Talking heads;Interview;Peter Espinosa;Briefing;School management

12th June 1998 at 01:00
NAME - Peter Espinosa

AGE- 43

YEARS as a HEAD: four

CURRENT SCHOOL: Kirtland Elementary School

Location: Albuquerque, New mexico

DESCRIPTION: 575 pupils, mainly hispanic, native American, asian, including children from local military bases

Did you always want to be a head?

No. In 1973, just after I'd graduated from high school, I visited my sister in Ecuador. She was teaching and I applied for a temporary job in the same school. I thought they'd gave me a crash course but I just got a set of books and was left to sink or swim. I liked it so much that I then took a degree in elementary education at the University of New Mexico.

After 14 years' teaching, I was ready for the next step. I got a Master's in educational administration, was hired as an assistant principal and then became a principal here at Kirtland elementary.

How would you describe your style of headship?

Very collaborative. Leadership is a service commitment. If you do not provide a climate in which your constituency can talk with you about matters, you have not arrived. A leader must have the pulse of what is happening.

It is important to be able to recognise and build leadership in others. For me it's building a community of learners and utilising the strengths of those around me. There is no way I can do all the things that need to be done without the help of staff. Everyone on my staff belongs to a design team (working party) which is independent of me.

We have design teams for curriculum development, curriculum adoption, student success, teachers' well-being, community liaison, correspondence (communication), pupil support, resources and the PTA. This leads to more synergy and shared responsibility.

I agree with Michael Fullan (the education academic) when he talks about the importance of moral purpose for what you do. It gives you vision and you really can move a school forward with that.

What do you gain from your school district?

The district screens all job applicants before they get here. We get a lot of support in terms of federal programmes. Many families from Mexico come to Albuquerque and we get support for them, for student mothers, special education, and bilingual support for our native American, Asian and Hispanic students.

What are the most important aspects of a head's job?

Leadership and vision. I've been in schools where everyone is doing their own thing and in schools where everyone is moving in the same direction. Both are hard. But by far, doing your own thing in isolation is much harder. Today, principals have to be instructional leaders as well as managers. We have to know a lot about teaching and learning and about how children learn.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I love working with children and with adults. I love the excitement of teaching and facilitating children's learning. I like working in the community and being aware of the politics within the district. I like having a sense of what needs to be done and how to do it. I like the challenge of helping this grow.

What are the most difficult things you do?

Getting everyone to work together is very challenging. Impressing upon staff that continual growth is essential for their well-being and finding the resources to support that growth. Making sure you hire the best people, then making sure they have what they need to teach.

Whowhat most influenced you in your approach?

Life experiences. Professional development doesn't happen outside personal development. It's a process of lifelong learning that guides you.

What was different from what you expected?

The picture was much bigger than anything I'd done before. I found managing adults was more difficult than managing children.

What keeps you sane?

My family, teaching skiing and spirituality. I'm also committed to my own personal growth which does not necessarily focus on education.

And if you were the Education Secretary...?

Education needs to be the number one commitment. We have to ask what the purpose of education is and support that answer. We need to get more consistency within and between schools while still being aware of what is developmentally appropriate for each child.

How would you like to be remembered?

For making a difference and doing what I do well.

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