High-leverage practices can impact your students for the better! Join us in conversation with Henderson Middle School principal, Dr. Suzan Harris to learn more!

Dr. Suzan Harris in Classroom Conversations

High-leverage practices can impact your students for the better! Join us in conversation with Henderson Middle School principal, Dr. Suzan Harris to learn more!


Ashley Mengwasser: Good day. Good day. Welcome to Classroom Conversations, the platform for Georgia's teachers. Our podcast series is a joint creation of the Georgia Department of Education and Georgia Public Broadcasting. Now in Season 4, we've been practicing this craft. I'm host Ashley Mengwasser here to help usher in some best practices for teachers and administrators in Georgia schools. Join me today as we discuss a new topic from our Classroom Conversations leadership series. Who said this proverb? "Practice makes perfect." Deriving from the 1500's Latin rooted phrase, "Use maketh mastery," it's first appearance in US writings is attributed to the personal diary of John Adams, second US president. That's right. In a January 1761 entry from his lawyering days pre White House, Adams is self reproachful of his legal handlings, saying, "I was too incautious and unartful in my proceeding, but practice makes perfect." Even founding fathers pummel themselves in hindsight. Now I don't feel so bad about my box dye hair whims of the early aughts. There are other well-known adaptations of the same phrase. Legendary American football coach Vince Lombardi is known for saying, "Practice does not make perfect; only perfect practice makes perfect." And still, Sarah Kay and others have popularized the expression. "Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent." "Practice makes permanent" suggests tireless repetition leads to habits of behavior practices. That's our interest today, high leverage practices and education effective methods that all educators should know. Leaders and teachers who wield high leverage practices dramatically improve learning outcomes for their schools and their students, the measuring stick of education. This truth is evidence-based. For more on this, we go from president to principal. My leader guest is just too cool for school. I honestly don't know how her school contains her expansive positive energy. Dr. Suzan Harris has served nine years in administration, 18 total years in education, and is now the principal at Butts County School System's Henderson Mill Middle School. But let me introduce her in fullest esteem. Suzan is the 2023 Georgia Association of Secondary School Principals, or GASSP, Principal of the Year. That's out of more than 650 middle schools in the state of Georgia. Hi, Dr. Harris.

Dr. Suzan Harris: Hi. How are you doing?

Ashley Mengwasser: I'm good. I want to know how you're doing?

Dr. Suzan Harris: I'm doing really, really well. I had a great summer.

Ashley Mengwasser: School going well so far this year?

Dr. Suzan Harris: Yes, absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: That makes me happy. I want to hear a lot about you in this episode, but let's start with, first congratulations are in order on your GASSP Principal of the Year title. Where were you when you heard the news? Do you remember?

Dr. Suzan Harris: It was during dismissal at the end of the day. We had a fire alarm went off. It was during dismissal like I said before. All the students were exiting the building, buses are waiting on students, and we had to stop all of that and evacuate. When we went to see where the fire alarm was going off at, we realized it was in a closet that nobody uses.

Ashley Mengwasser: Interesting.

Dr. Suzan Harris: So I don't know if they played the game on me or what, but it went off again and we went back. So we were like, "Oh God, not during dismissal." And then my boss was there.

Ashley Mengwasser: The superintendent.

Dr. Suzan Harris: The superintendent was there and I'm like, "Oh Lord, he's going to think I don't know how to run this school."

Ashley Mengwasser: The school's on fire.

Dr. Suzan Harris: Right. So he said, "I just want to meet with your teachers for a second." So I called the teachers. It was at the time they were about to head out the door.

Ashley Mengwasser: For the day.

Dr. Suzan Harris: Right. We were sitting down. I wanted to be the model staff member sitting there so that I can lead by example for my teachers. Then I saw my husband and the team come in. Dr. Long, Allen Long, he's awesome. He's our executive director. He's leading the organization very well. I appreciated just the fact that they came to the school and made it a special moment for me. It was really awesome.

Ashley Mengwasser: To tell you that you had won.

Dr. Suzan Harris: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, that is so incredible. How did you celebrate once they gave you this great news?

Dr. Suzan Harris: I don't celebrate until the mission is done. Even though they honored me with the award, it was right in the middle of spring right before Milestone exams. I wanted to make sure that if I'm going to carry that award or that label as principal of the year, I had to finish the year strong and I had to make sure that our data looked good. I just want it to be, not just with title, but also have the data to back it up. Yeah, I'm always about that.

Ashley Mengwasser: I respect that. I think you should celebrate though, if you haven't yet, and I think a good school year is a wonderful way to start that celebration.

Dr. Suzan Harris: That's right.

Ashley Mengwasser: Did you always aspire to the principal's office? Did you know you wanted to be a principal?

Dr. Suzan Harris: Not initially, but I always wanted to serve others. When I was in the classroom I knew that if I could become an instructional coach, then I can impact more students through working with teachers. After becoming an instructional coach at a high school, I was an academic coach over the ELA department. We saw increase in our writing scores that year and also increase in the Milestone scores that year as well. So that kind of gave me affirmation that this is probably where I need to be-

Ashley Mengwasser: Keep going.

Dr. Suzan Harris: ... working with teachers, right. Then I became district coach, worked with 17 high and middle schools, and that was also an opportunity to impact more students. Then I became an assistant principal right back at the school where I was an academic coach.

Ashley Mengwasser: Look at that.

Dr. Suzan Harris: That was a turnaround situation. I enjoyed it. There's something about making a school environment positive for students, that's very important to me. Because that's the only way they're going to learn is that the environment is positive.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes, positive climate.

Dr. Suzan Harris: Right.

Ashley Mengwasser: There's something you say that I really like, that you wanted to get into administration to take care of underserved kids, to affect kids by way of teachers through teachers. You were telling me that when you look at a school's data, if a school's struggling in a certain arena, it's easy to blame the teachers. But you said, "No, I don't want to make that mistake." Because for you it's all about root causes. Tell me about that.

Dr. Suzan Harris: A lot of times it's easy to point the finger and say the teacher didn't do their job right, and I was that person. At one point I said, "Well, if the school is failing, then it's the teacher's fault." But when I became a principal of a low performing elementary school that was in the bottom 5% of the state, I realized that if teachers aren't equipped with the skills, then they can't necessarily turn water into wine. In order to ensure that they're having positive impact, we have to make sure they have the skills to perform the job. I just know that we have to work with teachers and we have to focus on them. If teachers are good, the kids are going to be awesome.

Ashley Mengwasser: One comes before the other.

Dr. Suzan Harris: That's right.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's very interesting. And obviously that's the topic of our discussion, these high leverage practices, and we'll get into that. But what are some personal practices, some evidence-based habits that you really have in your own life that have worked for you?

Dr. Suzan Harris: For me, I just don't see the glass ceiling.

Ashley Mengwasser: I like that.

Dr. Suzan Harris: I don't like to put limitations on myself in terms of what I can accomplish. A lot of times people will speak ill against their own aspirations because they're afraid that they might fail. I don't have a fear of failure, so I'll try it, I'll ask for help. And that's another thing, too. You have to be open or willing to ask for help because there's nothing to be ashamed of. If you don't know how to do something, ask for help. But I always try to not set limitations on what I can do. And I think that's important, especially when you're working in a low performing school because you can make the excuse that, "Oh, they're not going to perform because they're from low socioeconomic background." But I don't see that. I see the low socioeconomic background, but I look at, "What can I do to help them get to the next level?"

Ashley Mengwasser: Failure is not an option.

Dr. Suzan Harris: Period.

Ashley Mengwasser: I'll have what she's having. I love to hear about habits and traditions that our leaders in schools are known for. What are you known for saying or doing traditionally at Henderson Mill Middle School?

Dr. Suzan Harris: Middle schoolers are notorious for not being nice.

Ashley Mengwasser: No.

Dr. Suzan Harris: In trying to develop my students into becoming great citizens, we talk about affirmations and being nice to other people. So at the end of my morning announcements, which they're all virtual, because I want my students to see me. If I'm upset about something that happened in the news, I want them to see it.

Ashley Mengwasser: Your face.

Dr. Suzan Harris: I want them to see the face. And when I'm happy and I'm celebrating them, I want them to see my face because I want them to know that it's genuine. So at the end of my morning announcements, I always say to them, "If you have nothing nice to say, don't say it at all. Affirm somebody. Say something nice to somebody else." And what I'm trying to get them to remember is speak positively all the time. Even though the negatives might happen, there's always something good that you can talk about. Because if we dwell on the negatives all the time, it's going to impact our energy. And also build somebody else up.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes, exactly. Affirm someone today, tell your good stories. You're going to like this next exercise, Dr. Harris. It was meant for you. I want your opinion on these practices that are touted to change your life. I think you'll get behind them. Tell me where you fall. The first one, wake up at the same time each morning. How well do you do that?

Dr. Suzan Harris: Yeah, I do that. On my phone, I have 50 alarms on different occasions.

Ashley Mengwasser: You make sure you're going to be up.

Dr. Suzan Harris: That's right.

Ashley Mengwasser: What is your wake-up time?

Dr. Suzan Harris: I usually get up at 5:30 if I have my kids, or 6:00 if I don't.

Ashley Mengwasser: Okay, so there is a little bit of adjustment period there.

Dr. Suzan Harris: That's right, because I try to cook breakfast in the morning. It's important.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's good. You have a morning routine, a structure.

Dr. Suzan Harris: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: I am really bad about getting up at the same time. Do you go to bed at the same time every night?

Dr. Suzan Harris: No.

Ashley Mengwasser: No. Yeah, that's the part. That's the hard part, especially as school goes on later into the year. I like this one a lot too. Have one conversation every week with someone smarter than you. Do you do that?

Dr. Suzan Harris: Yes. All my team members are smarter than me.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, I love that you said that.

Dr. Suzan Harris: You got to make sure you're surrounded by smart people when you're leading.

Ashley Mengwasser: So your staff keep you intellectually engaged.

Dr. Suzan Harris: Yes, and it's important. You can't be jealous that somebody else because you learn from them. I think it's important. You have to, as a leader, not be so much in your ego where you can't learn from the people around you.

Ashley Mengwasser: I love that. Yes, there's an exchange happening there. I think this one's going to be your favorite. Eliminate criticism and complaining, even mentally.

Dr. Suzan Harris: I guess I don't understand that one. Say that one more time.

Ashley Mengwasser: Eliminate criticism and complaining, even mentally. Like mentally criticizing yourself or others. If we're thinking negatively, it's harder to have a positive climate, right?

Dr. Suzan Harris: Right. As I get older, I'm really understanding myself and just how your energies are important. Negative energy can have an impact physically.

Ashley Mengwasser: It sure can.

Dr. Suzan Harris: You know what I'm saying? And people can see it on you. So I try to stay away from negativity.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes. There is a studied phenomenon of when two people are talking, their brainwaves actually connect. Which is why sometimes if you're, "What would you like for dinner tonight?" You might be thinking, "Pizza." "I was thinking pizza." So there's some sort of something happening there. So how could we not have emotional contagion? Our moods will affect others and our mindset will. I like that one a lot. We can always say, "What can I learn from this person?" Everybody we interact with, instead of criticizing.

Dr. Suzan Harris: Exactly.

Ashley Mengwasser: Like you said, you learn a lot from your educators.

Dr. Suzan Harris: That's right.

Ashley Mengwasser: I bet they would say they learn a lot from you as well.

Dr. Suzan Harris: You know what, it's a mutual thing. They respect the fact that I have a certain set of skills, and I respect the fact that they have a certain set of skills. And it just makes it work perfectly.

Ashley Mengwasser: And that's how the boat floats.

Dr. Suzan Harris: That's right. Because I empower my people, my team, to work within their strengths, and they appreciate it. When people work within their strengths, they start innately starting to build up the weaknesses. They want to be better, so that's how you work with that.

Ashley Mengwasser: Here's one I added just because it's important to me. Create something to look forward to every day, even if it's small.

Dr. Suzan Harris: Oh yeah. Yes. I create things in my mind. Does that count?

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah, fantasies. Love it.

Dr. Suzan Harris: So my beautiful ride from where I live to work, there are ostriches on my route.

Ashley Mengwasser: Stop. In Georgia?

Dr. Suzan Harris: Yes. Highland cows, emus. There's this property that has all these cool animals. But I'm like, "Man, I wish I could be a photographer. I just pull over and take pictures." Because sometimes I pass the most beautiful scenes. And I'm like, "I wish I could do it."

Ashley Mengwasser: You could. You could pull over.

Dr. Suzan Harris: I need to. I need to.

Ashley Mengwasser: Get up at 5:00 instead of 5:30. Get out there with those ostriches and get some pictures. Send me a picture if you do.

Dr. Suzan Harris: I'm going to do it.

Ashley Mengwasser: Suzan, I mean it.

Dr. Suzan Harris: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Before we deep dive, how about a little HLPs 101. I did a little research. I understand there are 22 high leverage practices. They're organized in four areas of practice, collaboration, love that one; assessment; social, emotional, behavioral as one collective group; and fourth is instruction. Let's just start with the definition. What do we mean when we say high leverage? What does that part of the term mean?

Dr. Suzan Harris: When you think high leverage, you're thinking, "What's that one thing I can do to have the biggest impact?" So when we're talking about an education, we don't have a lot of time. You get 180 days or something like that with students. So whatever strategies you choose, it needs to be able to have the highest impact sooner than later.

Ashley Mengwasser: I see. So that's where high leverage comes from. Do you have a favorite high leverage practice?

Dr. Suzan Harris: I think mine would be more about the assessments, using the data to really see what students need. But you can't really use one. You have to use a combination. Because really and truly all of the categories are important in order for change to happen within a school.

Ashley Mengwasser: You need all four.

Dr. Suzan Harris: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes, I got you. What are some of the most used high leverage practices in your middle school?

Dr. Suzan Harris: We use the data piece to see where our students are weak and strong. We provide scaffolding because we want to make sure if they're weak in an area, we can't expect them to rise to-

Ashley Mengwasser: The top.

Dr. Suzan Harris: ... be sufficient immediately, so you provide those levels of support to get them to that point. And also, since COVID, and especially within a middle school, teaching social behaviors is important. If that's not taught, then the instruction's not going to happen.

Ashley Mengwasser: Interesting.

Dr. Suzan Harris: So that's why I can't just say one thing. It has to be a combination of things.

Ashley Mengwasser: You said modeling is big for you, and you let the student body see your face in your morning announcements every day. So that's a big part of the social, emotional, behavioral. I got you. As principal, how do you select high leverage practices to implement at your school?

Dr. Suzan Harris: We do look at the data. Now, when we look at the data, it has to be the right data. You can't just haphazardly pick data and say, "Okay, so this data is saying that the students can't read." But what is the right data? The right data would be, "What are the areas of weaknesses? Is it vocabulary acquisition, or is it fluency?" So you have to really make sure that you have the right data, because if not, then you're going to implement the wrong action plan. And then, you will never see the results for what you thought that you were trying to impact.

Ashley Mengwasser: I see. So you're looking at the data first. After you look at the data, let's say, are you effectively implementing all 22 practices at the same time?

Dr. Suzan Harris: No.

Ashley Mengwasser: Or are you focusing on five that week or school year?

Dr. Suzan Harris: We've been focusing on three. The three that I spoke about with the data analysis, the scaffolding of the learning, and teaching the social behaviors. Just because of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. I cannot sidestep the social behavior part of it.

Ashley Mengwasser: This is what we have to do first. Right. I gotcha.

Dr. Suzan Harris: We look at the data. We look at what skills are needed. I can say, "My students aren't reading," but what skills do my teachers need in order to impact students?

Ashley Mengwasser: Get them reading. I see.

Dr. Suzan Harris: So once you look at the data, it helps you identify what you need to do. Then you look at, "Do I have the skill set on my staff? Do they have the collective efficacy to get this done?" And then once you do that, then I'm looking at, "Do we have the resources?" You know what I'm saying?

Ashley Mengwasser: I know what you're saying. I know what you're saying.

Dr. Suzan Harris: Kindergarten class, you don't have your little, I forgot what they call it, those tables where they do guided reading. That's a resource. You ask the teachers to do guided reading, you need to have the furniture. So those little things, you got to make sure that all of those things are in place in order to have the necessary change.

Ashley Mengwasser: And you're such a root causes person. It makes sense to me that you're looking at data first. And back to your explanation of high leverage, you're picking the things that need to be done for your students now to get them the greatest results. What was your implementation plan from beginning to end when you implement a high leverage practice?

Dr. Suzan Harris: Okay, so can I be specific?

Ashley Mengwasser: Sure.

Dr. Suzan Harris: Okay. After COVID, we noticed that our reading levels or Lexile levels were stagnant. We realized that we had to do something to help our students grow in reading. Because they were out of school for a period of time, a lot of them weren't reading. So we had to look at that's what the data was telling us. Then the data was also telling us that there was some social emotional behavior issues going on with our students. So I had to look at the literacy piece, which includes writing, listening, and speaking; and I had to look at the behavior piece, how do I make sure that students are prepared mentally for what is to come? So I had to attack both of them at the same time. For an implementation, what we did was first we went through, it's called Managing Complex Change. What it talks about, all the components that need to be in place in order for change to happen effectively. So you have to have a clear vision. And when I talked to my teachers, we looked at our discipline data and I'm like, "We can't continue into the new year with high numbers like this." So we have to really and truly work with getting to know our kids, building those relationships, those positive relationships, helping them build positive relationships with each other. And once we've done that, so we've put some things in place for that. Then we looked at the literacy side of things. Do the teachers have the skills to teach reading in middle school? Teaching reading is an elementary school skill set. In middle school, you teach reading for information.

Ashley Mengwasser: Ah, a different approach.

Dr. Suzan Harris: Right. So you have kids coming to the middle school with gaps in their learning, and now we're looking at middle school teachers saying, "Hey, I need for you to teach that student how to read. They did not have the skills." Like I said, I'm attacking both ends. I cannot ignore the social emotional, but I can't ignore literacy either. So I had to move like that. As we've gone through assessing the skillset of the staff on both sides, we've brought in training for them. On the social emotional side, we brought in Capturing Kids' Hearts to train our teachers on how to build relationships. You would think that's something easy that you could do, but it's not. It's more than just saying, "Hi." It's being intentional about the connections.

Ashley Mengwasser: It's a skill, to your point.

Dr. Suzan Harris: Yes, right. Then we brought in somebody to come in and teach our teachers how to teach writing and how to teach reading to our middle school students. So that's how we implemented the plan. I started the process of implementing our plan.

Ashley Mengwasser: You brought in some expertise. I know data-driven is big for your high leverage practice right now. How are you using data to monitor the effectiveness of that work? How are you seeing that growth line go up?

Dr. Suzan Harris: We use a Georgia Health survey. That's how we identify that our students were feeling disenfranchised. A lot of them didn't feel like they belonged.

Ashley Mengwasser: They were surveyed.

Dr. Suzan Harris: Right. The state of Georgia does that for every school, elementary all the way to high. So I use the data to see what areas were they saying that they were struggling with. They say they like their teachers, they say they like each other, but it might feel like they have issues with their peers. So I knew what area to address. So that was how I used the data in the initial phase. As the year goes on, we do some in-house surveying. We use that data to see, is it responsible decision making? Are they struggling in that area? Are they struggling with social awareness? Self awareness? And then we do lessons with them every week based on what the data is showing us to try to build their skillset.

Ashley Mengwasser: So you're really pivoting and adjusting week by week as you go, and that's how you're seeing the change come.

Dr. Suzan Harris: Right. And then on the literacy side, after we've taught the writing, we do benchmarks throughout the year with the writing. At the end of the year, we noticed that our data was improving in terms of how many points students were earning on the writing part of the Milestones. On the reading side, we taught teachers how to do guided reading in a middle school setting. Teachers do guided reading in class with students based on the data and based on the skills that they're missing. We pride ourselves in monitoring our students on a weekly basis to make sure that they're growing.

Ashley Mengwasser: Pretty constantly, yeah. Are high leverage practices used only in certain subject areas? Or can they be used in all content areas?

Dr. Suzan Harris: The beauty of selecting a high leverage practice is that you can use it across all.

Ashley Mengwasser: It's uniform, yes. Well that's nice.

Dr. Suzan Harris: That's why it's important to select those because you can use one little thing that has a big impact on the whole school.

Ashley Mengwasser: I love that. High leverage. It's like, comes loaded.

Dr. Suzan Harris: Right.

Ashley Mengwasser: How do they impact student engagement in your classroom? Are you seeing differences there?

Dr. Suzan Harris: Yes. When we first started out, I modeled how to do the positive, the something good. We say something positive, I modeled doing affirmations.

Ashley Mengwasser: Of course you modeled all those things.

Dr. Suzan Harris: And then my teachers, I started putting them on the spot. Like, "I need for you to do the same." They've been doing it. And then the kids are like, "Hey, can I say something good? Or can I do an affirmation?" I'm going to give an example. I had one student, we had that horrible tornado that passed through Griffin.

Ashley Mengwasser: Recently, yeah.

Dr. Suzan Harris: He lost his home. He came on that morning the following week after the storm, and he said, "My something good is that insurance company came out, they saw the house and they're going to replace it." That was his something good. In the midst of all of that-

Ashley Mengwasser: All that chaos.

Dr. Suzan Harris: ... he was going though, he wanted to share that positivity. So that's something I treasure because that's how we're impacting them. On the other side, like I said, we're seeing the improvements in their reading and also their writing.

Ashley Mengwasser: It's a trickle down effect.

Dr. Suzan Harris: Right.

Ashley Mengwasser: What support do teachers need from you as their leader, Dr. Harris, in order to trickle down and let this carry on?

Dr. Suzan Harris: As I mentioned earlier about managing complex change, if teachers do not have the skills to get the job done, it's going to cause them great anxiety. Ask me to do something I don't know how to do; it's going to cause some anxiety. I think today might've caused an anxiety. I'm just playing.

Ashley Mengwasser: No, it doesn't feel that way.

Dr. Suzan Harris: You have to be intentional about finding what they need to make them feel competent. That's something that I do to support my teachers. And then of course, like I said before, those resources. If they don't have resources, it causes frustration. You want to make sure that everything they need to get that job done is in place before you even implement the change. And then the last thing that I try to make sure that I'm doing is consistent monitoring and giving feedback, timely feedback. Teachers want to know that they're doing their job well. I don't care which school you go to, nobody just goes in the classroom to not be successful.

Ashley Mengwasser: They're like, "Well, I've got this, I guess. I'm doing the best I can. I haven't heard anything."

Dr. Suzan Harris: My teachers will knock on my door like, "Hey, how did you think that went?" Because they want to know. And because they're getting those feedback, then it starts to build them up and they start feeling better about themselves. Because with the feedback doesn't come just criticism. It's not criticism. It's, "Man, you did this really well. But if you do this over here, it'll make it even better." Or, "You know what? You mastered this. Thank you so much. I'm going to send somebody to your room to observe you."

Ashley Mengwasser: So they can soar in that skill. There's got to be just such a school-wide school climate effect from this. So what is the impact of high leverage practices on the climate of your middle school?

Dr. Suzan Harris: The confidence of my teachers are sky high. They feel competent, the collective efficacy in the building.

Ashley Mengwasser: Has risen.

Dr. Suzan Harris: Yes. Everybody knows. I got this skill down. Today we had instructional planning and I'm looking at my AP like, "I guess they don't need us. They're doing it on their own." That's a good feeling when they feel like they have it. We went from over 1,200 referrals before COVID. I got there right after the year of COVID. COVID was in the spring, I got there in July. The previous year it was 1,200. Had they finished that year, it might've gone to the same level. But when we looked at our data, and we're going to skip over to '21 because that was still a weird year because kids were not all in the building.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah, it was in flux.

Dr. Suzan Harris: Right. So the full year would be '21-'22. We went down to 500 and something referrals.

Ashley Mengwasser: Less than half. We already two third cuts, because more than 1200. So it was a big chunk that we cut it. And then this year we went down even more. So on the behavior side, we're seeing more positive behaviors from our kids. I've been bragging on my Twitter. My students have been coming to the building all summer to help us get ready. They're the ones helping us to get ready. And the high schoolers are coming back because the positive. They're invested.

Dr. Suzan Harris: ... yes. They love what happened at the middle school. They love their experiences, so they come back. We've improved our retention rate. We went from needing double-digit staff members to needing single digits. I think this year we only needed six teachers. When I got there, the previous administration had hired around maybe 11 or so.

Ashley Mengwasser: They're staying.

Dr. Suzan Harris: Yes, they're staying.

Ashley Mengwasser: They have the skills, the tools, the support from you, the positivity to keep them in the game.

Dr. Suzan Harris: We also increased our student population.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, wow.

Dr. Suzan Harris: So what's happening, we have a lot of people coming to the area because of the logistic hubs that they're building in McDonough and in Jackson. We are surrounded by a lot of private schools, and people can choose to go there. But because of what they're hearing about the school, the positive messaging, so they're coming. They're taking their kids.

Ashley Mengwasser: Coming to Henderson Mill.

Dr. Suzan Harris: Yes. I met quite a bit of new families last night. I was very excited.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, that's awesome.

Dr. Suzan Harris: I met a lot of new parents throughout the summer, so that's exciting.

Ashley Mengwasser: That is exciting.

Dr. Suzan Harris: And then with PBIS, we've been emerging. Are you familiar with PBIS?

Ashley Mengwasser: Explain it.

Dr. Suzan Harris: PBIS is positive behavior interventions and supports. It's just saying that instead of always punishing, you're rewarding kids for positive behavior.

Ashley Mengwasser: Positive behavior, yes.

Dr. Suzan Harris: So we went from being emergent to operational after one year. And then we just won a major award from the state. It's a MTSS organization. They deal with RTI supports for kids. We presented at a conference, we competed. They came to the school to observe to see if we really do what we say we do. We won the award. It's called a SSTAGE Promising Practices Award. So we're very excited about that.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, Promising Practices, based on your use of high leverage practices.

Dr. Suzan Harris: Yes, ma'am.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's incredible.

Dr. Suzan Harris: Thank you.

Ashley Mengwasser: Lots of accolades coming your way, and deservedly, Dr. Harris. I want to hear more about the story. I'm curious, do you have a favorite story of when you were successful in providing support to a teacher that made an impact because they remained in education at your school?

Dr. Suzan Harris: I'm going to brag on one of my teachers.

Ashley Mengwasser: I don't think they'll mind.

Dr. Suzan Harris: Yeah, because it's a good thing. He was just out of college and he came in as one of my paraprofessionals, ISS. We worked with him. We can't take for granted that teachers come to us or staff members come to us. Gone are the days when admin can pick and choose which teachers they take in. It's a teacher's market. Teachers can go wherever.

Ashley Mengwasser: Where they want.

Dr. Suzan Harris: Yes. So when people come to you, you got to take care of him. So when he came in just out of college and he was a ISS para, I could see the passion in him. Then he became a special ed para. Now he's one of my teachers. He just finished his first year, and he's really looking forward to his second year. But he's so pumped. He's doing his own self-reflection. But because of how we support him throughout his first year and how we took care of him as a para, he is so pumped about being the best teacher that he can be in the next school year. So to me, that's the reason why I do this, because the whole point of why I want to be an administrator is to make sure teachers feel accomplished, or teachers feel they're not ashamed to do their own self-reflection even when they're not perfect. It's about being better.

Ashley Mengwasser: You are there for teachers, so teachers can be there for students.

Dr. Suzan Harris: Absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: What you just described, I think retrospectively of course he stayed, but now it's because I know about high leverage practices and there's a big collaboration piece of that. You are collaborating with your teachers, and they're collaborating with each other, which kind of keeps it all in the family, which is a wonderful outcome. What wisdom would you like to leave, Dr. Suzan Harris, with other administrators who are implementing high leverage practices in their schools?

Dr. Suzan Harris: The first thing I would say is make sure you have the right data. The wrong data would lead to the wrong action plan or action step, which will not give you the results that you're looking for. The next thing is to trust the process. High leverage practices are there because they work. But if it doesn't work the first time doesn't mean you just throw it out. Trust the process, do your due diligence, see what was not implemented well, and go back to the drawing board and fix it. But don't just throw it in the trash. The other thing is to be patient. Rome wasn't built in a day. A lot of the issues that we have in public school right now did not start yesterday; it's stuff that's been going on for years, especially when you're in a turnaround situation. So be patient with yourself as you implement those practices. And then know that three years is when you usually see the impact. The other thing, revisit the data. I already talked about choosing the right data, but make sure you're going back to the data to check yourself.

Ashley Mengwasser: Keep consulting it.

Dr. Suzan Harris: That's right. Plan, do, check, act. You got to make sure you check back on yourself. Monitor for fidelity. Like I said before, if it's not implemented right, it's not going to give you the right results. So make sure you're monitoring for fidelity. And then celebrate. It's important to celebrate along the way. Let your people know they're doing a good job. Even if it's just a half an inch, celebrate a half inch. We know we want a mile, but a half inch is better than where we were before.

Ashley Mengwasser: It's a step in the right direction.

Dr. Suzan Harris: That's right.

Ashley Mengwasser: I love that, celebration. You're doing that for others in your school, Dr. Harris, and you need to be doing that for yourself as we said. You won this awesome accolade as a middle school principal. We're so proud of you.

Dr. Suzan Harris: Thank you.

Ashley Mengwasser: Thank you for being a bastion of high leverage habits in our schools, Suzan.

Dr. Suzan Harris: Thank you so much.

Ashley Mengwasser: Appreciate it. Thanks for being here.

Dr. Suzan Harris: Thank you for having me.

Ashley Mengwasser: If this all sounds complicated, let's just borrow a simplified underlying premise from President John Adams I was talking about in the beginning. Adams said, "To be good and to do good is all we have to do. You're a great leader." Join us next week for a brand new episode of Classroom Conversations. Bye. Funding for Classroom Conversations is made possible through the School Climate Transformation Grant.