Written by Rachel Chewakin
This month we are excited to highlight Rocio Bernal, veteran principal and current leader of George W. Truett Elementary in Dallas ISD. She began her career as a bilingual teacher and now more than 25 years later, is a seasoned school leader who has served thousands of students and families across Dallas. Rocio is a graduate of PIC’s 2019 Principal Fellowship Cohort.
Q: When you think of Women’s History Month, what comes to mind for you?
A: I think about highlighting the women that have impacted our lives. The women who are trailblazers for us now and where we are in society. I also think about what we need to highlight for our students, so that they know in the future they will be able to make their own mark and lead their own trail. I also reflect on, “What about me? Who has helped me or molded me into who I am today?”
I put myself into an advocate role and have built a platform to support women. Now is a perfect time to stand up and show our young girls that we serve on our campus what impact we can make later on by the actions we take now.
Q: Can you describe an influential or meaningful woman in your life?
A: My mother has been incredibly influential in my life. She has always been my role model and has been a hard worker, with a strong work ethic. My parents were both factory workers growing up and encouraged us to go to school and get an education. She may not have had the opportunity to go to school in Peru or finish high school, but she always wanted my sisters and I to be successful, to support ourselves and to have the ability to be independent.
I give my mother a lot of credit for what I have learned in life. She is strong headed, a feisty lady really, who always wanted what was best for our family.
As the oldest sister, I also reflect on the strengths of my sisters that are so different from my own. And even though we are different in many ways, it is still important for us to talk about our stories, to share our struggles, and to uplift our admiration for all we are doing.
When I think about the other people that surround me, there also needs to be balance between my work and my family. I have been in this profession for more than 25 years and began as an assistant principal when my son was young. He is now 18 years old and going off to college. I have had many long standing relationships, and two women who I met in that assistant principal position, Lorena and Christian, are still my closest friends 20 years later. We bounce ideas off of one another and support each other.
It is important to have people near you to understand the struggles we are going through as school leaders. And when I am with them (Lorena & Christian), I feel a sense of release because I am able to count on them, and text or call them, even though we work in different buildings and departments.
This strong friendship has helped me over the last 20 years, and without them, I am not sure who I would have counted on. I’ve learned so much from each of them and their stories. Lorena is extremely smart and I’ll often tap into her brain for strategies. When I am with her, I always learn something new. Christian is always bringing a positive energy even when things get tough and encourages us to think about what we are going to do to address the challenges we might be facing.
Q: What do you hope to be true for women in leadership moving forward?
A: I am not sure I think about it from the perspective of all women, but I think about what I can do to support women. In my role as a school leader, I think about what I am doing to grow the people around me and how I will equip them to be successful in their own leadership roles, whether that is when they are promoted or move on to something new. I take the success of leaders around me very seriously because I believe I have an opportunity to pave the road for them and share my guidance.
I also think about my role as a leader within the community and how I lead the way for teachers around me to ensure students get what they need when they are with us. I need to be an advocate for those without a voice, particularly my students and their families when they need someone to speak out for them and serve as an advocate for what they need.
I have learned since my first principal role that we need to really know our students and how they are doing. We need to be able to ask, “Are they thriving? Where are we with them on this journey? Are they striving for success?” The story should always be that kids are growing and moving. And as a principal, my role is to guide my team to ensure we are doing the best for kids so they can thrive and go on to what’s next for them.
I have such a passion for my role as a principal. I live and breathe this role, and it pulls at my heartstrings. Being a principal brings me so much energy.
I believe more women principals can be empowered to be the lever for others and to lead their teams to success. In closing, I don’t have all of the answers but I have a lot of questions and always ask, “What are we going to do about this?”
Q: In your perspective, how can we (as a community) better support women? What is the impact that allyship can have on women’s advancement?
A: Women in leadership and women who are aspiring leaders should have the opportunity to come together and hear one another’s stories. I think a lot about my peers in the PIC Cohort I was a part of and the women leaders I connected with.
Within a network, we have the opportunity to create closer connections and even hear stories of young women in leadership sharing their journey with us more veteran leaders. I see so often that women don’t always get credit for what they do, and there are so many women out there doing such great work. I think about how we might highlight these women and their stories, and share our appreciation for them. How might we thank them for helping us lead and thank them for all they do in their communities?
There may not be a group out there to intentionally get us together to create a collective of women who lead in education. I believe there are some missed opportunities or things we (women leaders) have missed out on. This could be something as simple as having panel discussions with or mentoring women who want to become principals, and sharing our knowledge and tools to support them in making a difference in their future leadership roles.