Recently, I had a colleague ask me a question that really made me think. They said, “If I was to tell someone go visit David’s school because ________, what would you want me to say?”
That made me stop and think: what stands out about my school and my classroom? As I have read many mission statements and contemplated my own philosophy of leadership, I have come to firmly believe that we must focus education on the development of the whole child. Social and emotional learning must be combined with strong academics. So how do you balance student development in all of these areas? You need to immerse them in all avenues, each and every day.
For me, I think you need to foster the social and emotional components (the climate and culture of your classroom or school) first. You need to grab the students’ attention, make them feel comfortable and welcome, and then quickly and seamlessly attach academics to that as well. When I began my choir director position, I knew that I needed to first develop the positive reputation of the program. I wanted students to feel accepted and have a strong desire to join our choir! I employed the 8th grade students to mentor our younger students. I had veteran choir members help develop the programs and rehearsal schedules, to allow them voice and choice. I began with group meetings where our only purpose was to build community by playing games, enjoying pizza parties, and allowing every student to have a voice. It was easy, then, to begin singing easy warm ups that were funny and engaging, because choir had turned into an atmosphere where music is fun, yet still challenging. Now, we are singing harder music, and I am thrilled to see young musicians learning so much and still having a ton of fun doing it. Because they all grow socially, emotionally, and academically each time they enter a rehearsal, I know that they are growing into well rounded students.
For me, I want my school and classroom to be known as the place where students find a sense of belonging while still being challenged. I want my school and classroom to be known as a place where everyone is accepted and encouraged to take educated risks. And as an aspiring school leader, I would carry these same hopes and desires not only for students, but for the staff and parents of a school community as well. So to answer my colleague's question, “You should come check out David’s school because it is a place where everyone is given the opportunity to grow socially and emotionally, and challenged to advance academically. It's a place where all stakeholders have found success and have grown to better themselves.”
Now, how would you answer that question about your own classroom or school?