Monifa McKnight is director of Secondary Leadership Development programs in Montgomery CountyPublic Schools in Maryland and 2016 U.S. Department of Education Campus Principal Ambassador Fellow. In this month’s questionnaire, we asked about her educational philosophy, dynamic teachers, and her favorite book.

What’s your educational philosophy?

When we teach children and focus on what we can develop them into and consider their natural development and mistakes, we as educators should see limitless opportunities for them.

What was your biggest challenge as a middle school principal?

It was a challenge to get adults not to take an adolescent’s interactions, thinking, and decision making too personally. I often asked them to remember when they were in middle school and reflect on how they felt at the time. In my role as Principal Ambassador, I’ve learned that there is a tremendous advantage in collaborating with principals to help them work through challenges such as this.

What were you most proud of as a middle school principal?

Building a school filled with teachers who were just as passionate about making sure that students had a quality experience when they walked through our doors. We made a commitment to the work of race and equity at our school to serve all students. Together, we shifted a culture and moved past our own biases to see who our kids and families were. We together changed our school structures to differently reflect our beliefs. We were courageous and reflective about our work when it led us to always look at how students performed and to evaluate our work as a staff.

If you could change one thing about secondary schools, what would it be?

School structures remain unchanged and mirror what they were decades ago, maybe even a century ago. We have acknowledged how our country and technology have changed, so why have schools, classrooms, and rules remained the same?

What makes a dynamic teacher?

Teachers who can work past their own personal biases to benefit children, who make a consistent commitment to building their own professional learning and toolkit, and who feel gratification when children are successful because of their influence on them as a teacher.

What is your favorite book?

Equity 101: The Equity Framework by Curtis Linton, is one of my favorites. The book provides the author’s personal story about why this work is important to him, and he shares a framework that can help others understand how to better lead for equity.

What’s your motto?

Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” If you walked into my school, you would see banners all around reminding everyone that our goal and pursuit in all things for children is to seek excellence and be excellent!