As the principal, I spend a lot of time building strong relationships with my teachers. It’s our school. It belongs to all of us. I trust them and they trust me. The downside is that they aren’t afraid to come to me and say it’s time to upset the apple cart. Over the years, I’ve had teachers come to me with some “crazy” requests —things that challenged me as an educator and as a leader. Here are five teacher requests to which my first thought was “Absolutely Not” but my actual response was “Go for it!” because each time I realized they would make our school stretch and grow in new and interesting ways.
1. Do you mind if I get rid of my teacher desk and my students’ desks too?
SOURCE: Tales of an Accidental Teacher
Nothing was wrong with the old furniture—teachers just wanted new types of spaces. But what if someone wanted to go back? We’ve all seen the educational pendulum swing from one side to another. And yet, I seriously doubt that with all of our new discoveries, we’ll be moving back to rows and one-size-fits-all. So, out went the desks and chairs.
It started with one request, and within two years, my whole building has been transformed. Walking into classrooms, you see kids working at high top tables, regular tables, tables low to the ground, in camp chairs, and even lying on the floor. And the thing is—they’re really working.
2. Can I loop with my students?
It doesn’t work out every year. But when the opportunity arose, I immediately agreed to this request from a teacher. We know that relationships are crucial for learning, and by looping, we bypassed the relationship-forming stage, and were able to jump right into learning. It’s been particularly beneficial for kids with anxiety and those who are shy.
3. From students, “Can we sell stuff to raise money for a water pump in Sudan?”
Even students like to get in on the requesting action. It’d be easy to say “no” to a request like this one. After all, I have to think about food sale guidelines and a myriad of other topics. But through the process of planning and executing a project like this, students become deeply committed to a cause. This passion helps them develop research, communication, and long-term planning and organization skills.
My initial “yes” has made way to a slew of copycats: 2nd graders selling popsicles for Children’s Hospital, a 5th grader selling baked goods for an animal shelter, and most recently, 3rd graders working to find the most effective way to help those impacted by Harvey and Irma. While it takes time to coach kids through the process, cultivating thoughtful citizens tops my “important” list.
4. Can I switch the order I teach these units? Or skip this unit?
Changing the order teachers teach units or skipping units aren’t requests that get a quick yes—they come with a team conversation. Can the rationale be explained? What does the data show our students need. Do we believe it is most important?
At the end of the year, I ask each of my teams to spend time reflecting on the curriculum map. What worked, what didn’t? Sometimes, the changes we made really work. Other times, we realize why things had been sequenced the way they were. But through that process or reasoning, trying, and reflecting, we become stronger teachers.
5. Can I throw these books away?
When our library supervisor showed me a huge cart of books ready for the Goodwill pile, I went straight to salvage mode. These are such good titles! How could we possibly get rid of a copy of a Cynthia Rylant book? “Yes, but they are worn and ratty,” she told me. I acquiesced when she assured me that we had other, newer copies. A couple weeks later, I asked kids what they thought of our newly renovated library. In addition to talking about the new “poof” seats, they also commented on how the books looked newer and nicer. Sometimes, more isn’t better. And sometimes, you need to say yes, even when it would be easier to say no.
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