An unconventional road: Austin students contribute to book written by Jessica Cabeen

Published 6:55 am Friday, November 29, 2019

Anybody who knows and works with Jessica Cabeen will know that the approach she takes to her job can be unconventional. It should also come as no surprise that it’s something she thrives on.

So, when it came time to get some artistic help for her fourth book, it should come as no surprise that Cabeen was a little — unconventional.

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That’s where Katherine Schumacher and Manny Guy come into the picture. This year, the two are freshman at Austin High School, but at the time Cabeen was writing the book they were eighth-graders at Ellis Middle School, where Cabeen is principal.

When it came time for art to be included in the book, Cabeen turned to Ellis art teacher Lars Johnson, who issued a challenge to his class. Schumacher and Guy picked up that challenge.

“We were starting a book cover unit and students had to pick a book they wanted to redesign,” Johnson said. “I challenged the class and these two were the ones who did it.”

As the title of this book would suggest, this unconventional approach to finding art for inside the book worked well with the book itself — “Unconventional Leadership: Bridging the Connected World with Meaningful Relationships.”

“The book is about how we are catering to the work of students, leaders and families,” Cabeen said. “To find best practices. Helping school leaders get better at what they do.”

It’s the perfect time for the book, Cabeen’s fourth in just three years. With the resources available in today’s education, the book acts as a way to connect educational leaders with the social media tools around them.

For a book about examining the unconventional, the idea that two students could contribute to Cabeen’s book fits the bill.

Pictured are the submissions by Manny Guy, left, and Katherine Schumacher. Photos provided

Schumacher and Guy dove headfirst into the project, taking the necessary steps to create those pieces that were ultimately accepted into the final publication.

“I was just searching for backgrounds through a website and fonts through an app,” Guy said, explaining his process. “Just kind of looking up things.”

Guy’s piece features a lone subject, walking down a lonely road with Cabeen’s name underneath and the words “Unconventional Leadership” above.

Cabeen noted the correlation between the piece and the title.

“Doing the unconventional can be a lonely road when you’re leading,” she said to Guy.

Schumacher’s piece takes a slightly different path. At center is one star after another superimposed on one another and situated between the words “Unconventional Leadership.” Cabeen’s name underlies it all.

Schumacher admitted she wasn’t exactly sure how to go about the process, but soon hit upon the idea of what the final piece represents.

“I’m not the biggest reader,” she said. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I thought it was cool to make my own book cover. I was thinking of things that would symbolize being a leader. A star is a leader and the layers of stars show that there are different layers to everybody.”

Cabeen pushed hard for the pictures to be included in the book because it represents the students themselves, which is an important piece of the educational puzzle.

“I wanted to share these pictures because it’s an authentic student voice,” Cabeen said. “It’s really offering something up and shows what they can do.”

The fact that Schumacher and Guy opted to do the piece and take the challenge, however, didn’t surprise Johnson.

“It didn’t surprise me,” he said. “They are willing to learn real-life, applicable things. They are willing to press the creative boundaries.”

It’s no small thing knowing how the students themselves buy into the idea of leadership.

“Some people don’t want to listen to the leader. They just want to go their own way,” Guy said. “You have to follow leaders to be successful in life.”

Schumacher agreed, saying that Cabeen is a perfect example of that ideal.

“She’s a very good leader,” Schumacher said. “She’s always out in school and shows the basic things about being a leader. You could tell she really cares.”