Michelle Scallon, Windsor High School 2017 Women of Distinction - Education

As principal of Windsor High School, Michelle Scallon places a lot of importance on culture.

“Our secret sauce here is that we’ve built positive relationships with students, staff, parents and the community,” she said. “They’re all based on trust and respect.”

An example of Scallon’s commitment and leadership style showed up in an exercise she did with teachers during a beginning-of-the-year in-service. “My secretary and I ran off pictures of all the kids in the school and put them on the walls,” she said. Teachers were asked to take the pictures off the wall of kids they had a mutual personal relationship with.”

With about 45 pictures remaining, Scallon stressed the need for creating relationships so every student had a connection with an adult they knew and trusted. “Teachers jumped up and grabbed them and brought the pictures back to the staff meeting to tell us their story.”

In addition to needing to create an all-inclusive environment of support, schools today have the challenge of preparing students for jobs that don’t even exist yet. To do that, Windsor High School focuses on teaching problem solving, collaboration, and how to develop a higher level of questions and thinking.

“Technology has changed the way teaching looks,” Scallon said. “It’s not about the sage on the stage anymore, but about being the guide on the side.”

The approach puts educators in more of a role of collaboration with students, she said. “Some teachers have actually removed their desks from the room.”

As a proactive leader, Scallon keeps a step ahead of the demands her students will face through conferences for herself and her teachers. One technique she promotes — Design Thinking — solves problems by blending the needs of people and technology with strategy.  ReTool is a professional-development fellowship that points out, in part, that small changes make big differences.

A ReTool use involved one teacher having students click on QR codes to read material that they then presented to the class rather than him lecturing on it. “He loved it and told me it turned him into a facilitator of learning,” Scallon said.

“It’s the same challenge all of us face — how we have to change with things,” she added. “That can be hard when you’ve been doing something for 20 years and you were great at it and it worked.”

To support forward thinking, Scallon takes teachers on “Seeing is Believing Vision Tours,” where they can see innovative teaching and learning models as inspiration. “You don’t know what you don’t know until you know it,” she said.

Under Scallon’s direction, Windsor High School is starting a $30 million renovation this year, and an Innovation Center will be part of the addition. “Students will have entrepreneurial experiences where they can design products, create prototypes and even do advertising and design,” she said.

“I’m always guided by what’s in the best interest for the children.”