Monday, July 28, 2014

How Lucky Am I?


I have the privilege of being the principal of a small, suburban school in Lawrenceville, NJ.  We have about 275 students, kindergarten through 3rd grade.  Our school is very diverse, with about 45% of our students receiving free or reduced lunch.  About 65% of our students come from homes where English is not the primary language.  Often, many of our second language students need additional support so we run a program called Eagles after school during most of the year and in the summer.   The main focus of the program is to provide second language students with additional academic and language supports.  Basically, give them more opportunities to use the language, especially the academic language they need to be successful in school. 

I push my staff pretty hard and we have not necessarily reached the lofty academic goals that we set for ourselves but I have no doubt we are on our way.  I say this because of the intense dedication and drive that I see from staff members.  Since I am an avid reader and tweeter, I continually draw on my resources to provide challenges to my staff.  Over the last year I read Teach Like A Pirate by Dave Burgess and had the opportunity to see Mr. Burgess in person.  It has been a professional and life-changing experience.  I bring this up because I have tried to emulate and provide TLAP principles to my everyday leadership.  I talk to my teachers about not teaching lessons but providing experiences.  I remind them about the need to “bring it” every day.  One of the most discussed ideals is the question, “If your students didn’t have to be there, would you be teaching to an empty room?”

Just the other day, one of my summer program teachers invited me in to hear her students read their letters.  They have been working on different forms of letters, so I figured that I would come in and hear a basic form, like to a friend or relative.  As I entered the class, Mrs. Murphy had me sit in the front of the room because her students were going to read their persuasive letters to me.  As each student read their letter, it became apparent there was a consistent theme.  “Please make the EAGLES day longer. Why can’t we stay until 3PM?”  

Here are 8 third graders, who are attending a summer school program in the end of July when everyone else is home playing video games or still sleeping, asking for a longer day. “If your students didn’t have to come, would you be teaching to an empty room?”  NO! And they would stay longer if we let them.  These students are driven and motivated to achieve by a determined and engaging teacher.  They not only enjoy it and are learning, they want more.  AWESOME!


To make the day even better, one student in this class read me his letter.  It was four sentences.  It brought tears to my eyes.  Here is a student who did not speak a word of English two years ago.  In the past two years, the staff has worked diligently to help this student and they have made some gains.  I, however, have been unable to communicate with him.  He has refused to speak to me and to most students and staff.  I may have heard him say one word.  He read four sentences, out loud, in front of the whole class, asking to come to school longer.  Today, when he entered the building, I said hello to him as I do everyday.  He responded with, “Hello Mr. Billy.” How Lucky Am I?