By Design, Not By Chance: ‘Moments’ in an Educational Journey

By Design, Not By Chance: ‘Moments’ in an Educational Journey


March 2024

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Education Insights Center (EdInsights) or the California Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP).

Bryce Geigle, 2023-24 CA EPFP Fellow

It is the moments we share with one another that can influence our trajectories in life. When the 2023-24 California Education Policy Fellowship Program (CA EPFP) kicked off this past fall, we were all provided the opportunity to craft and share our personal leadership stories and our individual approaches in service to education. The leadership story project allowed fellows to voice the moments in their journey that have influenced them the most and how moments have shaped the leader who they have become.

My leadership story has been defined by these moments – the moment I failed 10th grade English (plot twist … I ended up teaching 10th grade English); the moment of struggling with depression as a young person; the moment my guidance counselor told me that ‘college was not in the cards’ for me. And yet, there have been many positive moments where educators shaped my life and who I am today – like the moment when, during my senior year of high school, a former history teacher asked me if I had applied to college yet. This was not only the first time a person associated my name with being college-bound, but also provided me with the agency to consider choices for a life that included a post-secondary education.

From these moments, I became a first generation college graduate and came back to serve as a high school English teacher at a charter school located a few miles away from the house where I grew up.

As a school principal, I have an unyielding passion to ensure my campus provides equitable support based on individual students’ needs. I lead from the belief that prevention is the best intervention. This belief guides the development of our team’s (teachers, support staff, administration) practices on universal support through social emotional learning and mental health resources for students. The core tenants we focus on as a team are to ensure we always are looking for ways for: (1) staff to foster healthy relationships with our students, (2) support spaces where students can build positive connections and relationships with their peers, and (3) the school to scaffold and educate prosocial behaviors and habits for student success during their PK-16 educational experience. Our educators are charged to create a system to ensure these habits transfer into student success in their post-secondary, career, and life goals.

In our opening weekend as a CA EPFP cohort, we had insightful sessions from Using Strengths Finder to Strategically Improve Your Leadership Skills by Polly Chandler to Setting the Table: Exploring Racial Justice by Dr. Mia Settles-Tidwell.

Dr. Settles-Tidwell led our reflection on our situatedness as leaders and how we are positioned to lead our organization’s policies and practices through our identities and contexts. Our cohort unpacked the article, Toward Racial Justice in California’s Education Systems: An Introduction to Policy Spanning K-12 and Higher Education and the core tenant that kept coming up in our discussion was the system is perfectly designed for the results it intends to produce. In our educational system today, these words could not be more true as we continue to see a preponderance of inequities in student achievement, suspension, and attendance data when pertaining to racially/ethnically underserved and socioeconomically disadvantaged subgroups.

In my one-on-one leadership coaching with Polly Chandler, I couldn’t help but reflect on the moments earlier in my life as Polly and I discussed my top leadership strengths from the Gallup CliftonStrengths inventory: Futuristic, Relator, Discipline, Belief (values), and Strategic. I continued to reflect on the ‘Relator’ strength after our conversation and how many moments in my educational journey were based on how my interactions with others are dependent on connection and relationship, especially when it was working towards a common goal. Leveraging strengths such as Strategic, Futuristic, and Relator while working with an instructional team can have great benefits in shifting not only pedagogical practices and student supports, but also support transforming teacher mindset.

These two sessions further reminded me of the systemic influences in that hallway moment with my U.S. History teacher. The house I grew up in was located one block inside the district lines of the high school I graduated from. My trajectory could have been vastly different if I lived one street over, where the aforementioned moments would have never taken place. We need to ensure that zip codes do not define the educational journey of our students. It is my mission in education to ensure the connections and relationships we build with our young people are by design, and not by chance like it was for me. This focus allows educators to lead with an equitable mindset where all students can achieve excellence.