Letting Go and Leading

Participating in Mastering Leadership Dynamics for Educational Leaders enabled one principal to make a dramatic shift for the school’s teachers, students, parents—and for herself.

Kimberly Gryszko took lessons from the BB&T Leadership Institute back to the Virginia school where she is the principal.

Participating in Mastering Leadership Dynamics™ for Educational Leaders enabled one principal to make a dramatic shift for the school’s teachers, students, parents—and for herself.

This school year feels different to Kimberly Gryszko, a principal in Poquoson City Public Schools in Poquoson, Virginia.

Students rush to their desks each morning, wide smiles on their faces. Teachers discuss how they are more relaxed and more empowered than in previous years. Parents ask fewer questions and raise fewer concerns—thanks to detailed communications explaining the rationales behind new policies. 

Down each hallway and across every classroom, there is a positive, happy vibe.

It all starts with Gryszko. She is building a new culture of trust at the school, which was the key goal she set coming out of her three-and-a-half days at The Kelly S. King Center, home of The BB&T Leadership Institute (BBTLI). Structured specifically for school principals, Mastering Leadership Dynamics for Educational Leaders helps participants become more self-aware, discover how their beliefs drive their behaviors and understand the impact of those behaviors on others.

The program, she said, opened her eyes to how her beliefs were permeating the school’s atmosphere. Among those beliefs: Delegating is a sign of weakness. Tasks must be completed immediately. Everything is a priority. The principal must have all the answers.

Today, Gryszko is using what she learned in her BBTLI experience to transform the school into a place where teachers and staff feel trusted to do their jobs. She has given them autonomy and a voice in decision-making. Rather than “planning everything and telling everyone how to do something,” Gryszko said she simply communicates her expectations and leaves the process to them.

In short, Gryszko has learned to let go and accepted the strengths that her colleagues can offer.

“I can’t do it all,” she said. “If I do it all, where’s the buy-in from them? It’s not just my school. It’s everybody’s school. I have to be able to take a step back and think through a situation from many different viewpoints, not just my own.”

Learning to let go

Letting go is a typical issue for leaders such as Gryszko, said Chris Smith, Ph.D., a senior consultant with BBTLI and the facilitator of the program Gryszko attended.

“Many principals have risen to their level because they are good at what they do and they set very high—often unreasonable—standards for themselves,” Smith said. 

“Like leaders in any setting, they often unconsciously hold others to those same standards and have difficulty delegating.”

Enter Mastering Leadership Dynamics for Educational Leaders, which is aimed at helping principals understand how their behaviors—in Gryszko’s case, struggling to let go—affect students, teachers and parents alike. The program identifies the core beliefs that get in the way of trusting others to perform to their standards, Smith said. And it helps principals create new beliefs around the importance of relationships, communication and developing others.

Smith said he observed Gryszko “deep in thought and working to put the pieces together” during the program. She was realizing that her leadership style—one where all decisions flowed through her—was limiting the school’s potential for success.

Kimberly Gryszko, Poquoson City Public Schools

"It's not just my school. It’s everybody’s school. I have to be able to take a step back and think through a situation from many different viewpoints, not just my own.” Kimberly Gryszko, Poquoson City Public Schools

Taking the lessons back to Virginia

“I had no idea that [the program] was going to take me as deep as it did,” Gryszko said. “My interactions with others have a greater impact than I realized.”

She began this school year by implementing strategies from the Mastering Leadership Dynamics for Educational Leaders program. Among the changes that Gryszko has implemented are:

  • She prioritizes people over paperwork. 
    Gryszko realized she was structuring her workdays around tasks like paperwork, rather than focusing on relationships. Now, she prioritizes interactions with staff and parents and delegates the chores that used to consume her days. She no longer expects teachers to complete assessments and reports immediately, either – and especially not at the beginning of the school year when teachers are just getting to know their schedules and their students. “I can’t expect that,” she said, “because we were still learning the people in the building.”
  • She empowers teachers on the school’s leadership team. 
    Gryszko used to set the agendas and lead the weekly meetings for this team; now, that responsibility rests with one of her trusted teachers. That transformation, she said, is about “being open to their ideas and saying, ‘Yes. Tell me more about that.’” She and the assistant principal offer input—and, most importantly, positive reinforcement for jobs well done—but steer clear of the details.
  • She doesn’t take piles of work home and neither do the teachers. 
    Gryszko models a healthier work-life balance these days. She avoids emailing teachers at night and on weekends, so they don’t feel pressured to respond immediately. Each day, she makes time to greet her 8-year-old daughter when the bus brings her to the school. She has even started running again. Gryszko realized the teachers had successfully absorbed her mind shift during the first round of Professional Learning Communities meetings at the start of the school year. A teacher said: “I just feel like there is not a lot of stress right now. I am going home and having time for my family.”
  • She provides parents with more frequent and more detailed communications. 
    Parents now have a better understanding of the “whys” behind changes in school procedures and policies. Rather than simply stating the changes, letters sent to the students’ families explain the thought processes that led to those changes. At open houses and in the pickup lines after school, Gryszko is hearing positive feedback from parents.
  • She maintains a renewed sense of trust. 
    And there is more to come. Gryszko keeps reminders of her participation in the BBTLI program on her desk. There is her success script (a guide for how she wants to be viewed by others) and her leadership purpose statement (a reminder of her priorities).

What she carries with her everywhere, though, is a renewed sense of trust in her school’s teachers—and in herself. She is liberated from the feeling that she alone bears the weight of the school’s success. Instead, she focuses on removing obstacles for those in her school who have the most important job of all: teaching.  

“My role is to be able to help others,” Gryszko said. “I’m supporting so many people in this role—staff, parents, students. My goal is to make an impact for the kids. And in order to do that, I have to take care of the adults who are taking care of the kids.”


By Margaret Moffett

Photography courtesy Kimberly Gryszko

A Mission to Support School Leaders

The BB&T Leadership Institute provides leadership development programming for public school principals as part of a commitment to support communities’ futures.

For more information, please contact Senior Vice President and Educational Leadership Programs Manager Rosalind Guerrie:

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