For the past three years I have participated as an administrator in our district's summer school program. An 18-day program to facilitate the continued growth of our scholars. Each year I choose to administrate at the elementary level, to experience something different than my regular school year. And it never fails that each year I learn or experience something new and/or refreshing.
Our summer school teachers have a very limited amount of time to connect on a personal level with our scholars. Within the first three days of school our educators are asked to set up a temporary room, have scholars complete a pre-test in math (and economics for grades 3-4), fill out a continual learning plans, attend a weekly staff meeting and most importantly build relationships with students! No small feat for educators who are on the backside of a busy school year.
I am thankful that this summer our building is packed with teachers determined to build relationships. Their efforts have not gone unnoticed.
One of our combined kindergarten and first grade classrooms was making their way up the long staircase and getting ready to head outside. The teacher was at the head of the line and made her way toward the first of three doors to exit to the playground. As the teacher made her way through the first door her line leader stopped, without being asked or told, and held the door open for the rest of his class. When the teacher made her way to the second door, the new line leader stopped without being asked or told, and held the door open for the rest of her class. The teacher exited the third door, and the third line leader stopped without being asked or told, to hold the door open for the class.
When the class filed out the first door the original line leader went to the second door and relieved the young lady of her responsibility. As the line of scholars cleared the second door, the original line leader went to the third door and again relieved the other young lady of her responsibility. And when all of his classmates had successfully exited the building to the playground, the line leader watched the door close and ran to join his friends.
All of this happened very quickly. More impressive was that it all happened without any instructions from the teacher.
Which leads me to believe... she has built relationships!
Initiative, Sacrifice, and Care
The creation and maintenance of class relationships is hard work! To see it happen in such a short program is fantastic. The relationships that exist in that classroom were demonstrated by the line leaders' initiative, sacrifice, and care for their classmates.
Initiative: As I mentioned in the story, at no point did any one of the line leaders receive any sort of instruction from their teacher to hold the door for the rest of their class. Each line leader took the initiative to behave in a way that benefited the entire class. They saw a way in which they could watch out for their classmates and did so without hesitation. And after just one scholar took the initiative to hold a door, two more followed his lead. One's initiative became the initiative of a larger group.
I have a four year old son, and he takes great pride in opening doors for me and his mommy. His favorite thing to do is to push the button that opens the door automatically. Each time he holds the door, my wife and I both shower him with appreciation for being so kind and respectful. As he has grown, and as he been thanked for his kindness, he has begun to open doors for strangers that may be following behind us as we enter a store. His understanding of how to take care of a community is growing. But that understanding, and his initiative to hold doors, was the result of lots of time invested by his mommy and me.
So, the fact that this teacher and her classroom have built a culture in which a young scholar is taking the initiative to be kind to their classmates is phenomenal. It is one clear example that relationships have been built in that classroom.
Sacrifice: While holding the door for their classmates, each one of those scholars watched their friends pass by on their way to have some fun out on the playground. They bore witness to their friends getting to the slides, swings, monkey bars, etc., well before they had even closed the door they had decided to keep open. As an elementary scholar, that takes a lot of sacrifice. These three scholars willingly gave up, sacrificed, their prime positions to access the playground (remember they had the first three spots in line) in order to be servant leaders.
In Marzano's book School Leadership that Works, he describes the multiple ways in which one can show up as a servant leader. One of the aspects of servant leadership is to understand the needs of the individuals. A servant leaders is a person who takes the back seat in order to support and encourage the work or actions of another. Servant leaders are people who will sacrifice their own position in order to allow others to reach a place of comfort or happiness. These leaders also happen to be folks who are not in the business of sacrifice for returned appreciation. They act out of kindness instead of a place of desired gratitude.
When a classroom is able to build up leaders, servant leaders, it is abundantly clear that relationships have been built and that a community of scholars exists.
Care: At the most basic level, what these three scholars did for their classmates show an intense amount of care for one another. Remember, these kiddos could have been the first three out the door and on the playground, enjoying the best part of the day... recess! But instead, they chose to watch out for their classmates and demonstrated a deep level of care. Especially the young man who held the first door and then went to care for the second, and third doors and the young ladies holding those doors. He continued to show care for his class as he made sure all of his classmates, even the other helpers, made it safely out to the playground before he left his post. All three scholars took the time to take care of one another.
Our family just came back from a super short vacation to a lake cabin that belongs to some of our family. While sitting on the dock with my fishing line in the water, I noticed something. The "grandpa" of the cabin was carefully and lovingly walking his wife down the rather bumpy sidewalk toward the shoreline and the chairs set out for observers. He took the time to care for his wife in a small, but significant way. When she finally arrived to the chair she took in a deep breadth, and smiled. She settled into her spot and began snapping photos of the family fun. This was a beautiful moment of unconditional care.
In the same vane, these young scholars took unconditional care of their classmates, not because they had to but because they wanted to. It was the relationships they had with one another, I believe, that drove them to hold those doors for their friends.
So as you begin to relax this summer, take notice of the wonderful things happening around you. What things from your community, friendships, and family can you bring back to the classroom to build a bigger and better set of relationships with the scholars? And how do you plan to take the time to create an culture of initiative, sacrifice, and care?