night thinking about the uncertainties that I may face, I find the strength each day to get back up and do it all over again.

I want to celebrate my fellow principals this Principal Appreciation Week because I know they are giving their all to make a difference in their communities as I am in Gage Park. 

But it’s not just about us this week. When I think about what it means to an effective principal during remote learning, I don’t only think about myself. I think about my staff and school community who are working with me to help every Talman student become successful. 

Behind every effective principal is an even more effective team. 

Dr. Jacqueline Medina has been principal of Talman Elementary since 2007. She previously served as the school’s assistant principal and started her career as a teacher and reading coach. She holds a PhD in curriculum and instruction from the University of Illinois at Chicago.