In this month’s questionnaire, Laurie Barron, superintendent of the Evergreen School District in Montana and the 2013 MetLife/NASSP National Middle School Principal of the Year, answers questions about her educational philosophy, dynamic teachers, and her favorite movie star. 

What is your educational philosophy?

While content is obviously important, it’s the students who should come first. It’s so important to establish meaningful relationships with your students as the basis for teaching content. We sometimes forget that when we get caught up with what we need to do with content on a daily basis.

What was your biggest challenge as a middle school principal?

For me, it was important as a leader not only to do the things that had to be done, but to also do the things that should be done. For example, it’s important not just to ensure that required assessments are administered, but also to ensure that assessment goes beyond simply giving out grades.

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

We had significant challenges in our school, but we worked together as a team to develop and live out a philosophy where the kids knew that we believed in them. That, in turn, led the kids to believe in themselves. To make that happen, we had to change the culture in our school. It wasn’t easy, but we did it, together.

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

We still have a great deal of work to do in the area of assessment. We still do much assessment in the same way we have done it for decades—not fully understanding that grades alone don’t always tell the entire story of whether our students are learning and performing up to their capabilities.

What are the characteristics of dynamic teachers?

The most dynamic teachers are willing to be innovative, try new things, take risks, sometimes fail, and then try again. Dynamic teachers don’t just check off boxes when they teach information, but instead are concerned with really connecting with students.

What is your favorite book?

As a former high school English teacher, I have many. A favorite of mine is Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton. It’s about social justice and hope, and those themes continue to resonate with me.

Who’s your favorite movie star?

Harrison Ford. I like him in almost all his movies—Indiana Jones, Star Wars, almost anything.

What is your favorite sports team?

The Georgia Bulldogs. (And, no, I’m not old enough to have been there when Herschel Walker was the best running back in the country.)