As I was leaving our school today (at 5:30), I was gathering my things and overheard our principal talking to a group of parents in the next room over. It sounded like they were having the time of their lives - this was a group of parents that had just come in to meet with the principal and talk about the school, and I'm sure they shared plenty of things that we could do better. But this particular part of the conversation was focused on our girls' basketball team, who just last Saturday clinched the city championship with an absolute wallop of the other team. You can probably imagine how the conversation went:
"You should have seen those girls..."
"...swish! I was so proud!"
"Those girls really showed a lot of hustle out there."
"...represented us well."
...except that the conversation went nothing like that. Instead, it was focused on how proud we were that our girls had worked hard enough in class to maintain academic eligibility: "No teacher in this school gives away As"..."our girls work so hard for eight and a half hours a day that practice is a breeze"...
I love several things about this:
- Our parents and our principal are having a great time talking about the school and some of our kids.
- Our girls won the city championship, and the main topic of conversation is how hard they are working in school and how much they are learning.
- This type of interaction is fairly commonplace at our school - we have a school where people just feel good about being there. I know this is not the norm at every school across the country, and I know firsthand what a challenge it is (mostly by failing spectacularly the last time I tried) to build and maintain a positive culture for everybody in the building. This is a real tribute to our principal, our fabulous operations team, our leadership team, our teachers...everybody
Some other things I have loved about our school this week:
- Monday, in preparation for our first state tests, we had our first (annual?) Orange Crush Day. I'd say about 70% of our kids wore orange. I'm looking at you, Jamie Irish.
- Yesterday, the day of our state-mandated writing exam (I'm not supposed to discuss it...have I said too much already?), a handful of our literature and writing teachers shared their 'elaborations on a [Dunkin Donuts] Munchkin.' The kids and adults were equally amused, entertained, and inspired.
- Most of the ongoing Fountas and Pinnell testing happens in the office where I work, and I get to watch kids learn - and promptly celebrate - how much they have grown in reading, every day.
- Yesterday, I swapped writing samples with a couple of our teachers, and today I shared nerdy ruminations about using a version of "guess my number" with complex numbers to introduce the skill of finding the midpoint of a line segment.
- Despite the fact that our school was highlighted for having the highest level of growth among African-American students in the state of Connecticut (on state tests...I know...), the general sense among all of us is that our kids deserve much, much more than we are currently offering. We don't beat ourselves up about it; instead, we practice and work and refine and try our best to get better.
- This was a couple weeks ago, but, when 38 inches of snow fell and school was cancelled for a week, our teachers decided it was best to hand-deliver packets of homework (rather than mailing them) so they could check in with kids and families. A handful of teachers, who bike to work every day, delivered these packets by bicycle. All across the city. Through tunnels of snow.
So yeah, I work with a pretty incredible group of people.
Look, guys - I know a lot of schools are no fun to be at, especially around 'testing season', and I know not everybody gets to work with a group of people this wonderful...and I know the nature of these things is not constant, that there will be bumps and more lows and more highs on the way. But if you're at a place where you don't feel things are going well, or you feel a strong dislike for the environment you're in, just know: There is something better out there. It's real. I wish everybody got to work at a place like this, and I wish every family and every child had a school like this.