Motal eager to be part of Liberty Hill’s future
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
Investing in people, systems and the tools to help them succeed are what drive Travis Motal in his role as a principal, and he is eager to put those things to good use in his new role as Liberty Hill Junior High Principal.
Motal, who is currently serving as the Middle School principal in Taylor, was named the new leader for the junior high last week and is not hesitant to share why the opportunity is so appealing.
“The most exciting thing is the growth that’s happening,” Motal said. “Without a doubt that is something that’s going to be really fun to be a part of. Obviously, Liberty Hill’s reputation is stellar whether it be academics, athletics, community organization, every time you hear Liberty Hill you think ‘they set the standard’. Being a part of that is just very exciting to me.”
The new position is one he says is good for him personally and professionally and he is ready to work immediately to make the transition as smooth as possible.
“Obviously, I don’t know any of the kids or parents so I am going to have to work very hard on relationships the first year,” he said. “I don’t know the staff so I have to work hard on those relationships and just kind of coming in and figuring out very simple things in how things operate. That’s why I’m taking some days in May from my current job to go work over in Liberty Hill to get to know the kids and teachers but also see how the school operates.”
A graduate of Southwest Texas State, now known as Texas State University, Motal said he is proud to say his degree says Southwest Texas State, but his Masters does say Texas State. He has been in education for 16 years, 12 of those in administration.
Perhaps, though, it was a particular classroom teacher experience early on that has paid off the most for him.
He met his wife, Anjie, while both were teaching in Pflugerville at the same school, joking that fortunate classroom placement and the chance to borrow supplies eventually led to the marriage they enjoy today.
“I was teaching fifth grade, but they didn’t have any rooms by the fifth-grade classrooms, so I got stuck by third grade, right across from my wife, and we kind of hit it off,” he said. “I started trying to find excuses to borrow things from her all the time, coming up with all kinds of different reasons to go over there. It became a running joke and our principal for our wedding gift gave us a hole puncher.”
They have been married 12 years, and she currently serves as the instructional coach at Blockhouse Creek Elementary in Leander. Their daughter, Emma, is 10 and a fourth-grader and their son, Ben, is age 4.
Before becoming a teacher moving up through public school administration, Motal remembers growing up on a farm in Hallettsville, and sees the great influence it had in shaping how he approaches his work in education today.
“The value of hard work and what it takes to put that hard work in and see something to fruition always comes to mind,” he said. “The example I always like to give is fixing fence. I remember I couldn’t stand it. I thought it was the worst thing ever and couldn’t believe my dad was making me get up and do all this. But after doing the project and you see it completed and you get the cows from one place to the other, you see that all you’ve been doing pays off.”
He sees parallels with that long-term process with students.
“We do so much with kids day to day and wonder if it is working or if you are on the right track,” he said. “Then you really see it all come together at the end of the year and it is really impactful.”
Coming up with solutions and helping teachers be prepared to solve problems also can be traced to his experience on the farm.
“You have to be a problem solver and you have to be able to think outside the box,” Motal said. “I often use the analogy with all my teachers I work with about tools in the toolbox. A new teacher comes in and doesn’t have a lot of tools in the toolbox so what we have to do is help them add tools to the toolbox so they can deal with issues. On the flip side, for our more experienced teachers, sometimes they have so many tools they maybe don’t know which one to use and when. My job is to be that instructional leader and help them decide which tools are the right tools to use at that time.”
An analytical approach is one way he characterizes his leadership style.
“I’m a very systems thinker and a very systems organizer,” Motal said. “To me there needs to be a system for everything. A system for how we analyze data, for how you request off and personal days, a system for how kids get into the building.”
Developing good systems and adhering to them makes everyone’s role easier to understand.
“When you have the system, now everyone knows what it is, everyone is on the same page and everyone sees how they fit within the system to make the whole system work,” he said. “To me, that helps things function much smoother and much more efficiently. That helps us also when things aren’t going well because it makes it more about working on the system and makes it not so personal.”
Those systems and the subsequent analysis feed into Motal’s drive for results.
“I’m a big believer in results and getting stuff done,” he said. “Data doesn’t lie, the numbers are what the numbers are. So if the data is telling me a lot of kids are failing then we need to focus on that.”
But in both of those issues the critical element is the relationship as a foundation, and Motal believes it is important for him to build those relationships with students, staff and parents.
“Things that help put deposits in the kids’ banks and in the teachers’ banks, and the community’s bank, so that way when we do have to make a withdrawal – when someone messes up with discipline or someone doesn’t get things done on time – if we’ve built that relationship over time with those deposits, it makes those withdrawals easier.”