Author and Educational Leader, Sarah D. Henry
Sometimes in our careers, if we are lucky, we are able to partner and team with an individual who not only encourages us to do our best and to grow, but they do so through patient modeling and facilitation of teamwork. For me, I found that partnership with Sarah D. Henry. As soon as I was placed on her middle school team, as a wee-little-baby-teacher, the trajectory of my team experience was forever changed.
Sarah and I were members of Team 7-1, the Pathfinders; we were a 7th grade interdisciplinary team at Brownsburg East Middle School. She was our team leader, the veteran (with perhaps 8 years of experience) and she was expecting their second child, Brennan. Sarah was the science teacher, and I was one of three English teachers (right?!?!) Together, along with a math, social studies, second English teacher, a Wellness for Life teacher and one amazing inclusion aide, we supported nearly 180 hormonally wild and lovely 7th grade students.
In that first year, I literally had no idea what I was doing. At all. I knew I loved my students, I wanted to love teaching, and I was safe and secure on a dynamite team. With Sarah at the helm, I knew I was in good hands.
When Sarah went back to earn her administrative degree in Educational Leadership, our entire team benefitted. She had an easy way of sharing what she was learning with us. By offering ideas and nuggets of learning, we all began to rethink our grading practices, classroom culture, and how we focused on what our students learned versus just what we taught. Sarah was always willing to lead within our building, though she never really wanted the attention or the seat. She just wanted to make sure she was helping students through helping teachers. After spending five years together on Team 7-1, Sarah was offered the opportunity to become a science department head in a neighboring district. While I was excited for her, I was also secretly devastated to see our team member go. She was the one who brought the calm, steadied the ship, listened intently. But we also knew it was time for to share her coaching with another school, and secretly we hoped she would return to our district if the opportunity presented itself.
Which, one year later, it did! As fate would have it, the Brownsburg Community School Corporation was adding new roles--Secondary Department Heads--administrative positions who would serve as quasi-coach/administrator for 6-12 departments. Sarah interviewed for the science role, and we were excited to have her return to the district. A few years later, I earned my administrative degree myself, joined her as the Secondary English Department Head, and we were together again as teammates.
Once again, we struck a balance. Though Sarah and I bring unique perspectives and approaches to situations and projects, we are also commonly anchored in core beliefs around learning and leadership. We have high expectations for ourselves and those around us, and we rarely mince words. We love to work hard to see others succeed, and we absolutely love our teachers. We often bounced ideas off of one another as well as our entire SDH team, and we knew as a district there was something special happening.
In 2018, after attending an IASP conference and listening to one of our favorite authors, Mike Schmoker, talk about focused leadership, I promptly bounded into Sarah's doorway. I said, "We should write the book. We should honestly, seriously write the book. We could do this. Think about it." and then bounded back out. A few minutes later, I peeked my head in once more and said, "But seriously, take a day and think about it."
When I bounded back in for a third time a day later, Sarah simply said, "Let's do it." From there, the outlining, planning, writing, researching and revising started. We set a few deadlines for ourselves, brainstormed ideas for chapters, and set about writing the first draft of Arrows. We told no one. No one. Maybe we hinted to our principal, but that was it. We knew this was a bit of a stretch--I mean, who just decides to write a book (actually--A LOT of people, and we now love chatting with up and coming educational authors!) and could we even do it.
It took us six months (and twelve years) to write Arrows. Our superintendent--someone who served the true directional leader in our district, and personally as a mentor to both Sarah and me--was the first person to see and read draft number one.
To say that Jim was excited when we handed him the page would be an understatement. I could totally be making this up, but I don't think so, but what I'm pretty sure we saw on his face a teacher's delight. You know that moment when your students do this thing--they create this project or have this idea or they just...DO THE THING...that's the look we saw on his face that day. Because Arrows is the story of our district's alignment of leadership--told through our perspective--we wanted to be 100% certain he felt we were on the right track to represent the people, leaders, and community we loved so much.
Jim read it in a weekend, provided only minor suggestions, and gave us a stamp of approval to set out to find a publisher. With that notch on our belts, we continued through the process of bringing an idea to life.
As I reflect on our team work through the years--that's really what I think Sarah and I do well together--we bring ideas to life. We are dreamers and doers, and we are passionate about helping people get better. Just as we'd joke about, "One day when we write the book..." we'd also dream about, "One day if we're educational consultants..."
Listen. I didn't even know what an educational consultant was. Sounded like a fancy, made-up position that definitely did not exist in Indiana. I had no idea what it looked like to coach a school or serve as a specialist. We had questions like, "How do we present at conferences?" and "Do we even need to do that?" and "Are we crazy?" There was no strategic goal. No data collection sheet, no PLC notes with feedback. No book study. No business plan. No marketing plan. No...plan.
Instead, there was a question: What if?
Instead, there was a dream: One day, when...
Instead, there was trust: We are a team.
By the time we found our publisher for Arrows, I had transitioned to a role as a specialist with the Central Indiana Educational Services Center. I was learning what it looked like to coach and support schools, but more for literacy and writing--and much less about district leadership and PLCs. I had no idea if our book would be published or even if anyone would read the dang thing. I did know I was ready to keep growing and serving, so in 2019 I left Brownsburg to support teams across the state. I was honestly heartbroken to leave my team, and I also knew that was exactly what I had to do.
In the spring of 2021, Arrows was published and then I made the tough call to transition to an independent consultant on my own. Sarah continued to serve as the Secondary Science Administrator within Brownsburg, and I began to support schools and teams most specifically around district alignment work with Professional Learning Communities. Sarah and I collaborated on a few projects, but I knew the time might come when the demand for support would become higher than I could carry on my own. I felt that "One day, when..." was coming, and I tried to lead Sarah like Sarah, dropping seeds of consideration throughout the year.
Our principal has a sign that hangs in the front of Brownsburg High School and it reads: Teamwork Makes the Dream Work. And that's exactly what is happening now.
Sarah and I are excited to once more be back on the same team, dreaming and path-finding ways to support schools--together. We are both serving as District Alignment Coaches, PLC specialists, and literacy support.
With Sarah's background in science and elementary, she is able to coach and support on topics such as STEM, content-area literacy, differentiated instruction in the content areas, curriculum and assessment creation, all things PLC, and so much more. Sarah is a passionate advocate for district equity work, and has been a guiding team member within her previous district. Sarah has also taught in Austin, Texas, where she became highly skilled at developing student-centered classroom cultures and expectations.
I am just so excited for all the teams that now get to work with Sarah. She is a tremendous coach and leader. She guides you to do your own thinking and work, and offers support along the way. She is a well-respected educational leader and author, and my favorite team mate in the whole world. I am so lucky to get to continue my team journey with her--and so proud of the impact she continues to make for students' and teachers' learning.
To connect specifically with Sarah, reach out through one of our contact forms on our site. You can also find her on social media at @MrsSarahHenry. I cannot wait for you to learn with Sarah on your journey!