Why I Create…The Principal as Educational “Artist”

My professional career for the past 23 years has been as an educator.  I was previously an elementary school teacher and for the past 18 years, I’ve been a principal. For all intents and purposes, I generally tell people I am an administrator. That is, until I thought about it tonight.  Tonight, I decided that actually, I create art.  

No, I don’t teach elementary art, and no, I’m not a school administrator moonlighting as an artist.  But I get to create art every day.  You see, I’m an administrator that is always thinking about work; my work, teachers’ work, students’ work, and I’m always reflecting upon the experiences I have and the experiences of those around me.  My goal is to always push myself to improve, most importantly, for students and teachers, and then of course, for myself.

Tonight as I was at my computer working on a number of different things both personally and professionally, I thought about Erik Wahl’s presentation last year at the NAESP 2015 Annual Conference.  Erik provided us with a highly engaging presentation related to creativity, as he encouraged principals and administrators to foster creativity as a means to improve the student and teacher experience.  As I thought about the presentation and my upcoming school year, I did a search on YouTube for Erik Wahl.  I particularly liked the following video:

The caption that accompanied the video noted:

“Erik encourages us to push our talents beyond what we think we are capable of in an effort to achieve something that we didn’t think we were capable of doing. Watch his collaborative project featuring an incredibly unique installation of the Mona Lisa portrait.”

So if I’m an elementary school principal, you’re probably wondering how I am creating art while leading a school of 500 students and 115 staff. Well, on some level, it is easy. You see, I love coming to work each day and serving students, educators and parents. When I tell you that I love it, I mean, I race to school each day eager to not only do my job well, but to do it better than I have the day before.  As Erik Wahl noted, I’m looking to “push my talents beyond what I’ve been capable of doing before”.  How do I do that?  I do it through reflecting on my work, asking myself what I could do differently or better, through networking with other administrators, by learning from educators that have skills that I don’t.  I’m honest with myself and the work I do, and I’m sure to celebrate my successes and admit my mistakes. It is often through my mistakes that I have some of my best learning.

Yet, where does the art come in?  What am I creating? Well, as I am reflecting on my work each day and pushing myself to continue to learn and do better, I’m also doing the following:

  • Promoting and creating positive relationships with students, educators, and parents, and being thoughtful about how I interact with them every single time.

  • Cultivating the climate and culture of my school, so that there is a positive experience for all members of the school community as they interact with each other.

  • Developing opportunities for educators, students, parents, and other staff across the district to collaborate and share ideas that are good for students.

  • Taking safe risks and supporting students, staff and parents as they work to create and innovate in an atmosphere that welcomes trying new things and is supportive when new ideas don’t work as we would have hoped.

  • Expecting high levels of work and effort from myself, educators, students and parents. Everyone is expected to give their best effort and everyone’s contribution to our school is valued.

  • Building relationships. They’re the cornerstone of everything we do in education.  As Dr. James P. Comer noted, “No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship”  My work each day is to connect, engage, empathize and support.

I could develop a longer list, however, I’m hoping that you see my point. You see, I do create and I am an artist of sorts. I’m an educational “artist”, working to create the very best conditions for students to learn and educators to teach, and for everyone to find joy in what they do, each and every day.  And if you’re a fellow school administrator, you’re also an artist.  You’re working to do the same things, and to provide the same joy for your students and teachers every single day.

Shared via @ErikWahl  Jul 11 #successisnonearerthanwheniwasyoung
Shared via Twitter @ErikWahl Jul 11

You see, Erik Wahl has it right in thinking that we need to push ourselves beyond what we think we are capable of doing, or creating. He understands that the human experience benefits from art, and creating, and creativity.   It is in that place where we will do our best work for students.  It is in that place where we will learn, and make mistakes, and build relationships, and we will create. Why? Because we are all artists, and we should all be working to create the very best experience for our students.  

I”m excited about the possibilities of what I can help create for my school in the upcoming year. How will you create in your school? What artistry will you perform?



  1. Mary Kane said:

    I love your Mona Lisa project. While i was watching your vid, God gave me an idea of how to inspire my students to share their talents with another school in our area through drama. I can’t wait to launch this idea to my students and see what they do with it. #teacherturnedprincipal

    July 30, 2016
    • Tom Martellone said:


      Erik Wahl created the Mona Lisa. It is pretty amazing what a person can do when they believe in creativity and their ability to create. Good luck with your project and for being dedicated to students which will help create their stories!


      August 5, 2016

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