"We Are Truly a Family"

Assistant Principal of Rum River Elementary School, Heidi Miller GS’10, GS’14 was recently named Minnesota’s 2022 NAESP National Outstanding Assistant Principal. In this Q&A, Miller shares how her Bethel experience prepared her to lead with positivity during a global pandemic.

By Katie Johnson '19, content specialist

March 09, 2022 | 2:30 p.m.

Assistant Principal at Rum River Elementary School Heidi Miller GS'10, GS'14 is a Bethel graduate twice over—first with her M.A. in Literacy Education and then with her Ed.D. in Educational Leadership and Administration.

Assistant Principal at Rum River Elementary School Heidi Miller GS'10, GS'14 is a Bethel graduate twice over—first with her M.A. in Literacy Education and then with her Ed.D. in Educational Leadership and Administration.

When the pandemic changed life as Americans knew it in March 2020, Heidi Miller GS’10, GS’14 decided to lead with intentionality through her role as assistant principal for Anoka-Hennepin’s Rum River Elementary School. A graduate of both Bethel’s M.A. in Literacy Education program and the Ed.D. in K-12 Administration program, Miller made it a priority to ensure only the best for both students and teachers alike as their community continued to adjust to COVID-19 protocols. For her efforts, motivation, and vibrant positivity, Miller was named Minnesota’s 2022 NAESP National Outstanding Assistant Principal. 

In this Q&A, Miller shares her heart for her community and the intentionality behind creating such a supportive environment for everyone in her school. 

Why is it important for you to keep Rum River Elementary School a positive learning environment for both students and teachers?

One of my favorite things about Rum River Elementary School is that we are truly a family. When you walk the halls of our school you can feel the warmth radiating from the colorful student artwork, the waves from our primary students, and the smiles from staff.  Many people have often commented on how friendly our front office staff is and that they instantly feel welcomed into our school. That means everything to us because we are a relationship-first school.  

Statistics and anecdotal evidence show that when students feel loved, secure, and confident, they will perform better in academics and life. This also holds true for our teachers and staff. Therefore, our philosophy is that by providing a safe, caring, and welcoming school environment, we are able to support the social-emotional needs of our students and families and by doing so we are giving them the very best environment in which to learn, grow, discover, and create.  

What's been encouraging to you about the Rum River community?

"Be someone who makes someone else look forward to tomorrow" is an inspirational quote that I see in all of my teachers and staff.  We work hard to make students feel safe, loved, and welcomed, and we want them to be excited to come to school each day. We often have conversations that revolve around this concept—what can we do to help others to look forward to coming to school tomorrow? This is grounded in meeting their social-emotional needs but also in providing an equitable educational experience that meets their individual needs so that they can grow and flourish. We want students to have a sense of belonging and achievement—to know that they are smart, capable, and a good friend to others. 

What has it been like leading during such a transitional time? 

Proverbs 29:18 is posted in my office: "Without a vision the people will perish.” I look at this verse every morning and say a quick prayer that the Lord will share His vision for Rum River with me and that He will equip me to carry out his vision and plans for today and the future. I believe that this alone has been the difference maker for our school.  

From day one of the transition, it was important to me that all of the decisions and changes were made through the lens of what is best for our students and their families and what is best for our teachers and staff. This was evident in how we rolled out the massive textbook and technology distribution, how I created our schedules and new “playbook,” the accommodations that we were able to offer to ensure that all had an equitable learning experience, and in our support and understanding of the changing times. This unwavering support of each other and faith in our shared vision allowed us to relax and to trust in the process while embracing the ever-changing and revolving instructional methodologies, mandates, expectations, and realities of a global pandemic.

How have you kept your spirit?

At the very beginning, I spent a few hours in solitude and prayer and asked the Lord to show me what I needed to remain strong, consistent, positive, and supportive—to lead in a way that inspires others but remains true and relatable. These are the things that resonated with me, and I committed: to pray Proverbs 29:18 every morning and ask for the Lord's guidance; to embrace my students, families, and staff and to understand that this is hard but together we can do “hard”; to work out 4-5 times a week as a way of combating stress; to eat healthier but to allow myself treats; to decide on my car ride home each night that no matter how tough the day was, I would walk into my house with a smile and words of appreciation; and to give myself the grace to know that this won't be perfect, but as long as we are able to maintain our spirits of true positivity and appreciation then we will come out stronger in the end. I've been through some very troubling times in my life but the Lord has always taught me that if I remain focused on Him and positive in my heart that He will bring me through the storm even stronger and more confident.  

Has there been a moment in the last year or so that you were especially grateful for your Bethel education? 

The very first week of the doctoral program at Bethel University begins with an in-person residency on campus. During this time, we get to meet and form relationships with our cohort members, our professors, and members of our local community. From the start, we went through an in-depth exercise to discern our true “why” and to decipher how it will impact not only our educational journey but also the trajectory of our careers.  Through this process, I came across a quote by Emma Bombeck that inspired me and reminded me why I chose education: "When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, 'I used everything you gave me!'" 

The Lord has instilled a love in my heart for students, for teachers, for families, and for community. This love draws me to building positive relationships that teach acceptance, love, accountability, and to push others toward independence and achieving at their highest levels. I consistently set high expectations and goals for myself because I want to give back to others and to grow personally and professionally. At the end of my journey, I want to know in my heart that I gave my all and was able to make a positive impact on the lives of students and staff. 

“I love being a Bethel graduate because my professors shaped my educational philosophy, my style of leadership, and molded me into the leader that I am today. I am confident, successful, resourceful, happy, and respected because of who I am and how I lead my school. That is a direct result of my Christian faith and all that I learned as a graduate student at Bethel.”

— Heidi Miller GS'10, GS'14

What advice do you have for teachers fighting burnout nearly two years into the pandemic?

Burnout is real and not something that should be taken lightly. It is something that each and every one of us needs to consider with intentionality and preparation. It's also super important to kick back and have some fun.  

Our school has a “Committee of Fun,” and they rock. Through their planning we have played many games of office chair floor hockey in the gym, raced through the halls on scooters, enjoyed hot cocoa or a little breakfast treat. We've also loved surprise treat carts and an extra recess or two. We've enjoyed 'gratitude weeks' where everyone draws someone else's name and secretly gives them notes of appreciation and encouragement throughout the week.  Everyone relishes hearing how they are making an impact on others and why they are so valuable to our school community.  

Beyond school, preventing burnout is a very personal experience. I encourage teachers to remember that it's so important to take care of themselves so that they can continue to pour into others. Our district has also been amazing this year about giving the gift of time. The district leadership revamped our schedule to allow for a few extra non-instructional days to give teachers the opportunity to catch up on grading, planning, collaborating, and anything else on their long to-do lists. These strategically timed “breaths of fresh air” have made a big impact on morale because they know that they are appreciated and respected.  

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