Ra'Jeanna Conerly graduated from the Danforth program in 2015 and was recently hired as assistant principal at Valhalla Elementary in Federal Way. In this interview, Ra’Jeanna talks about what she learned in the program and how it helped her advance her career in education.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I went to Western Washington University – I was the first one in my family to attend college and graduate with a degree. I always wanted to be a teacher since the age of five, and I discovered that special education was for me when I took my first Education 101 class. I knew it was a challenging job, but I wanted to work with students who were being labeled as having social, emotional, and/or behavioral challenges – especially black males, since they were being labeled as such at a disproportionate rate.
Why did you choose to enroll in the Danforth Educational Leadership Program?
I was a special education teacher, and that limited my ability to work with the larger student body and staff. I wanted to work in schools in a larger capacity. I had people telling me I should go into educational leadership and become a principal, so after hearing that so many times and feeling what I was feeling, I decided to apply to the program. The Danforth program has allowed me to see what becoming an educational leader is all about.
Did you make personal or professional connections through the program?
One great aspect about the program is that we each choose what we call a critical friend within our cohort. The great thing is that we get to bounce ideas off one another regarding the program and work; my critical friend and I leaned on one another throughout the program. When interviewing for jobs, I was able to put in a good word for him since I knew both principals who were interested in him. I have made friends who will continue to be friends once the program is finished.
Also, the Danforth program director, Ann O’Doherty, really goes above and beyond for the cohort members. She really knows me on a personal level. She’s genuine and authentic, and she wants everyone in the cohort to be successful and will do anything in her power to guide and mentor. You’re not just a number in the program; you are a cherished student and developing school leader.
What were some of the specific things you learned in Danforth?
I have learned how to conduct observations to support teachers in moving their practice forward, which improves students’ learning outcomes. Specifically, I have learned how to conduct an observation cycle, which consists of a pre-conference where I am able to talk with the teacher about what they want to focus on during the upcoming observation. In this observation I am scripting, coding and provide noticings, wonderings and feedback regarding the lesson. Finally, there is a post-conference where the teacher and I get to debrief the lesson and talk about next steps.
What was the best part of the Danforth experience for you?
I think one of the greatest things about the program is the internship. It allows you to learn by doing, hands-on learning that you can’t receive through classes. For example, I have learned how to move away from just managing a building to helping facilitate our collaboration meetings with our instructional coach. Also, I have been able to go into classrooms with our principal to conduct observations and learning walks together, which allows us to work as a team and figure out how we can move our school forward through instruction.
Can you share your main takeaway from the Danforth program?
It has really increased my confidence in what I’m capable of – knowing that I have the skills, knowledge and expertise to guide teachers and to guide a building in the right direction to serve children and their families in the best possible way. The program helped me understand that I did the right thing by going into educational leadership. I’m excited to see what the future holds for me.