Madison School head has learned in every phase

A career in education was not the original vision for Madison School Principal Barbara Shanahan, a biology major in college. Her focus shifted while helping a friend settle in to her new California teaching job.

"We got to go and observe (a class), and I was like, 'This is really nice. I really like this,' " she recounted. "I ended up going back to school to get my master's with (teaching) certification."

Shanahan is the newest member of Community Consolidated School District 181's cadre of building leaders, who are being saluted for Principals Appreciation Week Oct. 25-29. She's also new to the top administrator role, previously serving as assistant principal in Frankfort District 157-C.

"This was just an opportunity I really couldn't pass up, to come and get to be building principal in Hinsdale," Shanahan said.

She began her career as a kindergarten teacher for Chicago Public Schools.

"It was a low socio-economic school, but everyone there cared so much about the students," Shanahan said. "It was really a neat learning experience, figuring out classroom management and really looking to see how do we meet all of the needs of the students."

Her eyes were opened in particular to the importance of addressing social-emotional needs to unlock performance potential, realizing that "if we don't meet those need first, we're never going to teach them anything academically," she said.

That ethos guided her years as a first-grade teacher and instructional coach and continues today in re-acclimating children to in-person learning after COVID's disruptions.

"The district is working so hard to make learning as normal as possible for the students," Shanahan said. "Us being more cognizant of that social-emotional learning piece will be something that continues long after COVID goes away."

To her delight, the effort seems to be succeeding.

"It's the middle of October and the kids are still so excited to come to school. You can see it in their faces," she remarked.

Coming from a smaller district, Shanahan embraces the interschool camaraderie among her counterparts in the district.

"It's nice to have others to bounce ideas off of and just to talk with if there's any kind of problem," she said.

Shanahan has taught college classes as an adjunct professor and is working toward a doctorate.

Each position along the way has broadened her professional perspective, she noted.

"In all of the different roles, my lens of what I see gets a little bit bigger," Shanahan said.

As a principal, she is mindful of Madison's contributions to the district, and she leverages her staff's skills to achieve team success.

"Everybody comes with a lot of great talent," Shanahan said. "I just have to know who are the people that can help get the work done. There's so many more people and resources and expertise to tap into."

Supporting students and teachers is her heart's desire, she stressed, and her heart is filled by the warm welcome she's received.

"I really feel like I've been here for years," she said. "Every single job that I've been in, I've loved. I've just been fortunate."

- by Ken Knutson, photo by Jim Slonoff

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean