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VIProfile: Judy Goodwin

Principal: Barfield Elementary
Teaching, Coaching, Mentoring and Learning for 53 Years in Education

There are people you meet that have such an aura of love and acceptance about them that, even if of a diminutive stature, their spirit fills the room. That is the way it is with Barfield Elementary School principal Judy Goodwin. She accepts her teachers, her parents and her students for who they are and feels it is her purpose to give them the tools they need to be the best they can be using their own unique talents. 

“I am a little different when interviewing potential new teachers,” explained Goodwin. “I can see into a person’s soul. 

Once I have hired someone here, they do not have to prove anything to me. I knew what they were when I hired them. I knew what they were going to do. I have faith. And, having that makes people work even harder. I want to put people into a situation where they can be their very best and develop to their fullest potential.”

She calls herself an unorthodox interviewer. She may ask potential new teachers a question about lesson planning, and then follow it with the question, “What is the hardest thing they have ever had to do?”

“I want teachers who are dedicated, hard-working and devoted to students, but I also want them to know how to handle the hard things in life, because kids today are dealing with so much trauma. They need someone who can help them learn how to cope and move forward.”
Development of potential and coping skills are guiding principles that she puts into everything she does, uplifting everyone around her. Under the authentic warmth, have no doubt, there is a steel magnolia who employs her grit to make sure that students, teachers and even parents “under her care” are provided with everything they need to excel. 

“I don’t want to put them into a situation where they will fail,” said Goodwin. “That would be like putting your second-string girls’ basketball players against Rick Insell’s first string, and they are going to beat your brains out.”

The metaphor comes from the days when Goodwin was one of the first girls’ high school basketball coaches in Rutherford County. She coached with her then husband, and she said, “it worked pretty well.” At the same time, she was teaching elementary school. 

“I think I chose elementary school because I was short,” she explained. “I was always the smallest kid in my class…and I recognized that being little had its disadvantages, but I had a little, 4’11” first grade teacher named Miss Francis Hatcher at Bethesda Elementary (in Williamson County) who inspired me to teach. She taught the kids a little song called ‘Ducky Diddle’ that changed my view of being little…Little Ducky Diddle,” she sang, “went wading in a puddle, went wading in a puddle quite small. Said, see it doesn’t matter, I only splash and splatter, I’m only a ducky after all.” 

Something about that song said to her that you can be a little duck, but you can make big splashes. It wasn’t until she was older that she came to fully understand the meaning of the song, but it stuck with her as a six-year-old, and inspired her to follow her dreams of teaching. 
“My parents were farmers who only had an eight-grade education,” she added, “but they had wisdom about nurturing me and supporting me…And, so for me, life was wide open, I just charted my own course. I wished everyone else had that gift, but not every kid can be left alone like that for sure.” 

While Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) had no dual enrollment in her day, they did offer her an honors class after her junior year of high school. Those selected to be in the honors program lived on campus, just like a Freshman in college and earned college credits. Through participation in that program, she earned 12 hours of college credit and then had to go back to her tiny country school in Thompson’s Station, where she completed her senior year. She started college as a sophomore. 

“That was a wonderful opportunity,” noted Goodwin, “and I was on the education path then.”
She began student teaching at Bellwood Elementary in Murfreesboro under the guidance of Myrtle Knight as her co-op teacher and Dr. Bob Bullen as her professor at MTSU. For her first few years of teaching, she returned to the country school she attended, Bethesda Elementary. She remained there until she adopted her son, Drew. 

The first two years of Drew’s life with her, she spent running a store called “Yours Truly” with a friend. It gave her an opportunity to be a mother and help her son adjust by keeping him with her at the store. The store also allowed her to express her artistic side, as she created many items to sell in it. 

She moved back into education as a kindergarten teacher at Smyrna Primary, and then Don Odom brought her to David Youree Elementary in 1982. That is when Hulon Watson asked her to assist in coaching at Riverdale. 

In 1987, Goodwin moved to John Coleman as a kindergarten teacher and Programs Coordinator. She used the experience as a leadership training opportunity. There, her adventures taught her “that when you bring people in, when they are part of the decision making, they will build a very strong building.” 

“It altered my leadership style because my view of leadership was that I tell you what we are going to do and then you do it,” she explained. “Now, I run a very democratic administration.”
By the mid-1990s she had become an assistant principal, and in 2000 she was brought on as the principal of Barfield Elementary, by then Rutherford County Schools Superintendent Hulon Watson.

Just before Watson retired, he said to Goodwin, “When I handed you the keys to this building it was not a control school, it was the biggest appointment that I made and you really turned it around.” It was his belief in her that affirmed her career.

Twice she was a finalist for Teacher of the Year for the State of Tennessee, and twice she was a finalist as Principal of the Year. She has a wall of awards affirming her successes. She has been offered other positions, including at the state level, but she says that she knows where she needs to be…it is right where she is. She has real heart for teaching children. And has for 53 years. The kids keep her uplifted. She feels united with her teachers in purpose and the power of what they do.

“It is such a privilege to do this work. Such a privilege.”

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