Erika began her career as a special education teacher in the West-Linn Wilsonville School district. When her family relocated to Southern Oregon, she was fortunate to work in Medford as a special education TOSA, supporting the work of the Special Education Department for the district. She worked at Ashland High School for seven years, three as assistant principal, and the last four as principal. She look forward working alongside the staff and community at Griffin Creek in supporting every student to learn, grow and thrive.

Show Highlights

  • Make solid decisions with the 3 Word Wise strategy to anchor yourself and your staff to your beliefs
  • Erika shares useful tools and why you should join the GO Community to transform your leadership 
  • Lower the barriers for students to come forward with a sound protective policy on harassment
  • Be empathetic in challenging situations. It’s not personal, it’s uncomfortable. 
  • Essential training for staff members to ensure they’re doing everything legally and morally for children in and out of the school building. 
  • Overcome first year fears as an administrator to bring difficult issues to light. Hear Ericka’s district plan on training, reporting and investigating
  • Erika’s tips for the learning community when presented with critical information, who to go to, and how to make unbiased decisions.
Erica Bare: A First Year Principal Takes on Sexual Harassment

“Wisdom is just recognizing that I am not going to be the smartest person in the room.The collective is always more powerful than the individual person. And so what information do I need? What wisdom do I need to gather from others?”

 – Erika Bare

Full Transcript Available Here

Daniel (00:03):

First year being principal, what was the biggest challenge that you faced? My guest today was cruising through her first year as principal, when a sexual harassment incident involving students off campus, rocked her community and came to her attention. Believe it or not at that time, the school and the district lacked a robust policy addressing this issue. We’ll start there at the top of my conversation with Erica Bare. You can hear what she learned researching sexual harassment policies in the school setting and how she helped create a sound policy that protected students. Please note too, that this policy is linked up for you in the show notes. So make sure that you check it out. Hey, it’s Daniel and welcome to the better leaders, better schools, podcast, a show for Ruckus Makers, those out of the box leaders making change happen in education. And we’ll be right back after these messages from our show sponsors,

Daniel (01:09):

The Better Leaders Better Schools. Podcast is brought to you by Organized Binder, which increases student active engagement and participation and reduces classroom management issues. Learn more@organizedbinder.com. Today’s podcast is brought to you by Teach FX. It’s basically a Fitbit for teachers helping them be mindful of teacher talk versus student talk, get a special 20% discount for your school or district by visiting teachFx.Com/BLBS. I believe that school leaders are doing the best they can, but is it possible to be just a little bit better? According to Demetrius, a school leader in California, the best part of the Mastermind is the hot seat. I learned so much from the challenges that we all shared during the hot seat, because the feedback that our members give is so insightful and valuable Lauren, our principal in Washington DC remarked, that the best part of the Mastermind is access to tremendous thought partnering. If you would benefit from getting connected to other elite school leaders and would enjoy discussing education and leadership deeply each week, then we welcome your application to The Mastermind, apply today at better leaders, better schools.com/mastermind.

Daniel (02:35):

Ruckus Makers. I am joined by Erika Bare, the proud principal of Griffin Creek Elementary School, home to 600 amazing students. Her journey includes being a special educator, serving students K through 12 assistant principal and principal of Ashland High School, and now Griffin Creek Elementary. She resides in beautiful Southern Oregon raising two kids, 12 and 15 with her wonderfully supportive husband. Erica, welcome to the show. Thank you so much. It’s an honor to be here. So we’re gonna hop into what could be a challenging topic, but it’s important to discuss. I don’t think,ever on this show, have we really dug into sexual violence or sexual harassment and that’s important. So I know if I remember correctly from my notes as a first year principal, something happened at your school and you had to deal with it. Can you tell us that story?

Erika (03:31):

Sure, absolutely. So it’s really a story about how the student voice and then my own ability to kind of put ego aside, came together to really make for some positive change. Towards the end of that first year as principal, it was my fourth year in the building. I’d been assistant principal prior to that situation and landed in my office. That was really difficult. What I found is we really didn’t have any clear policies or procedures and how to handle it. I had some really devastated kids who were really trying to work through some hard stuff. I knew we had to find a way to respond. I was like many folks, I think, who really associate title nine with athletics and colleges and had not really given a lot of thought or consideration to how those protections really extend to sexual harassment and violence in schools, all schools, including K-12.

Erika (04:22):

And so really had to dig into that. And initially, like I said, it was one issue and we did our best to try and navigate, but it was a real challenge because we just didn’t have the guidance. As you can imagine, it wasn’t totally solved. No one was totally satisfied. As we came back in the fall, we really found that students were asking very loudly for us to address this issue. And they were not kind of quietly knocking on my office door. We were having sit-ins at the district office, there was a community forum. There were really challenging social media posts that really forced us to take a hard look. We were in the news for kind of all the wrong reasons. And so really had to kind of step back. Initially it was hard for me not to get defensive and kind of think,, gosh, we’re worlds ahead of most places in terms of consent education, these things are happening outside of the school.

Erika (05:18):

I mean, these are in folk’s homes on parties on the weekend, that kind of thing. I just felt like I don’t have the ability to be everywhere and protect kids everywhere that they are. And so I really had a moment. It was early in the morning. I was taking a shower that’s when I do my best thinking. I had to really think back to my Three Word Wise, which for me is grace, wisdom and courage.  I had to really ask myself some hard questions about extending enough grace to those who were angry or was I responding with my own kind of anger and frustration that I have enough information to move things forward. Did I know all of the various legal ramifications and all of the best practices and was my response, the courageous and right response, or was I just trying to kind of take the easy way out and put the problem behind me?

Erika (06:05):

And what I really found is that I was lacking in all three areas. So I started to dig in and really listen to what the students were telling us. And I found out there was a much larger situation than I ever could have imagined or realized students really didn’t know how, or were too frightened to come forward. They might be leaving school because they were assaulted by someone in their second period class and no adult on the campus had any idea. So I first recognized that we really needed to lower the barriers for students to come forward so that we could be available to help them. I was fortunate to be working with an exceptional superintendent at the time, and she saw right away that we were lacking in policy and procedure. Like we need a system for this. And so she and I both looked high and low.

Erika (06:50):

We were researching all of the title nine resources we could find and really could not identify any clear guidance for K-12 that could help us with a really solid set of policies and procedures. So we realized we were kind of on our own and we’re going to have to come up with something. And in her wisdom, she really pulled together a very diverse taskforce. And what was powerful was that it included parents and students, teachers, administrators, police officers, had online experts from our local university, school board members, and then folks from several community groups that just wanted to help however they could. We learned a lot about the sorts of things that keep students from coming forward and then address those things head on. So for example, we found out that students really feel uncomfortable coming forward if maybe they were under the influence of alcohol or something else.

Erika (07:42):

And we’re afraid that we’re going to get in trouble for that. They didn’t want to tell the grownups in their life that that was going on. Some kids really needed to know and understand whether we were going to tell their parents before they could make a good decision about whether or not to come forward. We needed to make all of those things really explicit, kind of an FAQ for our students and FAQ for our parents and then real clear guidelines for us. It’s still very much a work in progress. When I left there last year, we were heads and shoulders above where we were, the education we were providing. Our student was far more robust and preventative in nature. Staff knew what to do when these difficult issues were coming to light and students knew exactly who to go to and how to report. And so we made a lot of progress. I feel really good about the work and it continues.

Daniel (08:30):

That’s excellent. So much to unpack there. One thing I want to highlight for the Ruckus Maker listening is just the importance of at first you realize, Oh, I’m taking this a little personally, but then being able to reflect on that, make a change and start to listen, right? Because to create any sort of change and to be open minded, to have empathy, to what the reality is, even if it’s uncomfortable. You have to have so much empathy and you have to get yourself out of the way. So you shared a masterclass on how to get that done. And then that helps you be more proactive now that you understand the issues that were going on, you could lower the barriers, right? So the one example of substance abuse or something was involved, right? Kids were rightly afraid. If I go forward, if I tell the truth, I’m going to get hit twice.

Daniel (09:26):

There’s this issue of harassment, there’s this issue, drugs or alcohol. And I’m a scared teen. I think adults would be scared to admit what’s going on, let alone our kids. And so just being very clear and then you put up an FAQ to help work that out. That’s pretty interesting, I love to hear. And I heard you talk about your three word wise. I won’t lose that thread. I know. I want to get back to that. So I will say that right there, but I do want to ask you about mindsets because you had to work on yourself. So you could be open-minded and hear what’s going on and it was great that you built this robust well-rounded committee and brought them to the table. I’m curious about your staff. What was their mindset like and how did you go to work on where they were at?

Erika (10:17):

Yeah, so I would say it’s varied. We had some phenomenal staff members who were advocating right alongside the students to make a change. They are at the front lines, they’re hearing these students’ stories and they wanted to help make a difference and make sure that they felt safe coming to school. And so they were right alongside them. They were knocking on my door, writing impassioned letters and doing everything that they should do to advocate for their students. There were some staff members who really, I think fear is the word that comes to mind, this idea that we could somehow protect students no matter where they were and kind of reach outside of school, to these things that were happening. As I said, in students’ homes on the weekends, outside of school, and how can we help support them while also making sure that we’re not overstepping.

Erika (11:08):

And so there were some challenges there. We provided a lot of training in particular for those folks who were directly involved in investigations training for everybody about when and who to bring stories to. Shockingly students, didn’t always want to come into my office to tell the story they’d often end up in the counselor’s office or in their favorite teacher’s office to try and talk it through or it was one of those folks who noticed the issue something was going on with the student and they dug in to try and figure out what it was. Then this was the kind of story that came out. So for them, it was really a matter of knowing what to do with the information, what, how to direct the student, to find the information that they need to make good decisions. How can staff members make sure that they’re doing everything they need to do legally and morally and all of those kinds of things. And so we spent a lot of time talking that through. I worked with a tremendous staff at Ashland High School, and they got on board really quickly. I wouldn’t say there was resistance to making sure that we tackled and addressed this issue. They wanted to make sure that we were doing right by kids and on the right side of what is a really, really challenging issue.

Daniel (12:20):

I don’t know if you experienced this or not but did you see bias between a male faculty members and female ones? I’m just curious if you experienced that and how you may have navigated it.

Erika (12:34):

I did. I think the biggest challenge there was kind of this initial gut reaction when we would get a report that the complainant had done something or had put themselves in a situation that wasn’t safe or struggled in some way, unrelated to this issue and that somehow that should play into the investigation that we had to do or the outcome of that investigation. So we really had to do a lot of work around, again empathy, training, forensic interviewing some of those really specific tools to make sure we were moving past some of those biases and stereotypes that we often see in the media and really thinking about the kid that’s in front of us and what the right thing to do in this particular situation is. And that’s where a real strong policy and procedure can help you because otherwise it’s really easy to kind of get lost in the minutia.

Erika (13:31):

We know these students. We’ve been working with them for 12 years. Oftentimes they haven’t had a perfect trajectory through their educational career. And so it’s easy to take some of those things that happened before. And let that factor in one of the things we really tried to do was identify investigators who were not closely connected to the students who could really do an independent investigation and put those things aside. We went through those folks who were investigating, went through some extensive training on how to conduct those interviews and how to interpret the results. And then the folks actually do the hard work of talking to the students and hearing those really painful stories are not the ones who in the end are making decisions about how the school is going to respond. Essentially the title nine coordinator in the building reviews all of that information and then makes a decision without being involved in the actual investigation itself. That level of removal is really important to ensure that bias isn’t creeping in. So it’s logistically challenging, but super important.

Daniel (14:37):

I can imagine it would get emotional for that person. So to try to remain as objective as possible and keep to the facts of the situation. We could talk about this for hours and hours and hours. You’ve built a robust plan. We’re going to have a link for the Ruckus Maker listening in the show notes so they could check that out. But the last thing I want to ask is if the Ruckus Maker listening wanted to explore and they realize, Whoa, I don’t have a policy and I want to get out ahead of this. Any tips for the listener in terms of starting out.

Erika (15:14):

Absolutely look at what’s been done. So absolutely go to the Ashland School District website, check out the plan just as a starting place. It’s not necessarily going to work for you or your community, but just as something to build on. I wish we’d had something as we were trying to move through, laying on your university partners, they’ve done a lot more work in this area than we have. And then for sure, listen to your students do not go into this process without ensuring that the student voice is in the front of every single thing that you’re doing. And remember too, that we didn’t go to school. We didn’t get trained in how to be investigators. We’re not detectives. We don’t have that skill set. And so know that if you are going to have school staff doing that work, that they’re going to need to get some extensive training and take a deep breath and dive in

Daniel (16:02):

Erika for bringing this topic to our listeners. And I said, I wouldn’t forget the thread on the three word wise, but this is probably a good point. So I’ll pause our conversation and get a quick message from our sponsor. But when we get back, we’re going to explain the concept of the Three Word Wise

Daniel (16:22):

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Daniel (17:31):

Alright, and we’re back with Erika Bare who just did a masterclass on how to build a policy that protects kids and that tackles the issue is sexual violence and sexual harassment. And she mentioned in there this concept of three word wise, I don’t know if you caught it, but I did. And I wanted Erica to dig into that a little bit more. Can you again, review what those three words were and why they’re important to you?

Erika (18:01):

Sure. So my three words are grace, wisdom, and courage. I became the principal kind of on accident. I’d been the assistant principal for three years and the principal at the time who was a master at her craft, ended up leaving late in May. I was asked to step in as the interim principal, and then of course fell in love with the job and stayed with it. But in the beginning, I was really unsure and unclear about why I was doing the work. I was there for the kids. I knew I wanted to do right by my staff, but I needed some guiding principles to push me to do the hard, hard work I was having all of these challenging situations land in my lap. I was getting kind of lost in the minutia of the feelings around those things.

Erika (18:49):

And so I really needed to anchor myself in what I believed in as an educator and what I knew was important in order to make good and solid decisions by the students that I served. So for me, I did a lot of reflection, took a lot of walks, thought it through. The three words that really resonated the most, again, were grace, wisdom and courage. Grace for me, is responding to every single situation with kindness and care, regardless of the kind of conversation that you have to have. That includes what I’m struggling with a teacher or a staff member, and needing to discuss some behavior or practice that is not effective and really bringing grace into that conversation. I lean a lot on Bernay Brown when she talks about “clear is kind” and taking that back to grace. Wisdom is just recognizing that I am not going to be the smartest person in the room.

Erika (19:44):

The collective is always more powerful than the individual person. And so what information do I need? What wisdom do I need to gather from others? Have I done my homework? Do I know all the things I need to do to make a good decision? I found that those decisions that I was a little bit slower with, did a little bit more work on tended to be closer to right than the ones that kind of jumped into it without doing that legwork. Courage really comes down to the crux of our work. No one wants to walk into a community forum where folks are kind of making some personal attacks. No one wants to enter into a conversation with a staff member who’s really been struggling to let them know that their career and education might not be continuing. No one wants to honestly walk into a conversation with a student who’s been damaged and hurt and is suffering from things that you cannot fix. All of those things take courage. And as I hit those decisions, I would kind of run through that mantra and make sure I was living my truth as an educator and holding up my end of the bar.

Daniel (20:54):

Yeah. Thank you for sharing there. We heard you talk, in the initial story that we started off this conversation with that you filtered how you were showing up in your decisions, if you were demonstrating grace, wisdom and courage. I think that is quite powerful. And if I also heard you correctly, you walked around and really just mulled it over for quite a while until it seemed that those were the concepts that bubbled up to the top that really represented you. You did this with your staff too, and then I think you displayed what they chose, but talk to us about how you presented or set up that activity and then any benefits of having the staff do it, having them display it in the staff room and what did they do to impact your culture?

Erika (21:43):

Sure. So I’ve done it twice. I did it at the high school and then I did it again at Griffin Creek Elementary where I am now. It really starts with providing teachers and all staff, the opportunity to just reflect on the reasons that they do the things that they do and what guides their work. And that sometimes just takes some space, oftentimes a little bit of free write, just the opportunity to think and jot down those things that really matter. And then narrowing that focus down to the things that are jumping out as most significant and most impactful. I did collect those. We displayed it beautifully in our staff room and what that did is help our staff members to get to know each other better than they did before. Kind of understanding what drives another educator is going to help us work together and make progress together. It also is kind of this wonderful Memorial to all of the folks who’ve come through our building and served kids wherever we are. They stay up and then we add to them as new folks come on. I think just staying centered around why we’re doing our important work and what drives us helps us work together more effectively.

Daniel (22:52):

Do you see the teachers? Do they start doing that with the students? Then

Erika (22:56):

When I was at the high school, there were definitely some English teachers who took that thinking on and kind of really got into the purpose and why we’re choosing to do the different things that we do. I haven’t seen it as much the elementary school, but maybe it’s coming.

Daniel (23:09):

You’re in the Go Community which is something that I run, it’s just a way to connect Ruckus Makers,and it’s between the podcast and then the mastermind betterleadersbetterschools.com/go to find out more information about what’s been the value of you being in that community.

Erika (23:31):

There’s been so much value. I think for me personally, especially in this past year, as I was diving into a new building and learning all kinds of new systems and really having the opportunity to restart, I was able to access professional development when I needed it and targeted what I needed because it needed to be really flexible this past year. The productivity course that I did in the go community has really been transformative for me that got me started with the miracle morning, which has made a significant difference in how I operate day to day, and then the goal crusher template, and some other tools that have really helped me be both more productive and more thoughtful about my work. And then just the ability to connect with other professionals in the field and have that dialogue that is sometimes administration can be lonely. And I really appreciate your message that we don’t have to do this alone. That’s a choice and I choose to do it alongside others. And so being able to draw on the wisdom from the other administrators in the group to do the book studies and really dive in together and do some thinking about some really powerful content has moved my practice forward in a lot of different ways.

Daniel (24:42):

Thank you for sharing that, Erika. You’ve been doing the miracle morning? Have you been reading? What are you reading these days? I’m just curious.

Erika (24:51):

Oh my gosh. So I just finished the Iceberg is Melting, which is a story about just extreme transformation that you’re forced into without choice. So it seemed timely before that I had just finished, Dare to Lead and then I’m diving into Coherence right now.

Daniel (25:10):

Got it. Well, thank you for sharing those and that’s something, too, the mastermind is definitely not a book club, but we do read books and specifically books outside education to just give ourselves more tools in order to lead more effectively as school administrators and just a quick rundown of what we’re reading next year. I’ll link up this blog post. We’ll be reading, w to be anti-racist, the infinite game, radical candor, thinking and bets, and thanks for the feedback. I’ll put a link in the show notes and people can check out those books or maybe join the GO community and discuss them alongside us. So now the marquee question, if you could put a message around the world for just a day on all school marquees, what would your message read?

Erika (26:07):

So I did give this some thought, and of course I had a gazillion different answers, but I think in the end it would be, you matter, so no matter who you are or where you’re coming from, your voice and your actions have significant impact on those around you and the world, students’ voices matter, their actions matter, and that should be driving our work, how staff shows up for those students every day, or don’t show up for students every day, that matters that has an impact, how I’m showing up for my staff and students has an impact. So I think it would be you matter.,

Daniel (26:42):

And now you’re building from the ground up. You’re not limited by any resources. Your only limitation is your imagination. How would you build your dream school and what would be your top three priorities?

Erika (26:54):

Gosh, it was so hard for me to narrow this down to three, but it would be a K 20 school. I think I would want to take kids all the way cradle through associate’s degree and then help point them on a path that makes sense for them. Every student who started with us would be matched with a mentor or significant adult. Who’s going to take them all the way through from the minute they walk in, until the minute they leave us and then beyond it’s of course, going to have the very best staff it’s going to be a beautiful building. That’s more like a small community with parks and open spaces and makerspaces and all of those kinds of wide open things that we want to see and students would have a lot of choice and direction and how they go through. I think we would throw out everything we know about the schedule, it’d be year round. It wouldn’t be greatly dependent. Bell schedules would be flexible. So kind of outside of what we’re used to in regular school.

Daniel (27:49):

It’s my favorite kind of school. Erika, thank you so much for being a part of the better leaders, better schools, podcast of all the things we talked about today, what’s the one thing you want Ruckus Maker to remember?

Erika (28:04):

When things get hard, look at yourself first, go back to your purpose, think about what kind of impact you can have to make the situation right. Focus on that before you think about all of those external factors that are pushing in. So really, look at yourself first, look in the mirror and then do the right thing.

Daniel (28:26):

Thanks for listening to the better leaders, better schools podcast for Ruckus Makers. If you have a question or would like to connect my email, Daniel@betterleadersbetterschools.com or hit me up on Twitter @alienearbud. If the better leaders better schools, podcast is helping you grow as a school leader, then please help us serve more Ruckus Makers like you. You can subscribe, leave an honest rating and review or share on social media with your biggest takeaway from the episode, extra credit for tagging me on Twitter at alien earbud and using the hashtag #BLBS level up your leadership at better leaders, better schools.com and talk to you next time until then class dismissed.

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