Principal goals: ‘making a difference’ and ‘doing the best we can’

ARHS Principal Talib Sadiq

Principal Talib Sadiq’s first year as a high school principal was last year, during the height of a global pandemic, when our school was online from September to May. Previous to leading ARHS, he was a guidance counselor at the middle school for eight years, a climate coordinator for both the middle school and high school, a dean of students, then an assistant principal. I spoke with him about our school, his hobbies, and life during the pandemic.

MR: What is a favorite book, tv show, or movie that you recently enjoyed? 

TS: I’m a fan of Marvel comics and one of the TV shows that came out is the Hawkeye series; I liked that! It was pretty entertaining. It was well-written and had a nice story. It really hooked me in and it was a bit of an escape from reality. 

MR: Who or what inspired you to become an educator?

TS: There were a few folks. One of them was Barry Brooks Sr. who was actually my guidance counselor back when I was in middle school. I kept in touch with him over the years. I didn’t go right to college after I finished high school; I went to the army. When I did return to school, one of the classes I took at UMass had a community service component to it; I was connected to The Anti-Displacement Project. One of the things they did was tutor students who lived in Holyoke, Springfield, Greenfield, and Westfield. In connecting with those students and learning about their experiences it inspired me to want to make a change and do things a little different, and to do some of the things that I felt helped me when I was their age.

MR: What are your daily duties as principal? What is a typical day like for you right now? 

TS: Making a lot of decisions is probably the main thing I have to do—all sorts of decisions.  For example, I allow certain people to have access to the building who aren’t here regularly whether it be student teachers, people presenting, or teachers wanting to bring in folks. I attend a lot of meetings with teachers, families, and my administrative team—Assistant Principals Miki Gromacki and Sam Camera and Athletic Director Victoria Stewart. We also have a district leadership team made up of principals, assistant principals, and directors in the district and we meet regularly. I also respond to a lot of emails and phone calls and try to also be visible and connect with students.

MR: What is your favorite thing about your job?

TS: One of my favorite parts of the day is being outside in the morning and trying to say good morning to everybody that comes in. It’s a good way to start the day. I try to make some sort of connection with every student. I started out my career as a guidance counselor, where I had much more of a connection with students. Now as an administrator, I don’t see students as much, whether it be one on one or small group meetings. I want everybody to know who I am and have some sort of contact so they can feel familiar enough with me so that if they have a question or concern that I’m not a complete stranger. 

MR: What was your experience like being principal during virtual school?

TS: It was a lot different. Obviously, it was a lot more time on screen and a lot of trying to figure out how to make adjustments and make a plan. Especially from March 2020 when things shut down to the fall of 2020, we had a lot of time to really get ready for school virtually.  We were all trying to figure out how to not hold things against students, and trying to understand that everyone’s situation was different. It was a lot of stress in the beginning and then as we got a little better at the virtual school, it got easier. We wanted to do better than we did in the spring of 2020 during the initial quarantine. Not seeing people every day felt a little isolating and almost surreal; it didn’t feel like real school! It was so much different from anything that all of us had been used to. Even though now we still have some concerns and school is not the way it was pre-pandemic, I like it better with everyone in the building.

MR: How did your life change in the pandemic?  You can talk as a parent and a principal.

TS: During the pandemic, I actually went from being assistant principal to principal so that was a huge change. I think at first dealing with the abrupt shift from being social to all of a sudden being much more isolated, there were times in the beginning when things were kind of lonely. It was hard to figure out how to make good use of the day, especially in the spring of 2020. I eventually got a little bit more used to not seeing so many people every day. It was a shift but a lot of reflection and reaching out virtually to talk with friends, family, and colleagues and figuring out how to do that in a meaningful way helped me to grow. 

MR: Do you think you have grown or changed during this time? What have you learned?

TS: I’d like to think so. We’ve all changed in one way or another, I think. I’ve never been the type of person who’s afraid or worried about being alone, but when you have no choice it’s different from choosing to be alone. I spent a lot of time doing self-reflection and trying to learn more about myself or different leadership styles, and gaining more knowledge about how to be a more effective leader of the school.

MR: What have been the biggest challenges?  

TS: I think trying to balance it all was hard. Realizing that a lot of people have strong feelings about every aspect of COVID—that we should be in school, that we shouldn’t be in school, the wearing of masks, being distanced. So just not taking a lot of the criticisms and the complaints that people have personally, and trusting that I and the others are doing the best that we can with everything that’s going on. It’s not always easy, there are so many things to balance. I try to, again, have confidence that the efforts that we are making are making a difference and we’re all doing the best that we can.

MR: What are some people or hobbies that helped you get through the pandemic? Is there anything you want to keep from the pandemic? 

TS: My kids were really helpful; they’re always funny and good to hang out with. Also, I love nature, and where I live there are a lot of trails.  I live next to a lake as well so being out there in nature kayaking or hiking is great. Getting away from the screen has tons of benefits. I think all of us—whether it be our phones, laptops, desktops, or TVs—are on screens more now than we ever have been. Unplugging and taking a step back from all of it helps me to feel more energized and excited about having to do the work and having to be in meetings. Nature is such a positive distraction from the regular stuff.

MR: Has your mental or physical health improved, stayed the same, or gotten worse during the pandemic? How so? 

TS: I think we are all dealing with a certain level of trauma from such a drastic change from our usual lifestyle. But I think talking with family friends and colleagues has helped me to stay stable mentally. Physically, this job is really demanding so I don’t feel like I’ve been as active, even though I try to get out there and hike. I feel like my physical health has dropped a little bit—I put on a few extra pounds. I try not to beat myself up about it too much, you know, I try to keep a balance. I try to stay active and not eat all the junk to help me feel a bit better.

MR: What things are you looking forward to “going back to normal”?

TS: Comedy shows and concerts, things of that nature. Because of the recent weather and the pandemic, I haven’t been able to get out as much as I’d like. Comedy shows are always great to get away from reality. And then of course getting rid of the masks—being able to see people’s full faces and seeing people’s smiles. Masks feel like a little bit of a barrier and I don’t feel quite as connected to folks as we did before putting on the mask. So I think losing the masks will be one of the main things I’m looking forward to. It’s going to take a little adjusting but it’ll be a good adjustment I’m ready to make. It’s going to be different. Hopefully, sooner than later, that time will come.