Principal John Gibbons understands what makes an outstanding middle school experience for students, staff, and families. He has worked at the middle school level for over 36 years in a variety of roles, beginning his career in California before moving back to Massachusetts to be closer to family. For nine years, he was a teacher, grade-level leader, and coach at Weston Middle School where he started to hone his leadership skills. He left to take the role of principal at another school, but in 2001 he was given the opportunity to return to Weston as principal and he didn’t hesitate.
Over his many years at the middle level, Principal Gibbons has developed a clear understanding of exemplary middle practices. He starts with people and makes sure that staff and students hear the messages “you matter,” “your ideas are important,” and “by stepping up and leading our learning, you make us better.” With his keen understanding of adolescent development, he has prioritized creating programs, pedagogy, and a team of educators who cater to this unique stage of development. He believes that to succeed, principals need to cultivate a positive school culture, knowing and reaching all students, and fostering student and teacher leadership. He promotes equity across all systems, shares decision-making, and embraces innovation and creativity.
Principal Gibbons brought a growth mindset philosophy to Weston and models it constantly and consistently across all stakeholder groups. He embodies the notions of “not yet” (we don’t know yet, but we’ll get there) and “yes” (anything is possible, let’s do it). He is described as “a master at building a collaborative culture, generating trust, and empowering teachers and teaching teams one relationship at a time. He provides an environment where it is easy for students and faculty to move beyond their comfort zones and take creative and innovative risks.” He refined the grade leader and house system to create more intimate groups of teachers and students within a grade, so that all students are seen, known, and understood. The house system provides teachers opportunities to focus more intensely on individual students across multiple environments and do what is needed so that no student falls through the cracks.
Principal Gibbons promotes equity across all systems of the school by ensuring each individual is known and valued and by lifting obstacles to equity across practices and systems. Weston has a long history of serving students from Boston through the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO). METCO students travel to Weston daily. When the school instituted a later start time, it impacted METCO students’ opportunities for 1:1 teacher supports. Principal Gibbons addressed this inequity by creating an hour long “X-block” for all students and arranging for an early bus to accommodate METCO students.
Building a risk-friendly environment where everyone feels free to explore and discover is a hallmark of Principal Gibbons’ overall philosophies. He approaches creating a great middle school experience by bringing out the best in everyone, using a positive approach, encouraging ideas, and fostering collaborative work while honoring individuality. He believes deeply that meaningful learning comes from experiences that provide opportunities for everyone to put what they have learned into action. Along with a team of enthusiastic faculty, Principal Gibbons created and instituted a Project-Based Learning initiative, called J-Term, or June Term. He ended the traditional academic year early to accommodate J-Term schoolwide. During J-Term, teachers have autonomy to engage students in meaningful questions of study that conclude with projects that have real-world connections.
Principal Gibbons is a thoughtful, transparent leader who maintains shared decision-making even under pressure to move quickly. During COVID-19, administrators were under tremendous pressure to make unilaterial changes, which lead to many top-down decisions. Principal Gibbons stuck to his shared decision-making philosophy by including his leadership team, discussing and deliberating with the whole faculty, and gathering as much input as possible from students and the community. As one person noted, “while many of us administrators are working to clean up hasty decisions and repair frayed relationships, John’s school community is stronger and more connected than ever, celebrating their excellent, collaborative work.”
Principal John Gibbons “celebrates every child in all of their glorious individuality and builds them up to contribute, lead and serve as they continue on their life’s journey.”