Vicki Shipley, Tennessee’s 2018-19 Principal of the Year, reflects on the important lessons she’s learned as a leader.

Q: You work at a school that has seen tremendous growth under your leadership. What do you see as the key to that growth and how have you sustained that growth over time?

A: We truly believe in and practice shared accountability, which includes teachers and students. Students are required to know their TVAAS projections and be able to share these with anyone in the building who asks for them, including our cafeteria and janitorial staff. Each classroom has a mastery chart, which is created by the teacher and has a list of the standards for their grade and subject. Students chart their progress toward mastery of each standard and keep this in a folder for each class. The teacher and student work together to monitor progress toward mastery of each standard. This allows students to own their data and celebrate their growth. We want students to have a clear direction of where they are headed and what they need to do to arrive at their destination, which is why knowing their projections and owning their progress is so important.

Q: How do you use data in your work as a principal, and what data is most important to you? How do you empower educators to use data effectively?

A: Teacher effect data (TVAAS) and student achievement data are very important to us because both drive our school’s effectiveness. TVAAS data lets us know how our students are growing, regardless of where they began. We also know that it’s important to ensure our students are achieving at high levels so that they can be successful when they leave our school. Additionally, we look at the percentage of students who met or exceeded their projections in each class—meaning they grew more than expected academically. Teachers reflect on their data from the previous year to identify areas where they may need to adjust their teaching. We monitor and share information on this, so we can develop plans to ensure all students are meeting or exceeding their projections.

Another piece of data we use is the TNReady Standards Analysis report, which shows trends around which standards are being mastered. This lets us identify grades or classrooms in need of celebration or support. We print the reports and ask teachers to review them and reflect on their findings. They then share those reflections with us, which allows us to tackle any issues collectively. For example, if students across the 7th grade are struggling with the geometry standards then that needs to be addressed as a grade level rather than at the individual teacher level.

Q: How do you lead courageous conversations with your staff and teachers to encourage them to own data and use it to drive improvements?

A: We have a very forward approach, and we really don’t sugarcoat things. Although this doesn’t always lead to easy conversations, focusing on our kids makes it easier for us to keep pushing. We have made moves that were unpopular, such as moving faculty members who did not want to improve and learn to areas where they could not be detrimental to student achievement. For example, we had one class in which students were struggling. We provided the teacher with professional learning, had the teacher observe peers, provided additional supplementary materials, etc., but scores still did not improve, so we made a personnel change. With a different teacher in that classroom, our students went from 42 percent ‘On Track and Mastered’ to 96 percent in just one year.

We have also created schedules that keep students at the center. The entire school has what we call “Encore” for the first thirty minutes of the day. During this time, we offer both remediation and enrichment. The students move around the building to teachers for various types of work, which might include makeup work, extra tutoring, homework support, extra credit, enrichment, clubs, etc.

Lastly, since we have a small minority student population and a larger population of students living in poverty, we believe it’s necessary to have conversations about diversity and poverty. Sometimes those are categorized together, but they shouldn’t necessarily be combined. We have used the book “Courageous Conversations” to address diversity with our teachers to ensure we are best meeting the needs of our kids.

Q: School climate is fundamentally important to a school’s success. What do you see as the foundational pieces of your school’s culture that you have purposefully cultivated?

A: I have read numerous times that the school will take on the principal’s personality. If that’s true, I hope that we have created a culture of trust. We believe that if our teachers trust each other by sharing successful strategies and offering constructive criticism, we can improve student achievement and create teacher leaders who feel empowered. We have had many teachers trained to be TEAM peer evaluators and will continue to do so. All over our building you will see teachers observing each other and offering praise as well as suggesting strategies to improve.

Q: As the 2018-19 Tennessee Principal of the Year, what advice would you share with those who may be early in their journeys as school leaders?

A: Set goals developed by teachers, teacher leaders, and your administrative team for student achievement. Consistency in this process is vital. Sometimes you will have to have difficult conversations, but persevere! The end result is student achievement which will allow your faculty to grow professionally and personally.

Vicki Shipley has served in school administration for 18 years, and is in her eighth year as principal of Munford Middle in Tipton County, a 2018-19 Reward School.