Fairbanks teacher-turned-principal has a flexible game plan

SPONSORED: Deborah Hall, a 2004 winner of the BP Teachers of Excellence award, is now the do-it-all principal of Denali Elementary.

For 20 years, BP has been recognizing Alaska’s exceptional teachers — like Deborah Hall — with the BP Teachers of Excellence program. Since 1995, they’ve recognized 650 teachers. Click here to nominate another deserving teacher. New this year, you can also nominate a principal, school nurse, teaching assistant or other school staff member for the Educational Allies Award, recognizing the unsung heroes in our schools.

If Fairbanks’ Denali Elementary School were a football team, Principal Deborah Hall could play every position.

Sure, she’d coach — help her players work toward achieving their full potential by evaluating performance and providing feedback with a balance of constructive criticism and motivating messages.

But she’d also fill in elsewhere: As quarterback, leading the team’s game plan; as a running back, making moves for progress; and as a linebacker, making sure nobody slipped through the cracks.

A likely candidate for MVP, Hall was honored as a BP Teacher of Excellence as an elementary teacher at Denali in 2004.

Accolades aside, she describes herself as more of a utility player.

“As principal, you never know what’s going to be on your plate,” Hall said. “I could be in a third grade classroom subbing, could be helping in the library, could even be outside plowing snow if I don’t have a custodian. It takes an entire staff for a school to run, and that’s the coolest part about being principal. You get to see what everybody does, get to appreciate that everyone has something to offer to make it a really good school.”

Photo by Paris Photographics

Hall has been at the helm of Denali Elementary for two years. But she’s been with the school district for 18 years, starting as a first grade teacher before moving to fourth grade.

Though she’s only been in command for a short time, it’s a role her staff says she slipped into seamlessly.

Janet Speed, a fourth grade teacher, said that the position should have been a tough spot to fill — the prior principal had held the part for more than 20 years — but Hall made the move with grace.

“She recognized that there are a lot of people in the building with expertise and she didn’t try to change everything, but instead sought information from the staff about what we think works well, so we don’t change that, and what we can improve,” Speed said. “Her approach is all about getting feedback and respecting her staff.”

Though Hall holds the chief position at her school, she never stops moving, and never stops learning.

“As soon as we stop learning, no matter what job we’re in, we become stagnant,” Hall said. “We do a lot of in-services here and, at them, I tend to sit with my staff and learn with them, because I think that’s important. I can mentor teachers and provide ideas, but I think I need to also be down in the trenches with them.”

As for her approach with students, Hall strives to make meaningful connections, whether that’s sharing a pancake breakfast with students with strong attendance records, tutoring kids who need an extra boost after school, attending her students sporting events or talking to them about their interests and hobbies.

Hall said some of her proudest moments as an educator stem from the connections she’s made with her various students.

“Recently I had a group of students seek me out just to have lunch together, just because they wanted to,” Hall said. “We talked about their lives and got caught up. That’s important and it reiterates why I do what I do. I can still make differences in those lives.”

This story is sponsored by BP, cheering for Alaska’s educational MVPs, from the top of the state to the tip of the panhandle.

This article was produced by the special content department of Alaska Dispatch News in collaboration with BP. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.