Leading for Equity Blog: Hear PRN Assistant Director, Evelyn Cosme- Jones' and her experience as a PRN Mentor Principal
“It is moments like these that force us to try harder, and dig deeper, and to discover gifts we never knew we had - to find the greatness that lies within each of us. “ -Barack Obama
When first asked to become a Mentor Principal to an Aspiring Principal of the Principal Residency Network at CLEE in 2010, I hesitated. Being in the full throes of a principalship in a high school under transformation, I doubted where I could find the time to mentor. And then, I thought again about what a mentor does and, more importantly, does not do, and decided to take on the role.
Having been a building administrator for several years since 2005, I mentally collected my thoughts, experiences, lessons learned, and pondered on how I myself learned to learn as a leader. In reflecting, I found that my own learning came from trial, error, reflection, and redoing. And through many human emotions. When I was mandated to do something, I knew that I worked out of a formulaic, heartless, and painstaking compliance and that I did not truly learn to greater heights until I owned the experiences, in all their glory and pitfalls. I came to the conclusion that what I could best offer aspiring principals was a way to find and activate the rich mines they already had and help them excavate those mines-their yet to be revealed potential to direct themselves and lead others.
So, I thought I would become a sort of plastic “beach” shovel in my approach to helping fledgling leaders unearth their potential, and that they then would be the more powerful “digging” shovel in their journey towards revealing their power to lead.
And I learned as much, if not more, through all this digging because that tiny beach shovel was digging up some realities for me as a leader too. I saw (again) my tendency to want to be too much of a protégé for others. I was confronted with a misplaced desire to help by doing for others, instead of releasing others to do for themselves in service of their true learning. I saw a narcissism (!) and a self-centeredness hidden deep in my being, a want for others to overly rely on me. I was exhausted. My mentees and I had heartfelt, productive conflicts, and honest talks where I saw my need to liberate them onto the independence they craved. I was called to trust in the potential of others [even when it appeared (to me) to be just peeking above the surface and then hiding again], to trust in the power of self-made mistakes, and to trust in the relief and empowerment that an abundance of mercy for others and self brings, when things don’t go as planned through the learning.
Contrary to the schooling, college, educator, and leadership training I received, I learned as a mentor to not be the supplier of “right answers” that can inhibit the development of developing principals, but rather to become the poser of questions. As importantly, I learned to maintain the power of silence in my interactions with mentees to allow an open channel for them to reflect and dig for their own solutions and imperatives about leading. I’ll admit-I’m still learning to let go and let grow.
Now in my role as Assistant Director of the PRN at CLEE, to have been a Mentor Principal has contributed to rounding out my view into a 360-degree perspective of growing leaders. My experiences as a teacher, teacher leader, coordinator, director, assistant principal, principal, and mentor have all enriched my ability to literally place myself in the many different shoes others are wearing in their leadership walk. As I engage in advising, facilitating, and coaching in my new role, I am able to transport back and forth between the many roles the emerging principals are experimenting with, and to be flexible and creative in how to spur growth, and to do so with empathy; I too have worn those shoes. In 2012, I became a Mentor Principal for the PRN for a second time officially. In 2018, I continue to learn that if I aspire to the summits of leadership in service to others, I am never not a mentor. And I will always give others the bigger shovel.