Mount Abe's interim principal focuses on relationship-building
BRISTOL — As Mount Abraham Union Middle/High School Interim Principal Shannon Warden walked through the crowd after last month’s homecoming football game, she encountered a young Eagle football player who earlier in the evening had competed in the middle school exhibition scrimmage.
“You’re my principal, right?” he asked her.
“Yes I am,” she said.
“DID YOU SEE MY INTERCEPTION?!”
Warden recalled his excitement in an interview with the Independent.
“And then he fist-bumped me and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is why I do what I do.’”
Such moments can change relationships forever, she said.
“The next time you see those kids in the hallway your interactions are different.”
Building relationships was one of Warden’s highest priorities when she took over at Mount Abe on July 1.
It was also a primary concern for the school’s faculty and staff, according to a survey conducted by Mount Abraham Unified School District Superintendent Patrick Reen, prior to appointing Warden.
The new interim principal is doing a lot more to achieve that than just making herself available for the occasional fist-bump.
Among other things, Warden started with social media, which provided an easy opportunity for expanding the school’s communication strategies.
“Our Facebook page hadn’t been used to its full potential, so I’ve really been working on that,” she said.
She also joined Front Porch Forum and has begun using that as a vehicle for communication.
“I’m getting a lot of positive feedback about our social media presence. People especially enjoy the videos,” she said. “And I think families and students appreciate having information at their fingertips.”
This year’s school-wide open house, which was held Sept. 19, underwent some changes as well.
“I asked teachers their thoughts on what worked and didn’t work about open house, and following their feedback we decided to do something a little more laid-back than in previous years,” she said. “So I set up — I don’t know what else to call it — a sort of ‘trade show’ in the front lobby, with student-run clubs.” She also did away with the formal structure of the event, which in past years was divided into sessions that began and ended with a ringing school bell.
Afterward, Warden planned to send a survey out to families.
“What did they like about open house? What didn’t work? How can we improve on this so we can get more families to come in and be a part of the school community?” she said.
Before replacing Jess Barewicz at Mount Abe, Warden served for six years as assistant principal at Bellows Free Academy in St. Albans. While there she helped implement the same sort of Proficiency Based Learning curriculum that is now being used at Mount Abe, and she’s looking forward to bringing her own experiences and insights to bear at her new school.
“Whenever you’re trying something new you learn so much — the things that worked, the things that didn’t work — and I think I have a good eye for identifying those things,” she said.
She also understands the importance of being a “cheerleader.”
“A big part of supporting the work that is already being done here is being a great spokesperson,” she said. “We’re doing great things at this school and we want people to know about it.”
Warden has asked faculty and staff to help her with that.
“I let them know at the beginning of the school year: If you’re doing something, if you’re trying something new or doing something unique and there are great things going on, send it my way.”
Seeing a teacher get excited by the positive impact their work is having on kids, and seeing the kids respond to that work, can be a really powerful experience, she said.
“It reminds you of your ‘Why?’ Why did you get into education? Why do you do this every day?”
Mount Abe communicates its core behavioral expectations through the acronym “HEART,” which stands for Honesty, Engagement, Appropriate conduct, Responsibility and Timeliness.
Warden likes not only how the word stands for a set of principles governing the learning environment, but also that it carries a poetic, metaphorical connotation.
She sees both versions all the time in the Mount Abe community.
“I would say that I pretty regularly observe some really impressive human interactions at this school,” she said. “Kids who are sitting by themselves in the cafeteria and somebody comes to join them or invites them over to their table. Faculty and staff supporting students outside of school.”
“It means so much to the kids. They want to share something that they’re passionate about with the teachers, who are in turn sharing their passion with students every day.”
Reach Christopher Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org.