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Relationships are more important than administering

How do you relate to an eighth grader whose only meals are at school? How do you discipline a frustrated student who is acting out in class because he fled his country and was relocated to the opposite side of the world? And how do you help students whose parents are in the homeless shelter down the street? These are just a few of the challenges Assistant Principal and BYU’s Leadership Preparation Program graduate Kip Carlsen is trying to tackle.

The old adage of “you can’t judge a book by its cover” certainly holds true for some students, especially when you begin to understand their backgrounds. You begin to realize the miracle of them even making it to school each day.

“It’s hard not to get angry at kids for some of the things they do,” Carlsen said. “We really need to be that one positive role model in their lives. We have some kids whose parents are living at the homeless shelter down the street and their only meals are at the school. One refugee boy saw the execution of his father and brother before fleeing to the United States. Once you understand these kids’ stories, you can empathize with them easier.”

Carlsen is currently employed as an assistant principal at Midvale Middle School in Sandy, Utah. It was his dad who motivated him to become an administrator.

“I first worked in the corporate world after my undergrad, making a comfortable living and doing what I thought was what I’d do for the rest of my life,” said Carlsen. “But after seeing my dad make such a profound influence on others as an educator, I thought to myself, He’s working to inspire others while I’m only working for a paycheck.”

Carlsen had already received his undergraduate degree in Spanish education at Utah Valley University, so making the career jump to teaching Spanish at South Hills Middle School in Riverton, Utah, was not difficult.

After a few years, he realized he wanted to become an administrator. From what he had heard from the Alpine School District, where he had worked previously, and from others he knew who had graduated from BYU’s program, he set his sights on studying at BYU. He applied there and at the University of Utah, was accepted to both, and decided to attend BYU.

While attending classes in the LPP program, Carlsen became very close friends with his cohort. He related one experience in particular that he said was very impactful.

“While sitting in class one day, one of my classmates received a text saying her mom was about to pass away,” Carlsen said. “I remember the cohort coming together and trying to support her.”

In addition to making close cohort relationships, Carlsen also added that his professors emphasized the importance of relationships with the students they work with, and not just the management side of being a principal.

“When you focus on running the school, you forget about the students,” Carlsen said. “You neglect the importance of making relationships and being a positive influence on your kids.”

His advice to those considering the LPP program is to just do it. He said that one of the most impactful aspects is the cohort you belong to and the relationships you make.

To those considering becoming an administrator, he said, “Be who you are. When you’re home, be a parent. When you’re at school, be the administrator. Focus on being who you are where you’re at.”

By Jake Taylor