Diana Guzzi has been principal of Bowen Elementary School in Newton, MA since 2009. Prior to that, she was a kindergarten and first-grade teacher at Horace Mann and Ward elementary schools and she taught for one year in Mexico. Diana recently completed her Ed.D at Boston College and researched job satisfaction of teachers and administrators of color. She has led many changes in her school including a student mentor program called Bowen CARES. We sat down on August 22, as she was gearing up for the start of the school year.
When did you know you want to be a principal?
I actually didn't know that I wanted to be a principal until I went back to school to study school administration. I originally went back to the program because I needed more credit. When I got involved in the program, I realized it wasn't just teacher leadership that I was drawn to. I was really drawn to the idea that not only could I impact a class, but I could impact an entire school as an administrator. Pretty quickly from enrolling into the program, I decided that actually, I don't want to just become a better teacher. I wanted to become an administrator.
How did you prepare for interviews for administrator positions?
I took preparing for the interview like it was my full-time job. I hadn’t interviewed for a position in 10 years and I wasn’t sure what it was going to be like. Through my administrative program, we did mock interviews and I studied how friends responded to questions and what kind of questions were being asked. I then eventually collected about 30 interview questions from districts through friends from all over and I came up with answers to these questions. For about a week, my father interviewed me and I would practice and then he would give me feedback on what answer was working and what didn't. I would go back and rewrite a kind of script. I had a script for all of these questions. What I realized I needed to do was to create stories from my experience. So even if I didn't have the exact question, I had a story that I could make a connection to the question. So I came in with a bank of about six to ten good stories from my experience that then I could tweak depending on what the question was from the committee.
Do you feel that helped during interviews?
It was great because I got all my jitters out with my dad, who I trusted, and felt confident that he would give me real feedback. So yes, but nothing really prepares you for the actual interview. My first interview was with 30 people. So a one on one interview with my dad did not prepare me to walk into a room with 30 people sitting around ready to ask me questions and listen to each response that I had.
What were some things that you did as a teacher that prepared you to be a successful principal?
I was always open and willing to help out my principal and I took any and all opportunities to volunteer and help out whenever I could. I also, and I still do, really like to observe leaders, and I like to understand why they make decisions and choose to do one thing or the other. I had a really positive relationship with my principal. I could ask him, “so tell me about why you plan that first staff meeting” or “I'm feeling that our school culture is kind of buzzing about this, what are you going to do”? I knew that he would answer me and help me understand these decisions. Then it allowed me as a teacher-leader to go back to my friends and say, like “let's think about it differently” or “maybe we should give this a try”. Also, I was really fortunate that I had strong friendships with my teacher team and whenever I wanted to try something new, they were willing to do it. For example, I got really excited about PLCs and my team was willing to try it. But our school district wasn't doing it. They were willing to do it because they knew I was passionate about it. Also, it was through that experience that I got to bring PLCs to the school because my principal wasn't so sure about it. I think the other piece is that I always focus on making relationships with the staff. Those friendships and relationships were really important, no matter what grade or what their job was. That was important.
Now that you are a principal what are three things that you make sure you do every week?
One is being present visible, so my staff knows I'm there. My door is rarely closed and I want staff to know I'm here and they can pop in. We've had conversations about when you do pop in, it has to be okay for me to say, “I don't have time”. But at least I know that there's a connection. Another is dropping in the classrooms and just saying hi. It's important to be doing this probably like every day when I can. One thing that is not really a weekly practice but a daily practice is I at the end of the day, I would celebrate something that went well that day. So at the end of every day, I wrote down a note something that was really positive about the day so I ended my day with something good. Now I do it so much that I don't need to write it down. I just know as I walk out the building, I think of something that went well and that's like my general approach to school at all times.
What bit of advice would you give a first-year principal?
To remember that we are going to make mistakes and mistakes are okay, as long as we learn from them. So for me, it's less worrying about what the mistake is, but more about “what did I learn from that” and “what can I do differently”. Another is for people to take care of themselves. For me, it's going to the gym. So if it means taking a half an hour and walking or cooking or doing something for themselves, they should make sure they do that. Finally, don't be hard on yourself.
For your dissertation, you researched job satisfaction of teachers and administrators of color. What did you learn?
So one of the reasons why I was so interested in my topic is that at my school, it has been a focus for us to increase the diversity of our staff. We already have a diverse staff in comparison to the rest of our district. I wanted to understand the factors that help or improve the job satisfaction of educators of color. In summary, it's connections with kids, connections with colleagues and connections with administrators that has a huge impact. And that I do notice here at my school, as well as the school that I studied. At Bowen we’ve had, pretty honest conversations with my teachers of color of what their experiences have been and how we can improve it. While we're not there yet, we have talked about how we can establish a mentoring program within our own school because we have the resources and staff willing to do mentoring for other educators of color, which is something that came out from my dissertation as well. Again, the importance of just building a relationship with them and listening to my teacher.
You have a mentoring program for African-American students at Bowen called Bowen Cares for So what has worked with this program?
This program is awesome. And you can see my smile, it's been really successful.
Four years ago we liked the idea of doing a mentoring program. We needed to make sure there was actually an interest or and that we weren't just guessing that kids weren't feeling connected. So while we had a rough outline of the mentoring program, we did a very informal survey of all of our fifth graders that year 88% of our black or African American students talked about feeling treated differently by teachers and feeling less connected to teachers specifically. So that supported our hypothesis of our black kids aren't feeling as connected. And then we move forward to try this mentoring program. And then we launched it to our staff saying, we're asking you to volunteer to be a mentor, you will meet a minimum of 30 minutes a month, because we thought that was reasonable and that you will engage in professional development monthly, because we need to start having conversations about race and the impact of race on both ourselves and the students were working with. We thought that we would have 8 people volunteer and we got 19 staff to volunteer to do it. We also have a family component, so families are involved three times a year too. And so so now just completed our third year and we now have 25 students second grade through fifth-grade. In our district survey, these students feel more connected than the average Bowen student. That's pretty good!