By Kentrina Bridges

Being born into a family filled with love makes it easy to love. Showing understanding, compassion, and respect to all becomes automatic. Now imagine you were never provided those comforts. Imagine you grew up in a household that was very different from the loving experience most children have. How would that impact you? Your thoughts? Your reactions? Your willingness to forgive?

I began my teaching career at a Title I school serving predominantly African American students, where leading with love helped me develop a number of skills that I now apply when working with teacher candidates as a CarolinaCAP coach.

Building relationships

My classroom provided a safe environment for young ladies to come before class, after class, and sometimes during their other classes when they needed a moment to regroup. Many of the students that attended this school lived in low-income housing apartments. Some of the challenges that my students encountered were not ones that I had to encounter, but others were familiar. My mornings began with braiding hair, fixing ponytails, and providing toiletries. I knew that none of these related to teaching the content, but the young ladies could not focus on their education if they were self-conscious about their physical appearance.

Being able to relate to their experiences allowed me to build relationships beyond the classroom. This is a practice that I have carried into my coaching. 

As with students, building relationships with the teachers is critical. I want it to be clear to the educators I coach that my sole purpose is to support them. This is the only agenda. Too often, teachers have people telling them what to do and how to do it. I want to walk and talk them through their experience and support them toward excellence. In addition, teachers who are supported are more likely to stay and create classrooms that are supportive for students, ultimately passing that support on to others. 

Believing in yourself

During our times together, my students and I discussed many things. A recurring topic was their future. These conversations often opened the door for more personal conversations, which allowed me to begin to instill and encourage positivity into their lives. 

As I reflect on my past, I realize that I was doing for them what my mentor and my own grandmother did for me. My mentor stressed the importance of never settling for less than you deserve in all aspects of your life. One of her favorite sayings is “You got this.” As a child, I spent lots of time with my grandmother. As we rocked in rocking chairs, shelled beans and peas, worked in the garden, and cooked in the kitchen, I learned so much. She was a hardworking, strong woman that made it known to all women that would listen that you must be self-sufficient and independent. It is my hope that, if nothing else, my students and the teachers I coach understand “You got this.” Simply put: when there is no one else around, you can always depend on you.  

I apply these same lessons as a CarolinaCAP coach. I let the teachers I work with know: “You got this.”

For example, the impact that message had on a CarolinaCAP teacher is illustrated in this story from YKesha Brown, one of the teachers I support. There were many times when she was ready to give up. However, supporting her to believe in herself, as my mentors did for me, resulted in a belief that giving up is not an option.

Instilling qualities

As I think back to other lessons from my classroom teaching experience, it is clear that it was my mission to instill in my young ladies the qualities that they will need to make it in this world — confidence, productivity, optimism, positivity, strength, and pride. The late Maya Angelou said it best: 

I’m a woman 


Phenomenal woman, 

That’s me.

(“Phenomenal Woman”)

followed by “But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”  (“Still I Rise”)

It was my hope as a teacher to create phenomenal women that are able to rise from generational curses, low expectations, and stereotypes. Being raised by a mom who emphasized the importance of believing in something higher than myself and an aunt who encouraged education and unwavering support of family, there wasn’t another option for me. 

Curses? They are now broken.

Low expectations? They are no longer acceptable. 

Negative stereotypes? You are what you believe you are. And I know who and what I am.

Just as it was my hope to instill phenomenal qualities in my students, it is my intention as a coach to do the same with CarolinaCAP candidates. Many of the teachers that I work with never thought they would have the opportunity to be teachers. As I support them, I work to instill the same confidence, productivity, optimism, positivity, strength, and pride in them that was instilled in me. It is my greatest hope to support them to grow into the phenomenal teachers they are meant to be.

Uncovering potential

Sometimes support comes in the form of seeing hidden potential. As a young teacher, I wasn’t as receptive as I could have been to my mentors, but each of them could see my future even when I couldn’t. 

My former principal identified my strengths and pushed me to challenge myself and the status quo. Another mentor saw my fight and realized that there was more to me than others saw. Where others saw defensiveness and rebellion, she saw strength. When interacting with me, they didn’t go by a script or a checklist. They built relationships so that when it was time for the hard conversations, it was easy to have them. I was more open to listen because I knew that it was coming from a place of love. The lessons, tough conversations, and sometimes fussing that I received from my mentors helped create the CarolinaCAP coach I am today. And now — guess what? I do all of the same things with my candidates. Each one is different, so my approach is tailored to their individual personalities. We not only discuss school. We discuss family, their mental state, their strengths, their struggles, and their futures. 

Maya Angelou shared, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This is such a simple statement, but holds such power.

It is my goal to impact the whole teacher.

The love, genuine care, and understanding from other phenomenal women will always guide me as I continue my journey in education and life. I have made it my mission to follow in Angelou’s footsteps and the footsteps of all the phenomenal women I know.

I’m a woman 


Phenomenal woman, 

That’s me.

(Maya Angelou, “Phenomenal Woman”)

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

(Maya Angelou, “Still I Rise”)

When you leave this world, what impact will you leave behind? 

It is my hope that the candidates that I coach will grab the torch and continue to lead with love.

This story is published as part of a recent storytelling retreat hosted by CarolinaCrED housed in the University of South Carolina’s College of Education. Mira Education, a CarolinaCrED partner, facilitated the retreat and provided editorial and publication support. Learn more about this work and read additional stories by following @CarolinaCrED and @teachingquality.

Kentrina Bridges began her education in Marlboro County School District, “Home of the Bulldogs.” She graduated from Francis Marion University with a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education and a Master’s of Education in Instructional Accommodations. She continued her education at Grand Canyon University and earned a second Master’s of Education in Educational Administration. Kentrina taught in a Title I school for five years before transitioning to the role of a Literacy Coach. She now serves as a CarolinaCAP coach and the Gifted and Talented Coordinator for her district.

Here are a few of the phenomenal women from my story and how their influence carries into my work as I coach CarolinaCAP candidates.

Mae Woods (mentor):
She gave lots of advice. The advice that stood out to me the most: “Let your light shine. If you are doing what you are supposed to do and doing it from your heart, you don’t have to showcase it; your work will speak for you.”

Mary Lee Bridges (grandmother):
She emphasized self-sufficiency and independence.

Saundra Bridges (mother):
She emphasized the importance of believing in something higher than myself.

Julia Bridges (aunt):
She encouraged education and unwavering support of family.

Julia Cain (former principal):
She identified my strengths and pushed me to challenge myself and the status quo.

Mrs. Clavis Anderson:
She saw my fight and realized that there was more to me than others saw. She helped me realize the power behind connecting and naming thoughts and feelings.

The late Mrs. Elizabeth Murphy:
She was a prime example of leading with love. The love, care, understanding, and genuineness from her will always guide me as I continue my journey in education and life. I have made it my mission to follow in her footsteps and the footsteps of my phenomenal women.