For Kelly Howell, being a school administrator is about vision planning, culture creating
John L. Golden Elementary School Assistant Principal Kelly Howell didn’t hesitate for a second when we asked her if she would be willing to talk about how her Brandman education, focusing in particular on how earning a Master of Arts in education leadership and administration (M.A.ELA) took her from being a classroom teacher to assistant principal.
In addition to her work in education, Howell has been active in the city of Eastvale, California, where she served on the City Council and as mayor pro tem.
No matter what the future holds, she says, she wants to be involved in “vision planning.”
What are some of the important lessons you learned through the M.A. in education leadership and administration at Brandman?
How to juggle a busy schedule! You know what? Teamwork. We had a cohort and so when you go through a cohort, you begin to start encouraging your team to keep pushing through. So, it’s a cohort to get you through your academics, but at the same time, it’s teaching you, as a team, to pull a team through in your job, in your career. If you’re going to be an administrator, you need to be able to support and encourage a team to move forward.
And the foundational skills of leadership. They are implemented throughout Brandman’s programs. And having instructors that were experienced in the fields. So that was really important. The programs weren’t just theories. Day-to-day, they spilled over into your actual work.
You’re now in the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) program. What impact is that having?
I’m writing my dissertation now. It’s about economic development. Because I’ve done education for so long, I see how schools and economic development really are the same thing when it comes to vision planning. In the city of Eastvale, one of the things that they did when they were trying to bring in some big businesses in the area for economic development was they brought in the superintendent of schools to sit in on the discussion. They were able to come in and basically pitch to a company: “We can create a workforce for this in our area.” So it’s having your schools involved in creating a whole community. And it’s a team.
What does the move to being an administrator mean to you?
As a teacher, I can affect change in a classroom but as an administrator, I can lead a vision and impact so many more students. I’m able to lead us in a direction that we want to go, to have 21st-century skills. It’s not just education anymore. It’s not just academics. It’s creating a culture.
How does your role help students?
I’m not just a disciplinarian administrator. I think that’s very old school perception of what an assistant principal does. I consider us to be coaches. So when kids are struggling in school, they come and tell me. I am out on the playground or walking the halls all the time, so I know the students. When they have problems like “so-and-so won’t play with me,” I give them strategies and coach them. A lot of the kids I spend time with have disabilities, and there’s a reason they’re having a hard time creating friendships with others. They might get into difficult situations where they’re pushing or hitting other kids. So it’s me coaching them and teaching them and giving them strategies for how to stop that behavior so they can maintain friendships. That’s probably the hardest part. It’s hard to get people to understand what these kids are going through because if they get angry, some of them have impulse control and they need strategies on how to handle that.
So do you do more one-on-one than you did in the classroom?
Oh yes, much more one-on-one.
Is that a shift in the way school administration is viewed?
I think there has been a shift, but I also think my philosophy is different than others, and it’s because of my education. My Ed.D. work is in organizational leadership. When we talk about preparing people for a global economy and working with people of differences, all this is the foundation for kids to be able to do that. So I’ve incorporated what I’ve learned through Brandman. And it’s a lot of leadership books.
Funding has changed for all our school districts. So we have to bring the community in and we need to. We need to solicit their concerns, ideas and so on. I just sat through (a meeting) this week with parents from other school sites in my district, and one of the things they talked about, and what they saw as a positive thing at schools and that they wanted more of, was having teachers and administrators have more of a coaching role with students to make them more successful. It’s not just me. I think it’s a change in us understanding leadership.
What or who inspired you?
I had a hard time in school as a kid. I got in trouble a lot. I wasn’t the good kid in class usually. It was almost like a challenge. This is a challenge to be on the other side.
Does that make you more sympathetic?
Yes. In the old days, it was “Sit there at your desk. Don’t talk. Don’t move. Don’t talk with your neighbors.” And we know now that’s not the best way for kids to learn. Now we have them doing group projects, talking about world issues and then coming up with solutions. And we have them engaged in actually physically creating things, not just paper and pencil all the time.
What made you choose Brandman?
My first experience with Brandman was when I was a special education teacher. My district paired up with Brandman for an autism certificate. And after doing that it was that many more classes (to get a master’s degree). I liked it because I was able to still work and do everything else I needed to do. I liked the way the program was – the online component plus in-face classes and I really liked having both. So I just kept going. The instructors were very knowledgeable.
Do you have advice for others considering going into administration?
We need good administrators. They need to be going (into administration) because they want to make changes in the best interest of kids.
About Kelly Howell
• Earned her bachelor’s and teaching credential from Cal State Fullerton
• Earned a master’s and administrative credential in educational leadership and administration from Brandman University in 2013
• Is a member of the Gamma class of Ed.D. students at Brandman’s Ontario campus
• Began teaching in the Etiwanda School District in 2007, working with students with mild to moderate disabilities
• Served on the Eastvale, California, City Council from 2010-2013
• Taught second grade before becoming an assistant principal in 2015 after completing her M.A.ELA
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