Lead, Inspire, and Empower with Christopher Koch, Assistant Principal at Bunnell High School

Empower Leadership had the pleasure of delivering a two-week “Summer Empowerment” program in partnership with Stratford Public Schools during July of 2021. We had the pleasure of leading, inspiring, and empowering over 100 middle school and high school students during our programming together. Additionally, we also had the pleasure of sharing time and space with like-minded teachers, administrators, and support staff from Stratford Public Schools.

Mr. Christopher Koch, Assistant Principal at Bunnell High School, was one of the program organizers. It was clear to the Empower Team that Christopher was a special leader – his ability to develop relationships with his students while inspiring those students to discover their best was truly exceptional!

Mr. Koch joins us for the latest edition of the Lead with Empower Blog to share his experiences as an educator, administrator, and leader while sharing his strategies and insights for making the 2021/2022 school year an exceptional one!

Chris, tell us a little bit about your journey as an educator and administrator.

I began my career in school administration back in the 2012-2013 school year after an 18 year career as a classroom teacher at the secondary level (middle school in Stamford and both middle and high school level in Stratford) and a year and a half stint as an Educational Consultant and Trainer for the Sunnyvale, California based, Computer Curriculum Corporation (now Pearson Education) with accounts in Washington Heights and Brooklyn, New York, and East Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Along the way, I have taught summer school, night school, directed the 21st Century after school programs at both the middle and high school level, along with coaching multiple boys and girls sports, and leading various clubs and organizations at the secondary level. So, this year marks my 10th year as Assistant Principal at Bunnell.

I was a Social Studies teacher for 18 years, teaching everything from middle school Geography, World Cultures and U.S. History to Civics, Economics, and Advanced Placement U.S. History and was also an Adjunct Professor at UConn for 4 years.

The best part about my job as an Assistant Principal is that I am able to work as instructional leader with both students AND staff. As a classroom teacher, one doesn’t have many opportunities to utilize instructional leadership skills and strategies with staff, so this has been a rewarding experience for me for the past few years. The ability to make decisions as a member of the administrative team, that will empower other staff members as well as students to build a more positive school community, is one of the highlights of my current role.

What I miss most about the classroom is the daily, direct, close interaction with the student body. That is not to say I don’t work with students each and every day, but there is no substitute for really getting to know and working with students in and out of the classroom setting. The relationships built with students are often different and not quite as deep in my current role. I do miss that each and every day, and as a result, I am always searching for new avenues to work more with the student body. Of course, I do miss teaching the content…love history and love those “ah ha” moments when students are captivated and engaged in their learning. I would volunteer to teach a section in addition to my current role if I could!

Students will be coming to Bunnell High School after 2 very unique school years. What leadership advice have you given to your teachers at BHS regarding welcoming students, the start of the school year, and helping student re-acclimate to doing school?

Great question and one I am glad that you asked. The past two years have been more than unique, they have been a whirlwind. Aside from the obvious fears and concerns about the virus, achievement gaps in learning and a good level of uncertainty about the future, many students have not been in a regular school setting for almost 2 years! Leading up to the start of this year and the return of in-person learning, there was a lot of nervousness and anxiety about what to expect. This of course exists among our students and staff. As last year wound down to a close, I met with many of the teachers on our staff and my message was simple and divided into two parts; “Thank you” and “Get After It”.

The first message (“Thank you”) was a sincere recognition to all for their unwavering support to their students, to our school and its mission under the most unimaginable circumstances that they could have faced. I thought it was important to stress how thankful I was for all that they had done to keep the ship sailing in the face of stormy seas and dark clouds. One of the huge takeaways as the world deals with COVID-19 has been the recognition of what it means to be an educator. This has been their finest hour and I wanted to thank them again for EVERYTHING.

The second part (“Get After It”) of my message to staff was to recognize the incredible opportunity before them. Never before has the world embraced what it means to be an educator like they have over the past two years. The students, many of whom have just returned for the first time since March 2020, are ready to be back. While students are undoubtedly nervous, anxious and uncertain (they always are but absolutely more so due to the past 2 years) they are also chomping at the bit to see their friends, meet their teachers and return to normalcy. I told the staff that this is an incredible moment for them. This year, more than any other, students will walk into their respective schools thirsty for knowledge and ready to be fully engaged with the individuals in the front of the classroom. I stressed the importance of charging out of the gate and engaging students from day one because the students are eager to get going. While there is certainly a degree of this every year for most students, the uniqueness of the situation this year makes what they do, how they “get after it” from day one, all the more powerful. I often confessed to staff that I am jealous that they had this opportunity to explode out of the gate with their students. I told them what I believed, this year has the potential to be the BEST year they have ever had as educators, I truly believe that!

In addition to your role as Assistant Principal, you are also a parent who has recently sent children back to school. What advice could you share for parents with regards to helping their children achieve success during the 21/22 school year?

Along with the planned return to normalcy after COVID-19 this school year, it happens to fall at a time where two of my three daughters are embarking on new paths in their educational journeys. My oldest daughter is beginning her freshman year at UMass Amherst, while my middle daughter is entering middle school. Two huge transition years coming right out of COVID-19…Whoa! My youngest daughter is entering 5th grade, so while not a brand new transition, she moves into the tail end of her elementary school years. As a lifeline educator and parent of 3, I am right there with the families I work with at Bunnell. My advice to parents is to continue their support of the staff, and their partnership with our larger school community. The support and partnership with the school is the single greatest way that they can support their own children. We are all on the same team and want the very same, which is to say, the very best, for their children. That is why they became parents and certainly why we all became educators. Stay Postitive, Take An Interest, Become Involved, and Remain Engaged! As I mentioned before, the opportunities to be the best versions of ourselves as students and educators occurs at the start of each and every school year (the ultimate “do-over”) and it’s the same for the school-to-home partnership. We are best when we work together to do our best for our kids. The immediate pay-off is for the students that we teach, the ultimate payoff is that we build a stronger community in the process.

What advice would you share with students regarding the 21/22 school year? How can students be best prepared for the transition back to a more “normal” sense of school?

Welcome back, we’ve missed you so much! The Bunnell staff is thrilled to have you back in our school, in our classrooms, out on our courts and playing fields. We are here to support you! So, my advice to students is to dive in and get hooked back into school. We are here to provide you with a safe, rich, learning environment, so leave that to us. What we ask of you is to be positive, engaged members of our school community. Jump back into school and learning, but also back into the many positive extracurricular activities that you were part of before. To our newest Bulldogs, try new things and get involved! We have a lot to offer so take advantage of being back here with our staff and among your peers. This year is going to be a great one for everyone! Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zones, to explore and ask questions. We’ve got your backs! Work hard, play hard, get involved and together we can achieve anything! We are here literally here for you…this is your home!

Welcome home, Bulldogs!

Summer Empowerment Program with Stratford Public Schools

Check out the highlight video of our Summer Empowerment Program with Stratford Public Schools!

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