Becoming a Redwood

By IPLI Mentor Michael Pinto

Redwoods of Your World

(Originally posted September 12, 2012 www.coleprincipal.tumblr.com)

I was listening to a podcast on the ride home this evening where Dick Cavett was being interviewed. He used an expression to refer to some of the greats that he had interviewed 40 years ago: Lucille Ball, Orson Wells, and Bob Hope as “The Redwoods.” What he meant by that was those individuals were the biggest and most prolific celebrities of their time. They still are in many ways. Which made me think, “Who are the Redwoods in my world?”

As a principal, I have been blessed to work hand-in-hand with many very talented teachers, central office staff, and principals. But in my mind only a few are Redwoods. Only a few stand out for their integrity, their sharing and caring capacity, and their ability to focus on children. Few stand out as icons who not only have made their schools better, but also bettered people around them and people they associated with.  I followed a Redwood when I came to my current position. I always say that if I am in my current position for 25 years, I will still walk in her shadow. But Dick Cavett’s phraseology “Redwoods” made me think. Who truly are Redwoods in my world?  There are a few.  I wonder if you take stock and are reflective in your own world and in your own profession, who are the Redwoods? Because while a mentor casts a shadow, a Redwood leaves a presence.  I encourage you to take a reflective look inward and see who you consider Redwoods.  I then encourage you to take this reflection one step further and try to water and nourish yourself enough to someday be considered a Redwood by someone else.

I have had the privilege to serve as a mentor for the Indiana Principal Leadership Institute (IPLI) Cohort #2. During this experience, I have added to the forest of individuals that I know both personally and professionally who tower above others in the field of education. Serving as a mentor allows me a unique opportunity: to work with and learn from other experienced building-level and central office administrators and the chance to work with young and aspiring principals who are either in the learning process or are working to hone and to refine their leadership skills.

I have often said that I am honored to be chosen as a mentor for IPLI because there are many ‘Redwoods’ in the mentor ranks that tower over me. Quite honestly, the members of my focus cohort group are also tall trees who not only seem to rise above the mark through their work ethic, but toil daily in the best interest of children and their staff/communities. The IPLI mentor opportunity also has allowed me to work side-by-side with a colleague, Jane Rogers, who I once mentored during IPLA several years ago. How wonderful it is for me to see Jane not only find great success, but offer it to others in her role as a mentor.

The Indiana Principal Leadership Institute offers amazing professional development. The guest speakers as well as the instructional and leadership content that is provided to all the participants is impressive and second-to-none. However, IPLI is in the business of growing Redwoods in the field of education. I see that when I look around the room at my fellow mentors and cast a glance at the many participants. I would not consider myself a Redwood, but like all leaders, I aspire to be one.

Taking stock of who has cleared a path for me professionally, my list of Redwoods have come from diverse backgrounds and at key moments in my life. What I love about IPLI is that its mission includes increasing the personal leadership capacity of its building-level principal participants. IPLI provides the water, nourishment, and sunlight needed for growth. In the process, IPLI is helping to connect others through strong networks of support and to cultivate from the ground up future “Redwoods” of instructional leadership that will not only cast a positive shadow for many years to come, but will leave a lasting presence.