story by Claire Miller
Darren Clay’s (B.S.E. ’10, M.Ed. ’11) parents received a note from his kindergarten teacher one day that read, “Darren got up from his desk 23 times today.”
“Now looking back as an adult, my first thoughts are, how do you have enough time to count the exact number of times I got up from my desk? And why didn’t you intervene?” he said.
Classroom experiences like this inspired Clay to become an educator himself. In his educational leadership career at both the local and state levels, he has found innovative ways to keep students engaged, support teachers and provide thoughtful school leadership.
After graduating from the College of Education & Human Development, Clay served as an assistant principal at Bear Creek Middle School in Fulton County, Ga., before becoming a transformation leadership coordinator at the Georgia Department of Education. Here are some key takeaways he’s learned in that time.
- Remember your why. Author and former advertising executive Simon Sinek developed a concept called the Golden Circle, which puts a company’s purpose (its “why”) at the center of a circle and places its products/services and its methods of doing business closer to the circle’s outer ring. This setup serves as a reminder that all organizations that want to succeed – including schools – must have a deep understanding of their core values. “If I focus on the ‘why,’ the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ take care of themselves,” Clay said.
- Adapt to change. Strong leadership also includes finding the best ways to implement changes in instruction and educational practice. “There’s always a new assessment or instructional practice coming along. How you drive those changes in your school and manage the results is key,” he said.
- Create conditions for people to succeed. Teachers are the most critical part of improving student achievement, followed closely by principals. Clay suggests creating an environment where teachers and principals can work together and build up their skills and knowledge. “I can’t be in every meeting or every classroom, but as assistant principal, I can remove barriers to success and put people in positions where they can grow.”
- Embrace technology. While he was assistant principal, Bear Creek Middle became a Microsoft Showcase School, a designation given to schools that improve student achievement using innovative technology. Clay supported this designation, hosted the largest school-led Microsoft Showcase School event in the country and believes educators should embrace the digital environment. “If you’re willing to take innovative risks with technology, you can not only inspire your school, but your educational community as a whole.”