A youngster cries as he leaves for home. He likes it better at school. The caring teacher worries about whether her students will have food over the holidays. A young mother breaks down in a principal’s office because of the stress of Christmas and all it entails. Districts like Anglophone East in New Brunswick collect food for those in need (27,000 pounds this year). The holiday season is bittersweet for educators as they say good-bye to their students. Schools are institutes of learning and much more…
Last week, I visited Fox Elementary School in Columbus, Georgia. Now, I know this school pretty well. I have been going there for four years. And, what I saw last week, truly warmed my heart. It reminded me of why I stayed in education for so many years. This is what I want to tell you about in this third story about school improvement.
You see, this school could easily live day-to-day in survivor mode. It is in a very tough neighborhood, they have academic challenges and for a long time, they had serious behavior issues as well. I remember when I first met the teachers four years ago- they told me that they loved their students but it was very difficult to teach them. Today, they love them and they have figured out how to teach them.
The first thing you will notice if you go visit is the morning greeting. Principal Scarborough is in the center hallway every single morning and greets both staff and students. Students say hello and what I love the most is that they make eye contact with everyone. This might seem like a small thing to you but I can tell you, when I first went to Fox, the students did not look at anyone. They looked angry and sad and sure didn’t seem to want to be in school. The teachers were working in isolation of one another and there really wasn’t a sense of community at the school. And, as Dr. Scarborough often heard me say, no-one was having fun or learning.
Dr. Scarborough took on this school two and a half years ago. She has worked with her staff to make sure everyone knows what it means to be a part of the Fox family. This year, they celebrated that the school was taken off of the “at-risk” list of schools in Georgia. I could write a long list of the changes that they have made in the time that I have known them but what I want to tell you about today is how “loving the students” is so balanced now with “teaching” the students. How learning is what Fox Elementary School is about. It’s what school improvement is and it is why we teach.
Last week, I saw students smartly dressed in their school uniforms, smiling and ready to learn. Yes, and this was the week before Christmas. Now, if you have taught school, you know that there are some weeks that just seem impossible to get anything done … the week before Christmas in an elementary school is definitely one of them. But not at Fox. You see, the staff had fun with a “Thirteen Days before Christmas Calendar”. Every day had a theme and guess what… while fun things were happening, the learning continued. For example, on December 19th the calendar read “Island of Misfits Day”. Now, you might be wondering how that is a positive theme for a school. Well, similar to the original story with Rudolph, lessons are learned and good things happen. Let me explain…
Two things that the teachers understand at Fox is the need to continue to build relationships with students and to professionally grow their own skills. So on “Island of Misfits Day” the teachers all taught a different grade and class. They drew names earlier in the month and had been busy preparing lessons for a totally different group of students and grade. I am sure that these teachers had a few other things to do in December. Things that they might rather do with their time than an extra lesson plan. Despite the business of the month and feeling like the new assignment was a “misfit”, the work got done. Some of the teachers said that they were nervous. This was a challenge and most importantly, a way to understand more about their school, the student population and how to continue to grow. And, the students LOVED it.
Years ago, I watched well-known educator, Harry Wong present to a very large audience of teachers. He passed out a candle to everyone in the room. After lighting his he asked the teachers to pass the flame along, lighting one candle at a time. As the glow spread in the room, Wong talked about the value of education. Of how teachers can be the light for students and what our impact is on each other. Why, as a school community, we have to work together to create the future and be interdependent of each other in order to make a difference. He reminded the audience that when we share our knowledge with others our own flame will not go out. We do not diminish our own sparkle and we make the world brighter for others. This is what is now happening at Fox Elementary School. Teachers are learning together and sharing ownership of all of their students. It is not about my classroom it is about our school. Continuous, focused improvement. One student at a time, one candle at a time.
I know in my second blog I promised to bring you more from Willie’s high school. We will get there, I promise. To my friend Aubrey Kirkpatrick, who eighteen years ago had an idea that our school district could help the Food Depot with a “Fill the Bus Campaign”, you continue to inspire a community and share your light. Thank you to Mrs. Weaver at Fox Elementary for sharing her photo (above) of her beautifully decorated classroom door. Hopefully Santa’s hat didn’t catch on fire! To all educators, you know why you teach. And you are appreciated. Have a blessed holiday season. See you next Saturday.