Middle-Level Leaders Collaborative: Who’s your “go-to” person?

This post is a collaboration between a group of middle school leaders from across the country.  Periodically, these passionate and dedicated middle school principals share their thoughts on issues of relevance for those “in the middle”.  

Working at the middle-level is uniquely challenging.  Nobody can do it alone. Who is your “go to” person?

Donald Gately.  Middle School Principal, Long Island

My wife.  My wife is my “go-to”  person. Danielle Gately is the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in the district just down the road from my school.  She’s smart, funny, generous and caring. Before moving into her present leadership position, her career was spent exclusively in middle school, so she really gets it.    That’s the main thing, you need a go-to person who understands the unique nature of working with adolescent learners. Because they truly are different. They’re not bigger elementary school kids or smaller high school kids.  Middle school kids are singular beings who only edacmp-daniellethrive when they are surrounded by adults who are committed to working with them. Danielle is this person and I’m so fortunate that I have the opportunity to come home from work and bounce things off of her.  In addition to raising our five kids, we talk about everything education and middle school-related. Some people might say that this is a corruption of the so-called “work-life balance”; that to bring home problems and concerns from the workplace isn’t healthy.  We haven’t found this to be so. Probably because both Danielle and I share the same passion for our work that it doesn’t feel like we’re talking about “work”; instead, we are united by our passions. Our work and our lives are very much blended together. I don’t know what I would do without her support and advice.

Dennis Schug – Middle School Principal, Long Island, New York

Hundreds of adolescents spanning several grades may seem overwhelming and appear, frenetic. As anyone who works with kids turning 10 through 14 can attest, there is super-charged energy. Passing times and lunchtime resembles a human popcorn popper.  

From a student’s point-of-view, one may feel as if he/she is the only person navigating adolescent challenges. The struggle to get (and stay) organized, manage time, and prioritize tasks. Friendships, family life, changing bodies, developing minds, and the roller coaster of emotions may feel all-consuming. 

schugOur school’s master schedule includes Advisory, Teaming, and Looping. To personalize and maximize these organization frameworks, school-wide, we ask students, “Who is your Go-to Person?”

A Go-to Person is an adult who a student perceives he/she can trust. This can be a current (or former) teacher, coach, secretary, paraprofessional, school nurse, school counselor, social worker, or school leader, what matters is the connection. 

 We speak early (and often) with our staff about the developmentally responsive side of middle school. When at least 50% of our focus is there, the impact can be seen in “the other 50%”: a student’s attendance, motivation, focus, purpose, and achievement. 

Go-to People know what needs to be brought to our Learning Support Team, and what should be shared with a parent or at a team meeting. Sometimes, though, what matters most is that trusting relationship between an adolescent and an adult with whom a student identifies or they feel simply “gets them”. 

Remember being 13? Who was YOUR Go-to Person?

 Chris Legleiter.  Principal, Leawood, KS

For every great leader, a mentor pushed that person into their current reality. When we think of “who is your go-to person”, my core beliefs and decision-making practices developed from a combination of experiences and individuals. This has been pivotal in my development and from my perspective; here is why a group of mentors is so essential:


  • Learning from others increase greater capacity for growth
    Leadership is “influence upon others”. You must find time to consistently learn the latest strategies, reflect and challenge the status quo. You can learn in isolation, but you have greater capacity for growth when you have multiple people with different perspectives and experiences to learn.
  • chrisIt provides multiple opportunities for reflection
    Having an extensive PLN provides a platform where you get feedback from others.  They can share different strategies that you can consider for next steps.


  • Growth is not automatic but connecting with others becomes intentional practice.  Leaders have very busy lives filled with a variety of tasks, but when you have “go-to people,” it provides daily practices and time set aside to reflect and challenge your thinking.  Growth is what separates those who are successful and those who are not. It takes time to grow and when you have a PLN pushing you, then you will develop over time as a leader. 

Having a “go-to person or people” is critical in any person’s development as it provides capacity for growth, reflection and intentional part of your work.

Brenda Vatthauer – Middle School Principal, Hutchinson, MN

Top 5-Who Is Your Go-To Person?  Who is the first person you seek out when there is a need?  The need might include a problem to solve, to obtain advice, a listening ear, to gain insight and information, coordinate a large event, bring together community partners, etc.  Timing depends on the context and with someone you trust. A “go-to” person possesses qualities to help make one a better educator, parent, spouse, community member or friend. A “go-to” person has a reputation for:

making solid decisions              well-grounded in beliefs

prepared                                         responsible

growth-minded                            talented

well-rounded citizen                 holistic in points of view

give honest feedback                 resourceful

My  Top 5 go-to people, or people I have in my corner, I have had firsthand experience with.  I have grown from each group of people as I reflect on earlier interactions which I valued and learned from.  It is the relationship, not the transaction which makes the experience so powerful. Genuine connections have been developed over time.  So who are these Top 5 Go-To People?

  • Middle School Leader Voxer Group – phenomenal educators who are inner driven, giving honest feedback.
  • Former Supbrendaerintendent (from my first principalship) and Assistant Principals-have a wealth of wisdom, knowledge, and insight.
  •  Administrative Professionals-have numerous connections that are limitless and they are advocates who have your back.
  • Teacher Leaders-have their pulse on the day to day happenings and give input to help in navigating.
  • Community School Coordinator-have a jackpot of resources to tap into along with the coordinating skills to make it happen.

In education, a “go-to” person can make a real difference in your career and life.  Take time to celebrate how they have supported you in your professional and personal growth.

About dfgately

Middle School Principal Jericho, NY
This entry was posted in adolescence, Best Practice, Educational Focus, Leadership, Personal Best, Teaching/Learning and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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