Principal Tennison reflects on last four years

By Aaron Cohen, Managing Editor

Kindness, Empathy, Respect. This neat motto has become ubiquitous across the Lane  community. The motto was brought to Lane by Principal Brian Tennison, who noticed it appearing in a slightly different order on a T-shirt while visiting his daughter at college a few years ago. 

“I bought the T-shirt immediately,” Tennison recalled.

After speaking with a few members of Friends of Lane, Tennison decided to start selling a new design of the shirt. Then, it became the unofficial motto of Lane. 

“It is the most succinct way that I can express what it is that I feel in terms of what it is that a school should represent,” Tennison said. 

Kindness, empathy and respect were some of the values that Tennison sought to bring to Lane when started his job as principal here in September of 2016. Before that, he taught for almost 20 years at Whitney Young and was assistant principal for two years at Taft and Von Stuben respectively. 

Because Lane is the largest school in the district, Tennison saw Lane as a model for other CPS selective-enrollment high schools. 

“What I loved about the special challenge of Lane was that it was large enough that I thought it could impact the city in the direction of selective enrollment itself,” Tennison said.

Despite the initial challenge of managing the thousands of Lane students, parents and faculty,  Tennison has wasted no time initiating changes to Lane in the last four years. On the curriculum front, he’s overseen the addition of Calculus 2 and 3 and reduced the number of “regular” level classes. One of his many focuses as an administrator has been ensuring that equity exists within the school building.

“You cannot have kindness, empathy and respect without equity and without respecting the individual,” Tennison said.

It was his belief in equity that led to the conversion of three men’s bathrooms into women’s restrooms in order to match the nearly even male-to-female student ratio. Tennison found out about the bathroom disparity in a student council meeting. 

He also said that being closely attuned to the needs of students translates into a better, safer school environment.

“Fundamentally, education is and should be about the relationship and transaction of ideas and emotion between people,” Tennison said.

Assistant Principal Edwina Thomspon praised Tennision for being an empathetic leader. 

“He’s a guy who you could cry in front of him, and he would cry too, or you can show anger and he’s going to be able to be empathetic with that and help you navigate through it,” Thompson said.  

Thompson also commended Tennison for always being willing to listen to other members of the Administrative team, or A-team as he calls it. When the administration was responding to the death of George Floyd in early June, Thompson said that Tennison valued the voices and experiences of those around him. 

“He said, ‘Edwina, I want to know what you’re thinking too. I don’t want you to be quiet in this,’” Thompson said. “He let us all know that he was vulnerable but still a strong leader.”  

A challenging but essential part of Tennison’s job is listening to coworkers and ultimately making decisions in the best interest of the students. Approaching these situations with an open mind, Tennison said, is essential.

“Just because I believe that changing the courses that are offered is a good thing doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody agrees with that,” Tennison said. So the challenge is always to make sure that everybody is included in the conversation, and you don’t always have to see eye-to-eye. You just have to understand the other person’s point of view.” 

Despite being the highest ranking member of the Lane faculty, Tennison said he still approaches his job the same way a teacher would and wants to inspire others in the building to do the same.

“The first conversation that I had with custodians, with nutritionists, and with security guards I said, ‘Everybody that works in the building needs to see themselves as an educator; every single person in the building is responsible for the safety of our students, and in everything we do we model that behavior so how you do something matters,’” Tennison said. 

 For the future, Tennison wants to continue to spread and diffuse his educational vision into the school. He also wants to avoid being complacent.

“If you are satisfied with what you’ve accomplished you need to stop and get out as an educator because there’s always more that can be done,” Tennison said.  

Principal Tennison wasted no time acclimating to his new role when he first became principal. Here, Tennison is addressing freshmen and juniors at the annual Rules Meeting on September 13, 2016 (Roman Treuthart)