It’s not too often in life that you are able to meet someone that impacts your way of thinking and how you approach your job on a daily basis. For the past five years at Black River Middle in Chester, New Jersey, I was able to work alongside our building principal Bob Mullen. Unfortunately for us, and fortunately for him, Bob decided to retire recently. His impact was felt far and wide, so much that a tree was planted in the front of our school, a community retirement event was held, and the gymnasium was named after him. I was asked to speak at his retirement ceremony and provided insight on what we all learned from Bob over the years.
Without hesitation, Bob would always lead by the mantra “family first.” No matter the situation presented to him or time of day, Bob’s response would always be “go take care of your family.” It wasn’t about documenting a partial absence, getting sub coverage, or gathering lesson plans. To Bob, it was about getting home to your sick kids or loved ones. No one ever took advantage of this, but knew deep down in their hearts that Bob had their backs when tough times arose.
Status Quo Is Not an Option
Striving for excellence on a continuous basis was something Bob took great pride in. No wonder Black River Middle Schoolwas redesignated three times as a National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform School to Watch. Behind this great distinction was Bob’s leadership and bringing everyone together to ensure the needs of students were met. Bob took ownership of everything pertaining to the orderly operation of our school no matter how small in nature it may of seemed. He modeled what he wanted out of others and simply put, that was a commitment to creating and maintaining a learning environment for students that was nurturing and engaging.
Pay Attention to the Details
Nothing ever went unnoticed to Bob in that he knew about everything, good or bad, that went on in our school. He read everything, asked questions and followed up like I have never seen anyone follow up on anything before. Bob did this because not because of trust, but because he truly cared about every aspect of school life. He wanted to make sure that our students had a good day every day. Bob truly wanted every staff member and student to be in a good place so that they could bring their “A game” on a daily basis.
Treat People with Respect
Bob treated every single school stakeholder with respect no matter how special or difficult the situation may of been. Every conversation started and ended with a handshake. When a student got in trouble, he would treat them with dignity in order to get to the bottom of the situation. From time to time a staff member would need guidance on how they could enhance their effectiveness and Bob would do it in a way that got the message across favorably. His dealings with parents were always first class and approached in a way that they knew their child’s best interest would always be taken care of. As a parent of two school-aged children myself, I always wanted them to experience what it would be like to attend a school where Mr. Mullen was the principal.
Dress for Success
Bob set the standard for how educational leaders should dress 365/24/7. Every day he would wear a suit and tie and this signified how important every day was to promoting the success of students. Even during the summer months and on field trips he would dress for success. Could you imagine wearing a suit and tie on hot June day in Washington D.C.? Well Bob did every year on the annual 8th grade field trip. He took great pride in his own appearance and the appearance of Black River Middle School on and off school grounds.
Help Those in Need
“What can we do for others?” This was a question that often came out of Bob’s mouth. He knew that many of us were more fortunate than others and could help those in need. During any given school year Bob would receive numerous fundraiser or food drive requests from students, parents, teachers, and community members. WIthout hesitation he would find a way to support their thoughtful efforts. It would not be uncommon to walk down the hallways of Black River Middle School and see three of four collection boxes sitting there on the floor. Several years ago we had a student that was battling cancer and Bob led efforts to ensure this child’s education continued during this tough time. Almost every morning Bob would set up the VGO robot that would allow this student to be in all of his classes virtually. There are hundreds of other stories related to Bob helping other people out. He cared so deeply about people and always found a way to make their day a little more brighter.
What Does the Research Say?
Bob would always make educational sound decisions based on research. He implored staff to write down or post the objectives to the lesson. Why? Because researched showed that students would have a much better chance at retaining what was taught to them. He once led an online book talk that focused on the book 17,000 Classroom Observations Can’t Be Wrong and focused on one of the main themes of the book that looked at the difference between students being on-task vs. engaged. Bob read voraciously and was always excited about sharing resources at faculty meetings and presentations that he made around the country. He was true “lead learner” of Black River Middle School and so many other school leaders in our county and around the state.
Every morning, Bob would stand out on the sidewalk and greet our students as they entered the building. Every afternoon, he would stand out by the buses and say goodbye to the students. He was in the hallways, classrooms, lunch duty, recess, extracurricular events, concerts, and meetings. You name the school or district function and he was there. Bob was visible not so much to make his presence known, rather he truly cared about what students and staff did outside of the classroom. He knew that informal conversations and a friendly wave made all the difference in the world. Through these simple gestures, Bob contributed immensely to our solid school culture and climate.
What’s Best for Kids
Creating and maintaining an educational environment that is all about doing what’s best for kids is easier said than done. Bob had a knack for making decisions that would ultimately put our kids in a position to be successful. When issues came up it was never about “I got you.” It was always about how can we learn from this situation and make sure it doesn’t happen again. Don’t get me wrong, Bob held himself and others accountable every step of the way, but it always came back to doing right by students. Every once in a while, students would struggle academically and needed a bit of tough love. Enter Mr. Mullen’s after school homework club. It was not uncommon for students to stay after school to catch up on school work. Bob would be there sitting with them ensuring that they complete assignments and more importantly understand why they were learning what they were learning. Staff, students, and parents appreciated these efforts and felt comforted knowing that Mr. Mullen would always be there for them through good times and bad.
Surround Yourself with Talented People
Not sure if this applied to me as the vice principal of Black River Middle School, but I would like to think that Bob hired me because he knew that I would have a positive impact. Every time we interviewed candidates for a particular position, Bob never hesitated to hire top notch educators that would move our school from good to great. Being new to our school, I could tell that over the years Bob hired some tremendous people that would ultimately make his job as a leader a little easier and help kids reach their fullest potential. I got to be honest, it’s quite amazing to work with such talented educators and being to see how they all reached students in their own unique ways. There is no doubt that talented teachers who truly get what it means to be an effective educator have the greatest impact on student learning. Bob understood this and continually hired folks that would rise to the occasion and make the Chester community proud of their schools.
Boost People Up
The greatest and most lasting impact that Bob had on me and others was his ability to boost morale and confidence. He truly believed that every single staff member was tremendous and could do great things for kids. From a personal standpoint, Bob made me feel like I could do anything and really contribute to the educational programs that we were providing students at Black River Middle School. In many ways, the distinct honor I received as the 2017 NASSP National Assistant Principal of the Year was in recognition of the tremendous impact that Bob had on my educational career in the Chester School District. I would often come to Bob with ideas on how we could improve our already outstanding school and almost every time he would say “that’s a great idea!” He would do the same with my fellow colleagues and made everyone feel so valued. There is no doubt that the reason so many of us wanted to contribute to the excellence at Black River Middle School was because of Bob’s supportive nature.
Bob Mullen will go down as the single greatest educator I have ever worked with or for. I learned so many wonderful leadership lessons from him over the years. Anyone that was fortunate to know or work with Bob undoubtedly feels the same way. If there is anyone that deserves to experience the fruits of retirement, it’s Bob Mullen. His legacy will last for the ages and all of us are better educators because of the high bar he set for himself and the entire school community.
Brad Currie has been an educator for more than 17 years as a coach, teacher, and administrator. He currently serves as a Director of Planning, Research, and Evaluation for the Chester School District in Chester, New Jersey. Brad is the 2017 NASSP National Assistant Principal of the Year and part of the ASCD Emerging Leaders Class of 2014. He is the co-founder and co-moderator of a weekly Twitter discussion for educators called #satchat. Brad has authored four books including 140 Twitter Tips for Educators and Hacking Google for Education. He presents nationally on educational technology and social media in the school setting. Connect with Brad by following him on Twitter @bradmcurrie or visiting his website at www.evolvingeducators.com.