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Resilience, and other lessons from a first-year principal

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  • In his first year as principal, Johnathan Moore has spent his days filled with career days, spelling bees, rebuilding libraries, and forging bonds with families. Read more about what drives him here.
  • Do you remember your first principal? Representation is a big part of what inspires Johnathan Moore to show up for students at Southern Elementary school in Guilford County.
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To settle into a new role, you may have to get your hands dirty.

Johnathan Moore has learned this while navigating challenges and new initiatives and Southern Elementary School in Guilford County. He has formed connections with families, given the school an inaugural career day, and given the media center a complete revamping as a first-year principal.

“I wanted to become a principal because I wanted to have a greater impact outside of the four walls of my classroom than when I was a teacher,” Moore said. 

Moore taught middle school social studies for three years before moving into administrative roles. He said he wanted to take that love and the relationships that he had with families when he was in the classroom and expand those connections schoolwide. 

Throughout his matriculation in school and eventually into becoming a teacher himself, Moore has seen other Black males as counselors, assistant principals, teachers, and other leadership roles. These observations helped him realize how important representation in a school building is to him. 

“I wanted to be in this role just because I know that representation matters,” Moore said. “And to know that you have an African American male leading a school building and what that does to not only African American students, but all students — Hispanic, white, Asian. All students need to see representation in school leadership. So I wanted to be that person to help bridge that.”

According to Moore, his typical day consists of going to classrooms to check on students and teachers. When he isn’t going in and out of classrooms, he spends a lot of time in meetings. The meetings consist of IEP meetings, pre-planning meetings to look at data, and meetings with teachers to discuss curriculum and track student progress. 

He said he likes to make connections with kids and believes the principal’s role is to be as present as possible. He tries to be present in the cafeteria and at recess to connect with students less formally.

During one of his conversations with EdNC, he had just finished playing kickball with the fourth graders at recess.

“I believe the role of the principal is to be as present as possible. So when the kids see you in the classroom and the kids see in the hallway, then that reassures to students that being in the building is important,” Moore said.

Moore also wanted to make sure he built the student’s connections throughout the district. This year, Southern had its inaugural career day. Moore collaborated with the principal at their local high school to include their career and technical instructors in the presentations. 

Moore said this was a way for them to not only build interest in the students, but also to encourage them to stay in their attendance zone by showing them what opportunities they would have when they got to high school. 

Southern Elementary School students learn about the medical field at their inaugural career day. Photo courtesy of Johnathan Moore.

“I thought it was a great way for our students to say like, ‘Oh my God, when I get to high school, I could be just like these students — taking courses, carpentry courses, nursing classes, EMT classes.’ Those are careers that I wanted to make sure that our kids had access to,” Moore said. 

Being a principal requires more than a passion for the success of the students. New administrators need time and preparation. 

Moore was a part of the New Leaders Program. Their school district had partnered with New Leaders to provide coaching support.

Participants in the program visit schools to learn from other administrators and can network with each other to hold each other accountable. 

Felicia Bowser, a first-year principal at Frazier Elementary School, said that the program provided useful information to the participants and most of the information they learn can become more applicable to them through the first few years in the principalship.

Frazier said Moore has been a good part of the support network that she has gotten as a participant. 

“We lean on each other quite a bit,” Bowser said. “We do random Teams calls during the day. You know, when we know that this particular requirement is coming up, we will kind of calibrate with each other like ‘What were you thinking about? What have you done towards this? You know, how are we going to use that money?’ things like that. So we become thought partners for each other.”

While Moore said he had his relationships with families and colleagues on the up and up, there is no way to prepare for everything.

Two weeks before the beginning of the school year, Moore discovered that their media center was infested with mold. They had to throw away all of their books and supplies. With support from the district and support from local entities such as Lowe’s Foods, the school was able to get their media center up and running again at the end of the first semester.

Moore said dealing with unexpected issues is “part of the job,” as “anything can come in and derail” their plans.

“We’re appreciative of all the support that we received from my school district in regard to the rectification of that and cleaning up,” Moore said. 

For the rest of the year, Moore plans to continue to show up for his faculty and his students.

“Mr. Moore is very supportive. And that’s important to have a principal that’s supportive and helpful. He’s always willing to call parents or to help however he can help,” Kate Burns, a teacher for exceptional children at Southern Elementary, said.  

Moore said if he could describe his experience with the community at Southern in one word, he would say resilient.

“I mean, right now, everybody is trying to do what they can to make sure that kids are growing academically, but also making sure that we’re growing our kids socially and emotionally it’s really important,” Moore said. “And our kids are resilient. We have from 5-year-olds to kids almost like 12, and we’re putting a lot on them. But kids are constantly coming every day and trying to do the best they can and grow.”

You can follow Moore on Twitter now X @Mr_MooreBME.