This past week, I was very busy working across many projects to get our school ready for opening day on August 30th. It wasn’t unlike any other week I have had prior to a school opening. Hallways had multiple pieces of furniture in them, supplies were being unpacked, students were being registered, and the usual pre-opening of school business was taking place. As a matter of fact, after being a principal for 18 years, I’d say that the week was mostly quite familiar.
As I walked through the halls, I stuck my head into one teacher’s classroom to check in and see how things were going. This particular teacher was new to my school and district the year prior, and despite my wanting to keep teachers where they were, she was reassigned to teach first grade, which meant that she inherited a new room and many materials. As I walked into the room and took a quick survey of everything, the teacher said to me, “You don’t like where my word wall is do you?” We both laughed, as she quickly had gotten to know me and knew that I would give some gentle feedback about the word wall and its placement. Of course, I shared that I thought the word wall was covering up some valuable “real estate” in the classroom (a 4×4 whiteboard near a small group instructional area) and the teacher agreed, also sharing that she was somewhat stuck with all of the “stuff” in the room and how to arrange it.
I offered to help, saying that I had some thoughts about how she might maximize space in the room and have some varied areas that would support different types of learners and curriculum. I was happy to stay in the classroom for a while and I told the teacher that I thought it would take about 20 minutes. She was receptive to my help and suggestions and noted that she didn’t want to take me away from my work, which I said wasn’t too much. I somewhat secretly stretched the truth here….I was buried in work, however, I do love helping teachers and being connected to their classrooms. And not to be a martyr, but I’d always stop to help a teacher and do my other work later, after all, my job is to support and provide great conditions for teaching and learning.
We went about the room, me making suggestions and visualizing how the room could be arranged, and then both of us moving furniture and placing it around the room to create instructional and learning areas for students. Each time we’d move some furniture, I’d check in with the teacher to see what she thought of the placement and if she thought it would be conducive to students learning and her teaching. There were some suggestions that were duds, but most were good and fortunately, she really liked the ideas I had (she seemed to be honest) and I really loved helping set up the classroom.
My goal has always been to stay connected to teachers and kids as an administrator. It is easy to get pulled away and become detached from what happens or from what the job really entails. I was actually flattered that the teacher was willing to have me help and I also really enjoyed thinking about how to maximize the spaces around the classroom for learning. Don’t get me wrong, this teacher was and is very capable and would have gotten the room sorted out and done a fine job.
I was lucky that she was open to my ideas and that she wanted to include me in the work. After a short time (more like 45 minutes or so) we got her room situated to the point where things were in place and she was able to picture what teaching and learning would happen where. I left to go back to the office to work for a while and when I checked in later, she was “unstuck” and busy putting things in place and preparing for students.
My take aways from my classroom help that day were as follows:
- Always stay connected to your teachers and students. They are your network and your teachers carry out the heavy lifting of your school. You can not risk not working side by side with them.
- Be willing to offer help, even when your plate is full. A small gesture goes a long way and you’ll find a place later to get your work finished.
- Not every suggestion is a great one. I made some suggestions that were not the best for the teacher and we navigated changes. Be open to feedback and be flexible.
- Be purposeful in everything you do. I was careful as to what I recommended because I wanted to help the teacher maximize space for the sake of student learning.
- Love what you do! I still love setting up a classroom and being a teacher, even though I am a principal and lead a school. I’ll never forget the joy of creating a great classroom experience for students.
I am so thankful that my teacher welcomed me into her room, trusted me enough to know what I’d give constructive feedback on, and then let me be part of setting up her classroom. I know that she was appreciative of the help, but honestly, I was the one who was most appreciative for her helping me stay connected! It’s always this type of work that makes me love my job and realize the importance of what I do each and every day. For that, I am extremely grateful.