I will be the first person to say that I am not an expert when it comes to education. I am learning new things everyday that are shaping my growth and development as an educator. New instructional strategies and theories, enhanced technology, opportunities to share best practices easier than ever before and a global network at your fingertips continue to change the landscape of education. All of these things have extended the boundaries and capabilities of schools throughout the country. Money is being invested in new technology, "flexible" furniture, the latest software or curriculum resources. However, one thing remains constant. One thing that I believe is the single most important element to invest in if you want to see true transformation in your classroom and in your schools........people.
In a profession that is often driven by data of student growth percentiles, standardized assessments, diagnostic reading levels, math benchmark exams, IQ tests, and placement assessments a line in the sand can be drawn between teachers and administrators, students and teachers, schools and their communities. Everyone becomes focused on what the data means regarding school rankings, student placement, property taxes, or even someone's job status. Districts, schools and communities get so caught up in what they think the data means that they sometimes forget that there are people behind what that data is representing. There are students who come to school from busy family lives or broken homes, teachers who are working hard to support their families, and administrators staying up late at night thinking about how to make schools better for "their kids."
If schools are to be successful is understanding the data important? The answer is yes. However, what is more important is fostering relationships with students, staff and community members so that these stakeholders feel safe, feel trusted, feel encouraged and most importantly, feel accountable for their success and for the success of their school. My belief is that creating a positive school culture grounded in Knowledge, Spirit and Promise can go a long way in making a positive investment in our students, staff and communities.
Schools should be a place where Knowledge is developed. The proverb, "Knowledge is like a garden; if it is not cultivated, it cannot be harvested" depends on people. It depends on the teachers and students working together to quench a thirst for knowledge. It means that the Building Administrators are providing opportunities for the teachers to grow and enhance their practices. It requires that the Administrators themselves are building their own relationships through professional development, PLNs and community outreach. An investment must be made in time, resources and RELATIONSHIPS in order for that knowledge and success to be harvested. People working together on a common goal....learning with and from each other, creates a climate and culture where success likes to live.
When you walk into a building I always recommend that you listen to its heartbeat. What do you hear? Is the building alive? John Maxwell says that "excitement is an incredible energizer to the human spirit." When students and staff enjoy coming to school everyday there is a certain Spirit that awakens within a school. I met with my Principal's Advisory Committee last week and I asked them what was one thing they loved about the school that makes them come every day. Almost to the student, their response was "how caring and supportive their teachers and administrators were" and how they loved "the Panther Pride." When there is an investment made in trust, empathy, honesty, compassion and consistency, a person's soul can be set on fire. All it takes is a spark to see the spirit of a building come alive when people feel that they are cared about and valued.
A school is filled with so much Promise. Students are learning at rapid rates and in ways many people don't understand. Technology has paved the way for monumental shifts in learning. It requires that as educators, we meet students were they are and blend their way of learning with proven theories of instructional practice. It also requires that teachers and administrators make an investment in their own development so that learning experiences can be created for students that encourage collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. When everyone is working together there is no limit to the level of promise that our students can achieve. Investing in each other as educators and in our young people strengthens the opportunities for schools and for their communities.
Is it possible for me to sit behind my desk crunching numbers, checking lesson plans, and writing reports? Of course! However, I would much rather spend my time investing in what makes our building come alive everyday, in what makes my job so enjoyable, in who holds the future in their hands filled with knowledge, spirit and promise.............the people. So as education continues to change around us, remember, the greatest investment you can make is not in textbooks, computers, or new furniture. It is in the eager young minds of tomorrow who are led by the minds of today. Make the investment. It doesn't require much. It could be a conversation in the hallway, supporting a teacher who is trying something new in the classroom, sitting down and talking with a teacher in an empty classroom, giving a "high five" in the hallway, making a positive phone call or just saying hello to someone who thinks they aren't being noticed. You can't put a price tag on what you might get out of it.
So.... are you all in?
Richard M. Hayzler
A life long educator and current Principal of Pequannock Township High School in NJ, Rich is excited to share his ideas and thoughts about education and how we can change the world for our students and our staff.