This morning I read a blog post by Principal Jimmy Casas. In this post, Jimmy talks about a home visit on which he accompanied his principal earlier in his career and how that’s played out in his current role and philosophy of serving students. You can also follow Jimmy on Twitter; his commitment to his school community and the education community is evident.
Reading about his experience took me back to a time earlier in my career that shaped my current practice and, really, shaped how I viewed others from that very moment. I was a 6th grade language arts and social studies teacher. In my fourth year of teaching, there was a point mid-fall that one particular student was exhibiting some attention-seeking behavior; at that time, it seemed immature and as his teacher I found it frustrating. I decided it was time to call mom during my prep and ‘tell’ her what I was seeing in the classroom so we could correct his behavior. Fortunately, I paused after telling Mom I had some concerns about behavior. She asked if anyone had shared what was happening at home. No one had, which is a different, disappointing post altogether, so I asked her to share. My student had 4-year-old twin brothers, and Mom shared that one of them was stricken with a cancer that he was not likely to overcome. I vividly remember leaning on the doorway of my classroom on the telephone, appalled that I had jumped to this conclusion that a student was choosing to misbehave when his family was essentially in crisis. Sadly, he did lose his brother in the months that followed.
I was also pregnant with my first child that year, and my team teacher and our classes threw a baby shower for me. My student, G, remembered a yellow flower container that had fallen from my desk and broken months prior. As a gift at the shower, he gave me a yellow candle holder and candle hoping to replace what I had lost. I’ve kept that the past 11 years as a reminder of what he lost and the challenges that are part of our students’ daily lives; I’ve kept it as a reminder that we MUST take time to learn our students’ stories and consider how we can support them rather than punitively punish or prematurely judge. I’ve kept it as a visual cue to keep me from making that mistake again for I still need that reminder from time to time.
Jimmy shared his home visit; I’ve shared my story about G. What moments significantly shaped how you view students, families and your role as an educator?
As I continue to have conversations with my colleagues about the power social media gives us to define our learning communities and share our successes, I often take a step back to reflect on the bright spots in my school. In a large unit school district, I’m fortunate that my school is physically attached to our district administration center. The school portion of the building was closed for two years as the previous student population moved to a new school facility. As safety work and renovations were in progress, my district opted to expand its full-day kindergarten pilot to all families who wished to participate. Given capacity in our neighborhood schools, my building prepared to open serving full-day kindergarten students from six of our district’s elementary attendance areas as well as our English Language Learner programming. That summer, as we prepared to open, I worked in the district administration center and began thinking about how we could be good neighbors and capitalize on our proximity.
From that came East View Neighbors, in which my school community invited our district office staff to adopt one of our twenty-five classrooms for a school year. From our superintendent to secretaries to curriculum directors, this invitation was warmly received and we’ve just started our second year of this unique partnership that truly serves us all well.
- Our students learn about the people who work ‘past the blue doors’ and start to develop an awareness and appreciation for the many people that make their school experience possible. They also have an increased audience for enthusiastically sharing what they learn along the way.
- Our teachers feel supported and valued, as members of our district team spend time in their classrooms seeing what they do on a daily basis and connecting with students. They have a voice in sharing the successes and challenges that come with their service to students and professional expectations.
- Our district administration center staff have ongoing, undeniable, joyful reminders of why they engage in the challenging work of ensuring that our community extends an excellent education to its students. They believe in our work, our students and our teachers for they have seen it firsthand. (They are also very understanding when we monopolize the entire parking lot with our Halloween parade traffic. 🙂 )
- Our parents see that the focus for all of our district staff is their children…our children.
As for me, I love watching all of these connections and relationships form over the course of the year. I am proud of both my teachers’ and students’ willingness to welcome our neighbors and of our neighbors’ willingness to join us in classrooms and contribute in this hands-on way to the critical work of teaching and learning. From our benefits secretary teaching a dinosaur lesson to the student artwork tacked up in offices to helping a director select a read-aloud story to our Assistant Superintendent bringing a whole kindergarten class down to his department for a visit, I’m convinced that the memories made between neighbors are some of their fondest all year.