Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Part 1: Principal of 1030 students

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for kids who don't fit the mold of your typical middle school student expectation.

My first teaching assignment was a self-contained classroom with students of varying diagnoses. A few students were school-phobic. Other students exhibited oppositional defiance disorder tendencies. I distinctly remember students who were emotionally disturbed, dyslexic, borderline intellectually impaired, or simply uninterested in doing school. My classroom was where expelled students would land.

That said, I think it was the best four and a half years of my professional life. I felt like we were working hard as a team to make middle school for our shared students the best experience possible. Looking back, there are more than a few students from our classroom who continued on to high school and higher education with much success. We truly tried to give our students everything we could to make them feel cared for and to know that we would all be there to support them.

Fast forward to today. Parts 1 and 2.

This morning, I focused on a variety of school issues. My inbox was full with questions, concerns, and action items. As I sifted through, I saw an email with a calendar item to contact a parent this morning via a phone call. This parent had some concerns about the progress of their student thus far this school year.

In the phone conversation with the parent, I spent the majority of the time listening to their concerns. I found myself agreeing with many of their points. Their student is someone I've worked with over the past two years and seen such incredible growth from. I enjoy interacting with this student. I feel like we have a secret, non-verbal language sometimes, one where we can communicate in silly glances and random facial expressions. I see a lot of myself in this student. I want him to be successful. I care.

At the end of the phone call, I informed the parent that I had an idea on how to address some of their concerns. I'm not going to pretend that I had an answer for every action item. I didn't. What I could do is spend my morning focusing on how to best support this student.

So I spoke with our assistant principal about a few of my ideas. She helped refine my out-of-the-box thoughts to something that could actually work for the student. I then reached out to our new mental health therapist; he was completely on board. I sensed that he too shared an instant connection with the student and would be able to greatly assist moving forward. I looped in the 8th grade resource teacher, our school counselor, and eventually the student as well. Everyone was on board with the plan. A short email later to the team (and yes, the team includes the parent) and we had a solid rebooting for the rest of the week to best support the student.

We know it might not be perfect. Everyone on the team agrees that we're going to try a lot of things... and if something doesn't work, we'll adjust and try something different.

The highlight of my morning is two-fold.

The first memorable moment was from the new mental health therapist. He commented (and I'm paraphrasing here): "I haven't seen a principal take the lead before on a student's support plan." My response was very simple: we are a team; everyone needs to support our students, including the principal. Secretly, I appreciated his comments. The work of a principal often goes unrecognized. We often get the emails when something is wrong, but rarely do we get feedback from our school community that recognizes the care we give to each and every student, teacher, and parent.

The second memorable moment was my conversation with the student. It actually wasn't much of a conversation. As stated earlier, we have a non-verbal understanding and high level of trust with one another. The sly smile the student provided when he recognized my efforts to help his school day be a bit better -- that's what I received from him after sharing our plan.

I'm excited to see how the plan works for the student. It may need some refining but we are committed as a team to work with the student, his teachers, and all of the supportive adults involved to keep trying. We don't give up on kids.

And a perfect day would stop there. Unfortunately, part 2 had not yet happened.

Part 2 is available here.

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