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Five Questions with Jessica Barnes: William Penn Leader Discusses National Principals Month

Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) recently asked Jessica Barnes, head administrator at William Penn Elementary School 49, what National Principals Month Means to her.

October is National Principals Month, which gives the school community the perfect opportunity to recognize that position’s significant influence. Principals set the tone for the building, keeping things running smoothly from the cafeteria to classrooms and the playground.

Q — What inspired you to become a principal, and how has your journey shaped your role today?

A — I became a principal because when I was a teacher, I had an administrator who saw something in me that I did not yet see in myself. She encouraged me and I went back to school to earn my principal licensure.  That experience cemented my belief that one person can make a huge impact on the life of another. 

Q — Could you share a memorable moment or achievement in your career as a principal that made you particularly proud?

A — This is only my second year as a principal, but I am proud of my staff each day. The work we do is difficult and impossible without our hard-working teachers and staff. 

Q — What are the more rewarding aspects of being a principal and working in education?

A — The scope of your influence changes as a principal.  When I was a teacher, what I did impacted my students in my classroom. As a principal, I can have a positive impact on an entire school community. For me, participating and leading the change for the better within a school community is the more rewarding aspect of being a principal.

Q — How do you foster a positive school culture and build strong relationships within your school community?

A — For me everything begins with relationships. The relationships I build with my staff, my families, my students, and my community partners foster everything else that I seek to influence. Taking the time to truly get to know others, to care about them and their journey is what I believe fosters strong relationships within my school community.

Q — What strategies do you find most effective in supporting your teachers and staff to help them excel in their roles?

A — Listening first to understand others is the most important step towards helping someone, whether an adult or child, to excel.  In listening you can hear from your teachers and staff what they identify as their strengths and areas for improvement, but you also can hear what they are not saying. Listening and truly hearing others enables you as the leader to help staff identify their areas of opportunity so they can excel in their roles. Staff must be willing to participate in change and growth to excel. Listening and hearing their concerns first enables a leader to work with their staff and help them reach their goals.