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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Call from the Principal

I remember reading about a television game show, called Family Feud, that was popular a number of years ago. Contestants were asked to respond to statements that were also posed to the audience members. The contestant with the most answers that matched the responses of the audience won the game. One statement in particular has stuck with me over the years. The emcee of the show explained that, "You just received a call from your child's school. What was the purpose of the call?" 

The most frequent replies of the audience all used the pronoun "he" in their response - and all revealed negative perceptions. For example, "He was bad in school" or "He wasn't doing his work." The reactions reflect two important points. First, that schools only appear to call with bad news. Second, that boys are usually the subject of, or recipient of, bad news. 

I recently asked our classroom teachers to identify a single learner among their classes that was deserving of recognition for contributing to a positive classroom climate. It was not a request to distinguish the highest achieving learner, or the  most improved. Instead, I was interested in learners who were manifesting the four pillars of expectations at Molly Stark Elementary School: safe, kind, respectful, and responsible.

Similarly, every bus driver delivering children to and from our school was asked to identify three or four passengers who exhibit cooperative and constructive behavior that minimizes distractions and increases safety on board the vehicle.

Then, last night I took the combined list of children and phoned their parents or guardians to share the reasons why each child was recognized by either their teacher or bus driver.  

The reaction of the people, after registering shock and anxiety from an evening phone call from the principal, was well worth the time it took to retrieve phone numbers and make the calls. I could hear pride and happiness in their voices. The conversations were pleasurable and offered me, as a principal new to the school, an opportunity to enhance my relationship with community members. 

One of the teachers emailed me this morning to let me know that a child burst into her classroom at the start of the day and, with a beaming smile, announced to the teacher that Dr. Mugits had called her dad last night with good news about how she was doing at school. The girl then went on to relate what a great evening she shared with her dad. I also fielded a call this afternoon from a proud grandmother who wanted me to know how much my call meant to her grandson.

Longfellow once said that the culture of an organization is but the lengthened shadow of its leader. I have to model what I expect from others who work at Molly Stark. If I hope for an improved climate at school that reflects care and compassion, then I must practice what I preach and set an example.

I'm hopeful that staff members will perceive the benefit derived by a simple investment of time and choose to personally reach out to the parents and guardians of children deserving of positive reinforcement, call them with good news, and enjoy the resulting conversation. It's good for everyone! 

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