Educators do many things well, but as a profession we do not do a particularly good job of recognizing the exceptional things that we do in our schools and communities around the nation. This is something that must change—we must put more effort into choosing the narrative that we share about our schools and that our communities hear. How can we do this? It all starts with recognizing the exceptional leaders that we have in all our schools.

Principal and Assistant Principal of the Year

The Maine Principals’ Association (MPA) recognizes and honors the hard work and dedication of all our members in multiple ways. Being nominated for Principal of the Year and Assistant Principal of the Year is a great honor. The rigorous process entails filling out the application, hosting a school visit made up of a committee of all former Principals of the Year and Assistant Principals of the Year, and being interviewed by them (the candidate’s school community is interviewed as well). Once chosen, the Principal of the Year and Assistant Principal of the Year are formally recognized by the Maine Principals’ Association in their school, so that the school staff and students can share in the recognition of their principal or assistant principal as the best of the best in the state. The media is then invited to share this great message with the local community, and the MPA shares it at the state and national levels on and on all its social media platforms.

In addition to the individualized celebration, the MPA also recognizes the Principal of the Year with its elementary counterparts at the annual MPA spring conference. The conference is a great opportunity for both winners to share their stories and thank their colleagues from around the state.

As a way for their stories and experiences to further be shared, winners will each present at their respective conferences. The Assistant Principal of the Year presents at the annual AP Conference and the Principal of the Year gives a presentation on leadership at the annual fall conference. At the MPA, we make sure that their words of wisdom and advice are shared with all other school administrators in our state.

Positive Story of the Day

In addition to the Principal of the Year and Assistant Principal of the Year, the MPA recognizes the incredible things going on in all Maine schools. We consistently ask for stories from school building leaders along with a picture of the event to share on our website and on social media. This simple act takes the building leader less than 10 minutes to write and send to us, and it takes about 10 minutes for us at the MPA to post the great story acknowledging the school for the “Positive Story of the Day.”

When these stories are shared, the school community takes tremendous pride in such recognition. Since our association first started this program two years ago, many schools have reached out to us and shared the incredible things going on in their school communities. No longer do the emails we receive for it start with, “I don’t know if this is what you are looking for,” or “You can use this if you think it is good enough.” Instead, we now tend to get emails that say: “I really hope you choose our school because this was a meaningful and impactful activity,” and “Look at the learning taking place!”

Here are just a couple examples of these positive stories:

Students at The Learning Center, the alternative education high school of Bonny Eagle, were able to resume their monthly community service trips in March 2022. It is another positive sign that we are successfully finding ways to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic and still find a way to promote positive learning experiences for our students.

Principal Michele LaForge shares: “By many accounts this has been a difficult year, coming back to school fully but still masked and after a year of hybrid. In addition, every school and town has faced its own unique challenges. South Portland High School has added over 100 new students this year, most new Mainers. A longtime school of 900 is now a school of 1,000. It took us all to survive this year, and often we have thrived. The newly formed SPSD McKinney-Vento Team, multicultural and multilingual specialists provide wraparound welcomes and intakes. Our EL [English language] teachers and team have been superhumanly flexible, adding students to classes and building new schedules throughout the year. Many non-EL teachers are teaching ‘language of’ classes to provide positive, welcoming, and effective educational experiences for our new students. We have partnered with JMG [Jobs for Maine’s Graduates], The Telling Room, and Sea Change Yoga to provide additional elective courses. Our spring track team has swelled to over 60 with the outreach and support from our athletic department and coaches. Our main office and counseling staff greet, register, and help students with dozens of languages using Portland Teacher Jeff Borland’s amazing email program ReachMyTeach, the Language Line, and Google Translate. Our nurses, social workers, and community outreach coordinators are the most patient, knowledgeable, skilled, and flexible professionals, and they are providing such a variety of different supports. We opened an in-school health clinic for all students this year and our partnerships with Greater Portland Health and Portland Adult Education have been amazing. School admin, our SRO, ed techs, cafeteria staff, custodial staff—it has taken all of us, including support from district leadership, the central office support team, and our school board not only to survive this year but thrive. I am lucky to collaborate with such amazing educators and humans.”

We Can Change the Narrative

Great things take place when great administrators share stories about their leadership in their buildings. The Positive Story of the Day demonstrates the amazing things taking place throughout the state and how we are recognizing building principals for their work. Celebrating and amplifying the voices of the Principal of the Year and Assistant Principal of the Year demonstrate the high quality of educators in our state and reflect our commitment to leveraging their leadership and showing off the great things happening in our schools! Having building administrators present at regional and statewide conferences so that they can share their knowledge and expertise with their colleagues is another way in which we can all promote and strengthen the profession.

Our schools face a pivotal moment in the recruitment and retention of classroom teachers and school leaders. Let us continue to spread the word about the excellent leadership that is in our schools. By doing so, we can ultimately change the narrative of public education and show how desirable a position the principalship truly is.

If we do not tell the stories of our incredible leaders, then someone else is going to tell these stories—and chances are they won’t be nearly as compelling as the stories we tell in our own words. It is time for us to tell the stories of our great schools and our great school leaders. They need the power of our voices, and they need to be recognized every single day.

What’s your story?

Dr. Holly Blair is the executive director of the Maine Principals’ Association and co-author of  You Are #1: The Science and Reasons Behind Why We Remember Some of Our Teachers, Forever. A former elementary and middle level teacher, principal, and college professor, she has worked in education for more than 25 years.