Few people are surprised that Tiana Diggs is now a principal at the school where her teaching career began. Though if you asked Diggs if she ever imagined that she’d be a principal the answer might surprise you. “Absolutely not, I don’t know if that sounds crazy but I didn’t,” laughed Tiana Diggs, Principal at Ánimo James B. Taylor Charter Middle School (AJBT). Despite holding numerous roles while in the classroom such as Instructional Leadership Team (ILT) member, demo classroom teacher, Professional Development Leader (PDL), and new mentor teacher, Diggs didn’t think she could be a principal. “The work of a principal seemed very intimidating. I didn't think that I was capable of filling those shoes, so it’s surreal to me that I am sitting in those very shoes today.”
While in the classroom, Diggs didn’t perceive her potential, but her colleagues recognized her aptitude. “Tiana infused joy into her classroom. Anyone who visited her room could just feel the energy and it was truly infectious. She prioritized building meaningful relationships with students and families, and she always strived to find ways to improve and grow her practice,” reflected Michelle Ahn, former AJBT principal.
Ahn always knew that Diggs could impact more students beyond the four walls of her classroom. It is why she encouraged Diggs to join Green Dot’s Administrator in Residence program (AIR), a paid leadership training and administrative credentialing program. “When she was first going through the AIR program and applying to become the assistant principal of AJBT, I knew we weren’t hiring the next AP, but the next principal of AJBT.”
Pathway to College
It’s no secret that middle school is a critical juncture for learning; these three years lay the groundwork for students’ futures. As a middle school science teacher, Diggs created a classroom culture of high expectations that helped all students feel confident, supported, and successful.
“Her classroom was like a wonderland of learning,” laughed Katherine Martinez, an AJBT alumna. “One time we were trying to figure out the distance, time, and speed of something and she called me to the board. She saw that I was having trouble and she told me, ‘Don't give up it’s okay if you get it wrong as long as you try.’ I’ve always remembered that.”
At Green Dot, our schools are learning communities where educators have access to a comprehensive set of supports. “As a principal I receive coaching from my area superintendent and my mentor principal. But the best coaches by far are my teachers,” chuckled Diggs. She welcomes feedback from her staff and appreciates the solution-oriented dialogue they are able to have. “It’s great because we really want all teachers to feel like their voice is valuable. Working together we're able to keep that dialogue going to better our school.” At AJBT, this culture of collaboration has led to tremendous growth for students as the school works to close the achievement gap for all students.
“The way that we’re growing kids at this school is phenomenal. Our sixth grade students are coming in on average at a second or third grade reading reading level. And we're growing them two to three years grade levels on average within a school year," beamed Diggs. SBAC results from 2019 show impressive student growth under CORE’s student academic performance model. When compared to students across the state of California, AJBT students achieved literacy growth in the 98th percentile. This growth in literacy skills is also translating into higher rates of proficiency. “I want our families to feel that the education students get in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, is available to students here in Watts,” declared Diggs.
AJBT is a middle school that accelerates student learning and provides all students with a multitude of supports through our teachers, school psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, and counselors. “As a parent I know it may feel scary to have your kids go to a different school or some place where you are not there to protect them. But I want all parents to know that every adult on this campus is here to care for their children like they are their own,” said Diggs.
It’s All About the Students
Last year as an assistant principal, Diggs and staff worked towards a vision of student driven learning, this year they are expanding that initiative. “Our teachers are facilitating instruction in a way where students are driving the learning,” said Diggs. As a teacher you’re building on students’ ideas and leveraging their knowledge and experiences.” Educators are using their expertise to connect students' knowledge to new concepts and content to promote effective information processing.
In English classes, students are empowered to select texts that resonate with them and encouraged to lead classroom discussions. In science classes students are conducting scientific investigations and developing reasoning to support their claims with evidence. “We have a lot of the pieces built in, but I want us to be able to do so on a school wide level,” said Diggs. “I want students to know that at AJBT they are going to receive rigorous instruction in a safe environment where student voice is valued.”
Ahn is proud of what Diggs has accomplished and is excited to see where she leads AJBT. “We have yet to see all the things Tiana Diggs is capable of! I cannot wait,” exclaimed Ahn.
With Love and High Expectations
While many think students only see the principal when they’re in trouble, this is not the case at Green Dot schools. Diggs regularly speaks with students about their interests and lives. She greets them when they walk onto campus, laughs with them during lunch, and when the final bell rings she’s in the hall to see them off. She knows each student’s name.
While she is known for her big heart, students know Diggs has high expectations for all students’ academic performance and behavior. “I love these students. Sometimes they’ll say ‘Mrs. Diggs you sound like my mom or my aunt,’” smiled Diggs. “I think it is a good thing that I remind them of someone familiar to them who cares about them. It shows that we’ve built a good relationship.”
As a teacher, Diggs would say education was her calling. She was always proud of her impact on her students, but now that impact has expanded. Once her work in the classroom shaped the 155 students she taught across five courses each year. Today her influence is felt by over 450 students and their families, in addition to the 40 staff members she leads. While this work is undeniably difficult, Diggs has the heart, passion, and drive to succeed.