Think back to when you moved into a new leadership role… How often did you find yourself thinking about how nice it would have been to sit down with the previous leader and/or to have him or her coach you in your new role? Likewise, how helpful would it be for new or seasoned leaders to later reflect on and share their experiences as new leaders? We had the opportunity to do the latter with Dr. Shelly Mize, Superintendent of Tarrant City Schools (AL) and previous runner-up to Alabama’s Superintendent of the Year. Our conversation focused on continuous improvement at the classroom-level and Dr. Mize reflected on her first year as principal of her district’s elementary school:

One of the first things that I did as a new principal was visit each classroom. I spent about 15 minutes in each classroom and while there I asked myself the following questions: Is the classroom inviting and conducive to learning? Would I want to be a student in this classroom? As a parent, would I want my child to be a student in this classroom?

At the next faculty/brainstorming session, then Principal Mize shared the results to her questions:

Only two classrooms in our school of approximately 50 teachers met the three questions with an affirmative, “yes.”

In the same session she and her colleagues discussed criteria that would make a classroom “inviting and conducive to learning” and in an email earlier this week she shared the rest of the story from that initial year and focused on where the school is now:

We made a list of “non-negotiables,” discussed the importance of displaying high-quality student work, painted the school, purchased huge bulletin boards for hallways throughout the school, and revamped PBIS. We also started taking students on good behavior field trips. With 97% of our student population qualifying for free/reduced priced meals, we worked hard to expand their horizons through educational and fun experiences.

Over the years [the school has] grown into a one-stop shop. We provide uniforms and supplies to needy children. We adopt students for Christmas and have supplied Christmas to more families that we can count. We have paid electric bills, sought resources, taken students to the doctor, counseled numerous parents. You name it, we’ve done it! A parent who has long since moved away still calls me 2-3 times each year for advice. In recent years, the school moved toward Standards-Based Report cards which has really enabled parents, students and teachers to keep track of mastered and non-mastered standards. We also changed our child nutrition program to Provision II meaning that ALL students receive a breakfast and lunch at no charge to the student.

The above actions are examples of a school’s leader, teachers, and staff working together to make a great place for students to learn and to live. How did they get here?

I think the most profound change occurred when we started looking at “school” through the eyes of our students… The more we focused on individual student needs and worked hard to eliminate education barriers while providing them a great education, the higher the test scores… My colleagues and students believed and lived our student pledge, “I believe in me. I can do anything, I can become anything, because I believe in me!” What we experienced was a culture change.

As the school’s new principal, Dr. Mize led the change; she lived it and she owned it and she created an environment where her school’s teachers and staff owned it. Great leaders do this. Great leaders also come to work each day hoping that they can make a difference in their students’ lives. These leaders, like Dr. Mize, who share their passion and engage with their colleagues in actions that return focus to why we do what we do every day – purpose, worthwhile work, and making a difference – provide students with a great place to learn and parents with confidence that their children are getting a great education.



Dr. Shelly Mize is Superintendent of Tarrant City Schools, Tarrant, Alabama. As superintendent Dr. Mize is committed to providing students with a high-quality education and equipping them with skills to be successful in college and/or a career. She shared about her time as a principal that “Tarrant Elementary is truly the most amazing school. It’s my dream school and my dream job. Although I am no longer the principal in that awesome building, I’m proud to say that my own daughter is a student at TES!” Read more about how Tarrant City Schools prepares students for “learning, service, and success” here.

Continue the conversation with educational leaders like Dr. Mize at this year’s Destination High Performance in Orlando, Florida, February 9 – 11. Tweet Dr. Karen Owen at @KKOwen_Coach or visit here for more information.

Our mission at Studer Education is to provide students with a great place to learn, teachers with a great place to teach, and parents with confidence that their children are getting a great education. Visit us online at http://studereducation.com. Studer Education is a division of Studer Group, ranked for the seventh straight year on the Best Small and Medium Workplaces by Great Place to Work® and a recipient of the 2010 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.

Filed under: How to Lead…, Our Partners, Who’s Engaged? Tagged: Dr. Shelly Mize, Education, How to Lead Teachers to Become Great, Leadership, Lessons from #EdLeaders, Making a Difference, Principal, Purpose, School Leader, Studer Education, Superintendent, Tarrant City Schools, Team Development, What’s Your “What”?, Worthwhile Work

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