July 1, 2005 was my first day as an elementary principal. I walked into the office and wondered how I really got to this point. No students, no staff, no parents...just me in an empty office with my thoughts of the journey that had taken me there. As I was unpacking my stuff I remember stopping, looking around, and being thrown back to a different time. My first real day in the elementary principal’s office was October, 1982. It was Halloween week and I had done something big enough to put in me in that office. I made a comment in class that was definitely not appropriate for the space. Without going into the details of the event, it was clear that I needed to be in that room talking to the principal. I remember him as an enormous guy, incredibly tall with a booming voice. He used to walk around school everyday to see how everyone was doing. He smiled a lot. He was helpful. He high fived kids as they walked by. As I sat in his office that day, it was different. He asked me what I was thinking, why I would do such a thing, and what we were going to do about it? I didn’t know...because I was 8. I knew I was wrong, I knew I had to do something about it, and I knew my parents were going to go off the handle when he called them. Over the course of the next 2 hours all of those things happened. I apologized, made it right with the other person, and my parents were less than thrilled with my choices. Before that day I walked past the office and waved to the people there. After that day, I looked the other way and hoped no one noticed me. I always had a feeling that people looked at me differently after that incident. They probably didn’t, but it was a feeling I could not shake. Class was different for me after that as well. I felt watched, and not in a supportive way. The incident seemed to define me in the eyes of others. I wasn’t a great student before that day and was not a great student when it was over. I didn’t fit into the box of what school was...so my experience wasn’t fantastic. One of the reasons I decided to go into education was to make the experience different for kids.
School has to work for everyone. We can’t just work for those kids who fit into what school has always been. Teaching is hard. In a classroom of 25 kids we may have 25 different needs. Some get breakfast in the morning, some do not. Some are having problems with their families, some are not. Some are working multiple jobs outside of the day and are just trying to stay afloat, some are not. Being a parent is also hard. Trying to find the balance between blazing the path for our kids and having them blaze their own often puts us in a place of uncertainty. We don’t have all the answers, and that’s ok. We have to lean on each other, and we do.
As an 8 year old kid, I knew school didn’t work for me. We don’t want an incident or experience to define the feeling that kids have in school. We want them to feel valued, wanted, inspired, and most importantly, loved. We want them to have a place to go. We want them to be able to talk to someone when they need to...anyone. The culture of our school community is defined with every interaction. I have been in a number of schools over the course of the last 5 years and one thing is abundantly clear...every school has a feeling. When people walk into our school, they need to feel welcomed. They need to feel like they can walk past the office and wave, not put their head down and hope that no one notices them. They need to be greeted with a smile and a helpful voice. As a staff, we also have to realize that not everyone walking into the building had a great experience in school when they were kids, and I truly believe that we do. We have great people in this building. People who know that we exist for students. We have jobs because of kids and families. I have never been in a place that understands that more. Our community is special, folks. We exist for each other and together we are going to do things for kids that will blow their mind. We’re just getting started. Go Crickets.