Alexandra Gers Deputy Editor-in-Chief: Online – Ananya Prakash Editor-in-Chief
After a lengthy seven-step process that involved written applications and numerous interviews, Social Studies Department Head Natalie Jaworski was recently appointed Assistant Principal for the coming school year. She will be replacing current Assistant Principal Karen Bonthrone, who will be a full-time science teacher next year.
Jaworski has thought of her life in increments of four years: four years of college, four years curating at a museum in Minneapolis and four years teaching at Kennedy High School school in Minneapolis. This pattern was, however, broken when Jaworski reached her fifth year of teaching social studies at ASL. Although Jaworski is saddened by the thought of not being able to teach “history everyday, all day,” she’s looking forward to the new challenges and possibilities brought on by being assistant principal. Jaworski said, “I’m really excited to be thinking about education in a broader sense and the school on a bigger scale.”
Alexandra Gers/Ananya Prakash: What were your initial reactions when you found out that you had gotten into the new role?
Natalie Jaworski: I’m absolutely thrilled. It was a really long process. It was a really fun process, but it’s seven different interviews, so there’s a lot of different moving parts. Doing that while teaching and still running the department and planning meetings was a lot over the past few weeks. So it was like a big sense of relief and just pure excitement. I’m feeling really, really excited about it.
AG/AP: What drew you to this role?
NJ: I think that I just have a lot more to give at ASL than I currently am. I love my position as a teacher and as the chair of the Social Studies department. It’s such a fulfilling role, but I also feel that there’s a lot to be done with social justice and with moving to a standards-based assessment that’s more uniform across the school. I also think a lot about communication as a strategy for making ASL feel more cohesive. I think how we communicate is something we can work on as a school. I’m also just excited for a new challenge. This is my ninth year of teaching and I have felt my passion move from teaching history to really working with adults and kids on a bigger scale. I felt that shift happen as I took on the leadership role with Social Studies. I just know that there’s more that I can do.
AG/AP: What does the role of Assistant Principal represent to you?
NJ: I think the role represents a very multifaceted position. A big piece is about understanding the curriculum that’s taught at the school to be able to support teachers in how they use our curriculum instruction and assessment methods. It’s also about being there as a support for them in any way that they need it and to also encourage best practice. There’s a lot of logistical things that need to keep the school running. A piece of the job is also about being a conduit for the student voice to get to the faculty in a way that’s clear and concise and also being able to help mediate in issues between students, parents and faculty. It’s getting to also have a voice on the academic leadership team, which involves all the different principals, the head of school and the assistant principals, along with head of technology. So having a voice in those decisions as well and being able to really look at ASL from a 30,000 foot level, but also having to know what’s happening on the day to day in the ground. I think of it in both ways. I think the assistant principal has a lot of impact on how initiatives are rolled out and supported and the impact that has on the student experience at school.
AG/AP: Did you have any hesitations when taking the opportunity to become assistant principal?
NJ: I definitely had hesitation. I think that often as women statistics show that we don’t apply for something unless we feel we are 100 perfect qualified. In this case, I looked at the list of qualifications and thought, ‘I am really qualified to do this.’ There are things that I’m going to need to work on and grow, like I don’t know how to make the schedule but that is something I can learn to do. So I really did feel like I could do this.
My hesitation also came with the thought that there are things that I have to give up in order to do this role and that’s hard for me. For example, not talking about history all day. I’m also very comfortable in the classroom. It’s almost like a second skin for me when I’m teaching and to have to push myself to a place of discomfort where I’m not going to be perfect. It’s not that I’m a perfect teacher, but I’m going to have to go through some growing pains with this and I haven’t put myself in that position in quite awhile after teaching for nine years. This is taking a risk and I’m going to try something new and I really carefully weighed that. Was I ready for that? I guess you never really know if you’re ready. I could just feel like I want this, I’m excited to try for this.
In thinking about that in your life, you don’t benefit anyone by holding back and being small. You have to just say, ‘I think I can do this’ and you will get opportunities and other opportunities you won’t. I’ve spent a lot of my life applying for things and trying things and having them not work out, and those are also really important learning moments. It’s knowing that you have a light inside you and the more you let it show to everyone else, the more comfortable they feel to do it themselves. That’s what I’ve tried to model as a teacher and what I’d like to model as assistant principal as well. We are all vulnerable people, we all are going through a lot of things and the more open and honest we are with each other about that, the better.
AG/AP: What’s something that is missing from the assistant principal job as it stands that you want to implement?
NJ: I think that we often start a lot of initiatives at ASL and we don’t’ necessarily finish them and it can feel very frustrating as a teacher, as a department head, and I imagine also as a student. My focus is going to be more thinking about which projects have we started and which ones we really need to finish before introducing a lot of new things.
I am not taking this role because I want to have a stepping stone to being a principal somewhere else. ASL is my home, I love it here, I don’t ever plan on leaving here. So, I think that changes the way I approach the position. I’m not looking to put my stamp on it and say, ‘Look what I’ve done.’ I really want to make this the best school that it can be.
Not just at ASL but in many schools the assistant principal is seen as the more background person whereas the principal is the face of the school. I would like the assistant principal to be more visible, just at more events, doing more things around the school. I think it’s really important for everyone to know who’s on the administrative team, as well, so that students feel comfortable when they have issues. I am aware of the different gender dynamic among who is high school administration and I think it’s good for students to have as many different outlets as they can for someone to talk to. So I think just having an open door and being a visible part of the community is a goal for me but not any big major change that I want to implement.
AG/AP: Do you have any more personal goals for yourself?
NJ: Yeah, I would say that one thing I really want to make sure is that I don’t change who I am in order to lead. That’s something that I was nervous about when taking on the department head as well. A lot of that comes from being nervous about leading as a woman and using who I am as a strength in leadership, and that is being vulnerable with people and knowing that that’s not bad, that’s an asset. I don’t want to lose that because I’m in a position where people will look at me differently than they do know and react differently to what I say than they do now. I want to keep doing yoga because it’s a really good thing for my mind. If we start cutting out the things that help us take care of ourselves then it’s just not constructive. I still need to make my time with Ms. Moola sacred so that I can be calm the rest of the day.
AG/AP: What are you going to miss most about teaching?
NJ: Everything– I think the thing I will miss the most is the interaction with students when they learn something for the very first time and I watch them make connections that they’ve never made before and how excited they are about it and that’s magic. That’s why I come to school every day and to, even for a year, not have that will feel very strange. To know that ultimately the work that I do helps influence those moments across the school but having to accept that I won’t get to see all those moments all the time is still exciting but it will be really hard not to have that in my life every day because it gives me so much energy and so much joy and purpose.