By Ellen Sale, Fisher Fellow
During my weeks of residency as a Fisher Fellow, training to open my own KIPP school, my wife kept track of my location with a map on our fridge. She moved a photo of me across the map as I traveled to different KIPP regions. As Johnny Cash sang, “I’ve been everywhere, man.” I went to DC, New York (Harlem, Brooklyn, and Queens), Atlanta, New Orleans, Houston, Newark, and Memphis—all to visit incredible schools, school leaders, teachers, and kids. What a journey! The lessons learned in these places have shaped the design for my new middle school and fortified my readiness to lead.
Here, a few of my many lessons learned:
Be generous, candid, and kind
Our KIPP school leaders are constant learners and are incredibly generous with their time and energy to host Fisher Fellows at their schools. They are candid about their school’s needs and strengths, as well as their own as leaders. And they are kind, unfailingly giving of their best resources, advice, and lessons learned the hard way.
We stand on the shoulders of giants, indeed.
Ask for what you need
Unlike my years past in the classroom, my work as a Fisher Fellow has been strikingly independent: designing a school, making decisions…reading, writing, thinking, and reflecting…to get all of what is my head and heart out into my school design plans. What a muddy place that could be! The lesson here was the Vital Behavior of use a lifeline. I learned to ask for information, ideas, insight, and sometimes specific documents from others whose work can provide clarity to my own. Whether by email from my regional team back home or via a flash drive from a teacher in Newark, I could always get more of what I needed, by asking.
Put your big girl (or boy) pants on
My regional team depends on me to think and lead like a school leader now, as I make crucial decisions for my school. This year has reminded me that my thoughts become my actions which become my habits, and that the habits I form as a fellow will likely be the ones I maintain as a leader.
So I’m practicing working my weekly calendar efficiently, being decisive amid ambiguity, and maintaining routines for email, communication, and planning. I’m working on my grit and the Vital Behavior of renewal by taking up running in the mornings—all to support my preparation now and the success of my school in the future.
Love your people
There is a whole lot of love in KIPP. That love is zesty and optimistic. It both challenges us with high expectations and supports us with a team and family. I’ve learned that every day is an opportunity to share the love—to text a fellow Fisher Fellow on the road, share my gratitude to my Leadership Coach, or return a high-five from a seventh grader who’s class I’m observing with a huge smile. We work hard. We are nice. Loving and appreciating our teachers, families, spouses, kids, and students who do this work alongside us as school leaders is the heart of the matter.
After years heading to school every day to teach the lessons I prepared, this year as a Fisher Fellow I am actually learning the lessons. And they are fantastic lessons to learn.
Interested in founding and opening your own KIPP school? Learn more about KIPP School Leadership Programs >