Monica Alvarez - Cohort 5 Resident Principal

These past six months have been like no other.  Covid-19 has changed the world, and each of us as well.  Our daily lives have changed, as we have slowly adjusted to our new pandemic living.  We had a glimpse of some light at the end of the tunnel, but that has recently dimmed.  But we remain hopeful for its return as we take thoughtful steps to reopening our lives and returning to the normalcy we had before March 2020.

In the wake of Covid-19, I had the opportunity to become an Onward Leader.  I have been an educator for more than a decade.  I love teaching.  I love being in the classroom and seeing learning happening first-hand.  I treasure those moments seeing a student “get it.”  Their light bulb moments.  I have a collection of notes and cards from students throughout the years who have touched my life.  Their notes of gratitude help to lift my spirits on those hard days of being an educator.  As much as I loved being in the classroom,  I wanted to do more.  I knew that I was destined to do more outside of one classroom.  And with Onward Leaders, I have found my more, I have found my true purpose.  I have found the path that will lead me to do more, to touch more lives in a more profound way.  I realize that I am exactly where I need to be.  I am following the path that God knew I was meant to follow.  I am so grateful for the invaluable experiences and the amazing group of colleagues I am so blessed to learn alongside.

I have learned so much these past six months.  I have broken through my fears of balancing a budget and completing a 3-month projection.  I have been able to develop my soft skills - to listen to others without judgement, to show compassion without weakness, to ask 5 whys to dig deeper into the true issue, to use the iceberg method to discover the root of the problem, to hang on to my “lollipop moment” and that “there is a crack in everything because that’s how the light gets in.”  These are lessons that I will carry with me throughout my life.

In the pillar of Faith, I have learned the importance of bringing a community together.  Especially now, in times of distance learning, our faith is of utmost importance.  I know the importance of the school and church having a shared vision.  I will lead my school as an example of a leader filled with faith and impart to my staff the peace and guidance God gives us in challenging times.  I look most forward to spending time with my faculty in retreats which are meaningful and bring clarity and peace to that point of our lives.  

In the pillar of Excellence, I have learned several strategies to create a collaborative learning environment where I am the learning leader.  I will strive for my staff to all work toward a culture of achievement and providing students with meaningful learning opportunities.  I think it is so important for all staff members to understand their why.  If we all keep the students’ best interests at the forefront, we can achieve our vision.  During these times of distance learning, we have been challenged with the issues of academic integrity and keeping a high level of academic excellence.  We have made progress in tackling those challenges, by reminding students of the importance of integrity and their understanding to keep their cameras on while taking assessments so their teachers can see them work.  It is also a challenge to keep students engaged and challenged via a computer, while they sit for long periods of time.  We have reviewed the students’ schedules and made sure they have time for brain breaks, while keeping their work at a high level of achievement.  Virtual walk-throughs are easy to do, and a quick way to see how teachers are delivering their lessons.  We check lesson plans weekly and give feedback weekly as well.  We have a weekly goal in Excellence during our faculty meetings, to keep teachers working collaboratively towards the same goals for their classes.  They share lessons they did that week that hit on those goals and we give feedback.  We have to also keep our students’ emotional well-being at heart.  We understand, through our students and our own children, how draining and difficult distance learning is.  So we are providing outlets for our students  to socialize and not only do school work.  We have asked our Jr. High to create clubs for students to join.  They have created a photography club, a gaming club, and an anime club.  For our younger students, we have our librarian host story time.  

In the pillar of Stewardship, I have learned how to take care of school financially and the campus itself.  My mentor principal has shared the previous year’s budget and all the changes that had to be made in order to keep the school running and in a good place financially this year.  One thing I learned is that change is not always easy, but if people know it’s a good thing, they will love it.  Our school has thrived because of these necessary changes, and the parents and students are happy.  I have learned how to run fundraisers, and the timing of them in the school year.  I have learned how to complete payroll and account for staff sick days.  I have learned to keep an updated Stewardship workbook and make comments for numbers that need to be explained.  I have seen the environment of our school improve and how staff and parents and students react to it positively when they see it.  That is a joy, knowing that you are making a difference in making positive changes.  

I have learned so much about myself as a leader.  I have learned that I am a learning leader and thrive in a collaborative environment.  I have learned that I can see an issue from many perspectives, and it’s okay to take time to process them before giving a response.  I have learned to stop and listen - really listen, without judgement or thinking of a response.  I have embraced my emotional side, but have learned to not let my emotions lead me.  I have learned that I can be a strong leader, without having to be a loud one.  I have learned to be a leader who brings people together, always grounded in our faith, and seeing God in all things.  And most of all, I have learned to always keep my why at the forefront.   With great gratitude I have accepted my call to leadership and I look forward to many years of continuous learning.