Dr. Shelly Norris
Dr. Shelly Norris

Dr. Shelly Norris recently started her first semester as the executive director of educator quality for Clovis Municipal Schools in Clovis, New Mexico.

She earned a bachelor's degree in education with a minor in reading in 1995 and a master's degree in education administration in 2001, both from Eastern New Mexico University. In 2013, she received a doctoral degree in educational leadership from the University of Phoenix.

Dr. Norris discusses her new position and her time at ENMU:

What inspired you to become an executive director of educator quality?

In a nutshell, I love, love, love helping other people be successful, and I want them to feel successful about their own professional role as educational leaders. This means tapping into the unrealized potential of everyone, being creative, sometimes going against the "status quo" and encouraging others to invent or create their own unique educational repertoire. I feel like I have been blessed with many professional learning opportunities over the years, both academic and experiential, and I want others to benefit from my experiences. Reciprocally, it's also important to me to grow from the academic and experiential knowledge that others provide as part of this tandem relationship of learning and growing together.

Over the last few years, I have had the privilege of not only serving as the site principal at the Arts Academy at Bella-Vista for eighteen wonderful years, but also as a mentee and coach as part of the New Mexico Public Education's Principals Pursuing Excellence program. This dynamic process is a well-developed program, founded upon philosophical ideas from the University of Virginia. The interview-based program provides selected participants to engage in applying and sharing professional practices rooted in research, case studies, reflection and protocols for "coaching up" teachers and principals, with the goal of elevating academic learning throughout New Mexico schools.

This said, my participation in this process has served as an eye-opening propellant and motivating force for me in terms of reminding me about how much I could offer from a professional and personal standpoint in terms of helping other school leaders and stakeholders in defining excellence and achievement at their own schools. Additionally, this process has also served to provide me with ongoing professional development in continuing my own journey as a life-long learner and educational practitioner. 

I hope that my role as the executive director of educator quality allows me to re-instill the innate and organic excitement joy of teaching and learning in the hearts of all educators and their students. Even more important, I hope that my influence will serve as a dynamic catalyst for encouraging educators to discover and exercise their own leadership potential while also engaging them in reflecting upon WHY they were motivated to become educators in the first place!

What are your responsibilities and goals for the position?

When people ask me what duties my new job entails, I jokingly respond, "Well, in a nutshell, as an Employee Services representative, I like to think that my job is to take care of anyone or anything within the district with a heartbeat, to include principals, teachers, all staff, class pets and plants!"

However, in all actuality, since my position as executive director of educator quality is a brand new position, one of the primary caveats that continues to be most rewarding for me is that I am getting to define and pioneer what this new professional role is and how to "go about it" relative to assuring multiple supports to principals and teachers. I am also engaged in overseeing processes relative to the New Mexico Public Teacher Evaluation framework, development of teachers with three-plus years of experience, school substitutes, as well as school volunteers.

At the end of the day, when teachers and principals are supported, then students are supported by default. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, I am blessed to be able to "hyper-focus" upon coaching our five new and incredibly enthusiastic principals to Clovis Municipal Schools. (I call them the Fab Five!) Research tells us that with the right kind of ongoing coaching, we are able to "grow" a new teacher upwards of fifteen years to twenty years in just nine school months of their teaching experience. My overarching goal is to apply this same growth concept in relation to addressing the vast and very differentiated needs of our principals.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love having the opportunity to visit and feel a part of all of our schools while being provided with a more global and holistic view of the entire district. In a sense, my role sort of parallels the experience I first had at Disneyland when I journeyed through the "It's a Small World" ride for the first time. The premise of that attraction is to showcase the world as a whole, while also highlighting the uniqueness of each country and its people at every turn. I've iterated over and over, "My professional role is like being on the It's a Small World ride at Disneyland!"

This said, one huge revelation that I've had upon starting this job is that at every turn, either in the frontlines or behind the scenes, there are so many incredible people working for the good of our children, and there are so many incredible things going on in every single school in Clovis. I have been afforded and blessed with the opportunity to be a part of the experience of sharing in and celebrating all of the incredible things that are occurring in our schools.

What advice would you give to a student interested in working in your career field?

DO IT! DO IT! I have iterated this advice over and over. Teaching and serving as a school principal and now a district office administrator "Is the best gig going!" I mean that wholeheartedly!

Perhaps the best pieces of advice I would give a student interested in working in my career field are:

First, assure that your interest is rooted in your love for kids, love for being a life-long learner and your willingness to think differently, serve differently and don't always be willing to take "no" for an answer or accept the status quo as the only model to follow in education. In my experience, the best teachers, principals and other school administrators don't typically fit into a box or a mold; they create the mold or model themselves.

Additionally, many of our strongest educators are those who have pursued and taught in schools that were laden with many extraneous circumstances and difficulties, often labeled as "Hard to Staff Schools." However, these difficulties make us stronger practitioners and more focused on problem-solving and resource-seeking. In the end, these experiences really serve to provide an authentic, transparent and realistic view of public education, while sharpening our professional knowledge about how to teach ALL CHILDREN, not just those who are "easy" to teach. And last, as a professional practitioner, educators must continue to remain coachable throughout their entire career! We never stop learning. One of my most favorite quotes relative to the critical nature of lifelong learning states, "Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death" (Albert Einstein).

Why did you choose ENMU?

I chose ENMU for multiple reasons. Since I lived in Clovis, and due to proximity, ENMU was the obvious choice. Secondly, ENMU was, and still is, considered a progressive university, and well-respected for preparing those in the educational field with excellent pre-service experiences.

ENMU also provided a perfect transition process for me as I moved into the educational leadership realm. Moreover, the "feel" of ENMU always reminded me of being at "home" with faculty, peers, and learning experiences that were challenging, engaging, rigorous, student-centered and even "fun!" Eastern New Mexico University has always reminded me of a middle-sized university with big ideas!

How did you choose your fields of study?

I chose my fields of study based upon my initial desire to teach children and adults. That being said, I knew, even as a student teacher, that one day I wanted to become a school principal. I had a wonderful ENMU student teaching supervisor in 1995, Mr. John Snelson. I well remember the written feedback he gave me in my student teaching log, stating, "Not only will you make a great teacher, I can see you becoming a school principal one day!"

The thought of being a principal really excited me! At the time, teachers were required to teach for three years before becoming eligible to apply for the educational leadership graduate program. As soon as my third year of teaching was complete, I immediately applied and was accepted into the education administration graduate program at ENMU. I credit Mr. Snelson for being a part of why I chose my field of study.

Describe your experience at ENMU.

I cherish my learning experiences at ENMU! During the time I received my bachelor's degree, I was faced with the challenging task of having to balance my multifaceted roles as wife, mother of two young children, working outside the home and being a student at Eastern New Mexico University. (Oh my goodness, I am still not sure how I did it!).

At the time, from 1991 until 1995, there was no such thing at ENMU as the convenience of online learning! However, with internal family supports and external supports in place, to include the flexible, understanding and many family-like relationships I built with other students and instructional staff at ENMU, I was able to complete my teaching degree.

When I received my master's degree, online learning was just getting its' start, so this was still not a learning platform option for me. All graduate-level learning was still accomplished in a classroom, mostly during evening hours, in a teaching and learning space filled with enthusiastic, prospective new principals/administrators and the classroom instructor.

In my mind, authentic learning for me took place based upon these collaborative experiences with peers and alongside professors such as Dr. Alan Garrett, Dr. Mark Isham, and Dr. Kathy Peca. Moreover, learning in the classroom setting supported collaboration, rigorous expectations, instant feedback, multiple opportunities for of debate and discussion, learning energy, joy, humor and engagement by default.

Call me old fashioned, but some of my most memorable and valuable learning experiences at ENMU were derived from human interaction, and were best supported in this Socratic and face-to-face learning environment surrounded by the physical presence of others. 

Tell us about your background and family.

I was born in Albany, Georgia. However, my father was in the Air Force, so, we moved around a lot. Perhaps some of the most impactful and impressionable years as part of "my raising" were spent while living in England. From fifth grade until my teen years, these formidable growing years provided me with the chance to be immersed in a variety of wonderful multicultural learning experiences, much different than the experiences of my teenaged-American peers, living stateside. 

Ironically, from kindergarten to twelfth grade, I attended 13 different schools. I moved to Clovis from Ft. Walton Beach Florida at the age of 17.  Suffice to say, it was a huge shock to my twin brother and me when we arrived at Clovis High School on a snowy January day in 1981, wearing bell-bottom jeans and flip flops!

As irony would have it, thirty-four years later, I am still living in Clovis and still have close ties to Clovis High School as part of my professional role. Even at the age of 54 years old, I still feel like I am "being raised," as every day and every opportunity in life presents new areas of growth for me. That's the beautiful part of life! And, by the way, I still love to wear jeans and flip-flops.

I married my high school sweetheart, Layne Norris. We celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary in June! We have two absolutely remarkable sons, Austin (age 30) and Spencer (almost age 29). Aside from our family's business of Norris Electric, we also ranch in Clovis and in San Jon, New Mexico. We have multiple dogs, horses and cows.

Are you involved in any organizations or causes?

A primary cause that I have been heavily involved in over the last 18 years is focused upon assuring that all children have access to fine arts experiences as part of the school day. I have served as a committee member and co-grant writer as part of the NMFAEA New Mexico Fine Arts Education Committee for approximately 16 years. This committee focuses upon assuring that the students of Clovis Municipal Schools have access to fine arts experiences in visual arts, performing arts, music and dance as part of the school day. Moreover, I have also served on multiple state and national panels and committees as a representative, advocate and spokesperson on behalf of arts education and student learning.

Additionally, I have been provided with incredible opportunities to serve as a participant in Harvard University's Project Zero Classroom on two different occasions. This process, in collaboration with Harvard University's Graduate School of Education, provides participants and researchers with opportunities to engage in teaching and learning focused upon artful thinking, metacognition (thinking about thinking) critical and creative learning, assessment practices and preparing students to meet the demands of new learning.

How do you spend your free time? What are your hobbies?

Outside of my professional role, I most treasure the time I get to spend with my family. Whether around the table at holiday meals or after church on most Sundays (usually at Juanito's), or at the lake, the time I spend with my own family far outweighs anything else I do with my time.

Additionally, I have a love for all types of music, singing, all of the arts, creative design and travel. I love to meet new people and bring people together as a community while sharing my passion for décor, cooking and planning. This is often evidenced by an ongoing penchant for party planning!

Share an interesting fact about yourself.

The personal mantra that I have adopted for myself and lived by for the last 19 years is, "Nothing Without Joy!" This phrase was coined by well-renown, early childhood expert, Loris Malgussi, who insists that in order for the investment of learning to occur for children, they must experience joy in the process. My contention is that this philosophy also holds true for adults. While it might seem to be an unrealistic and even "pie in the sky" version of what life really should be about, I assert that anything worth doing for me and for others must bring joy either in the workplace or in our personal lives for both the giver and the receiver.

This joy can also be a reflection of difficult circumstances, challenges, and unfavorable conditions that led to satisfaction, accomplishment, and joyful outcomes.