(Editor’s note: The following feature story featuring UIU alumna Laura Bilden was published on Bridge Online with permission of Caroline Rosacker and the Guttenberg (Iowa) Press.)
Laura Bilden began her career as a 6-12 Principal at the age of 29 for the Clayton Ridge Community School district. She is currently 31 and will complete her second year as a school leader this May.
Bilden, an Iowa native, spent her formative years as a resident of West Union and Fayette. She pursued her academic education from Upper Iowa University, Fayette, where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in science, with a 5-12 All Science Teaching Endorsement. She then obtained her Master’s in Educational Leadership from Drake University in 2019. Her choice to remain in Iowa was due to having strong family ties in the area.
Bilden began her career in the Monticello School District as a high school science teacher, where she taught chemistry and physics. She was later employed in the Starmont School District as the district’s Teacher Leadership Coordinator and Instructional Coach. While at Starmont, Bilden oversaw instructional coaching, mentoring and induction, and model teacher programs. Furthermore, Bilden partnered with classroom teachers to improve student achievement. Bilden commented, “As a coach, I worked one-on-one, and in small groups, with the Starmont teaching staff, providing guidance, resources, and training. Together, we focused on practical strategies for engaging students to improve their learning experience.”
Bilden resides in Guttenberg with her husband, Andrew Bilden, and their three children, Aubrey (10), Taetynn (5), and Brooks (3). Their family hobbies include kayaking, camping, and boating on the Mississippi River.
Bilden shared her inspiration for becoming an educator. “I was inspired to become a teacher in seventh grade. I was going through a difficult time, and my teacher was empathetic to my struggles. He went above and beyond to make sure I felt welcome in the classroom and made me feel like I had something unique to offer to the world. His teaching philosophy had a tremendous impact on my life,” she said.
Bilden’s love of problem-solving was the deciding factor in choosing a degree in the science field. “I have always wanted to understand how the world works and to study the complexity of nature,” she stated. Bilden is also drawn to school leadership because the problem-solving techniques used in science are similar to the methods used in school improvement.
Her experience as an instructional coach garnered her additional insight into the education system. “As an instructional coach, I was able to see past the confined walls of one classroom and instead could see how all the components of a school fit together. I realized that I could have a broader impact on students by working to remove barriers preventing the different parts from working together at an optimal level,” she explained.
Building relationships and collaborating with all stakeholders to improve student learning is the most rewarding part of the job for Bilden. She also enjoys seeing teachers grow as professionals and watching students build confidence and realize their gifts.
The greatest challenge Bilden faced as a school leader was preparing students and staff for hybrid and online learning. Bilden stated, “Teaching remotely was something the teachers at Clayton Ridge and I had not done before. I had to work with the staff to develop new schedules, policies, procedures, and expectations. I also had to partner with instructional coaches to develop training for teachers, so they had the resources and skills needed to teach online if necessary. Overall, this was a significant shift in how we teach students, which required extensive planning and communication.”