Starting today, we decide what becomes of him – and the countless like him.
Per your request, here are my thoughts about ‘Back to School 2014’ that I put together between my morning workout and my own jettison into a new school year.
SETTING THE TABLE: So now that we’ve completed the annual exercise of school shopping, preparing schools and classrooms and checking off the countless items on back to school lists, it is time to focus on the real work that will ultimately determine whether our children can read and write, navigate math, science, and technology, appreciate the arts and athletics and ultimately become competent, contributing, compassionate, and caring members of society. The core work is not about style, it’s about substance.
Rather than spend time discussing the numerous challenges and issues that we all will face this year and in years to come, I’d rather “set the table” around key sources, strategies, and solutions that will be required no matter what is thrown “at” or “in our way” or in our efforts to ensure our students’ learning and life-long success.
These sources, strategies, and solutions are best framed around PARENTS, TEACHERS, SCHOOL LEADERS, and COMMUNITY MEMBERS.
PARENTS: School shopping, though time consuming and costly, is the easy work. School uniforms have even made it easier to dress our young people. Know however, that the latest fashions and Jordan’s which within a week become “old” won’t be the deciding factor in your child’s educational or life-long success. Commit to establishing and sustaining a proactive, supportive role in your child’s school.
Know your child’s teacher and the school leader. Make sure that they know you. Don’t wait for the school to call when there’s a problem. Instead, reach out to school staff in a proactive way to understand your child’s report card, testing performance data and gain a clear understanding of what he/she needs to do in order to be successful THIS year in THIS school with THIS teacher. You have both a RIGHT and OBLIGATION to engage your child’s education in these ways. Fulfill it starting today! Each nine weeks a report card comes home to “grade” your child’s success in school. Use this time to monitor and grade your own level of engagement as an active partner in his/her education.
TEACHERS: It is important for you to identify and understand the external, political and administrative dynamics that affect your career and work. In the meantime, however, don’t get distracted by these things as they will run their course. I encourage you to remain focused on the students in your classroom and the space and time you have to teach and ensure that they learn. When it comes to learning, you matter the MOST in this equation. What you do or don’t do from ‘bell to bell’ and ‘day to day’ will impact students’ learning and what it ‘looks like’ over the course of a school year. In this space you are POWERFUL. Let no one tell you different. But with such power comes responsibility and accountability. Embrace them both. Build and maintain positive relationships with your students, prepare for and know your craft, set and maintain high standards for yourself and students when it comes to teaching and learning. And as James Brown said, “get on up!” Be up, visible, and active in your classroom. Model what you expect.
SCHOOL LEADERS: Yes, you have the title. But titular leadership is not going to move the needle in schools and in the education of children. It’s going to be about not only what’s in your head but equally if not more important what’s in your heart. Simply put, do you love, believe in, and care about children and their learning, as well as their lives? If you do, that is excellent. If you don’t, it will come out in the ‘rinse or the wash’ and will show up in more ways than test scores. Your day-to-day actions are what will determine your impact on the school, teaching and learning and ultimately the success of your students. Respect as the school leader must be EARNED by what you do not what title you hold. Be intentional, visible and mobile in your school. Invisibility is the antithesis to what is needed in school leadership. Positive change will NEVER be achieved from a seat in the office. The classroom is where the “core technology” of education takes place. Research shows that a highly effective school leader spends 90% or more of their time in the classroom or throughout the school engaged in supporting teaching and learning.
The position is just the destination. However, it’s the journey’s body of work which will define what you did and what will matter the most. Seek legacy work – work and impact that outlives your tenure.
If you are a new school leader this year, congratulations! But get to work and lose the ‘Kool-Aid’ smile you’ve worn since you’ve been promoted until after your efforts show up on the ‘scoreboard of learning and life’ of your students. Starting today, it will be less about the promotion and more about the process in which you engage, the people with whom you work and serve, and the results you produce.
COMMUNITY MEMBERS: This is a great time to define your work and space in supporting schools. Episodic community engagement in education bears little if any meaningful fruit. Identify and define the space in which you want to operate in support of a school or a specific group of students. Although valuable, be careful to limit your space to Career Days, special months, or certain athletic events. Support and involvement are needed year-round. Fundraising should be well-defined and targeted toward a specific mission or school goal. Perhaps you can commit to sponsor a child, class, or club or to speak to students frequently and throughout the year. Give a scholarship or award in the name of a friend or loved one—more legacy work.
WHAT ABOUT THE STUDENTS?: Yes, they have a responsibility too. But for now we simply need to know that they will be watching what we do in support of their learning. So, let teach, guide, inspire, captivate, and uplift them.
THINGS TO REMEMBER:
Traffic is back. Watch for school zones. Turn down the radio and talk to your OWN children each morning before school and when they come home in the afternoon. Ask them not what they did but what they learned. Tell them that you love them. Yes, they know it but let them hear it from you.
Focus on what matters. Step up your individual game as a parent, teacher, school leader, or community member in the education of our students.
PRAYER: Lastly and most important, PRAY!
Father God, bless, guide, protect, and keep our children, teachers, parents, district and school leaders, elected officials, and members of the community this year in our collective efforts to reach, teach, protect, and uplift the learning and lives of our children.
PROVERBS 22:6 – Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
Our children are destined for greatness if we do our part.
Have a great 2014-2015 school year!