Five of Eight: Celebrating the Student

Schools exist for students. For no other reason, we have schools.  Every decision made about the how, what, why, when and who has to be in service to students.  At every level, the student has to be “in the room” when we plan our next steps. Why we open and close buildings, what curriculum we will use, who we will hire to drive our buses or to lead our schools are decisions that must be made because of the students.  How hard is this to remember?  Does it truly drive our work? On the road this week, I had so many great reminders of why we do this work… the student…

In my schools and districts in the southern states, students are graduating as I type this blog. On Friday, the seniors from the high school visited the intermediate school that I was working in.  As they proudly walked through the school in the caps and gowns, students and teachers cheered.  Graduates stepped out of line to hug the teachers that they recognized from days gone by and young students recognized babysitters or neighbors, beaming proudly at them as they passed by. One teacher was in tears when she saw a young lady who she never thought would make it to graduation day.

Just before the graduation visit, I had spent the morning with the school’s leadership team. We were reflecting on our work this year and planning our next steps for the 2019-2020 school year.  Despite the exhaustion on their faces, the teachers were able to have an honest, careful discussion about their professional growth. We laughed together and even had a few tears over stories that can only happen with trust and mutual respect. And, mostly, we talked about the student.  Their proudest reflections centered on student growth. fullsizeoutput_1091How far students had come in their academic achievement was what brought the most smiles to the room and when I think back to what they suggested as the next steps on our school improvement journey, again, it was all about the student.

Keeping the student in the room. What does it take to be this intentional?  In Leading with Intention, Jeanne Spiller and I dedicate chapter five to this; what does it mean to authentically be about “the student”? We share our experiences about what it does not look like as well as what it should be when decisions are authentically about the student.  We acknowledge that this is not as easy as it sounds.  We see many mission statements written that exclaim the student at the focus of all work, however, when you really dig deep, decisions and actions do not align.

Consider a decision to move an entire student body out of a school to another building only to find out after the move has started that there are not enough classrooms to accommodate all of the students so some will be moved elsewhere.  Imagine being the fifth grader finding out tomorrow that your class will no longer be housed with your friends, teachers and other fifth graders because someone forgot to count the rooms. Or, the high school student who finds out in March that a counselor made a mistake on their course selection options and the potential student cannot graduate.  And, maybe you have experienced witnessing a hiring of a teacher only because of connections to the school board, not based on what the students need.  All true stories in my world.

How do we communicate unwavering belief in students? What do you need as reminders of this important priority? In some schools and districts, a decision-making protocol might be helpful that focuses first on the student causing you to intentionally describe how this decision will impact students before you consider anything else such as resources or policy. It might mean having more opportunities to talk to students bringing their voice to the table through focus groups, lunch and learns, principal advisory groups and daily conversations in service of good relationships. These types of practices can go a long way in increasing the mutual respect and support of our students. Check out this sample template from Chapter five:

I remember, one time as superintendent many years ago, having a parent remind me of my purpose. A meeting was about to start with a very angry parent and she quietly placed a picture of her son on the table. It was very difficult, well impossible, to forget about our “why”. Why we were in the room was about her son and the picture quickly brought him in the room. I want to say that even without that picture I would have stayed intentionally focused on why we meeting but I have to say, the picture made it impossible to forget.

As I said to the leadership team at my school this week, we are in “service” to our students when we go to work. That is our purpose. That is our why. It is our responsibility to not let this slip away as we made decisions.  District and school leaders cannot lose sight of this. Do whatever it takes for you to check your thinking, revise your plans, correct your mistakes so you get this part of our work right.  What will you do to insure positive impact on students? Have a great week.

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