For most of us who explored the “real world” via a child’s point-of-view, principals were our first superheroes.
Little 4-feet-tall me can still remember the one at my elementary school. Ms. Peoples would confidently pump down the halls in a bold-colored power suit and high heels. Silence would fall as she peeked into each classroom of busy-bodied students. I would even go as far to say that she was my first example of true power.
What made her powerful was her ability to capture the duality of being firm yet an open ear for her students if and when needed.
A conversation with Janique Cambridge (@SimplyJanique), a former NYC fashion blogger, brought back that nostalgia in the best way. Weeks ago, on her Instagram account, she had shared with her followers that she just smashed her first day as a high school principal. The photo attached was of her in her office, confidently posing at the end of her desk all fall fashion ready.
“When I posted that picture, I didn’t expect to get the response that I did,” she told me. “I posted it on Facebook and it got 600 likes; it was like what is going on.”
Cambridge began her teaching journey in 2006, the year she graduated college and later went on to get licensed in New York State. She spent the following eight years securing two Masters degrees and working as an English teacher at the high school level. Then there was a shift.
“There was a change in leadership at the school I was working at and I learned a lot from them, but there was a lot I wasn’t getting,” she said.
She began to seek out professional opportunities on her own and found a mentor to help guide her path. “I would go to other teachers’ classrooms; it all just came down to the fact that I wanted black and brown children to have a good education.”
So, she set her sights higher, leaving the Department of Education to become an Assistant Principal at a charter school.
“I felt like I had a lot more to offer on a larger scale,” she said. “Now, four years later, I’m a principal.”
Talk about a glow-up. Cambridge mastered the art of moving in silence and she didn’t even know it. Her career path has been one of laser-focus while still managing to make time for the things that keep her grounded and centered.
“I’m big on self-care,” she says. “I go to aerobics class and I don’t bring my work home with me. I light my candles and [take in] aromatherapy, which is good for me.”
She makes it clear that the best form of self-care is rooted in her faith.
“I’m a woman of God, so prayer is a good thing for me,” she says. “My Godmother sends me scriptures every morning and I make sure I keep God first.”
Her Israel Houghton Pandora station is always popping and she squeezes in other indulgences too, such as a pricey but necessary mobile therapy app.
“I don’t go to a therapist’s office because my schedule is so busy, so I do Faithful Counseling and it’s a monthly service.”
She’s almost a little shy about revealing the membership costs but finally obliges. “It’s expensive… Okay, it’s $260 a month,” she says. “If I text [my therapist], she’ll text back and I don’t have to wait all day for a response. They don’t know you — it’s non-judgmental.”
With weekly news headlines of school shootings coupled with the pressures of being a young black woman in a leadership role, it can be a challenge to stay motivated.
“You constantly have to prove yourself to earn people’s respect,” she says. “There are times I would ask, ‘Would this happen if I wasn’t a black woman? Or young?’”
And when those thoughts enter her psyche, she turns to a light-hearted thrill to reel it all in. “I have to look at The Shade Room on Instagram to decompress,” she says laughing. “I watch TV for about an hour and I love wine, but I try not to drink it when I’m stressed.”
As far as advice for other aspiring educational leaders, Cambridge harps on having a sense of direction.
“You have to have a plan. Being a principal wasn’t apart of the plan, but I had a plan for my leadership trajectory,” she explained. “Create your own opportunities and understand that sometimes your work might not be recognized, but remember you’re doing it for the kids.”