Retiring Redding Principal Offers Advice: ‘Continue The Fight’ | #students | #parents

REDDING, CT — After a year for which there has been no blueprint, the head of school at Joel Barlow High School and the district’s assistant supervisor said she needs “some major recovery and downtime.”

She’ll get it, too: Gina Pin is retiring at the end of June.

The 2020-21 school year has been the perfect capstone for Pin’s career. She did her doctoral thesis on resiliency and mindfulness in education, back when most folks didn’t know what those words meant in that context.

Today, they are all educators talk about.

The trick now, according to Pin, is figuring out how to get students to feel normal about school — and about high school in particular — when they’ve had to make so many adjustments to the way they normally do school.

Parents, too, will need time and space to recover. She cited their hardships of having to juggle their work-at-home jobs with children ping ponged about in a hybrid or remote schedule, as well as the parents who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic.

Still, it’s also been a “year of joy.”

“I’m so proud of this community and these kids and our teachers,” she told Patch.

Pin has been kicking around well before the pandemic. She started her career in education in 1986, teaching children with special needs. Since then she has had just about every type of job an educator can have.

“‘Back in the day,’ it was okay for students to just know stuff. They would sit, and you would open their little brains and pour stuff in there. And then they would go to a different level school and you would do the same thing,” Pin said.

“What I see so different now is students are expected to do something with that knowledge, and at an earlier and earlier age. I think it’s a good thing.”

She said that many more students are taking college courses in high school, “and that’s kind of expected. The pace has increased quite a bit.”

It’s not just the courses that are trickling down from the university level. Seniors and even juniors at Barlow are tasked with choices that not too long ago students didn’t have to make until college. Some of those choices revolve around the social pressures of having their lives cataloged online for the whole world to see.

There was no Instagram back when Pin was a teacher, “and it makes me sound ancient but it means that our lives weren’t recorded as a permanent record for people then to give a ‘like’ or a ‘dislike’ to. I think that pressure on students really shapes who they are.”

Not all the near-continuous online social networking is bad, she said. Today’s high school students are better informed and more aware of what’s going on globally. The same degree of awareness for her students in the 80s and the 90s would require much more effort.

But it’s no longer enough to just be a good student. Pin says students are expected to be athletes and musicians and community volunteers as well.

In short, she frets that society is making children grow up too soon. Particularly after a year of lockdowns and Purell, teachers and parents will need to focus upon creating opportunities where “kids can just be kids.”

“I hope they remember the importance of playing, that they remember how to play,” the principal said.

The whole arc of a teacher’s career has changed as well.

“It used to be you shut the door to your classroom and you come out 30 years later and retire,” Pin said. “That’s not what teaching is these days.”

She credits the pandemic with “shining a light” on the rigors and expectations of the profession. At the same time, it’s also drawn attention to the relationship between teachers and parents, and the roles each are expected to play in children’s lives.

She says the mission of teachers, and the role of parents, are both the same as they have ever been: The foundation for social and emotional learning is laid at home, and it’s up to the schools to reinforce those.

“Parents are teachers at home, and teachers are the parents when the parents aren’t there,” Pin said. “We want the exact same thing for our students. We want them to be well-educated, well-versed in knowledge, but also be able to do something with that knowledge. We want them to be compassionate problem solvers, and we value those ethics of honesty and work and truth and justice.”

Her job has been less complicated than it could be because “the community has had such amazing parents and families.”

But there were rough patches early on, and we asked her what advice she would give her younger self just starting out as a teacher, knowing what she knows now.

“I would tell her that it is okay not to know everything — in fact, it’s better to not know everything, because you ask better questions, you become a better listener,” Pin said.

“I would tell her to continue the fight — back then she was very intimidated by school leaders who were all male. And then as that young teacher started to grow and see the world, I started to say, well, why should that be? Why can’t there be female leaders of high schools? I would tell her not to be intimidated by barriers.”

She would also stress the importance of finding the right mentor to her younger self. “Many young people don’t see the value of mentors until they are not there anymore.”

Pin’s official last day is June 30, although she said she’s racked up enough sick days she’ll likely start playing hooky towards the end of the month.

Despite that list of advice for her younger self, Pin said she has been “really pleased” with her career path. Now, she hopes to push that envelope even further. After some travel, she said she may take advantage of an opportunity that would see her teaching on the college level.

“So it’s always felt new to me, which is wonderful…. to be able to look back at a career and say, ‘Oh, my gosh, I didn’t do just one thing,’ and be left with a sense of, ‘What else is out there?’

“There’s another path after this one!”

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