Kenneth Gorham's first reaction when he heard he had been nominated to be the principal at his local middle school was, "Are you sure?"
It wasn't completely out of the blue. Gorham says that during his time as a classroom teacher, his class was the one with the highest test scores at the end of each year.
He was unusually youthful to be the principal of a school. Gorham was only 24 when he landed the position. He was the youngest principal ever to lead Movement Freedom Middle School in Charlotte, North Carolina.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average age of charter schools principals is 47 in the U.S.
This is too good to true. Gorham, who is now 26 years old, tells CNBC Make It that this has never happened before. This never happens.
He says that three soft skills in particular helped him achieve his goals: people leadership and networking, as well as resilience.
Employees are second, but people first.
Gorham was a leader in the technical sense: He served as an executive board member for six on-campus groups at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University from 2009 to 2019.
He became an instructional trainer after teaching for two year, and helped other teachers curate lessons. Teachers he coached saw their students' end-of grade test scores in reading and math grow by double digits.
He says that these experiences are not so different from supervising 200 students or ensuring teachers have the resources and tools they need to do their job.
Gorham says that when he was asked to interview and apply for the position of principal by senior leadership, his ability to lead people really stood out. People were able follow me based on my rapport with them.
Gorham recalls that his superintendent told him his superpower was his empathy-forward style of leadership and his ability "to be a champion" to others.
He says, "I have learned how powerful it is to see people as individuals, rather than as employees, teachers or whatever role they play." "And this doesn't mean that you can't hold difficult conversations. This doesn't mean that you can't hold people to high standards or expect them to be accountable. "It just means you see them first as people, as individuals."
Create a network with supporters
Gorham says: "If you're going to go far, then go together." He attributes his success to a network that includes sponsors and mentors.
Lauryn Jackson is one of them. She was Gorham's instructor when he taught. Gorham said he took Jackson's suggestions and coaching very seriously. She took note of this dedication and recommended him for his present role.
She also assured him that he would be ready. He recalled her saying, "Your age will not be a factor in determining what you can do."
Gorham says that the encouragement of others helped. People need to be encouraged to "allow themselves grow and develop to their best self," he says.
It does not have to be a person. If you feel uninspired or unproductive and want to improve your skills, try changing your workspace.
Resilience is a virtue
Gorham claims he uses hardship and failure as fuel. Gorham says that if his grandmother, "one of first African American educators to integrate a school with no people of colour" could be resilient, then he can too, he claims.
This trait made him stand out when he was competing for his current job. He did so by demonstrating his ability to assist both students and teachers to return to face-to-face classes following the virtual era of Covid-19.
He also helped teachers to coordinate their curriculums and re-familiarize with the rhythms of classroom teaching.
It was important to me to remember that I am also a role model for my students in terms of resilience.
A second part was emotional. Students and teachers were both feeling low. Gorham listened to the frustrations of his colleagues and offered advice. He also gave students high-fives and hugs every morning.
Gorham says that his ability to "bring the best out" of his students and teachers and his commitment for results played a key role in his getting the job as principal.
Gorham says, "There were a lot of challenges, but we also had to remember that our adaptability, flexibility, and resilience is what our students will learn from."
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