In this issue, we would like to recognize Shani Wyllie, the principal of Attucks Middle School in Houston ISD and a 2015 graduate of HCDE Educator Certification and Advancement Principal Academy. As a dynamic, transformational leader laser-focused on her students and community, Ms. Wyllie was recently awarded the Excellence in Leadership Award by Houston ISD’s superintendent Dr. Grenita Latham. We caught up with Shani to get her insights on leadership.
Tell us about your campus leadership experience and the impact HCDE’ s Principal Academy had on your development as a campus leader.
HCDE prepared me to lead with intentionality, love, and courage. As a campus leader of an A180 campus in HISD, I have had to lead with intentionality, making sure that as a campus we are meeting the academic and SEL needs of every scholar. Our scholars come to us daily with a wide range of needs, so we wear many hats in their lives. We must ensure that they are in an emotional space to learn, build their confidence in their ability to learn, and provide high quality instruction that prepares them for their current and future educational experiences. It’s about leading with love. Work is challenging and without a true love of the kids and the community I serve, it would be overwhelming. I am the #prideofsunnyside through and through. It’s about leading with courage because you have to be willing to do what’s right by kids at all costs. Despite the pressure that comes with being the leader of a school where accountability is the driving force for many, I decided from the beginning that the kids and the community are at the center and are the focus of this work. I am 110% committed to ensure that all my decisions and efforts are based on doing what’s right by kids.
Leading has pivoted due to COVID-19. How did you change or how did it make you rethink your leadership style?
The biggest change was the hyper focus on attendance, engagement, and wellness. It is different when a student is in your building and you can walk the halls and check-in on them versus them being on the other side of a computer screen. Many of our scholars lack self-efficacy, so we spend a lot of time sitting side by side with them building their self-confidence, giving high fives and hugs and making them believe that we care and that they are part of a family that is cheering for them. Also, unfortunately we are a safe haven for many of our kids. We can’t see if they are being cared for, give them that extra snack because we know they may be hungry that night, or even if we need to contact additional resources because they are in an unsafe situation. In the virtual setting, we are having to become more creative in our methods of building the buy-in of our scholars, monitoring their emotional wellness, and keeping them engaged to remove the opportunity for them to get further behind.
As an HCDE alum, what one piece of advice would you offer aspiring leaders about leading during a crisis?
Create 4 of 5 commitments that you are willing to make to your staff and students and use those commitments to drive your work and decision making. Make sure that one of those commitments is to do right by kids at all costs.