This week in the school spotlight is Shelia Gilliard, the principal at Brewster Middle School (BMS) on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.
Gilliard has been an educator for 32 years and has spent two years as principal of BMS.
Gilliard graduated with a Bachelors from University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and two Masters from Fayetteville State University.
Q. What encouraged you to pursue your job as an educator?
A. I loved to read as a youngster and my teachers cultivated my hobby by giving me wonderful books. They were my heroes. When I became older, I saw my little brother struggle in school. I witnessed wonderful teachers who had patience, encouraged and helped him to learn. Unfortunately, I saw the opposite as well. This motivated me to choose teaching and to make a positive difference.
Q. What encouraged you to pursue education within your specific age level/curriculum?
A. Quite a question for a middle school educator: I have had the K through 12 experience but there is something very special and curious about middle school. There is an energy and curiosity among middle schoolers that is exciting. I loved to read so it came natural for me to become a reading and history teacher.
Q. What is your main classroom philosophy?
A. Create a positive environment in which students want to explore and learn. Get to know your students’ interests and learning styles. Be firm but flexible and always be caring. Also, be a servant leader — lead by serving others.
Q. What is a lesson you have learned from your students?
A. Be curious about learning, be forgiving, listen and know how to laugh.
Q. What is your favorite part of being an educator?
A. I love the first day of school. It is the ultimate celebration. I love to see the light bulb illuminate in young people’s minds and seeing the growth each year brings.
I love the ability to support teachers as they support students. Collaborating with teachers helps us grow as effective educators. Fostering positive relationships with our parents and partners strengthens our community.
Q. What advice would you give to upcoming/new educators?
A. Be willing to learn and grow just as you expect your students to do so. Learn to work collaboratively within the school community internally and externally. Remember the reason for your choice: Be passionate and intentional in daily instruction. Also, remember you teach students first and then the content next.
Q. What are three words that would describe your life outside of the classroom? (Hobbies, interests, etc.)
A. It is hard to keep it to three. I love family time, reading, traveling and serving my community through church and charities.
Q. What is a favorite memory from your teaching career?
A. Every day proves to be a favorite memory when a child greets you or wants to share an experience and it is a gift. When they seek you out to tell you how well they are doing, or they need help, or that they have a new sibling, or they are going to try out for a team, all prove to be favorite memories.
Q. What advice would you give to a parent of a middle schooler?
A. Always listen. Be persistent in a non-evasive way even when they don’t seem to want to hear from you. Ask the right questions. Be engaged but not overly engaged. Keep open communication with the school and its personnel. We are partners in your child’s education. Know your child’s friends and their parents. Know that students will make mistakes and they will learn from them if we help them.
Middle schoolers change their minds multiple times each day. Finally, know that we as parents will make mistakes as well. Forgive yourself. Love your kids unconditionally.
Q. What changes would you like to see implemented in the school system within the next 5 years?
A. I would like to see us go 1:1 in technology for our digital natives. I love to see students utilizing 21st century technologies but we need to teach them the responsibility and power of digital citizenship.
Q. What are the biggest challenges you face as an educator in a military town?
A. Understanding the complexities of military families can be a challenge. Some challenges are frequent deployments, feelings of isolation, adjusting to new schools, leaving old friends, finding new friends/sense of belonging and adjusting to new curriculum for our students. As educators, we must get to know our military students.
However, understanding there is a plethora of resources available to support military children and families has proven to be helpful for the partnership of schools and families.
Supporting our students emotionally as well as academically creates a safe environment in which students can grow and be themselves. Having MFLACs and School Liaisons in our schools and communities is a huge benefit.
I admire the resiliency of our military children.
Q. Is there anything else you’d like to share about being an educator?
A. It is an honor to serve here in the Camp Lejeune community.