Meet Rob Williford, Grace Middle School Principal
In this interview series, we learn more about the administrators at Grace School. We asked our principals to answer five questions about their journey to leadership, their time at Grace and the most meaningful aspects of their division.
1. What led you to teach in the classroom, and what prompted your decision to become a principal?
My path to becoming a teacher happened at a time in my life when I was questioning what motivated me, where I excelled and what did I want to do for the rest of my life. I received my undergraduate degree in science and worked in several different roles before I found teaching. After a spiritual gifts assessment workshop during a small group session at my church, teaching was by far one of my strongest spiritual gifts. Through a lot of prayer and faith, I decided to explore teaching and went back to school to pursue a degree in education.
My first teaching job was at Sugar Land Middle School in Fort Bend ISD. In 2012, I joined the Grace Middle School staff as a science teacher under Principal Sheri Walters. From the time I went into education, I knew I wanted to pursue leadership. As a principal, I have the honor to impact more than just the students in a classroom. Now I can make a positive impact on the lives of all our students and teachers.
2. How long have you been a principal at Grace School?
This is my fourth year as principal at Grace Middle School and my sixth year in administration with two years as Dean of Students.
3. What are some of the most meaningful Project Based Learning (PBL) assignments you look forward to seeing students complete this year?
Our students just completed a truly meaningful PBL assignment. Under the direction of Linsey Bove, the 8th Grade class recently completed a PBL on mental health exploration. During this PBL, they met the challenge of creating podcast that educates people on mental health issues. It was phenomenal because our students met their normal English required standards without even realizing that’s what they were doing! In their eyes, they were exploring a real-world issue that’s huge today, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. They were educated thoroughly on the topic, they learned how to research the subject, and they had to overcome a learning curve in figuring out how to create, publish and launch a podcast for the first time. This assignment is truly an example of a high-quality PBL.
4. How does PBL differ from “doing a project”?
Traditionally, projects consist of introducing a topic that teachers want students to learn specific skills or information about. Then, they test the students for understand and assigning a project to show off their knowledge. In this sequence, all the learning happens before the project.
In PBL, the project is the vehicle for learning. Our teachers start the process with a challenge of what the students must accomplish. For instance, our 7th Grade students are currently working on a cross-curricular PBL on deep space titled: the Martian. This PBL includes a diverse set of subjects including biology, ELA, Math, and history combined.
PBL is about presenting a common theme. It’s about a challenge for students, and through that challenge students will learn different topics or skills based on the teacher’s goal. It’s unique in that students aren’t just hitting knowledge-based standards. We’re also exposing our students to many of the 21st century skills they’ll need to be successful in high school and college. Our students are learning what good critical thinking, collaboration, communication, teamwork, and innovation look like in the context of PBL – skills that will prepare them for the real world. That’s the goal.
5. How does Grace Middle School prepare its students for life beyond Grace?
Our focus on STEM and PBL is what’s going to prepare our students for life beyond Grace. These two disciplines are soulmates. They complement each other. At Grace Middle School, we’re providing our students more than just content and knowledge. We’re providing them with the skills and experiences necessary to succeed regardless of what high school they attend, regardless of what college they go to or field of study they choose. The truth is, we have no idea what careers our students will have because they probably don’t exist yet. However, we do know that if they’re able to collaborate with their peers, solve complex problems, think critically and lead with integrity, they’ll excel beyond life after Grace.
6. What is one piece of advice you would give to graduating 8th Grade students?
Have confidence in what you’ve done here and who you are. Grace Middle School has been consistent in its message that we want this to be a place for everyone, and we acknowledge that everyone has gifts and unique traits. As a student, you shouldn’t try to change that for anyone. You should be yourself and be proud of who you are. Know that whether you’ve realized it or not, you’ve developed the skills to do well and be a leader so, don’t hesitate to shine.
About Grace School
Grace School is a private Christian school in Houston, Texas, serving students from ages 20 months through Grade 8. Uniquely combining a faith-based STEM curriculum, Grace School fosters an environment where children develop the skills and mindsets to become compassionate innovators, problem solvers, creators, and changemakers.