What's your name? What organization do you represent?
I’m Jessica Johnson, the principal at Perez Elementary at Chicago Public Schools. Prior to this, I served as a teacher, high school administrator, worked for the district office, then became Principal at Perez, my current and most cherished assignment. I’ve always stepped into the work of school leadership with curiosity, humility and energy fueled by a desire to improve equity gaps in terms of the experiences that brown and black students have in their neighborhood schools.
What was the leadership challenge or opportunity you faced that made you choose to work with Identity Capital Consulting?
During the Pandemic, IDCapital became a collegial voice and alliance for a new level of strategic planning that had to embrace flexibility and innovation as it pertains to organizing teams to maintain focus on priority goals despite adjustments. For example, our curriculum was our number one priority and its connected to a set plan that initially spanned across two-years to achieve what we believe will enhance the chances of our students being able to access gifted and selective enrollment programming after they graduate 8th grade. Yet, those goals and strategies needed to be purposefully reprioritized in order to be feasible for teacher teams, students and families that had to learn how to exist in a state of uncertainty during the pandemic. We had to shift, and while doing so, it became more apparent that we would be fixing challenges as they arose. Having Augie as a supportive colleague, voice of reason and critical friend was one thing, but also seeing him facilitate resources that directly supported my leadership meant everything. I recall sessions where we decided to be strategic about how we created a new mission and vision with collective buy in from staff. We ended up creating tools and procedures that allowed everyone from teachers, students and community stakeholders to have a voice both virtually and in person. At the same time, this work reengaged our collective purpose and helped to motivate us during some tough times. Personally, it became a challenge to continue to focus on student achievement as we once did in the past. Instead, we needed thought partners and affiliates like IDCapital to help us think through strategies and support for distributive leadership that would steer our schools direction over time.
What made your experience with ID Capital stand out?
We decided on IDCapital consulting because of the change occurring during the pandemic, realizing that we also needed support of people experienced in educational and instructional leadership willing to be guides on the side observing our work from a vantage point that we couldn't. I needed this for my own leadership support because everyone knows that the principalship can easily become siloed and most of my internal district colleagues were off facing challenges that we’d never seen before, just as I was. Through an ongoing coaching session that we adapted, Augie brought in tools and even other experts to help me isolate gaps and determine how to work with my colleagues through the cultural change management process that happens during crises. We also collaborated in ways that directly impacted my commitment to coordinating resources during a very difficult season for all of us.
One of the biggest challenges that I have found support with in IDCapital is working to develop a sustainable model of leadership within a small team that's already stretched pretty thinly. Overall, this is a key part of my sustainability plan which I believe is the legacy that needs to be cultivated for the community that I serve. Without that, the students in this community can’t access the opportunities, love and resources deserving of any child entering a school. Also, as staffing is impacted through changes like retirement, school choice, and other issues, we have to create ways to minimize changes in culture and climate. At this point, the question we, admin team and IDCapital continue to think through is “how do I as a leader ensure that the school can remain successful no matter who is on the leadership team?”
Tell us about a time when you experienced IDCapitals adaptive approach to education consulting.
IDCapital worked very flexibly with us, sometimes in person, sometimes virtual, but in person whether on campus or off have always been their desire in how to work closely with the leadership at Perez. One of the key ways that the firm leverages trust by our administrative school leadership team is by taking the time aside from contractual obligations to get to know the school’s context to gain a full picture of the assets and issues. “Without seeing it, feeling it, and watching a school leader, you can tell anyone about what it’s like, but people need to experience that—to be able to work and support a school leader in a school. IDCapital took the time to make sure that they understood the culture and the climate of the building, myself as a leader, but also my individual strengths, and my individual journey. There are many things pushing and pulling on a day-to-day basis that can play into what can be prioritized. So, taking time to not only get to know the school leader, but also our staff, helped with an authentic representation of our branding push that we centered around bringing joy back to the classroom. Our partnership with IDCapital began in collaboration around building a mission and vision and evolved into leadership coaching focused on getting teacher, parent and student commitment and buy-in over the long haul.
Now that we have a solid frame to work within and our north star, IDCapital is helping with our strategic planning—our goals and pieces that we’ve entrusted their guidance on. To move the needle in schools, leaders need trusted thought partners that have actually been in their shoes. They also need critical friends that tilt into accountability mode when realistic expectations aren’t being met. As esteemed partners in continuous improvement for school leaders, we know that things don't happen overnight, but with intentionality, time and a lot of collaboration, my colleagues and I have a real shot at making change.
What were the results of your work with Identity Capital Consulting?
We walked away with a strategic plan around leadership, a succession plan for the school, and increased collaboration between all colleagues. This created buy-in through that happened as a result of carefully orchestrated processes that allowed for shared voice. With the help of IDC, we solidified the mission and vision for our school ensuring that all stakeholders participated in its completion. There was also a strategic plan for what is coming up next—what do we focus on and how do we do it. This has allowed me and other leaders at Perez the space to reflect and talk through meaningful work, as well as ongoing thought partnership in decision making that influences the big vision, the big picture, and how to get there realistically with consideration for all the pieces that come into play during unpredictable times. Having IDCapital as strategic thought partner was so powerful and the artifacts, tools and vetted affiliates make it easy for us to increase our ecosystem as a school. Not to mention, Augie and anyone that’s with him care about the school and also care about me.
Augie has made the statement, "many leaders don’t need another coach, they need a colleague!" What are your thoughts on this line of thinking?
I think the most difficult piece about school leadership is that it is often an island: every school community is different, every challenge at schools can be handled in different ways based on community, culture, and climate, historical background of a school, etc. It takes someone to take the time to get to know the leader of the school before just shelling out theoretical coaching. This is nerve wracking and has happened to me before in my career. This makes you feel even more isolated because no one is there with you hand in hand offering insight, resources and action.
Most of the time I agree that it’s not about as a leader not knowing what to do, but needing to talk through it, just to have a space to work through it and think of all the pieces. That’s what is helpful with Augie. I may know what needs to be done, but it’s having a colleague that’s objective and can give space, thought, and pose deep questions that help me adjust the plan of the decision.
Often, I don’t need someone to have me ponder all of the ‘what ifs’ , but what I really need is the space of someone I can trust and be honest, real and vulnerable with…I have flaws and challenges that are happening and I prefer having someone to be there to support and say ‘we can work this, let’s find solutions, what can we do, what do you need from me?’
he coaching relationship can sometimes be more work than support. The most helpful in any kind of colleague coaching is going to listen and just talk through ideas, not that a coach has the answers, but coaching most of the time is not significantly beneficial because it’s not consistent and it adds to the work instead of integrating into the work. It becomes a separate entity instead of it just being integrated with what I as a leader am already doing and am already struggling with or work products that I’m directly responsible for producing.
The partnership with IDCapital has been the most powerful experience and has been the biggest opportunity to grow and reflect. It has been beneficial in having a space to communicate about the reality of the challenges in school leadership. IDC also allows a way of problem solving and humility, in that IDC understands the reality of the position and the role in leadership, and also comes with optimism and strength to help me as the school leader move forward sometimes when I see a barrier. This has really been a powerful experience for me as a leader and this partnership is one that I cannot find enough words to describe. IN terms of availability, integrity and adamant positive, I feel this partnership has affirmed and reaffirmed my identity as a leader in the realm of human capital that happens to create a foundation for intellectual scholarship for students in a community that continues to thrive and evolve while reframing who we are based on what we need to be.