Can you name another woman, who had an impact on you as a leader?
It’s not a famous woman, but the woman that had an impact on me is my grandmother. Her name is Clarabell Walker. She passed away at 96 years old. I’m originally from Jamaica, and I grew up with my grandmother. I started living with her at 11 months, and I moved to the states at 13. My grandmother took care of me and 4 other grandkids, because she encouraged my mom to come to America to pursue her education. She had 18 children, and I am 1 of 110 grandkids. One of the things that she always promoted was education and being a lifelong learner. You should always be growing in your education and spiritually. My grandmother always said you pray about any and everything. Pray before you make any decision. Pray while you are experiencing any confusion. She definitely directed my path as a leader.
I’ve learned 3 things as a leader. I lead with my head. Always be knowledgeable. I lead with my heart. Always be passionate and be able to feel. And I lead with my hands. I always have to be a part of it. I can’t be an outsider looking in. Leaders can’t always be dictators. I model, support, and demonstrate what I want to see.
What is your vision of a leader?
Often times people think leaders are able to just go in and make immediate changes. My goal is to motivate whoever I am leading and join in one common goal. It has to be a team effort. To be an effective educational leader, you have to be able to motivate the teachers, stakeholders, students in the common goal, which is the success of the students.
When I came to Baltimore Montessori, I was the newest face. Most Montessori schools don’t typically have African Americans and definitely not African American women. For me it wasn’t a matter of fitting in. My first year was to observe and learn the culture of the staff and students. I had to establish relationships. I believe that teachers can not lead students that they don’t know. You have to know your population and what they are going through.
What are your current goals?
Next, I want to open a childcare center, and then eventually add on a school. Eventually, I will start my doctorate. My doctorate is going to focus on the impact of mentorship from birth. Mentors are usually assigned to children who are in trouble or have already experienced trauma. We always say it takes a village. I want to examine what happens if a child from birth has a group of mentors that follow them throughout their life.
I just received my certificate in Montessori leadership. There is an organization called Whole School Leadership. They were just approved for a national Montessori organization, and I just was asked to be on the board. This is an opportunity to branch out and learn more about montessori, especially public montessori, which does work.
I am also working on a syllabus for educators to understand what trauma looks like, what is the true definition of trauma, behaviors vs trauma. I am noticing that too many kids are being labelled as “bad” and “unruly”. Many teachers feel like it is not their job to find out what is going on with the student, but it’s impossible to teach them.
We had one student, who would just go off. I asked her if she was hungry. She said no. I asked are you sleepy. She said yes, because they were in between houses at the moment. I put my coat on the office floor, and I allowed her to sleep for 2 hours. On day 2, she was doing the same thing. For a week and a half, she laid in my office and went to sleep. Now I put a quiet space in my office with blankets, pillows and a Zen garden.
All of my goals revolve around education.
What is one thing that you wish you’d done differently?
I would have followed my passion instead of being what everyone wanted me to be. In the islands, everyone said you’ll either be a doctor or a lawyer. I went to a Magnet high school for law. Then I earned a full scholarship to Iona College for Criminal Justice. I worked in a law firm with ESOL kids in the Patterson Park area. Then I worked for the State’s Attorney Office for Child Support. One day I asked myself, if I died tomorrow would I have made a difference. The answer was no. I came in and gave my two weeks notice. There was a girl in my church that told me about a program that pays for your Master’s degree in teaching, so I applied for an Urban Education program. I enrolled in February and by March I had my own classroom. I called it being ‘baptised by fire,” because that was the time they were doing classroom audits. It was difficult, but I got through it.
After I decided to change my career, it was the smoothest, rewarding thing that I could have ever done. That is why it took me so long to transition out of the classroom, because I had the ability to have a hands-on experience with the kids. I was able to personally be impactful.
One of my first times at Baltimore Montessori, it was actually at my interview. One student was going off and my instincts kicked in. I walked up to her and asked what’s wrong, calm down. She said “she’s not going to make me take this picture and my hair isn’t done.” I asked when is your picture, I got you. I walked out to my car got a comb, brush and edge control. I stopped my interview, edged her up and put her hair in a ponytail. And she went on to take her picture. When it was time for the staff interview the teacher of that student said I was rude, intrusive and I never asked her what was happening. But I let the teacher know that I respect her and my intent was not to offend her. My only concern was to help this child who was in distress. As an educator that will always be my top concern: are my kids okay? Anything that you take ownership of you’ll take the time to invest and care for it.
What is the biggest risk you’ve taken?
Last year, when I started at Baltimore Montessori. I had to come out of my comfort zone. I was so comfortable in Urban education. When the opportunity came up, I researched the school, and I researched Montessori. It is really different, so I had to learn the culture. I had to learn new people.
When I got the job, I had to change my mindset. I was wondering if they just hired me because they needed a little splash of color. I decided that I’m going to stick my foot in this montessori pool and make some waves.
How do you stay motivated?
Simply knowing that I am a part of molding a kid’s life makes an impact. Even if it’s just a hug, writing an affirmation, or telling a kid that they look nice. I love the fact that I have a job where I can go in everyday and change the life of a child. I have at least 10 affirmations in my head that I repeat with some of the kids. There is no job description that can completely describe an educator. I carry many labels. There are many educators that claim to work with the whole child. It became cliche at one time, and I begin to ask people what does that mean. You have to be able to see past the behaviors and appearances to see the actual child.
What is your measure of success?
It has changed over the years. In the beginning, I just wanted all of the kids to graduate and go to college. Right now, I just want my kids to be healthy and productive with positive mindsets. With positive mindsets, they can do anything whether is be college, HVAC, gardening, or whatever they want to do. Once they begin to have a healthy mindset, they can do anything. Now I just want to make sure that my students want to come to school and want to learn, and their minds are constantly growing. For some of my kids, I just want them to have a peaceful mindset. Our kids are going through a lot of turmoil, they deserve some peace.