Interview with Bobby Johnston
The following profile is the fifteenth in a series of student profiles of our students and alumni at the university.
Job title: Principal at Skyline Middle School, Front Royal, Virginia
Degree earned: Master of Education, Administration and Supervision, 2013
1. Since your graduation from APU, what have you been up to?
After graduating in 2013 with my master’s in administration and supervision, I moved immediately into an assistant principal’s position, which I held for three years.
Currently, I am a middle school principal, a position that I have held for two years. I am just getting ready to start my third. This year is a little bit of a challenge as the building that I am in is changing names and mascots. So we have to build a new school culture around those new ideas.
2. Now that the school year is starting up again, how are you helping your teachers to prepare for it?
This year, we have seven brand-new teachers without any experience and five teachers that have some experience joining the school staff. Each year, we meet with our new teachers during their first week of training. We ensure they are up to speed on all the school policies.
We also ensure that those teachers have supportive mentors in place to answer questions throughout the year. Additionally, we provide any training necessary to help prepare those teachers for any technology or strategies they will need to use in their classrooms.
For our new teachers and returning teachers, we provide trainings for them on new technology initiatives, strategies that have been identified as beneficial and their implementation. Additionally, we provide teachers with time to plan and work together to prepare for the school year.
For veteran teachers, this work is a fairly routine task. But for the new teachers who have yet to develop those routines, this can be more challenging. So we provide support and resources to help them be successful.
Harry Wong’s book “The First Days of School” has become a staple. But Tyler Hester’s book “7 Steps for a Great Start to the School Year” is also a resource we have started to provide, especially for new teachers.
3. Why did you choose to seek a master’s degree? How has that knowledge been useful in your current career?
I wanted to obtain a master’s degree to help more teachers and thus students to succeed. If our job as educators is to provide students with a quality education, then only proper leadership can assist in that goal. Students deserve to have every opportunity to learn; it is up to teachers and leaders to find the best ways to support and assist them in doing that.
I have used the knowledge that I have gained at APU to a great extent. It has provided me with an excellent foundation by which I continue to grow in my craft.
One of my most memorable classes at the university was “Modern Trends in Education.” This class taught me that I had to continue to research and find the very best ways to educate students. I then had to convey those ideas to the teachers.
My law class was also very useful. It provided a strong foundation, as well as the skills and resources necessary to stay current with changes in educational law.
4. What are the biggest needs in K-12 education today?
Consistency. With law changes, standard changes and new research coming out, it is really difficult to maintain a consistent education for our students. Yes, the end goal is always a quality education, striving for higher standards. But with changing laws and requirements, these changes makes that job more difficult.
Also, we run into challenges that were not seen in education 30 years ago, not even 10 years ago. Educators are expected to do a wide number of things to help students.
On any given day, a teacher needs to be able to ascertain his or her students’ mental states, understand home situations that could affect learning or notice changes in student behavior; the list goes on. Educators are also asked to troubleshoot ways to get resources to help out students or families who may be dealing with mental illness, death in the family or drug use. Support for these problems is huge.
Building relationships with community partners and parents is equally important. If these diminish, it only makes the job of the teachers all the more difficult.
5. What do you find most challenging about being in the education field?
Motivation. As educators, we have to motivate our students. There is no magic bullet for that. We educate students who didn’t have tablets 10 years ago, who most likely did not have cellphones 20 years ago.
Today, many students have much of what they want at home. Trying to find the best ways to engage and motivate students is critical and challenging.
6. How do you aid your teachers with curriculum development?
We work with our teachers in unpacking the standards of learning. This process allows the teachers to fully understand the standards, develop thoughts and ideas about the best way to teach the standards, and break apart the standards into manageable parts like vocabulary and critical ideas.
Once we work with teachers on curriculum development, we provide resources and support to aid in proper planning. Training is provided for teachers who may struggle in a given area.
7. What types of skills are most useful in education?
Flexibility, multitasking and organization. Teachers have to be flexible today. This flexibility covers everything from how they run their classroom to grading assignments.
By this flexibility, I do not mean they are wishy-washy with how they operate. That quality is something that parents and students will see through.
Teachers also have to be able to process multiple items at once. This is critical as they will be questioned, interrupted and challenged throughout the day. Having the ability to process multiple items at once and act on them is critical.
Organization is a must. Whether this organization involves technology or paper, the better a teacher’s organization, the better her or his students will be organized as well. This will assist the students with learning.
8. How do you handle disciplinary challenges at your school?
We use a Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) model of discipline at the school. We make every effort to reward positive behavior every step of the way. Behavior, we realize, is something that needs to be taught. We can no longer assume that students get those behavior basics at home.
This does not mean that more traditional consequences are not used, however. ISS or OSS are used as a last resort.
Our goal is to correct and change behavior. We therefore create behavior plans and work with parents and other community-based services to try to support the students. Of course, should major disciplinary incidents occur such as drugs or weapons, law enforcement is brought in.
9. What do you consider to be the best qualities of an educational leader?
I think a leader needs to be decisive, but also willing to pull information from other individuals and be willing to communicate. You must understand that the role of leader is like a servant: you are there to assist people, make them better. Also, understand that things are not always going to go your way. Complaining about it or harboring a grudge get a leader nowhere.
10. How important is building a positive school culture?
Building positive school culture is critical, as it can help mitigate several issues within the school. It increases staff morale. It can lower the need for student discipline. It makes all stakeholders feel welcome and a part of the educational process.
11. What do you do during your leisure time?
I like sports; I go hiking, biking or do other types of exercise. I also hang out with my family and friends.