By Marci Narum
This is part two in a series of four stories on Women of Impact. I was inspired to write this series after moderating a panel discussion in January for Minot Women Connect, a program focused on developing female professionals. The theme of the event was “Be a Woman of Impact.”
CINDY COOK, Sunnyside Elementary School Principal, Minot
Impact With Vision, Encouragement, & Self-Care
Cindy Cook could be considered a maestro. The once music teacher-turned school administrator spent 15 years going from school to school teaching notes and rhythms to elementary school students in Minot. For the past 17 years, Cindy has served as principal of Sunnyside Elementary in Minot and is still a conductor of sorts, lifting and encouraging people to hit higher notes.
“I think what I do really well is see potential in people, and I just don’t let up on them,” Cindy explains. “If you have bigger and better things that you can do, (I wonder) ‘Why aren’t you trying? Go do it.’
“I see people that might have a really little job and they do it with such empathy and compassion, and they have the ability to see the rest of the world around them,” Cindy says. “Some people are only able to see a small slice of where they’re at, and then there are those people that have that global vision and have a big picture of the world, and you know they can make such an impact themselves with a little bit of encouragement and mentoring to go on and do more.”
Cindy is surrounded by those people. The individuals she hires — and ultimately mentors — go on to bigger things. Some have gone back to school to become teachers. Four are her peers, principals who now offer Cindy feedback and a bigger perspective.
“And it’s so fun, you can see, you’ve hired them at $13 an hour working with two kids and you see they can run an entire classroom, they can do plans, they’ve got engaging lessons, they’ve got big ideas. They just need that encouragement that yes, you have the ability to go back and get your degree. You can make a big impact in classrooms with kids,” she says.
Cindy’s impact spans generations. Her parents were both educators, her husband teaches at Minot High, and despite proclaiming they “were not going to teach,” two of Cindy’s kids are teachers. Her third and youngest is in college now and on track to graduate in two years with a teaching degree.
“I’m excited for them but also terrified, because school doesn’t look the same as it did. We’re getting more aggressive kids, and kids hurt grown ups. You hate to have your own kids being harmed in their job,” Cindy says. “Yes, we have to educate all kids, but how do we make it safe for everybody?”
Her concerns are legitimate in today’s social climate. Cindy says many school districts have implemented social-emotional curriculum in an effort to be proactive.
“We have supports in place to deal with what we call self-regulation. I have a recovery and reset area where kids can come take a break. We push drinking water, going for a walk, talking to people, the counselor does it, the classroom teacher does it. Even our assemblies are for “star behavior” only students, (based on) social-emotional skills the state of North Dakota has now.
“So, I think it’s taught more directly for kids, and I’m hoping five years from now, (we see) it was a really good idea and kids have a better pocket of tools to use instead of punching if they get made, or yelling or swearing, that they’ve got other things they can do when they’re mad or sad.”
Cindy says she is challenged to think outside the box and always willing to try and fail. That’s part of what she mentors to her team, along with making sure they take care of themselves.
“In the job we do, it’s really emotionally hard. I guarantee every new employee will come to me within a couple months crying, because they know students are going home to different situations such as not enough food, homelessness, and financial concern. So, (I stress) the huge importance of knowing what you need to be successful and find a way to make that happen. You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. That’s really true especially in some of these jobs that tug at your heartstrings.”
32 years ago, this maestro was teaching on strings — holding violin lessons in her home — and discovered a self-care practice she continues to this day.
“I knew how many lessons I had to teach to pay someone else to clean my house. That has been my biggest self care I have done forever. It’s hours of my life given back to me. It just made my life easier.”
To read the first in the series, A Woman of Impact: Megan Laudenschlager, click here.
Next: Annie Carlson and Victoria Morales