George Lucas Educational Foundation

Philip Wright on Building Relationships

YES Prep North Central's former principal talks about finding balance as an administrator and the importance of cultivating relationships.
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Philip Wright on Building Relationships (Transcript)

I generally wake up, 5:30 every morning. Some days mo-- try to work out and get all the running. I go to the gym and then try to get to school around 7:00, 7:15. I wish I could get here earlier, but you can't. Working after school is impossible. So that has to happen in the morning if it's gonna to happen.

Then from there, I generally sit down, put my computer, turn it on. I meet with the RISE students in the morning first thing. And then from day to day it changes, whether you know-- there's meetings each day, whether it's individual check-ins with my grade level chairs, meetings with grade level chairs as a group. You know, meetings with Mark, the school director and the rest of the admin team on Mondays. And then parent office hours and trying to schedule when those happen. And generally, you know, it probably goes until 6:00 plus each night. Come home and eat and then start-- actually it's hard for me personally and some people may be better at this than myself, but to get the bigger projects done at school or even replying to emails that take some thought. A lot of that has to happen at home at night. So generally I like to kind of unwind. I'm not much of a sleeper. So I like to unwind and maybe whether, you know, there's a basketball game on or whatever it may be, you know, I like to make dinner and so forth and do that. And then I'll kind of settle down at the desk around 10:00, 10:30. And I generally- generally work until about 12:30, 1:00 each night and do it all again the next day.

I used to be a lot stronger at Friday happy hours, but now come Friday, my body, it's shutdown time. And so I maybe only go out for a drink or two. But yeah, I don't stay out very late on Fridays very longer. To build relationships with students you really, really have to go out of your way to try to put yourself in their- in their position and to open up to them and show that you're vulnerable and you've overcome some obstacles and you've faced challenges. While you know, I would never even try to pretend that what I've overcome in my life is anywhere near what our students have to overcome to get to college. But you know, we all overcome some challenges and rec-- being open to them about that. But at the same time remaining or keeping that, you know, authoritative presence that- that they still respect you. They can open up to you and say a lot of things but yet they want to, at the same time kind of impress you because they are-- they look up to you for who you are and for being vulnerable.

I think it is definitely scalable. I think the one thing that we have going that the large ISDs don't have, is the size. You know, having an extremely large high school and extremely large middle school, it's just too hard to know what's going on and if I can quality control how students are doing, to get to know the student, because that's a huge part, that relationship building. And even as an administrator, the fact that I can name you know, first and last name of every student in this school, I think plays a huge part. So when I walk around, it's just not hey buddy, hey you guys. It's you know, hello Jose. Hey Priscilla, how is your day going so far? And I think that's- that's a big part of it. And I don't know if larger schools, you know, if they have the ability to break down into smaller communities. I think that's one thing that would be advantageous for them. But I think it's-- the scalability is there.

In my first year in the role of principal going from, you know, full time teacher into principal, I just realized in how many directions you get pulled throughout the day. Whether it's, you know, a parent all of a sudden shows up and wants to meet or a student discipline issue gets brought to you. And on top of that having to, you know, create agendas for upcoming meetings. Projects that need to take place and whether to make a final exam schedule, submit some paperwork to the home office and trying to do it all at the same time and being accessible to everyone at all times on top of getting in the classrooms where I need to be. Observing teachers, getting a feel for the students, just being a presence around campus, I wasn’t doing a very good job.

So looking at that, what I did for-- halfway through last year and then set myself up again to do it this year, is just really-- took a couple weeks where I just wrote down everything that I'm doing in a day, you know, every half an hour, what am I doing? What am I doing? I kind of collected all of that and figured out okay, I need to block out some time. And also let staff know that the open door poss- the open door policy still exists. But you know, if people are just coming in and out at any time, then I'm not going to be very effective in my job in terms of getting in the classrooms.

We are all committed to one thing and that is recognizing that our students need more than what's being offered currently by their zone public school, because they're not gonna have the opportunity to go to a four year college with the education they're receiving. So that- that core mission, that that's what we're all here for, is ensuring that our students are prepared to graduate from a four year college, that common bond, you know, is what makes us successful. And that's true of any successful organization, you know.

We use like the Southwest Airlines example. Everyone knows that they're a low cost, you know, low fare airline. And that's what they are. That's what they're really good at. And I think that's kind of the way we look at ourselves. As we are-- we're not gonna overtake any ISD. We're not trying to become the biggest school district in Houston. But we do want to try to push education in the city of Houston to show that it is possible and hopefully continue to build relationships with the ISD that they can then, you know, learn from what's been successful for us and we can learn from what's worked for them and hopefully, created a city specifically in Houston where we're sending more students off to college.

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Video Credits

Directed by

  • Ken Ellis


  • Karen Sutherland

Coordinating Producer

  • Amy Erin Borovoy

Production Assistant

  • Doug Keely

Camera Crew

  • Thomas Waldron
  • Mark Angelo

Support for Edutopia's Schools That Work series is provided, in part, by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

Editor's Note: Since this video was produced, Philip Wright has accepted a position as codirector of the YES Prep Southeast campus, and teacher Bryan Reed has taken his place as principal of YES Prep North Central's high school.


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Arthur A. Godin's picture

It appears that most of your teachers are of a "younger" generation is this intentional or coincidental?

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