Most of you don’t know Cameron Grow, our immediate AWSP past president and Lincoln Middle School principal, which is a real shame. One of the highlights of my nearly eight years at AWSP is all the cool people I’ve had the chance to meet. Over
the years, Scott and I have interviewed Richard Sherman, comedian and tv star Joel McHale (I’m still laughing), Seattle Mariners Manager Scott Servais (who needs to be this year’s Manager of the Year, right?!), and Seattle Kraken broadcaster Everett Fitzhugh. As cool as it is to have
had those experiences, I wouldn’t trade any of them for getting to know Cameron.
If you’ve never met Cameron but you’ve watched Ted Lasso, you’ve basically met Cameron. His leadership is all about the power of the positive and building relationships. I can’t speak to his biscuit skills, but the belief in people
and bringing out their best…that’s all there. I had the chance to visit him at Lincoln Middle School in Pullman for this Fast Five video on creating a positive staff culture a few years back.
Even with just a few students and staff around, the sense of family, belonging, and love is palpable. It’s something you feel as soon as you walk in – this is a place people love to be.
So why am I writing this public love letter to Cameron? The answer lies with the rest of the principals across the state. During our AWSP Board Meeting last week, we were talking about labor shortages and how folks were preparing for the upcoming October
18th deadline. Cameron’s response was, “I’m just trying to prepare for tomorrow.” Do I have enough transportation? What’s student behavior going to be like today as many students are struggling to return back with their
large groups? Not how many subs do I need, but how many am I short. You all know the drill. I guess what I’m saying is when you see a leader like Cameron, who just exudes energy and positivity, visibly wearing the struggles of the school year,
things are really tough out there. I know I’m stating the obvious, but it’s one of those things that when you see it, like a current picture of a glacier that was twice the size ten years ago, it really starts to sink in.
I wanted to check in with Cameron and ask how he’s doing, what keeps him preparing one day at a time, and what he wanted to share with school leaders and policymakers across the state. Cameron volunteered to write a blog post for us, but knowing
how much he and other leaders have on their plates, I thought a quick Zoom interview would be more in order. Here are some of the highlights of our conversation, edited for length, and we close with a video message and high five to the rest of our leaders.
David: You mentioned at the board meeting last week you were just trying to prepare for tomorrow. That really hit home and resonated with everyone there. What did you mean by that? What’s been the life of a principal this year?
Cameron: Well, I think at least on my end, and I know a number of principals have been feeling this way…I don’t know how many subs I’m going to be down for the given day. I don’t know where students are going to
be behaviorally on a given day, which is totally, completely different than the past that we’ve had. And you think about when we started late, I guess for us, we were just so excited about getting everybody here immediately. And what happened
is we’re starting to figure out that kids have recently forgotten how to interact with each other, especially in bigger groups. When we are in smaller groups, when we were hybrid, it looked a little different. We were able to have that one on
one time with kids. And now as we have a classroom closer to 25 and 30, it looks quite a bit different. So we’re seeing some behaviors we don’t normally see. And in thinking about our culture, right, you begin to think about school culture,
a natural school culture, and what things look like. And right now, we’re just having a hard time getting to that point. So when we say, “Hey, we’re just worried about tomorrow”, really, what that means is over time and in
the evening and at two o’clock in the morning, you’re thinking about, “Okay, how are you going to prepare yourself and your staff for what’s about to take place over the next seven hours?” Right? And so that’s kind
of where our world is right now. It’s different. It’s challenging. We’ll get through it. But yeah, that’s really what that means.
David: How do you get through these challenges? I mean, there have always been tough times, but usually, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. However, we are 19 months into a pandemic and it looks like maybe the tide has turned
a little bit and the Delta variant is slowing down. But we thought we were basically across the finish line before. So what do you do personally? What do you do with your staff to try and, you know, find some joy or get through each day when you don’t
necessarily see that light?
Cameron: Well for us, we have to always go back to our why, right? Why are we here? We’re here for kids. We’re here to help kids be successful in any way, any way that we can. We know they’re all at different points,
but we’re really focusing on our why. We focus on the positive as much as we can. We have had things go wrong during the pandemic and things we haven’t seen before, so I try to send a morning email every morning to our staff, and normally
there’s something about what went wrong the previous day and what we’re trying to do is spin that to the positive, how we can learn from that, or how we can focus on what came out of that as being a positive. And so I think we’re
going to continue to do that. Lastly, you have to celebrate your wins. You know, we talk quite a bit about what schools are struggling with or what principals are struggling with. You really have to focus on the celebration when things go right or
when a student who has been struggling has an amazing day. We have to celebrate it and it keeps us going as principals and keeps our staff going. Like I said, it’s a pretty positive place here. We believe we have an amazing culture here and
that’s going to continue. It’s just fighting through and continuing to go through when you have those tough days, I think, and that’s what I’m here for. I have a staff, 70 people, that I need to make sure we’re moving
in the right direction.
David: One of the things that I noticed when I went to your school – I was there in the summer after school was out – and I still walked in and felt this enormous sense of community and family. It’s kind of ironic because
when you look back, you know, a year ago, everybody was recognizing after homeschooling that teachers are heroes. Please take my kid back, right? Schools are amazing. All the memes about how the parents would be fired as teachers with just their kids
to handle. Now there’s this sense of divisiveness not just in our politics, but it’s approached schools in a way I haven’t seen in my lifetime. So how do you cope? I don’t think cope Is the right word, but what can you do to
try and keep not just your staff culture, but your community feeling good about school at a time where schools are under attack?
Cameron: So, David, I’ve been doing Twitter for about 10 years, right? And I started with an AWSP professional learning session where Scott showed us how to do Twitter. And one of the positive things about that day and I’ve
always taken from it is that the reason why you have a Twitter or social media presence isn’t necessarily to show off, but it is to be able to show people what is positive about public education. Right? So we would start there. So we, especially
with the community, you’re constantly going back and forth with positive things that are coming no matter what. Starting from what’s happening on a daily normal day here at Lincoln, right? So you have that tool at your disposal. I think
you continue the things that you’ve always done. We’ve done high five Friday. We think that’s important. We have staff events that we continue to do that are so important to us. We talk about our family and our Spartan family. And,
you know, as students go home and come back here to school, they might need the family here at school more than you ever know. And so I think it’s important for us to really focus on, we’re here for you, period, no matter what. And a number
of my emails in the morning, I’ll bring that up, staff. I’ll say, “Hey, it’s so exciting to see that we have a staff who, even though a student may be struggling, you’re there no matter what.” That’s a good
feeling for a group of adults to know, the person next to me might be struggling, but they actually might be here for me, no matter what, because we have adults who struggle as well. That’s kind of where I’m at with it.
David: I see the Ted Lasso references in your timeline. Do you have any favorite Ted Lasso quotes?
Cameron: In thinking about how when things go bad, it’s a be a goldfish, right? You know, right outside my office, I have that "believe" sign. I tried to write it exactly like Ted’s. But really, what it is, the reason why
I think Ted Lasso resonates with a number of our staff… it’s about understanding that when people screw up or do something wrong, there’s always that sense of, it’s okay, we’re going to get through this. I forgive you.
Let’s move forward. I love that about Ted Lasso. So, yeah, be a goldfish. When those bad things happen, turn right around, forget it, and move forward. I think that’s important for our kids when they struggle or might be in my office because
I have to talk to them about something. Understand that when you leave this office, we’re going to move forward and we’re going to do great things after being a goldfish. That’s my favorite.
David: I think one of the great parts of the show was when Ted was interviewed and said he didn’t really measure success in wins and losses. It kind of reminded me of the debate around assessment. Not that the outcomes aren’t
important, but are we focused on the result itself or are we focused on the whole person to give them the tools they’ll need to be the best version of themselves, and then ultimately, we should see that on the win/loss record or assessment scores.
Cameron: Well, and really, it shows how much principals or school leaders or even teacher leaders really are coaches, right? We’re focused on doing all the little things that make us great versus what happens in the end. And if
you’re focused just on the end, that never works. You got to focus on the little things that get you to the end. And so when we think about assessments or scores or things like that, what really sticks out in the principal’s mind or teachers
mind is not just to teach them the content or techniques, but we just need to put them in the right mindset, help with how to do their best show, talk about what you know, and let’s see where you’re at. And then you move forward, so I
agree with you.
I couldn’t just wrap up our chat with “I agree with you,” so I asked Cameron for one more question or favor. I wanted him to end our interview with a message to the principals across our state and beyond for National Principals Month,
and to answer our first prompt about reflecting on one of your most positive memories as a principal. I’ll put the video at the end of this post here, but before you watch that, don’t forget to head to our Facebook page and share your
own story with us. And of course, I want to say thanks to Cameron one more time. If you want to feel better when you’re on Twitter or see some great examples for sharing your school’s story, make sure to give @LMSprincipals a follow. And now, Cameron…