Balancing the Art and Science of Leadership
Sierra Crayton Speaks to the Power of Professional Learning Communities for Educators.
Sierra Crayton is all about cultivating community. From her roots as a standout school athlete, to her role as an educator with over 15 years of experience, to her recent appointment at Ritenour Middle School as Assistant Principal starting in the 2023-2024 school year, Sierra remains committed to amplifying student voices and improving their learning outcomes in St. Louis.
Building Better Leaders and Learners
Sierra takes pride in the learning experiences that have helped her grow as an educator and school leader. In addition to being a proud member of ASLF, the mother of two has earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Education from Wright State University in Ohio, a Masters in Teaching from McKendree University in Lebanon, Illinois and also, a Master’s in Educational Leadership from Fort Hays State University in Kansas.
Before her pursuit of a career in education, Sierra had the honor of being a star school athlete whose gifts exposed her to a wealth of opportunities. She credits her humble beginnings and early involvement in sports for helping teach her the responsibility that comes with community-building.
“I lived in an impoverished community filled with caring adults,” she said. “After graduating, I made a commitment to my community to help build better leaders and learners, starting with our student athletes.”
“After graduating, I made a commitment to my community to help build better leaders and learners, starting with our student athletes.”
“We Don’t Heal Until We Listen”
One crucial point that has been threaded throughout Sierra’s life and work experiences is that healing involves active listening, particularly in under-resourced communities of color. Although she’s no stranger to trials, it’s clear that at the foundation of her triumphs is deep, unbiased observation and a genuine willingness to be open to others’ perspectives and strategies.
“I have noticed a unique challenge across the St. Louis region relating to educational leadership,” she said. “While we are all exceptionally talented leaders, we are disjointed and sometimes work in professional silos that do not yield collaborative opportunities to explore more of our educational landscape. I’m thankful that TFA’s Aspiring School Leaders Fellowship helps leaders to learn, grow, and share their experiences in the field of education within a framework of equity and excellence.”
A Safe Space That Honors Your Values
Sierra first heard about Teach For America in 2009, when she served as a middle school English language arts teacher and instructional coach in the Riverview Gardens School District. There, she worked closely with TFA St. Louis corps members to build classroom management skills. Years later, after working as a district data specialist at Cahokia School District in Illinois and teaching middle school English in Texas, Sierra returned to St. Louis as an Academic Interventionist at Ritenour High School where she and her team recently created and developed the Student Success Program, a specialized program that seeks to improve high school students’ academic success and empower their social and emotional well-being. At Ritenour, she learned of TFA St. Louis’ Aspiring School Leaders Fellowship cohort, a program that helps educators cultivate skills that positively influence student outcomes as they work on advancing educational equity and developing a pathway to school leadership.
“I knew my pathway toward leadership in a new environment would require me to develop networking and soft skills,” said Sierra, “so I applied to ASLF with the intention of learning more about branding and professional collaboration.”
ASLF has helped instill confidence and expand professional development opportunities that have empowered Sierra’s career trajectory. Also, as a non-TFA alumni, being part of ASLF has helped shape her unique perspective.
“TFA has been a safe space to learn, grow, and share ideas that improve school culture and inspire regional leadership,” she said. “My commitment to education is an unwavering belief that all students can learn and all teachers can teach. I plan to be a positive influence of strong educational leadership. During my time at Ritenour, I have realized that the victory in the classroom serves as the prerequisite for championship experiences in life.”
“TFA has been a safe space to learn, grow, and share ideas that improve school culture and inspire regional leadership.”
Trust and Transparency
When asked about what she would’ve told her younger self, as well as what aspiring educators should remember, Sierra’s answer is short but solid: “Trust yourself.”
While she acknowledges those words aren’t a one-size-fits-all and may look different for everyone, there’s no denying that self-reflection has been part of Sierra’s personal and professional transformative learning experiences.
“This phase of my life has been about self-reflection and growing,” she said. “My vision is an inclusive community of leaders and learners committed to amplifying the voices inside the system of education on behalf of every student, everyday.”