She has served as principal at Risley Middle School in Brunswick, Ga. since 2012. She will be honored during a celebration in Washington D.C.
Lori is also the president-elect of the Georgia Association of Middle School Principals (GAMSP) and a member of the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders (GAEL) Board of Directors, a member of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE), and NAESP. Currently she is completing her doctoral degree in educational leadership at Georgia Southern University. As a middle school administrator, she has garnered several individual state honors from GAMSP. These include Georgia Distinguished Principal (2015), GAMSP Exemplary Leadership Award (2012), and Georgia Outstanding Assistant Principal (2011), according to a GAEL press release.
Georgia Department of Education: What was your journey to becoming a school principal?
Lori Joiner: My original degree was in dental hygiene. I would visit schools during Dental Health Month. I enjoyed being in the schools and with the students so much I decided to go back to school to be a teacher. After twelve years in the classroom, and as a teacher leader, I became the Instructional Coach and later an Assistant Principal. When our system built an additional middle school with E-SPLOST funds, I decided to apply for principal of the new school. It was one of my most rewarding challenges of my career, to build a school, staff, and stakeholder support from the ground up.
What is the most important work you’d say you have undertaken as a school principal?
Our school went through the National and Georgia Lighthouse Schools to Watch designation. It was an in-depth self-study on how our school addresses the needs of the middle school child. It was a two-year process that ended with a designation ceremony at our school and in Washington D.C. It is like a GAPS or SACS study, just on your school and just on what you do for kids. We are one of 22 in Georgia. It was a great deal of work, but extremely rewarding for the entire staff. There is great power in all being on the same page.
What motivates you to go above and beyond in your role?
The children. I know it sounds cliché but it is true. I hold our students to very high expectations. Our school mission is “Where Excellence is Our Standard.” I too feel I should model and be the best I can be every day. When I was named the National Distinguished Principal, our school film crew interviewed me for our school news. I asked them what they thought about the honor. They said, “We are not surprised. You have high expectations for us and we have high expectations for you.”
What, from your perspective, are important leadership traits for a principal to have and exercise?
The principal should be an Instructional Leader first. An instructional leader looks at data every day. I look at attendance one day, instructional software reports the next day, teacher gradebooks on another day. I talk with individuals about what I see and what needs to be addressed. When teachers and students know you are checking and asking questions about data, they will be checking it as well. It keeps the focus on improvement.
If you could give advice to a first-time principal, what would you say? What about for first-year classroom teachers?
For principals – know what you do not know and build a council of support. Listen. Make decisions on what is best for kids.
For teachers – you have to like kids! If you do not like kids – you picked the wrong career. Then, don’t focus on the negative. Find a positive friend or group to lift you up when it is a bad day. There will be that moment, one day when you are crushed. Find a positive person to help you realize that you are making a positive difference for your students. It will make all the difference in the future of your career.