Author: Megan Hoyt - Jefferson Elementary School, York, SC
It’s 5:27 am. The lights of the school building illuminate the night sky as school custodians report to work. The school is soon filled with sounds of vacuums humming, doors opening, and feet quietly shuffling around. Not long after, cafeteria staff begin to arrive and smells of breakfast begin to waft through the building as they prepare to feed the hundreds of students that will soon begin bounding down the hallways. Administrators, teachers, assistants, specialists, and office staff soon join, adding the sounds of copiers, phones ringing, conversation, and laughter. Across town, technology specialists, district maintenance workers, school psychologists, district office staff, and so many more begin their days with agendas and action plans.
All of these individuals come from different homes, backgrounds, and skill sets. Their days – and job descriptions – look very different. Yet there is a tie that binds: PURPOSE. Each of these extraordinary humans wakes up with the same purpose – to serve our students and make a positive impact in the course of their lives.
In our schools, we are a village – small but mighty. Every single role matters. We couldn’t do it without each other and our students belong to ALL of us.
So, how can we empower all roles in education – especially the “untapped resources” in our buildings - to walk in their purpose, have opportunities to build meaningful relationships, and expand their impact?
Think beyond job descriptions. One of the most memorable moments of my career was in a school that housed a behavior support classroom. Many of these students experienced some level of trauma which presented in extreme behaviors or had emotional disabilities that often hindered their ability to have positive social interactions. One day, the computer stopped working in the classroom – which, if you work in education, you know this can be classified as a natural disaster. Cue the hero, Melvin from Technology, who swooped in to save the day. He arrived quickly to assess the computer, but it had more issues than he could address at the moment. During that visit, Melvin noticed that one particular student (let’s call him “J”) had a heightened interest in what he was doing. J watched Melvin’s every move, asking more questions than Melvin was probably prepared for, and offered “advice” of his own. A few days later, Melvin showed up to repair the computer, carrying the parts down to the classroom. This is where the magic happened. Melvin invited J – now his “new best friend” (Melvin just didn’t know it yet) – to work with him, involving him in the computer repair and even allowing him to help. J was thrilled and talked about Melvin for months to come. What Melvin doesn’t know is that, due to his intentional effort to connect over a shared interest, he was launching us into a new beginning with J. Custodians began to involve J in repairing simple items around the school. When J was having a tough day, we found broken clocks or chairs and allowed him to “repair” them. J was incentivized by being our “resident handyman” – all because Melvin stretched beyond his job description to make a difference in the life of a child. Inputs versus outputs. Melvin didn’t have to, but he poured into J, and it made all the difference.
Provide opportunities for mentorship and support. Creating intentional space for positive interactions between students and nurturing adults can transform the culture of a school. Many students crave an encouraging adult role model, a listening ear, or someone who shares their interests. Connect students with a trusted adult through breakfast or reading buddies, lunch clubs, or even as a recurring check-in. I am so incredibly blessed to work in a district where central office staff know the names of our students and work to intentionally connect. With a full heart, I recall a time when our district’s Coordinator of Testing and Accountability was in my office and one of our students was having a tough day. She sat with him on the floor and spoke with him in the most soothing tone. I could see the calm come over him. As they talked, she learned he loved the game Jenga but didn’t have a game to play. A few weeks later, she showed up with a Jenga game and played it with him in the hallway. No one could steal his joy that day. She gave him the gift of undivided time (and Jenga, of course) and he lit up every time he saw her coming. She made it a point to check on him every visit thereafter until he transferred to another school – and I feel sure she still visits him there. The power of connection. I could tell stories for days, as it is one of my greatest joys to witness these relationships form and transform.
Be thoughtful and inclusive in planning. When planning school events (and especially those that celebrate student successes), make it a practice to include everyone. We recently had a growth parade at our school that allowed every student the opportunity to shine. What made it so powerful was the village that showed up to cheer our students on! District office staff, custodians, cafeteria staff, our transportation department, members of the community – they came ready to high five, clap, happy dance, and hug. It was an incredible celebration, not to mention an opportunity to build connections and for our students to feel the love and support they have both inside and beyond our walls. Send the invitations – it’s worth it! Keep in mind that inclusive planning also goes beyond school events. By extending invitations to professional development such as trauma-informed or SEL training, it better equips all staff to support the whole child in our buildings. Empower and engage.
Every child is one caring adult away from being a success story. Our best resources walk among us.
In today’s ever-changing educational system, we are called to leverage the strengths in our schools, our district, and our community so that students feel loved, supported, and successful. May we lift up and empower every role in our village to show them that they matter, their voice is valuable, and they are making a positive impact in the lives of our students. May we walk alongside them with a shared purpose and a drive to make a difference. Today and in the days to come, no matter our roles, let us challenge ourselves to connect and be present in our purpose. Eat lunch with a student, discover and share in their interests, attend an extracurricular event you normally wouldn’t attend, seek out a reading buddy or form a club, learn the names of students outside of your classroom and say them with a smile, celebrate successes big and small, play Jenga in the hallway with those that need it most, be a Melvin. In doing so, together we can move mountains.
About the Author:
Megan Hoyt is an Assistant Principal at Jefferson Elementary School in York, SC. Connect with Megan on Twitter @meganbhoyt or through email firstname.lastname@example.org.