Interview with Doug Stafford

The following is a Q & A between Doug Stafford and me.
Doug Stafford is principal of Emerson Middle School in Enid, Oklahoma. He was named 2013 Oklahoma Middle School Principal of the Year.

My goal in posting interviews with successful school leaders like Doug is to inspire us to reflect on how our own choices, goals, and actions can affect our lives, our leadership, and our teams. I must also give credit to John Lee Dumas whose great podcast interview questions I have modified for the Q & A’s I have with my guests.

Doug’s Bio:
Doug Stafford has been an educator for 17 years. Stafford began his career in Broken Arrow as a special education teacher, followed by Enid High School and then served as principal of Hennessey Middle School.

In 2006 he moved to Enid as High School Assistant Principal, and has been the Principal at Emerson Middle School since 2010.

This isn’t the first time Doug has received an educator of the year award. In 2002 Stafford was honored as Hennessey Public Schools Teacher of the Year, as well as the Masonic Fraternity of Oklahoma Teacher of Today award. In 2012 he received the Global Health Inspiration Award.

WDP: Thanks so much for sharing with us! Can you start with a favorite success quote?
Doug: “Every great leader teaches. Every great teacher leads.”

WDP: How have you used the idea contained in your favorite quote to affect your school or organization’s leadership?
Doug: It has been important during my three year tenure at Emerson to recognize teacher strengths. Through transformational leadership, teachers have become leaders in reform efforts, PLCs, and grade level efforts.

Their leadership roles are varied, but all important to the organization of the school. Through modeling and setting an example in our PLC process in its infancy, I have became a facilitator and supporter of their efforts.

WDP: Take us back to a failure or obstacle you overcame and how you did it?
Doug: I think one of the biggest obstacles was communicating and changing the mindset of teachers regarding assessment and evaluation practices.

In a secondary setting, educators can get so consumed with student accountability when it comes to homework and zeros as a result of missing work. I had to bring forth research based data from Rick Wormeli, discuss our false assumption that middle students should have adult competencies when it comes to responsibility.

When we really got to the core of what student mastery was, it changed the culture and attitudes regarding evaluation and assessment.

WDP: Can you give one quick example of something you have done that required risk but created great results?
Doug: Probably the greatest risk I took was coming in as a principal to Emerson as a new principal, finding out we were designated as a school improvement school, under construction, and assuring the staff I wasn’t coming in to fix something that was broken.

The School improvement process created urgency for many reform efforts my first year that would not have been possible otherwise.

WDP: Can you give an example of an “aha!” moment where you realized a key truth that you turned into a success?
Doug: Students who fail two or more classes have an 80% higher chance of not graduating from high school. I knew it was important to put in place a program that would allow for recovery and remediation as a result of learning gaps and absenteeism.

As a result of creative scheduling and time built in to “Every Student, Every Time” we have significantly decreased our ineligibility and put a focus on making sure we communicate that every assignment or tasks is important!

WDP: Have you had an “I’ve made it” moment?
Doug: I think my “I’ve made it” moment, comes from others in my school district asking what we are doing to make our school a place where students are successful, teacher collaboration is fruitful, and the culture is conducive to learning and teaching.

WDP: What do you think was holding you back from seeing the high levels of success you have been experiencing for years now?
Doug: I think our success hinges on building relationships with the staff as well as making sure our students our building relationships as well. Mentoring programs, collaborative PLCs, and knowing we are not independent agents in creating student success has been more impactful than anything we have done.

WDP: What is the best leadership advice you have ever received?
Doug: “Under promise and over deliver.”

WDP: What is something that is working for you or your team right now?
Doug: Something working for our team right now are data walls and “living graphs” in which we construct bar graphs from student photographs to identify those performing at various levels on OCCT and those receiving services and interventions. We have a data room, where we place data and hold our PLC meetings to keep the focus on student achievement.

WDP: Do you have a resource that you just love that you would recommend to other leaders
Doug: I am a huge fan of Rick Wormeli’s Fair is Not Always Equal. A book study with the staff is a powerful resource for standards based grading and evaluation methods.

WDP: Any other book recommendations for other school leaders?
Doug: The Will to Lead, the Skill to Teach: Transforming Schools at Every Level by Anthony Muhammad and Sharroky Hollie

WDP: Thanks for your great insights! Any final thoughts you want to share?
Doug: Become a lifelong learner and seek new and rewarding opportunities to better yourself, your profession, and accomplish your goals!

WDP: A huge thanks to Doug for taking time to share his experiences and advice with us. If you want to connect with Doug, you can find him via his school’s website.

Now It’s Your Turn
Doug talked about the importance of having structures in place to support struggling students. What are some creative ideas your school is using to target those students in the lower achievement areas?

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker