Reflecting on your own story in order to share it with others is a powerful way to continue to grow yourself personally and professionally. Telling your story has the potential to make a significant impact on the lives of others. And, in education, this may become a significant impact on the lives of children.
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Todd Nesloney, Principal and lead learner at John C. Webb Elementary in Navasota ISD, Navasota, Texas. Todd, along with his team of 81 staff members at Webb Elementary, recently published Stories from Webb, a collection that gets to the heart of our schools – the trials and celebrations of teachers and students, told first hand. Notes from our conversation follow.
It is evident in your new book Stories from Webb and in your consistent message that you value learning. What are you currently reading or learning about?
Todd was a math teacher during his years in the classroom at the 4th and 5th grade levels. Now, he is lead learner at Webb, which is a PK-5 campus. He shared a portion of his goal (T-PESS) for the year is to further his understanding of reading and writing instructional practices. So, over the next 30 days he will be teaching 2 reading and writing lessons in every grade level at Webb. His teachers gave him standards, met with him to help plan the lessons, and will be present as he teaches in order to provide feedback. In addition, he has attended the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) annual conference as well as the ILA (International Literacy Association) annual conference and submitted proposals to speak at conferences related to literacy. His 3rd book is co-written with a secondary English teacher and the process to make this happen has called for his own growth in this area as well. It is evident Todd desires to grow in the area of reading and writing instruction!
In Stories from Webb we were afforded a small glimpse into the interview of your assistant principal. How do you attract and interview teachers, knowing the culture you have established and continue to build.
Todd attributes much of what he does, he has learned from others, when he speaks about attracting and hiring teachers. He is a connected educator and values insight from others across the country. Todd and members of his team visit the Ron Clark Academy and other schools across the country every year. This has afforded him opportunities to consider interview practices that are successful for others, so that he may use these at Webb. For example, he always interviews with a panel of teachers with him. There have even been some instances when he hasn’t been in the room – he knows they are on the same page and are looking for the same caliber of educator who demonstrates the same characteristics. Todd shares, “I can teach somebody how to teach; I can’t teach you how to love kids.” During the interviews, he asks questions about the candidates themselves, like the biggest adventure they’ve been on or if they wrote a book, how would they tag it? On the next step, he asks the candidates to dream big and identify the grade level and subject area they would like to teach. He then has them come in to teach a lesson with that level/subject teacher. His team needs to see the candidates in action and give Todd feedback. It is evident Todd’s team plays a pivotal role in the hiring process for teachers at Webb!
When seeking candidates, Todd advertises on social media, sharing what makes Webb a unique campus. He mentioned that articulating to an experienced teacher about what makes Webb different is easier than to do so with a first year teacher because experienced teachers have something with which to compare. Teachers who have worked at more than one school can attest to this, certainly.
It is clear that you more-than-appreciate your teachers. What does Teacher Appreciation Week look like at Webb Elementary?
Todd certainly tries to make Teacher Appreciation more than a week. He (and his team) randomly does things for his staff, especially if it has been a tough week. Small gestures like bringing donuts and leaving notes to staff in mailboxes shows he tries to consistently give signs of appreciation to his staff in a tangible way. He also looks to show his appreciation in non-tangible ways, like covering recess to give teachers an extended lunch break. In the winter, he uses the 12 days of Christmas to offer a different celebration each day, such as a surprise jeans day or hot cocoa in the lounge. He has 81 staff members, so he can never stop showing his appreciation. He is afraid someone is always feeling unnoticed or not appreciated – it’s so easy for them to get lost in the shuffle. Todd appreciates his staff and employs many ways, tangible and non-tangible, to show them that.
It is also evident that you advocate for your teachers and work to protect them so they can do what matters with kids. Does anyone advocate for you in your role as lead learner at Webb?
Todd mentioned that he has never been asked this before. He has a great support system – in life everyday and on social media. He has a sounding board to keep him grounded. He has a new Assistant Superintendent that has been a really good advocate for him this year and credits his team for standing up for each other as well. Todd noted that the parents of the students at Webb advocate for him and help support a family environment at the school. In his role as Principal there are many battles he fights for his team that they are unaware of. In a similar way, he is sure that his advocates fight battles for him that he will not ever know about. Todd feels supported and that alone is valuable.
What are you looking forward to next?
Todd shared that he is looking forward to his latest book, Stories from Webb getting into the hands of others – to amplify the voices in the field everyday. The biggest word of advice he has received is to amplify the voices of others more than you amplify your own – especially marginalized voices. He also has a TEDx talk coming up and mentioned that he is nervous and scared, as he always is when giving such presentations. Finally, his 3rd book is coming out in June and was written differently than is first two books, and that he is excited about that as well.
I greatly appreciated Todd’s time that he so graciously gave to me in order to provide insight into his leadership at Webb.
To remain aware of the latest with Todd Nesloney and what is happening at Webb Elementary, follow them on twitter: Todd (@TechNinjaTodd) and Webb (@Webb_Elem).
To learn more about Todd’s team, check out Stories from Webb.