“We can’t close the achievement gap until we close the belief gap,” says Jamina Dingle, principal of Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School in Philadelphia. “Data analysis and planning won’t do much good as long as there are children and teachers who believe they can’t perform on par with the highest achieving schools.”
Principal Dingle believes that one key to elevating the performance of her school is communication of strong professional values and beliefs about social justice and schooling — one of the essential practices in the School Transformation Rubric. She does this in a number of ways: supporting her teachers while holding them accountable, reading about equity issues and applying lessons in her work, and using multiple modes of communication to connect with her staff.
Principal Dingle has high expectations of Bethune’s teachers, but she also provides the resources they need to do their job well. Dingle tells her staff, “we hold each other accountable, and we push each other to continuously improve, just like we challenge our students to constantly grow.” She is naturally good at equipping teachers to succeed and at building systems to help the school improve. With coaching from our School Innovation Partner, Megan Kizer, Principal Dingle is now focusing more attention on the relational aspects of the job. The following story demonstrates this.
Over the summer, Principal Dingle read Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, and she took its messages to heart. When she recently encountered a student at her school who was refusing to go to class, instead of reflexively suspending the student, Dingle took the time to sit and speak to her. The principal learned that the problem arose from something outside the student’s control and, after taking the time to listen to the student and understand her situation, sent her on to class, ready to learn. Ms. Dingle related this story to her staff via a short video clip posted on her blog. She concluded the story with this: “let’s try to react less and listen more.”
This is one example of how Jamina Dingle continually asks herself and her teachers to consider new approaches to instructional and behavioral issues. Doing that work together strengthens their belief in each other and their students.
Jamina Dingle, Principal
Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School