SCHOOLS | August 3, 2021
By Miyoshi Brown, Principal of Scott Joplin Elementary School
I’ll always be a primary teacher at heart. One of the ways this shows up in my leadership style is that I start every professional development session with a read-aloud. When we closed out last school year, I read The Day the Crayons Quit to my staff to highlight the importance of listening to each other. We’re all lifelong learners, and it’s up to us to engage and support our students, parents, and entire community so that our school can thrive.
My journey to becoming a principal was marked by a series of pivotal shifts, each of which taught me something new about myself. The first one came in college. I was wandering aimlessly, taking classes that interested me but without any idea of what I wanted to pursue as a career. A friend of mine—now a superintendent and former CPS principal—took one look at my transcripts, circled and highlighted a bunch of stuff, threw them back at me, and said: “You’re a teacher.”
So, I became a teacher. I taught at Lavizzo Elementary in Roseland just as they opened a new building. I taught at Dett Elementary on the West Side just as the housing projects near the school were coming down. I weathered a strike and school closings as I transitioned into school leadership, and, then, I became a principal during a pandemic.
What I’ve learned from each of these turning points is that you need to step back and make sure that you are paying attention to the needs of those around you. I’ve held a message from when I participated in the New Leaders program nearly 10 years ago close to me—people need protection, direction, and order.
Those three pieces are more important now than ever before as we welcome families back to Joplin and schools across CPS later this month. I’m the mom of a rising first-grader, sixth-grader, and high school freshman, so I recognize that some students may be a little anxious to head back to school. That’s why, at Joplin, we’re dedicating the entire month of August to school spirit and re-engagement.
We’ll have a “playground and popsicles” meet-up for our incoming kindergarteners. A writer’s workshop for our middle school students. Potentially a magic show with cotton candy and popcorn in our parking lot. Phone banking. Postcards sent home. Lots and lots of giveaways of Joplin-branded items. All of this will lead up to a huge back-to-school event in partnership with WGCI Radio on August 28—the Saturday before school starts.
I want every Joplin student to know that we’re going to have fun on Saturday and rest on Sunday. Then I’ll see them on time for the first day of school on Monday, August 30.
The advice I would give to another new principal is to find as many other school leaders as you can to collaborate with, because what I’ve found is that principals are good at different things. My strength is creating the right “feeling” for a school by prioritizing school spirit, utilizing school spaces in creative ways, and carrying out traditions.
Some of my colleagues have helped me with the logistical side of things. One told me that what frustrates teachers the most is not having a blueprint for how the year is going to go, so once you provide that direction, you can start to navigate their feelings about the future and give them the support that they need.
At the end of the day, our collective goal is to serve our students and our community. If your school building is a place where students are interested and staff are highly engaged in coming to work, you’ve fostered an atmosphere for great things to happen. It’s possible for great things to happen every single minute of this school year! Go Jaguars!
In addition to being a CPS employee, Principal Brown is a product of the district, having attended Fort Dearborn Elementary and Hyde Park Career Academy. Make sure you’re ready for the new school year by visiting cps.edu/b2s.