Coffee with Cool Women features local principal emphasizing the importance of nurture in education

Edwardsville Principal Tanya Patton shared perpsectives from her career during Coffee with Cool Women discussion

Tanya Patton said she takes the time to learn the names of all 315 students–as a kindergarten through second grade school principal in Edwardsville.

“It is important to the environment that I want to create- that I know who my students are. My goal is when they leave they remember Nelson School…that whatever we do is memorable,” Patton said.

Patton shared her career endeavors as part of a discussion called Coffee with Cool Women held by the women’s studies program. The small group discussions feature working women in a variety of career fields throughout the year.

“Nothing is left to chance,” Patton said. “Every decision is intentional to ensure that we are building a solid foundation for our students.”

Patton said her goals are to “love, nurture and educate” students–in that order.

According to Patton, the first thing she asks applicants at their interview is, “Do you love children?”

Patton said that is crucial to hiring. She expects everyone- from those working in the cafeteria to those teaching in the classroom-to treat children with guidance and care.

Along with the love and nurturing involved, being a principal is a challenging position, according to Patton.

“I was challenged on everything: giving detention on playground privileges and on the structure of my newsletter,” Patton said. “It’s not going to be always easy. You’ll come up against people, but you just stay focused on what you want to do.”

Patton said while things have settled some over the last eight years, she is “never satisfied” and constantly looks for ways to challenge herself and her staff.

“I am more of an instructional leader now than before,” Patton said. “I feel as though the management of Nelson School is solid. Now my primary focus is improving and building upon the educational environment Nelson is known for and parents expect.”

Eventually, she would hear from parents who said, “I’ve heard good things about you.”

Patton said her commitment to education for herself and others around her came many years ago “from the eyes of a handsome little boy” – Her son.

Earlier in life, Patton had left college, got married, and was working two jobs. When she had her son, she realized the importance of education. At one point a single mother, she decided to return to school.

She said she realized her situation was difficult, but not impossible, that she actually had a choice in how her life can go and that every decision matters.

“Women can do anything they want to do,” Patton said. “Realizing I didn’t know everything and that there are things I could do… Taking a risk is important.”

Patton said she designated people to become her mentor. For instance, she would visit as an undergraduate at Harris Stowe State University the education dean in her office every day.

She worked as a teacher for several years and eventually earned a master’s degree in educational leadership from SIUE.

When approached with the opportunity to become a principal, Patton said she was hesitant to take it.

“My plan was to wait five to six years and then seek that leadership role,” Patton said. “However, the opportunity came about and with the professional support of my superintendent and the personal support of my husband and son…here I am nine years later.”

Her support system encouraged her saying this was an opportunity to have “impact on students.”

Patton asked students to share their perspectives on female role models in their lives during the discussion.

Overall, students said they agreed that positive female role models in their lives make a difference. Students’ role models ranged from single mothers whom they admired to aunts who stepped in to support their families.

Women’s studies graduate assistant Ali Vlahos said she thought the discussion was amazing.

“There are a lot of strong women and that’s something we as women don’t get to talk about enough,” Vlahos said.

The next Coffee with Cool Women event will feature Monica Stump, human trafficking specialist with the U.S. prosecutor’s office, on Oct. 29. Because seating is limited, please RSVP to reserve a seat by emailing Trish Oberweis at


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