This Colorado principal believes in the power of positive phone calls to parents

Here, in a series we call “How I Lead,” we feature principals and assistant principals who have been recognized for their work. You can see other pieces in the series here.

When students visit Principal Kristin Golden’s office at Riverdale Elementary School in Thornton, it doesn’t always mean they’re in trouble. Sometimes, it’s just the opposite — a time to spotlight a child’s accomplishment with a phone call home.

Golden talked to Chalkbeat about what merits those calls to parents, where she starts her day, and how she evaluates teachers.

Golden was recently named Distinguished Principal of the Year award for Colorado by the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited.

What was your first education job and what sparked your interest in the field?
I grew up in the suburbs of Louisville, Kentucky. My first few teaching jobs were in a couple of districts in Kentucky, where I taught kindergarten, second, third, and fourth grade.

When I was a little first-grader I loved my teacher so much. I remember knowing at an early age I would grow up to help children by being a teacher.

Fill in the blank. My day at school isn’t complete unless I __________. Why?
My day at school isn’t complete unless I start the day off by greeting all our families outside as they come onto campus. Not only do I benefit from seeing my students’ smiling faces each morning, it is a great time to chat with parents and build a sense of community within our neighborhood.

How do you get to know students even though you don’t have your own classroom?
In addition to visiting classrooms frequently, I spend time with students during arrival and dismissal, and lunch and recess.

Also, each month we focus on one scholarly habit, such as excellence, perseverance, respect, or risk-taking. When students are recognized for going above and beyond in one of our scholarly habits, their teacher submits a special form. We then call the student to the office and phone a family member with the great news. The student gets a chance to speak with family about his or her accomplishments before going back to class. It is such a celebration between the student, their family, and the office staff, and parents are thrilled to be receiving a positive call from school!

Tell us about a time that a teacher evaluation didn’t go as expected — for better or for worse?
Teacher evaluation has truly changed for the better in the last four years. Our teachers are engaged in cycles of observation and feedback about every three weeks. Teachers are observed and provided a bite-sized action step that they practice along with the administrator during the debrief session. We then return to the classroom to see the action step in place and provide teachers with additional feedback. This process has allowed us to develop our teachers in a way that is motivating.

What is an effort you’ve spearheaded at your school that you’re particularly proud of?
I believe that a strong culture is a crucial element in a school. When leaders create a vibrant and joyful environment, staff will be more willing to work hard because they feel respected and valued. We have made this a true focus at Riverdale Elementary, celebrating teachers and scholars wholeheartedly.

We began this process by creating a new mission statement: “At Riverdale Elementary we are career-bound scholars going from good to better to best to achieve success.” We also have a school chant: “Good better best, Never let it rest, Till your good is better, And your better is best!” Each day during morning announcements our mission statement and school chant are cheered by both staff and scholars.

How do you handle discipline when students get into trouble?
When students make a choice that is not best for them, it is critical to teach them how to make a better choice next time. We work together to identify what the student needs, and at the same time we provide them with a plan that leaves them with a sense of personal responsibility and the confidence to make sound decisions.

What is the hardest part of your job?
Just as I have very high expectations for my staff and our students, I set the same standards for myself as a building principal. At times, there is so much on my plate that it is important to prioritize to meet the needs of all my stakeholders.

What’s the best advice you ever received?
When I was growing up, my mother would often say, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” I interpreted this quote to mean that each and every day is a gift, and it is up to you to decide how you will use it.