Guest post by Lenore M. Kingsmore

When I received the call that I was the New Jersey Principal of the Year, I was elated. Receiving my award in the nation’s capital would be a highlight of my career—and it was —but what was more important were the rich professional development opportunities I received that I had not imagined were possible. The NASSP Principals Institute breathed new life into me as a school leader, expanded my vision of leadership, and catapulted me into the 21st century of professional learning. 

This experience opened for me a whole new world of professional growth. I learned how to lobby House members and senators; I learned how to communicate better with technology; and I learned creative ways to engage my students from other nationally recognized principals. I thought I was “high-tech” until I met the principals who wrote weekly blogs to their school community, tweeted out daily to parents about school events, and frequently published short digital newsletters. Most of all, I learned that if we don’t leave our schools for a few days during the school year to network with other principals, we become isolated and stagnant.

I was transformed by this experience, and it propelled me to immediately sign up to attend the National Principals Conference (NPC) in July 2017. The NASSP conference was combined this year with NAESP, and so I encountered creative and dedicated K–12 leaders from all over the country. It was overwhelming, but in the best way possible. Not only could you select from over 25 topics daily but there was a great vendor floor with new, creative ways to engage your students. I was excited to buy literature from Scholastic for me to read.

One of the best professional development activities happened before the official start of the conference. NAESP has an ongoing tradition of building a playground for a local school near the conference location. It felt good to perform this community service for a fellow professional and her students, and it helped me grow professionally as well. During the project, I met two principals who shared a book that they each had just read: Unselfie by Michele Borba, which discusses the lack of empathy today with our adolescents. Reading the book helped to reaffirm my conviction that community service is an essential part of education. Again, professional development for me, and life lessons for my students.

Lastly, I was fortunate to gain valuable professional development digitally. I was part of a cohort of principals who took a series of online courses in management. If you are wondering why I needed to take management courses after 14 years in administration, I felt that way too. However, it was a new way for me to learn; it mirrored the way many students are learning every day. The topics provided by McKinsey & Company, and the collaboration that ensued with other principals from across the nation, was another great growth opportunity. I learned to use Google Hangout and be a leader of leaders in discussions.

Professional learning helps us grow as school leaders. As the tone-setters for our school communities, it is crucial that we take time out to “sharpen the saw” and keep current on literature, creative ideas, and unique ways to lead our schools. It is important to meet other principals, network, and learn from one another.

What have been your best and most relevant professional learning experiences? 

Lenore Kingsmore, principal at Henry Hudson Regional School in Highlands, NJ, has been in education for 33 years as a teacher, counselor, supervisor, and director. She has presented at several conferences in New Jersey and has two nationally recognized programs: a therapy dog program for students with special needs and a game design mathematics program. She received the New Jersey Visionary Principal of Year award and is the 2016 New Jersey Principal of the Year. Follow her on Twitter @HHPrincipal. 

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