The Power of a Partner

Rodney Johnson’s eyes light up when you ask him to talk about his relationship with Tisha Laws, Principal of Mastery Charter School (Cleveland Campus) and 2018 Neubauer Fellow.

“Tisha is thoughtful, supportive and always brings exciting ideas. She checks in with quick texts to ask how I am and offer support. But most importantly, she can say to me, ‘You need to calm down and focus!’ She has provided such important feedback and guidance to me in such a short time. Last year, I can honestly say the job was winning.  She helped me recalibrate and now I’m leading differently and it’s making a difference.”

As principal of John Moffet Elementary School, Johnson is member of the 2020-21 Performance Partners Program and Laws is his coach. The goal of this program is to pair Senior Neubauer Fellows with emerging principals, providing them guidance and coaching at a key moment of their school leadership. Their relationship began in August and both acknowledge a natural connection from the moment they met.

“This relationship is one that is mutually beneficial. I have learned a ton from Rodney, especially since I work in the charter system while he works for the district. When I’ve done walkthroughs with him or observations, I see the different challenges he faces compared to what I see at Mastery. I have a larger leadership team than he does but working with him has reminded me to slow down in my own work, to recenter my own energy, and to focus on the kids.”

Johnson feels the lessons he has learned are equally valuable, saying, “My vision for Moffet is to be a National Blue Ribbon school in five years. Tisha was upfront with me that I needed to make some adjustments to my leadership style, set clear quarterly goals, and better use data to measure progress. She taught me that sometimes you have to sit, listen, and think. Just yesterday I was looking at my Q1 data and the goals we set for success. We exceeded every one of them. And I just thought, ‘If you didn’t come into my life, I don’t what I would have done.’”

Laws draws on her own experience as a Performance Partner before becoming a Neubauer Fellow in her coaching approach saying, “This program helps principals improve in a non-threatening way. I’m not their supervisor but I understand the job. I can use the criteria for success we learned in Neubauer and say, ‘You’re not meeting the bar,’ and he trusts me in giving that feedback. It’s an authentic and organic way to grow, especially when it’s hard for principals to get high-quality, leadership development, which really pushes your thinking.”

When asked what is the lesson that they hope the other takes from them, Laws answers decisively, “Strive for progress, not perfection. You’re not perfect. Your school can never be perfect. But you can celebrate the wins because this is a journey, not an end point.”

As for Johnson, he is equally decisive in his response, “Average is over. You have to bring your extra. That’s our mantra this year, even in the pandemic, because our students deserve the best. We need to bring our extra every day and we need to challenge each other to do the same.”