Lowell — Abby Wiseman is the new principal at Lowell Middle School. SNN gets to know her in this edition of Meet Your Administrators.
Education/degrees: Wiseman earned her bachelor’s degree in secondary education from Eastern Michigan University, with a major in language, literature and writing and a minor in speech, communications and theater arts. Her master’s degree from Grand Valley State University is in the area of educational leadership. She’s currently in the process of earning a Ph.D. in K-12 leadership from Western Michigan University and will be writing her dissertation on equity and inclusion.
Other positions you have held in education: All of Wiseman’s previous 15 years in education were spent in Kenowa Hills. She started at the high school, teaching speech communication, broadcast journalism, interpersonal communication, and coaching the competitive debate and forensics teams. She later became the middle school assistant principal for two years and then principal for six years.
How about jobs outside education? Education is Wiseman’s second career; after playing basketball in college, she decided to become a basketball coach. Her first job was as an assistant coach at Central Michigan University, and she later moved back to her alma mater for an assistant coach role at Eastern.
When Eastern hired a new head coach, Wiseman found herself at a career crossroads: “I was trying to decide if I was going to use my degree in education or stay coaching under a new coach who didn’t hire me but was willing to work with me. I was really uncertain about the whole thing. So I did what anybody who can’t decide things should do — and this is a true story! — I made this decision based on what a fortune cookie told me. I got Chinese food and ate my entire meal and then opened up the fortune cookie. It said, ‘Now it’s your time to try something new.’ So I decided, well, okay. I guess I’ll try teaching.”
Family life: Wiseman lives in downtown Grand Rapids with her partner. She has five godchildren, one of whom has a room in her apartment and occasionally lives with her, and several nieces and nephews. “I collect the children, because I have not ever had my own, but I definitely love on all the ones that are in my life. I actually think that’s part of my calling in not having my own children, is that I’ve been able to give so much more of myself to the children in my life.”
Hobbies/interests: “I love anything sports-related, so you’ll often find me at a sporting event somewhere. I’m a thrill-seeker, too, so I’ve been bungee jumping and I am determined to jump out of a plane one day.”
When her feet are on the ground, Wiseman is always up for a karaoke night: “At my heart, I love to entertain, but I cannot sing — I don’t possess any musical skills whatsoever. So karaoke is great for me. Madonna is always a good go-to for karaoke, or really, anything from the ‘80s.”
What kind of kid were you at the age of your students at Lowell Middle? “I was a very active kid, very social and heavily involved in sports. And nobody ever described me as quiet. My parents always say that they got more phone calls home about me than they did my brothers. I think it’s because I have always been somebody who is not afraid to speak my truth. In middle school, I spoke my truth. But too often, I was told that I shouldn’t do that.”
For Wiseman, this experience led her to becoming a fierce advocate for student voices: “In middle school, they’re learning how to speak their truth. … Often they get in trouble not because they spoke their truth, but because of the way they did it. But their voice should be heard. So we just need to teach them how their voice needs to be heard and how they can be seen and how they can show up.”
What’s the biggest lesson you have learned from students? “They teach us things every single day, which is why this profession is so rewarding. But the biggest lesson I’ve learned from students is to listen. If we listen more than we talk, we will uncover all sorts of wonderful things about each other, about these kids, about their behavior, about their needs, about their hopes. I think kids are not given enough credit for their voice, or we don’t listen well enough to hear what they’re telling us. And they’re so valuable. If you create that space to listen, you’ll learn a lot.”
If you could go back in time, which grade would you return to? “I’m not a person that likes to live in the past, so that’s a really tough question. I don’t want to go back and redo anything. All of it has been a beautiful experience and there’s not really a grade level I would want to do again. It was perfect for me at the time or it wasn’t, but even if it wasn’t, I learned and moved on from it. I use the past to help me move forward.”
What positive changes in education are you seeing as a result of the pandemic? “I’d like to highlight two things. The first is adaptability. I don’t think we give teachers or kids enough credit for how fast they can adapt and still make learning happen. I mean, that’s a super power. No matter what, teachers will adapt, because they are not capable of giving up on kids. And the same goes for kids. … Too often, I think we discount them: they won’t get it, or they can’t handle it. Well, they can. And in many cases, the kids are 10 times more adaptable than adults in our society.”
She’s also encouraged by the collaboration she sees on a daily basis: “There’s been so much division outside of the bricks and mortar of our schools. But inside this building, so far, I’ve seen the exact opposite. I’ve seen more collaboration than ever before, more support of each other than ever before. … It doesn’t matter if you’ve been teaching for 30 years or for two, everybody is trying to navigate the same thing for the first time. It’s a beautiful thing to see, especially knowing that outside of these (school) walls, division seems to be happening pretty pervasively.”
If you walked into school to theme music to suit your personality, which song would you choose and why? Wiseman has actually curated a 17-song playlist, titled “Me,” on her phone. She listens to it to feel encouraged and empowered, especially when she’s going somewhere new: “I had three different interviews (for the principal job at Lowell Middle). Every time I had an interview, I listened to the playlist on the way here. It gets me thinking, ‘All right, who am I?’ These are all the songs that say, ‘This is who I am.’ It’s a really empowering thing.”
After much deliberation among the 17 songs, Wiseman settled on “All I Know So Far” by Pink for her answer.
“(The song) basically says, ‘Here’s what I know, but I don’t know everything. I’m still a living person in this messy world, and we will learn, every day, together.’”