Building a community through educational leadership

May 07, 2021

Be kind, all day, today, and everyday pillow

Erin Bailey, EDL '11, bears the official title of principal, Bear Path Elementary School, but that doesn’t encompass the breadth and scope of her role as educator. She is an inspiration to the families, students and teachers at Bear Path and across the Hamden School District. She greets each day with her mantra, “Be kind all day, today and every day.”

Bailey chose to model her leadership after the Jessie Lewis Choose Love Movement. Jessie was one of 19 first graders and six educators killed in Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.

This program was created by his mother, Scarlett, because she knew that “love, connection and belonging are universal wants and needs that connect all of humanity.” The program has created a “Social & Emotional Learning and Character Development program that teaches communities to choose love in their daily lives no matter where they are.”

Bailey began implementing the Choose Love program eight years ago at Dunbar Hill Elementary School in Hamden, where she began her career as a building principal. In her first year, there were 36 suspensions, and she knew she needed to do something that was both immediate and lasting.

Bailey implemented the Jessie Lewis Choose Love Movement into the curriculum, and the lives of her students and families began to change. The positive impact was felt each year as suspensions went down and a school community became a family. In her fifth and final year at that elementary school, Bailey is proud to say that there was only one suspension.

“This program provided a new mindset and cultural shift for the building and it made a huge difference,” recalls Bailey.

When Bailey transferred within the district to Bear Path Elementary School, she wanted the 400+ student school to become a family. She implemented the same program and every child, teacher and family embraces and practices The Choose Love Formula™: Courage + Gratitude + Forgiveness + Compassion in Action = Choosing Love

When the pandemic hit last spring, she, like many others, raced to support her school community and worked tirelessly alongside other district members to plan for distance and hybrid learning for the upcoming school year.

The dedication of the faculty, staff and families has been remarkable. Because of the Choose Love Movement, everyone has the tools they need to be courageous in the face of the unknown, to be grateful for what they have even through undeniable loss, to forgive themselves and others through these uncertain times and show compassion for others by small acts of kindness.

By choosing love, Bailey empowered her community to persevere through some of the toughest times they have faced. These skills may be labeled "social and emotional learning," but to the families, teachers and students, it’s who they are at heart.

A few years ago, Bailey wrote a school pledge with fifth and sixth graders which includes the Choose Love formula and has been a consistent message even during distance learning. Bailey recites the pledge at the beginning and end of every day to set the tone and remind everyone how important it is to choose kindness.

In fact, one of her parents made a pillow for her that reflects Bailey’s mantra: be kind all day today and every day. The message permeates the building and extends into the community.

Bailey’s influence goes beyond her Bear Path family. In fact, the health and physical education director for the Hamden Public Schools is adopting the Choose Love social and emotional learning curriculum for all elementary schools in the Hamden district. Bailey says, “I feel a lot of pride in that because I’ve seen it work.”

This program is especially meaningful during the pandemic because everyone is socially distanced and masked. Choose Love is part of the culture and even through a computer screen, teachers know how to show they love and care about their students.

One way for the Bear Path community to feel connected while quarantined is placing a heart in their window.

When asked why Bailey chose the Heart Hunters Project, she remarked, “It is unbelievably important to keep those connections we worked so hard to make. Whenever our families see a heart in a window, they know that home is part of their Bear Path family.”

It permeates into their home lives which is evident from the many hearts Bailey sees as she drives through her town. Bailey gives credit for the hard work of the teachers, parents and students for making this program such a success.

Everyone had to change and adapt so quickly. Bailey says that, “Our Bear Path family is nothing short of remarkable.” The Bear Path PTA fully supports this school-wide mission with fun contests and activities to ensure that their community stays together even though they are apart.

How It Began

Bailey credits her MAT and Sixth-Year Diploma in Educational Leadership degrees she earned from Quinnipiac for giving her the tools necessary to act on her deepest passion: educating children. She goes on to say that she benefited from the strong community Quinnipiac embodies and feels she is carrying that forward into her career.

Her thirteen-year classroom career started under the guidance of one of her mentors, Richard Balisciano, a professor in Bailey's MAT program at Quinnipiac and her principal during her student internship.

Balisciano subsequently hired Bailey for her first full-time teaching position. He saw something special in Bailey and mentored her throughout her early career. When he retired, he wrote her a letter of recommendation for the Sixth-Year Diploma in Educational Leadership at Quinnipiac.

When Bailey received it from him, she said that she wasn’t even thinking of administration. He told her that she is a true leader, and this is what she needs to do.

About five years later, and with the encouragement of her mentor, she decided to earn her Sixth-Year from Quinnipiac. She did the hard work to get the experience she needed to become the leader she knew she could be.

Once she earned her Sixth-Year Diploma in Educational Leadership at Quinnipiac, Bailey worked for a year as an education specialist working in 26 different schools in 12 different districts where she gained a tremendous amount of experience.

After that, she was hired as a data specialist for the Hamden Public Schools and worked in nine different schools. Her office was at Dunbar Hill Elementary School where Barbara Nana was the principal.

Nana was not only Bailey’s former principal, but also mentored her during her internship for her Sixth-Year Diploma in Educational Leadership. Once again, Bailey took full advantage of every opportunity to gain meaningful experience, and that professional relationship afforded Bailey the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of what it takes to be a building principal.

The following year, Dunbar Hill had a principal vacancy and Bailey was hired for her first administrative role. The hard work was now just beginning.

Bailey’s desire to evolve education is evident in the committees she is on: Reopen Committee, Co-Chair of Wellness Committee, Co-Chair of Equity Committee, Professional Development Committee, Co-Chair of the District Data Committee and the President of the Administrators Union.

There are others that fill her resume, but she is most excited about being part of the Professional Development and Equity Committees. She wants to ensure that the professional development programs impact teacher ability to improve their skills and practice them in the classroom to advance education.

Bailey says that equity in education will take decades – even a lifetime – of hard work to conquer. She and her colleagues continue to make great strides in education and take pride in the work they do.

Bailey’s mission always comes back to advocating for others for the greater good of the community, and ultimately, what is best for children. She leads with the intent of helping others – students, families, teachers, contemporaries in education - to forge ahead and create new pathways for a more equitable education for all.

Q & A

Looking back on your experience at Quinnipiac, what aspects from your time spent on campus do you draw from?

I’ve had the benefit of maintaining collegial relationships with many who I spent time with during both the MAT program and the Sixth-Year experience. Thinking back on the mentors I’ve looked to for help and guidance, the thread tying us together was and is Quinnipiac. The programs at Quinnipiac value and foster collaboration, and I’ve carried that with me! Collaboration and collegiality are critical in education.

What was it like working full time, raising a young family and getting your Education Leadership degree?

It was a 15-month hybrid, year-round program. We were on campus for three weeks and off for one week. As I look back now, I am astounded at where I got the energy to do it all! When I was teaching, I used my planning time to focus on my students.

When I was home, I got up early before the day started and did my homework. My husband took care of nights and weekends when I needed to focus on my Sixth-Year program. I had tremendous support from my husband and my colleagues.

How did the Sixth-Year Diploma in Educational Leadership program at Quinnipiac prepare you to be the leader you have become today?

The experiences and comradery with my cohort, as well as the support of the faculty at QU were and continue to be invaluable! We focus on relationships and ensure that all decisions we make pass the test of what’s best for kids!

You mention that you had mentors who supported you along your career. If someone was thinking about becoming an administrator, how important is it that they find a mentor that can challenge, teach and guide them – much like yours did for you?

At different points in your career, you need differing perspectives to truly understand all facets of an issue. The mentors I’ve had and leaned on over the years have been crucial to my success.

I also try and learn something from everyone who crosses my path. Seeing and honoring other perspectives can only help develop further empathy and compassion in a professional.

Will you talk about the relationship you formed with professors at Quinnipiac and what that meant to your career as you started out?

Quinnipiac is second to none in terms of the professors they employ. Each one worked to develop relationships with each student in my cohort. They taught us through their actions that relationships matter!

John Leary was my professor and student teaching supervisor. His support when I was a new teacher was invaluable, as was Rich Balisciano’s. His faith and confidence in me helped to breed greater faith and confidence in myself.

Barb Nana mentored me through my administrative internship and continues to be a sounding board to this day! There are many other professionals at Quinnipiac who have supported my career whether it was in its infancy stages or now.

I try to impact young educators in the same ways I had the good fortune of benefitting from.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Thank you for the opportunity to reflect on all I have had the privilege of experiencing through QU!

Quinnipiac played an integral part in Bailey's success from preparing her in her MAT and Sixth-Year Diploma in Educational Leadership programs to providing her the opportunity to work alongside seasoned mentors.

Bailey gained her footing as an educator under the watch of her professors at Quinnipiac and now she is paying forward to those just stepping into the field. She feels it is important to pay it forward. Learn more about Quinnipiac's Sixth-Year Diploma in Educational Leadership program.

Stay in the Loop

Sign Up Now