Profiles in intrapreneurship: Alumnus takes risks and innovates from within


Meghan Krein

Making a career jump is rather common, but the career leap Harvard grad and Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College alumnus Jose Muñoz took is not so ubiquitous. Muñoz, now a principal at Nathaniel Bowditch Elementary School in Salem, Massachusetts, began his career as a performer at Walt Disney World. Yes, the one in Florida. “I performed in parades and shows. I love to entertain people,” he tells us.

After three years at Walt Disney World, Muñoz set out for something that offered more stability. He decided on teaching and earned his degree from Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, telling us that teaching uses some of the same skill set as performing. “The classroom is a stage. A teacher’s audience is the students. I perform for my students, educating them using different strategies and methods. Students tend to be more engaged in the class and lessons when their teacher is entertaining,” Muñoz says.

From Title I to Ivy League

Muñoz grew up in Maryvale, Arizona and attended Title I schools. “Maryvale to community college to ASU to Harvard has shown me how education opens up more opportunities. My choices have grown, and I want my students to experience the same. I couldn't see the possibilities in the beginning. I didn't know if it was possible, but I wanted to show my students not to be afraid to take risks and apply,” Muñoz says.

Muñoz attributes Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College in helping him prepare for his graduate degree at Harvard and where he is now in his career. “Having the courses on the school campus where I interned helped me because I could link the college work directly to the classroom. The program also put me in multiple grade levels and schools in the same district to offer a variety of experiences. This made my transition to my first job easier because I had more experiences to pull from.”

Although now a principal, Muñoz says, “I’m still a teacher. I walk into classrooms and do a quick co-teach. In other words, the teaching has just moved to a school-wide situation rather than a class. I'm teaching expectations for adults and students. My favorite part about it is seeing either one student, a whole grade level, a teacher or whole staff grow.”

It isn’t all rainbows and butterflies, Muñoz relays. It starts with building a relationship and expectation. “I know students will have rough days, but they still need to be held accountable. I also keep a short memory. I don't hold grudges and students know that. I leverage the strengths of students while working on their growth. I had one student who was the 'leader' of a group of students that made poor choices. I gave this student a task when they first arrived at school and had him operate the technology for the school morning announcements. This enabled me to build a stronger relationship and earn his trust. Eventually, he had the confidence to prevent his friends from making fewer poor choices which helped the culture of the school.”

Intrapreneurial thinking

As a leader, Muñoz believes it’s important to work with his staff. “I would not ask anyone to do anything I wouldn't be willing to do myself. I give expectations and a framework for my staff to have autonomy to use their strengths. I like to think outside of the box, which may not follow the regularities in education.

Since September 7 — the day school started this year — Muñoz is the fifth principal in seven years to walk the halls of Nathaniel Bowditch Elementary. When asked how he plans to change the revolving door, Muñoz says, “I can’t change what happened before I got here. I can only move forward and use my experience to support the school. This school has tremendous potential to succeed. I have a long-term vision, but I just approach it one day at a time.”

Part of that vision is ensuring his teachers have the necessary resources and equipment to reach his school’s goals. Muñoz plans to achieve this by, “constant observations and collaboration meetings. We’ll monitor student data and then gather as a team to see what supports we can put in place until our next data cycle.”

This is just part of the process. The other part is finding quality teachers. Muñoz says, when hiring teachers, he looks at their mindset; their willingness  to grow and how well they handle stress and adversity. “I want a collaborator who isn’t afraid of taking teaching risks. I also want a person who can build relationships with their students while holding them to a high standard at the same time.”

Muñoz also has plans to implement programs into his school, one of which is a social, emotional learning block for students to begin to self-regulate when they make choices in and out of school. Teachers now have an instructional block dedicated to community and team building that doesn't involve academics. “I am stressing the importance of teaching the whole child and creating time for the teachers to do that.”

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