“Whatever you water will grow.”
These are words that Bryan Stroud embeds within his daily practice as Principal of Harlem Prep Elementary. He explains the importance of this idea, saying that we often focus on the areas within our lives that are positive and pour our energy here so that they continue to grow. Inversely, when we ignore the negative parts of our lives, we are watering them in the opposite way, and these challenges grow in ways we hadn’t anticipated.
Bryan applies this idea to his scholars and relationships, expressing that “When you acknowledge what you want to see happen and make sure you are doing what you need to do to see those results, you’re creating a plan to set you up for success.” In a similar vein, while it is important to acknowledge one’s strengths, it is also important to accept areas for growth, and water them accordingly so that we continue to become the best versions of ourselves. As a result, Bryan consistently practices self-reflection and thinks of new approaches to pour water into his scholars and staff, and watch these relationships grow in positive ways.
And what does “Whatever you water will grow” look like in his practice as an educator and leader? For Bryan, it’s all about being relationship-oriented with a priority on adaptability. As someone who truly pours into his relationships with staff, scholars, and families, he is always purposeful in his framing, presentation, and delivery of information. He makes sure that when he communicates with his community, it is careful, thoughtful, and motivational, so that his people feel reassured and supported at all times. Additionally, Bryan believes that maintaining a high level of flexibility is essential to be a successful leader, because it allows one to be versatile, resilient and responsive to change. He says, “You never know what to expect in this work. You can be the most planned person in the world, but the data may present you with something unexpected. That is why I like to have adaptability top of mind, so that I’m not easily discouraged if something doesn’t go my way.”
Bryan didn’t become the amazing leader that he is today overnight. In many ways, his introduction to education was serendipitous. While he didn’t have aspirations to be a teacher, he took a chance and accepted a teaching position in Metro Atlanta with Teach For America. Had it not been for those two years he spent in the classroom, he wouldn’t have seen a “different side of Bryan” or “the impact I had in the classroom and the impact that kids had on me.” To him, education is the civil rights movement of this time and he truly believes that “the work we are doing as educators has the greatest pay-off later on for the future and for the population that we’re serving right now.”
Having completed TFA, he realized that he was not yet done teaching and moved on to teach at a middle school in New Orleans. It was during this time that Bryan wore several hats within a school, such as being a Middle Leader, Grade Team Leader, and Instructional Coach. This experience ultimately led him to think about his next steps. He stated, “I saw where my strengths are with scholars, but I also wanted to make sure that I was equipping adults who are in front of our scholars each and every day with the toolkits to really give our kids what they deserve, which is an amazing education.” That’s when he decided to take the leap into leadership!
On the search for the right program to nurture his transition into a new leadership role, Bryan came across Democracy Prep’s Leader U program! This dynamic school leadership training program was the perfect fit for Bryan, as it enabled him to step into a leadership role while receiving exceptional coaching from experienced leaders around the network and getting support in developing his unique leadership voice. He says of his cohort, “We are each other’s accountability partners since we have a shared experience of being in the same program. My cohort is definitely something I attribute to my success and growth because I can always reference Leader U whenever I’m feeling stuck and am in need of reliable thought partners.”
But that’s not the only thing that attracted Bryan to Democracy Prep! He was first very intrigued by our investment in civics, stating that “As someone who’s been in education for some time, civic education is not something that I have seen in the classroom, especially as early as elementary school. It is incredibly important for scholars to receive that exposure to civics at such a young age because it shows them that their voice matters in a very deep way.”
Another aspect that drew him to Democracy Prep is DP’s focus on our educators’ development and growth. Through his Leader U Residency, he was able to identify the ways in which he wanted to grow, but was also given feedback from coaches and leaders about different growth areas that he might not have considered for himself. And it’s that strong sense of community, trust, and comradeship he’s built with his team that keeps him at Democracy Prep. Bryan feels that he can be the best leader for his scholars and team because he is surrounded by leaders who “give me the confidence to continue and push me when I think I can’t move any further. I want to be that beacon for my staff and my scholars who may feel as though they’re not seen or heard.” He goes on to say, “I believe the way in which this can be done is by being present, on the ground, and acknowledging that the road is so much more than just the numbers that come along with it, it’s also the people who are putting in the work to make those numbers come true. That is why I do this work and why I am here to stay.”
A question we asked Bryan is, “Who or what inspires you to be the best version of yourself everyday?” For him, the answer is two-fold — the people he directly supports and the scholars with whom he is in the process of building strong relationships inspire him every day. He says, “My assistant principal and leadership team are individuals who I am tasked with supporting, coaching, and developing in a way that allows for them to do the same thing for our staff. When they are successful, I feel lucky to be supporting them and their growth.” The same could be said for scholars he is learning to connect with, because they “inspire me to continue to do my research, to exhaust my resources, and to figure out how to best connect with their families so that I can create an authentic and organic relationship with them and help them grow.” As someone who believes “All Scholars Can,” Bryan is motivated by his mission to make sure that all scholars receive the support they need to succeed.