From Teacher to Elementary School Principal: 8 Questions with Alicia Bowman

8 QUESTIONS is a series of interviews with teachers who have effectively transitioned their classroom skills into new and exciting careers in the field of education. We at believe that teaching is a rigorous and diverse classroom in and of itself; the skills learned “in the trenches” can translate into an exciting portfolio of professional options. From education tech to consulting, the only “X factor” is where you want to go — our interviews hope to shine a light on the steps it takes to get there. 

1. What’s your name, location and current profession?

My name is Alicia Bowman. I am the principal of West Woods Upper Elementary School, a fifth- and sixth-grade school in Farmington, CT.

2. Where did you earn your teaching certification and where did you go to school?

I am a UConn Husky at heart. I received three degrees from the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education — a sixth-year diploma in Educational Administration in 2008, a Masters of Arts in Education in 2002, and a Bachelor of Science in Education with a concentration in mathematics in 2001.

3. How long were you a teacher for?

I was a sixth-grade teacher for five years. I taught reading, math, and science.

4. What was the most rewarding part of being a classroom teacher? What about classroom teaching did you find most challenging?

The most rewarding part of being a classroom teacher was working side by side with students and experiencing learning together! I enjoyed not only watching my students bond as a learning community, but also creating a safe place for ALL students to learn and grow. I took pleasure in helping my students understand that effort matters — developing confidence in their abilities, in and out of school, and ultimately, gaining the energy and enthusiasm for learning.

Meeting the needs of all students can certainly be a challenge. Ensuring that you are differentiating instruction and providing access for varying student needs is a constant effort. To meet these demands, I would rely on the expertise of educational researchers and colleagues, and the opportunity for collaborative work to improve the education experience for all.

5. Why did you decide to transition from classroom teaching to your current profession?

I was fortunate to be surrounded by talented educators and highly gifted school leaders, who mentored, inspired, and encouraged me. Early in my career, I had both formal and informal teacher leadership opportunities, including representing my school on district committees, becoming a grade 6 team leader, and serving as the Math Specialist, to name a few. Through those invaluable leadership experiences, my view of education shifted to a much wider lens, which led me to pursue a degree in educational administration at UConn’s Neag School. During my coursework and internship experience in the University of Connecticut Administrator Preparation Program (UCAPP), I was certain that leadership was part of my career path.

6. What is the best part of being an instructional designer?

I love being the “lead learner” of West Woods Upper Elementary School — modeling learning and shaping the conditions for all to learn on a continuous basis. It is by far the best part of my job, as principal. Leadership is making happen what you believe in, and I believe that learning and leading are inseparable. A school administrator, I have the opportunity to create a community where students, teachers, and administrators are teaching and learning — simultaneously, under the same roof.

7. What skills did you gain from classroom teaching that have allowed you to excel in your current profession?

My time in the classroom was priceless! I still view myself as a teacher... now I am a teacher of teachers.

  • From my internship experiences, my time as a student at UConn’s Neag School, and my years as a sixth-grade teacher, I understood the power of professional collaboration and shared accountability — for adults and students. My job now, as principal, is to create the culture and conditions for joint work to happen in regular, meaningful ways.
  • As a classroom teacher, I learned to listen closely and “meet” people where they are. Active listening sends a clear message to the audience (parents, teachers, or students) that you care deeply and allows you to better understand their perspective. Listening is a first step toward relationship building.
  • I strived to make connections with my students through engaging and exciting learning experiences, humor and storytelling, and student-led celebrations. Now, as the leader of a school community, it is my role to set the tone for ensuring that teachers look forward to coming to work each day — knowing that they are appreciated and celebrated. Teaching and learning must be fun!

8. What advice would you offer a current teacher who is looking to make a career change to outside of the classroom?

I would advise all teachers to invest time in relationship building. Relationships matter. Teaching, learning, and leading are challenging work. We cannot do it alone. To formulate and achieve personal and communal goals within a school community, educators must nurture relationships with, and earn the trust of, all constituents. Establishing relational trust with — and amongst — teachers creates the opportunity to leverage continuous growth of individuals and the group through a culture of high expectations and support. My advice to future leaders is to acquire and cherish human capital because they have the greatest impact on student outcomes — our ultimate goal!

Now in her sixth year as principal of West Woods Upper Elementary School in Farmington, Connecticut, Alicia Bowman is Connecticut’s 2015 Elementary School Principal of the Year. She was also recognized as the 2015 Nationally Distinguished Principal of the Year by the Connecticut Association of Schools (CAS) and National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP). Alicia has spent the entirety of her 13-year professional career serving the Farmington Public Schools; however, her efforts and influences have reached far beyond the borders of her district.

She has been featured, along with her Farmington colleagues, in a chapter of Lee Teitel’s book School-Based Instructional Rounds (Harvard Education Press, 2013) and NAESP’s Principal Magazine for her work in using collaborative classroom observations and analysis to drive school and district improvement. And, West Woods’ progressive teaching and learning practices helped the district achieve designation as a P21 Exemplar District from the Partnership for 21st Century Learning.


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Looking to make a career leap of your own? A doctorate of education (EdD) can help bridge the gap. Click to learn more.