Reflections of a First Year School Principal
Roberto Germán: [00:00:00] Welcome to our classroom in this space. We talk about education, which is inclusive of, but not limited to what happens in schools. Education is taking place whenever and wherever we are willing to learn. I am your host, roto Herman, and our classroom is officially in session. In this episode of our classroom, I am joined by Terra Lynch, the director of middle school at headwater school in Austin, Texas, Terra Lynch, a decade teach in humanities at university neighborhood high school in New York city in a decade as a consultant for the New York university metropolitan center for research on equity and the transformation of schools as an instructional coach.
She's also lived and worked in Cairo Egypt and Washington DC [00:01:00] in Austin, Terra led parent groups around dyslexia advocacy. She served as the learning specialist at headwater school for five years, collaborating with middle and high school guys to meet the needs of the students. While also teaching middle school Spanish.
She is the author of the book Protocols in the Classroom tools to help students read, write, think, and collabo. With us today, Terra Lynch. Well, greetings everybody. I am here this evening with Terra Lynch principal of headwater school in Austin, Texas. Yes. Principal consultant, author, and just overall good person.
I got to know Terra a bit from my time in Austin. Having been a colleague of hers and worked working closely on a number of [00:02:00] different initiatives and seeing her step into the role of the principalship. Once I departed to Florida and leaving, feeling confident that the school wasn't good hands, and I'm happy to have Tara with me here this evening, because I'm, I'm eager.
To learn more about what she's been up to her experience as a first year principal. I, I think it'll be good content for, for folks to hear, not just those who are in administration, but also teachers, the, the trials and triumphs of a principal. And just talking, talking about that, that first year, the experiences.
And so. Grateful to have you here. Terra Lynch is with us folks and we gonna have a good one. Y'all stay engaged, Tara. Thank you for being here. Welcome to our Classroom. [00:03:00]
Terra Lynch: though. It's so good to be back in the classroom with you. I didn't have any snacks to share with you, which is sometimes part of our meeting protocol.
It's very tiring and hungry in the day to day of the life of the school. But when we're in the same place, we'll have to, we'll have to do that.
Roberto Germán: that was one of the things that I looked forward to Terra. Whenever we got together, you were a person that I could rely on for snacks.
Terra Lynch: As a person who's always hungry.
I'm always happy to provide snacks for others. So , I mean, and also there's just something about sharing food that is, I definitely appreciate, I am not the world's best cook, but I do love having a bunch of people over. For dinner and eating together. So whether it's a snack or a meal, just good human. I appreciate that way of connecting with people.
Roberto Germán: Absolutely food and fellowship is essential. Mm-hmm so, Tara, I wanna jump right in. Can you tell us a bit about who you [00:04:00] are? I mentioned that you're the principal at headwaters, but tell us a little bit about who you are as a person, but also as an educator
I think that two pieces of who I'm as an educator that I think are important is that I'm a career changer.
So I didn't start an education. I started in project management and that actually really helped me, I think in terms of perspective and systems and knowing different ways to approach a problem. And then I think the other piece, well, another piece for me, that was my formation as a, as a educator was that I taught in New York city for 10 years in I looped ninth and 10th grade.
I often got in ninth grade again and again, for some reason. And so those years in New York city were formative because they were my first years as this teaching as a teacher also because I had such a Leader in my principal as well. And my colleagues were just amazing. So, well, I haven't even talked about the [00:05:00] kids.
I mean, these kids are now in their thirties and yeah, it was, it was pretty amazing time to be teaching in New York city. So tho those are two, two of the ways I describe myself as an educator. I'm also the child and grandchild of educators and And I'm also a parent that really comes into who I am as an educator as well.
I've done a fair amount of parent advocacy around dyslexia because both my kids are dyslexia and the services for them I've found, were lacking and being able to know a little bit about being an education allowed me to bring that awareness to others who are not in education and struggling. So those are some of the things.
Some of the ways that I describe myself as an educator, in addition to middle school principal, which I do feel like is I wear as a, a badge. And I say that because middle school unfortunately was not always a great place for a people when I talk to them in their adults. [00:06:00] And one of my own goals is to have middle schoolers who are happy.
They can be angsty, they can be awkward, but to. Learning and growing about who they are. So that
to me. So basically you wanna make middle school. Great. Again.
you went there didn't you yeah. I want, I wanna make middle school, a positive experience. For kids and for their parents, because this is also the time when one of my messages to parents is it's, this is a time for parents to step back and to let their, their children step up and make decisions that might be different than theirs.
Maybe make, definitely make mistakes and to feel those consequences. And then, and so part of it is parents that's okay. It's actually great. It's great for them to get that practice. Cause that is the best. I know to, to, to, to learn is to actually talk about it. Think about it, [00:07:00] try it, reflect, try again.
Didn't quite go that way. So yeah. I love middle school, right?
Roberto Germán: They need room to stumble and stand.
Terra Lynch: Absolutely. I also like the idea of floundering that gets all flounder.
Roberto Germán: That sounds very Nemo-ish.
Terra Lynch: It is now your children are younger than mine. So it's been about very Neish. Yeah, I, I, no, but thank you for reminding me that is about middle school.
Roberto Germán: Find, Finding Nemo is a classic movie. It's ageless.
Terra Lynch: It is ageless. And that really is what it's about. Right? The, the child and a parent. Negotiating with each other about their own I fears and hopes and and giving each other freedom to express those. Yeah. Okay. Well, we're done middle school in a nutshell.
Watch finding Nemo again. That's again,
Roberto Germán: that's it that's, it interview over,
Terra Lynch: but no, but actually the friendship piece too, you know, how the, how the friends support each other in their quests and their searches and they look out for each other. I think that is [00:08:00] another wonderful analogy to middle school for sure.
Roberto Germán: That's what I'm here for Terra
Terra talk to me about the triumphs in your first year as principal
Terra Lynch: triumphs. Okay. So going in what I thought would help me, some of the things I thought would help me did help and what those are is. Working with parents. I had led parent groups. I am a parent, you know, I felt comfortable working with parents and the COVID having COVID and, and our, in our school, the parents had to show like an app to show that their children were able to come in.
And while that was a bit of a hassle in some ways, I actually really love that morning time with the parents in the car at, at my school, there are a. Dogs that come in the car to drop off the kids. So saying hello to the dogs of headwaters. I really, those, those little daily routines created a relationship with the parents that I, I really [00:09:00] treasured.
And then when more difficult conversations came up, we had that. So I think that that, that, that parent piece felt like a triumph for me in terms of the first year. And, and, and then in terms of the students. You know, just being able to welcome them back for many of them, this was, that was the first full year in school.
I mean, what a gift to be able to give to them. And they really appreciated it. Being, yeah, they really appreciated being together with their peers. We've got an op fairly open campus on a number of houses. So that feeling, especially for the sixth graders to, to come and kind of look around like, whoa, this is school.
And to see them grow from not really knowing even how to cross the street at times, just remembering to look both ways to really. You know, making plans to go walk up to the whole foods with their friends. You know, just seeing that growth in their confidence in being in a downtown, [00:10:00] being in the city really felt like a big triumph to me.
And then I think I do love a, a group of teachers. We had a fair amount of turnover last year. So having the new teachers. Become integrated, you know, help, you know, it, it's a process to say goodbye to people you've worked with before, but that felt like a triumph as well. But really, I think my favorite piece were about our community meetings.
So you remember we used to get together in our studio. Eighth graders, get to sit on chairs. you get the esteemed role of being the oldest in middle school. Everyone else sits on the floor, but in COVID you couldn't get 95 kids in that one little room. So we ended up setting. On Wednesdays for half an hour underneath the studio in a parking lot.
So usually teachers remember not to park there. Sometimes we have to work around a car, like figure out who's is this, can you move your way? The reason I think this is triumph even though early in the year, it was kind of like pulling my hair out in terms of managing a group that size is [00:11:00] that by midyear really? But highlight for me is towards the end of the year we had our second performance.
Pizza is, is the name of the community meeting. So for performance pizza, to see how wrapped a hun, almost a hundred students were in watching their peers perform music dance. One, one group of eighth graders had created their own dance and they had costumes donated from a parent who was in theater and, and, and I looked around and just saw just the incredible attention.
A hundred kids were giving to their peers. In a parking lot. sitting on tarps holding up the screen. And in some cases, the PA system, they got that figured out. I mean, I, that to me was the pinnacle, because I guess because it's so not concrete. I mean, this is not a room. We are not in a room. We are in a parking lot, but you wouldn't know it's a parking lot because for now in this space, we are a community.[00:12:00]
Who knows the routines for getting it set up for getting it put away. And we are just in the moment appreciating each other. So that was that, that, that encapsuled so much of the struggle in terms of pizza kids getting used to being on campus, flexible thinking appreci showing appreciation, taking a risk.
I think that that. Community meeting really is my favorite part. When I think about last year, that was the biggest triumph that I feel proud about. And at the same time, I'm happy that this year we'll be moving back into the studio. yeah. But to know we can do it feels really good. Yeah,
Roberto Germán: absolutely. I mean, all types of challenges, right?
Mm-hmm all, all of our schools face so many challenges during. COVID era that forced us to make all types of adjustments. Mm-hmm, some in very uncomfortable [00:13:00] situations. Some that inspired new ideas, new ways. Mm-hmm, all types of innovation. And so it's awesome to hear the, that some of those early tensions and early.
Problems, I guess you would say or challenges mm-hmm , mm-hmm, sure resulted in a fruitful end to the school year and
Terra Lynch: greater community fruitful and beautiful and yeah. Community greater community. And just seeing that comfort that, yeah. It's like, it's like a combination of being known, knowing what to do.
That's what I mean by comfort, you know knowing the people around you, knowing you're safe, all that. Felt really, really great. And also it was all student run. I mean, I didn't have, I mean, of course I'm always keeping my eye out. Who's doing well, what's going on? Can we see everyone? Can everyone make eye contact?
But the students ran. It that's really, they [00:14:00] got that equipment set up. They did the mindfulness. We started with a mu, we always started with a song, which is a leftover from. And only once did they say Terra, the song you recommended? I can't find a clean version. It just a local, it was just a local Austin artist.
I was like,
sorry, Terra. Can't on B. Yeah, that student student Ron. Yeah. Beautiful, wonderful gawky. Student leaders, you know,
Roberto Germán: one of, one of the pillars of tech teaching is being student driven. And I, I know that. Part of Lorena's work. And part of texture teaching was, was definitely influenced by some of her experience at headwaters mm-hmm.
so love to hear the fact that things are still being student driven and that kids have the space to step into their leadership potential. [00:15:00] Now you. Within what you just shared as it relates to triumph mm-hmm there was a strand of trial that I heard. Yes. And I don't think we could talk, talk about the triumph without talking about the trial.
So I I'd love to hear you elaborate a bit more about the trials that you faced as a first year principal.
Terra Lynch: Mm-hmm sure. And, and I, I'm not gonna belabor the pandemic changes part of the trials. That we could do a whole episode on that. I, I, to me, when I'm thinking back on the year, that certainly absolutely was the thread, but I when I think about that student voice piece, one of the trials for me and for us as a school is, was both with the students and the parents and the guides that understanding of our community agreements, which are very aspirational and beautiful and wonderful in the handbook.
Which is some all is not exactly aspirational. It's a little more nuts and bolts, but parts of it are easy. You have to wear shoes [00:16:00] to school. You can't bring a weapon, even a fake one. You know, like some of those are easy, others are more nuanced. And one of the challenges last year was for me to figure out, oh, there are all these different layers.
Is how do I work with the students and the guys and the parents to set boundaries when the boundaries isn't always known. And you know, that came up in many ways. I, I think that the communication and socializing outside of school, on devices, whether it's a phone or discord on the computer, Would that was a trial because it's not school property, it's not happening in school.
But of course it has an impact on, well, maybe not, of course, but it did have an impact in school. And so that was a, a trial too, stepping through the parents. Didn't always know what's going on. The kids aren't always forthright or maybe they'll tell someone and then a rumor starts. And by the time [00:17:00] it gets to me, it's like, well, what really happened?
You smile a little bit. There was, I know that happened too. And so that piece, like the piecing through. I don't wanna say consequences, but sometimes people are like, well, there's gotta be consequences of this, or no more was like, what's the, I think, I think piecing through the fact that there isn't always a net P if P implies Q because it depends who was it?
When did it happen? What happened before? What's the relationship with these kids? I, I definitely sense frustration. And so that was a, that was a trial to, to pull through that. And, and also, you know, the idea of Being student led is wonderful. And I just keep seeing it in the framework of restorative justice.
You know, our, we, we, as a school, we start with mindfulness. We do check-ins, but we don't call it restorative justice. And in some ways that made it harder in these disciplinary situations or when someone made a decision that had that caused harm to set the expectation [00:18:00] in just a year. That you may not know what the consequences were, cuz it might not be your business or you may not be happy with, you may not be happy with what the consequences are.
Or you may want you being again, a student, a parent at times a guide, or you may want something different, but, or you may want something punitive and that's. Really where I'm gonna go. So that, that, that piece is gonna be ongoing. I know for sure. But I feel like we made progress there and that was one of the trial areas.
And that will be ongoing. I mean, again, we've got kids six, seventh, and eighth coming through. There's always a new crop to. Learn about practice, make these mistakes, understand co-create some consequences or some repair. So that will be an ongoing piece that takes more fine tuning tuning. So that is one.
And then also just, I think for me, what took me a little bit by surprise was how much the stuff of [00:19:00] life impacted. I mean, being in the classroom and working with families, I know that everyone. A lot going on, but I think what was a a challenge for me was, and I'm still working on it, but is how do I hold that information?
Knowing sadness, pain, struggle of the people in the community. How can I hold that information? Hold the space for them and not get pulled down by it and also maintain some of the. Administrative pieces. Like you gotta take PTO, gotta get a sub, you know, that was a tension that I would put in the, I mean, trial might be a little traumatic, but that definitely was a challenge last year.
Roberto Germán: you. Thank you for being vulnerable and, and transparent. I think it's important for folks to hear sometimes. Individuals don't know some of the stuff that we navigate as principles mm-hmm [00:20:00] and it's important to have that insight. What, what do you anticipate it be different in year two positive or negative?
What do you anticipate will be different?
Terra Lynch: Well let's see. Of course having have had an experience of a year under my belt allows me to feel more prepared for the year in terms of what may come. Of course the school is a living organism and you never know what's gonna that's right. But I do think that I'll be able to build on on the work that I did last year, pretty much across the board.
So whether it's. Be more clear from the get, go about the way we respond to student behaviors that aren't fitting with our community agreements or the way I respond to, Hey Tara, I can't come in for such and such because of such and such. think that, that, I just feel like that will. I guess it'll be different.
There'll be this similar thread, but it'll be different because it won't be so brand new and I can build, I can build on the basis rather [00:21:00] than starting from scratch. Also what's gonna be different this year is I have some partners that I'm working with some nonprofits and I'm really, really excited to be working with.
That's going to help. That's going to help. The ideas, many of the ideas that I have, and I, I think they're gonna help me bring it bring things to the school a little more quickly on the staff level, for example, I'm excited to be working with a, an organization that's gonna help with facilitative leadership.
So this very decentralized approach of teaching and learning. And then there's another partnership with a local Austin organization. That's helping us build a seventh and eighth grade team for lack of ano of a better word, but basically they're gonna help train students in consent and boundaries.
And then those students will be training their peers and consent and boundaries. And, and it's very intentional at some of the eighth graders, the eighth grader. Move on the seventh graders move up when a new crew goes. So as you [00:22:00] know, the peers are hearing from a peer, goes a lot further to, to, to a middle schooler than hearing from us adults.
So that's got me really excited too. So I think that'll be different this year. Of course we'll have a new group, a new crop of sixth graders. We got bigger classes all in all three, all three grades. So that's super exciting, but it's gonna be, you know, having. I don't know who those little personalities are yet, and they're gonna make their impact.
So that's gonna be different this year too. And I'm really looking forward to them coming in. Yeah,
Roberto Germán: that's awesome. That's awesome. So what surprised you most this past year?
Terra Lynch: So the surprises from last year, I wanna say how tiring it was, but I had an inkling of that. I think maybe the surprise just builds on that trial piece.
Just, just learning. Oh, the, you know, the, the things [00:23:00] that are outside the impact of the events outside of school, how much they make a, a difference in my job and in the teachers and the students' lives, whether that's, of course that's the stuff in the family, but that's also city level. Laws state level laws.
As you knew, as you know, I grew up in Buffalo. So when the shooting happened in Buffalo, you know, it world events impact the day to day of, of this hundred person, middle school in downtown Austin. So that I think the level, the degree to which that makes an impact, that was a surprise for me. I mean, of course there are humans living in the world.
they're gonna be impacted, but that was, that took more that had more of an impact than I thought that was definitely a surprise. Yeah. Right. And,
Roberto Germán: and those are factors that we can't control. Mm-hmm we don't know when it's going happen. We don't know how people are gonna respond to mm-hmm and obviously there's, there's always something going on in our world.
[00:24:00] Right. So, yeah. So, so many, so, so many factors. Ultimately impact the experience of leading the school right. And, and doing community.
Terra Lynch: Absolutely. And I think one of the pieces that that I think through is, you know, just, I am, I have my own reactions to those. And then I have, you know, I keep that in mind, but if I also need it's really about the students and what their impact is, and sometimes, usually they'll tell me, or tell their advisors, but kind of, how do I, what are the ways that I can have that ongoing dialogue with the students so that I know what's on in their mind.
I love it when people bring things up that makes my job so much easier. Like this is important to you. Let's, you know, let's come up with a plan and what's the best way we can deal with it. But I also know working with groups that people don't always bring things up. And so that's, that's part of the job too.
What isn't coming up to [00:25:00] me that might be coming up in classrooms or in advisories. And how can we raise that to the larger group, if that's having an impact on the students? Absolutely.
Roberto Germán: What are you doing as a school leader to sustain an anti-bias and anti-racist culture at your school?
Terra Lynch: Yeah, sure. You know, I do, I do think of our student community meetings as part of the, a bar work because they're student led the topics and issues come from the students.
I think that that more decentralized structure. Allows topics and issues to come up that I, as a white female educator may not have on my, on, on the top of my board. So that's, that's definitely part of it. As I said, just moving into thinking through restorative practices and working with the community to think through har, you know, harm and repair is this punitive or restorative, like why, you know, having that conversation with each [00:26:00] other.
What our experiences were, how those impact what we do and really keeping the kids in mind. Because we're in because we are in downtown Austin, I had students do some bystander training since they are out on the street with classes and after school. So that training. That there are various iterations of it.
Some can be just general bystander you know, if something happens to anyone around you and then some of them are more focused in terms of if there's racial profiling or antisemitic comments or misogynist, misogynistic comments, so that that's something that I did last year and will continue this year.
And then I, I do love Our civil rights day. That is a though it's a, it's a, it's a ritual that has been going on for years and years at the school. What I love about it's the students choose the topic based on what's important to them. And then we get to bring community members in nonprofits and it's just a really [00:27:00] wonderful day.
Out, you know, separate from regular classes where students can make connections. A lot of students lead the sessions themselves. So that feels important in turn, in terms of antibi and anti-racist training, because the topics being about social justice directly speak to those. I mean, last year it was It was civil rights in Texas.
Cause there's been so much so many laws being passed here in Texas the year before it was black live matter. So it's very topical what the kids are interested in. So that's a really great way to, to raise awareness and allow students to learn and to speak.
Roberto Germán: What, what message of encouragement that you would like to offer are listeners.
Terra Lynch: Well, let's see a message of encouragement. I don't have like that quotable ring kind of phrase, but I have been appreciating and I'm [00:28:00] encouraging others to take a pause in between tasks or classes or meetings to just like, take a beat, sort of a self check. Practice a little breathing, a little centering get grounded.
So I would encourage encourage that. I've just been thinking a lot about how fast life goes and finding that, you know, having those, those times throughout the day, just to pause and be in the present. As much as I can be without thinking of the next or the last thing has been really helpful and just, yeah, sort of the simple, just relishing, the simple, the day to day, maybe even just the chores of life or the day to day routines of life, just taking that moment to pause, reflect before moving on.
So I'd encourage others to try that, see if it works for them too. And, and, and I guess I would [00:29:00] also encourage. Folks to I'm thinking of, you know, that work life, life balance just to talk to their supervisors about it. And I really would encourage people to keep their hobbies going, keep the, you know, to, to take time away from.
As well. Yeah. I, I think especially in education, you can always do more people love to help people love to problem solve that's part of the job. And again, like taking that break to do other things that self care, I guess I would, I would recommend
Roberto Germán: pause and reflect people and take time. Take time away.
Take time away. Well, mm-hmm Terra, where can folks follow you?
Terra Lynch: You can follow me on Twitter @terrateacher. You can go to my website, Terralynch.com. And those are the two places. My Instagram is private. That's a change that I've made over the years in education. And Facebook is [00:30:00] for my old friends from growing up in Buffalo.
So yeah, Twitter and my. Please find me. Oh, you can find me on Amazon or maybe your local bookstore. You can purchase protocols in the classroom.
Roberto Germán: I was just gonna tell you mm-hmm make sure you, you tell us the name of the book, plug in the book. All right, folks. Yes. Protocols in classroom. Make sure you go out there.
Support Terra Lynch, wonderful work that she's doing again. She is the principal middle school principal, middle school director at. Headwater school in Austin, Texas. And it's been a pleasure to have you in our classroom to learn about your experiences, the trials, triumphs surprises that you went through in the first year, and also what you are anticipating.
Going into year two, wish you the best in this school year. Give my love to the headwaters community. And I look forward to hearing some reports throughout the [00:31:00] course of the year.
Terra Lynch: Thank you so much, Roberto. Great to be in your classroom. I think the bells ringing
Roberto Germán: As always your engagement in our classroom is greatly appreciated.
Be sure to subscribe, rate the show and write a review. Finally. For resources to help you understand the intersection of race bias, education and society. Go to multiculturalclassroom.com. Peace and love from your host, Roberto Germán