Middle-Level Leadership Matters: Relationships Are Greater Than COVID-19

Middle-Level Leadership Matters: Relationships Are Greater Than COVID-19

With the launch of the new NAESP Centers for Advancing Leadership comes new opportunities for NAESP to help advance the leadership of its middle-level leaders. To start, we’re rolling out a new series, Middle-Level Leadership Matters, which aims to highlight innovative leaders from across the country. Last month, we heard from Jessica Cabeen, one of the fellows of the Center for Middle-Level Leadership. This month, we will have a chance to hear from her counterpart and co-fellow of the Center for Middle-Level Leadership, Kevin Armstrong.

Name: Kevin Armstrong, principal, DuPont Hadley Middle in Old Hickory, Tennessee

Years in your current position: 10

Favorite Middle School Memory: The “coming of age” feeling that middle school brings. Remembering the strong desire to be cared for, to be socially accepted, and the first time being cut from a school athletic team.

Why are you a middle-level leader?

Simply put, I will never forget the feeling of being a 6th grader—being 12 years old, unsure of myself, not knowing how to fit in, needing to find myself, and needing teachers with great relationship building skills around me to harness my talents and skills. I am now blessed to have an opportunity to lead and harness the skills and talents of 600 young scholars each and every day who make up the Hadley Nation.

What current school practice are you most proud of?

The creation and implementation of Hadley Packs. Hadley Packs is simply put, our house system at DuPont Hadley. Following the premise of our school mascot, the Bulldogs, our building is divided into four packs: Alapaha, Campeiro, Ca De Bou, and Mammut—all breeds of bulldogs.

Hadley Packs fosters a community-based environment, creating a sense of belonging and collaboration for all by cultivating relationships, engaging in peer accountability, and developing visionary 21st century leaders.

I am most proud of how we have 100 percent campus buy-in by not only placing our students in Packs but also placing our faculty and staff members, including our custodial and food service staff. Even during virtual learning, you can feel the camaraderie and excitement among students and adults alike. Looking forward to seeing what Hadley Packs brings once we return to face-to-face learning.

What are my top takeaways?

  • You CAN teach an old dog new tricks! I have witnessed our veteran teachers truly step it up in terms of technology and lead incredible lessons using programs and methods that some of them thought they could not use due to a lack of tech knowledge. Kudos to those veteran teachers across the country who have stepped it up and went back to school to grasp technology to better serve students.
  • Shared leadership takes trust and humility. As building leader, where the buck stops with you, it is vital to lead in a way that allows those capable in your building to head departments and initiatives that will look, feel, and run like their vision and not yours. How empowering is that to have people in your building who feel trusted enough to put their unique spin on school programs? This takes trust and a big dose of humility.
  • Middle school is TRULY a student’s second home! COVID-19 has shown us that we must use unorthodox methods to still make connections with our students. We must also encourage their parents who have been passed the baton of teacher from home. Kudos to our parents who are making it happen!

What’s in my resource toolkit?

  • Relentless: Hamish Brewer’s guide to stepping out of the norm to lead with individualistic fire and passion that only you know is inside of you. This book was also read by my staff to inspire them to lead and teach differently in their own classrooms.
  • Lead With Grace: Jessica Cabeen discusses and guides you through the often overlooked usage of soft skills in the role of instructional leadership and learning when and how to give grace in our role.
  • This We Believe: Keys to Educating Young Adolescents: Coming up in the ranks as a middle school assistant principal and now a middle school principal, AMLE’s, This We Believe, is still a great resource for aspiring and standing middle school principals alike.

Who’s in my professional learning network?

  • Hamish Brewer: My middle school leadership twin. A great source to bounce creative, out of the box ideas off of and to continue to be unashamed of the, at times, unorthodox work that we do for the young people we serve.
  • Baruti K. Kafele: The “Godfather” of urban school leadership. A mentor to thousands of us across the country who look to him for a word on working with and cultivating aspiring administrators while developing the minds of our students.
  • MNPS PALS: A consortium of middle school principals in my own school district who have a group chat and keep each other informed, lifted up, and encouraged as we navigate our way to success in our unique and individual campuses.

You have now had an opportunity to hear from the Fellows for the Center for Middle-Level Leadership. Now it is time to hear from some of the best and brightest middle school administrators from across the country.

Kevin Armstrong, Ed. D., is a middle school principal and fellow of NAESP’s Center for Middle-Level Leadership.


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