Looking Back on a Successful School Year
SCHOOLS | May 24, 2021
Looking Back on a Successful School Year

By Tiffany Tillman, Principal of Melody STEM Elementary School

You could write down a long list of all the challenges that CPS principals faced this year. But, for me, there isn’t a single challenge that stands out as being the most difficult. My biggest concern was simply the unknown. 

I’m a third-generation CPS employee who has served the district for 27 years and as a principal for nearly a decade (and I just turned 50). With each new school year, the fear of the unknown usually decreases a little bit because, as you gain experience, you feel more certain about what is coming your way. 

This year was different. I think many people, including some school districts, froze. But I knew that Melody needed to keep pressing forward. I put on a brave face since I knew that if I crumbled, our community would crumble.

Not everyone knows this, but I used to be a cheerleader. I knew that if we were going to have a successful school year, encouragement and support needed to be at the center of everything we did. I’m so lucky to have an amazing team, and I knew we could work together to cheer on each other and cheer on our students. 

Making remote learning exciting was our first step. I would jump into classes to pump the kids up, and we had different contests to encourage attendance. If a teacher was doing well, I would DoorDash them a meal and then join their Google Meet to let them know there was a surprise waiting for them at their door. 

As a school community, we also bonded over the little things. I knew we needed special Melody masks for all of our students that would remind them that we are all in this together. We started off with three different versions and finally settled on one design that we thought matched all of our personalities. 

Reflecting on the past school year is the perfect time to begin looking toward the future. I am focusing on the “Four Ps”: preparation, planning, prayer and peace. As I begin preparing and planning, I am making sure that my students have a voice in a fifth “P”—our school’s priorities.

There have been rich conversations flowing through our classrooms and Google Meets about changing parts of our school based on things that worked well this school year. We’ve talked about potentially adjusting our grading system and incorporating technology more into the classroom on a daily basis. 

It’s also a priority of mine to think creatively about offering unique prep classes for students next year. I’d love to have a cosmetology class with my seventh- and eighth-graders, or a t-shirt making class where students can learn about fashion design and entrepreneurship. We are coming back to Melody with a fresh start, and the sky’s the limit for what we can create together as a team. 

With a month left to go, the note I want to end this school year on is self-care. You have to know how to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. I want to shout out all of my fellow CPS principals and staff members, who deserve all the thanks in the world. We all need to remember to give grace and mercy to our colleagues just as often as we ask for it. 

And, of course, our students have been awesome. We’ve run a good race this year. I’ll see you at the finish line. 

While you might think Principal Tillman was born to be an educator, her undergraduate degree is actually in mortuary science. She’s been a member of the Melody community since 2010.