“Be Where Your Feet Are” is the new motto that Principal Karissa Lang has enshrined at Crestline Elementary School in Alabama. The phrase came out of a schoolwide transformation process and sums up Lang’s goals for boosting teacher and staff morale.
“The journey of improvement revealed that many of the staff struggled to balance school and life and were struggling from burnout,” says Lang, who was recently named a National Distinguished Principal by the National Association of Elementary School Principals. “The new motto became the driving force behind our continued road to success. It was a reminder to be present and to be your best wherever your feet were resting.”
Lang has been Crestline’s principal for six years and also has been focused on reversing enrollment declines and turning low proficiency levels around. She also faced numerous teacher transfer requests when she took the helm of the K-4 building, which is part of Hartselle City Schools. The overall culture left parents and many others in the community “feeling unwelcome and uninformed,” Lang explains.
Because 30% of Crestline students receive special education services, Lang has also been working to improve targeted instruction and close literacy gaps. She has launched a STEM cart program and revamped the school’s outdoor classroom to create a hands-on, immersive environmental science program.
“Our students come to school with many challenges. Learning can’t begin until their needs are met,” explains Lang, who recently chatted with District Administration about giving her teachers a voice, building a new school and supporting social-emotional learning.
1. DA: What does it mean to you to be named a National Distinguished Principal?
Karissa Lang: “It has been an absolute honor to represent Alabama principals. Our state is filled with rockstar administrators and it is a privilege to represent all the hard work and dedication that goes into making sure that the students of Alabama are loved and educated.”
2. What have you done to transform your school’s culture?
“I gave teachers a voice by creating a supportive and encouraging environment. As a team, we developed a list of needs and created committees to address those needs. Areas of improvement were tackled and many of the needs and areas of concern on the original list created became areas of strength. We developed a new mission statement, created a new strategic plan, set academic and professional goals, and established a new motto: ‘Be Where Your Feet Are.'”
The journey of improvement revealed many of the staff struggled to balance school and life and were struggling with burnout. The new motto became the driving force behind our continued road to success. It was a reminder to be present and to be your best wherever your feet were resting. Be the best coworker to your grade level, be the best teacher to your students, be the best representative of your school, and be your best at home. Our culture is stronger than ever, we work together to tackle any adversity that comes our way, and we continue to make our school the best place to be.”
3. Have you been able to reduce teacher turnover?
“Our culture makes all the difference with teacher retention. Teachers have a voice and they are treated as professionals. This is not my school, this is our school. And because of this, teachers stay.”
4. What other exciting things are happening at Crestline Elementary School?
“We are currently in the process of building a new school with a capacity of 1,000 students. We currently have around 600 students. Our anticipated move-in date is late spring. Our new space will allow us to expand our STEM and robotics instruction, offer a bigger outdoor classroom with a collaborative space for students, and have multiple sensory rooms for students to help with regulation.
My goal is to continue to find creative ways to support students in all areas of learning.”
5. What are the keys to your leadership philosophy, and how do these contribute to the school’s success?
“I believe leaders must be two things: a servant leader and an instructional leader. You must be willing to get in the trenches with your teachers, never ask them to do anything you are not willing to do yourself and walk alongside them—not in front of them. You must be a leader who understands what good instruction is, has knowledge of academic standards and supports teachers with sound coaching.”
6. What are the biggest challenges your school is facing right now?
“Supporting our students with their social and emotional learning is by far the most challenging part of our job. Our students come to school with many challenges. Learning can’t begin until their needs are met.”
7. Do you have a good relationship with the superintendent and central office?
“Yes. We work collaboratively on the Literacy Act and Numeracy Act implementation, professional development, school needs, and especially with planning for the new school.”