Monday, July 22, 2013

Out of the Shadows

cc flickr photo by azjd14

After a brief summer break, our students returned to school today.   Never underestimate the opportunity for a fresh start -- it was a good day.  I was only being slightly facetious when I joked with several staff members that I'm not sure I ever feel more effective as a principal than during the first week of school.  I spent the vast majority of my day, out of my office, helping kids.  Among other things, I answered questions, interpreted schedules, served as a tour guide, listened to stories about summer, explained the lunch special, reassured, and encouraged.  It felt good to really FOCUS on kids.

As I watched our students stream through the front gates at the beginning of the day, I couldn't help but marvel at the diversity of the group -- and be a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of addressing the individual needs of all of these kiddos.  Each one arrives in junior high with their own story, their own history -- a shadow, if you will.  Some are well-prepared, supported, and confident.  They are motivated, and eager to learn.  Their shadows are exactly where they should be -- behind them.  For others, the shadows loom large, eclipsing motivation, and extinguishing hope.  For these students, school must seem a bit like the movie Groundhog Day -- a new year without the promise of change.

How do we help these students come out of the shadows?  It starts with caring adults focusing on building connections.  Relationships are a BIG deal, and we have to treat them as such.  Teachers interested in breaking students out of a negative school cycle will:

  • Get to know their kids -- developing a keen awareness of their past (and present) circumstances, without letting it cloud judgement about the student's future.
  • Be diligent about searching for successes.  They will find a reason to celebrate with every child.
  • Consider the strategies, tools, and resources that can be used to learn about the lives of students, and their personal interests.
  • Reflect on how they will reach out to student's who haven't experienced success in a long time.
  • Ensure that every student (within the first week--if not day--of school) walks away with a personal, and positive, experience.
The late Dr. Rita Pierson had it exactly right when she spoke about the challenges, and joys, of working with kids "in the shadows."  Every child does need a champion.  

Relationships won't change everything, but make no mistake about the fact that little will change without positive relationships.  What else can we do to bring students out of the shadows?


  1. I love this, Pal -- and think that helping kids to realize that academic success isn't the ONLY kind of success that matters is a point we often forget in schools.

    The reason struggling students feel like every day is Ground Hog Day is the only success that we measure in schools is the kind of success that they struggle with the most.

    Really hope that this year treats you well! Our first day is Monday. I'm looking forward to it too.

    Rock on,

    1. Absolutely true Bill. Regardless of outside pressures, we need to be concerned with educating the WHOLE child -- success in many ways.

      Take care!


    2. My name is Elizabeth Johnson, and I am replying to your blog as a part of one of my college classes. Our class blog can be found here: EDM310 Class Blog. My personal blog can be found here: Elizabeth's Blog . I am pursuing a degree in Elementary Education. A summary of my visits to your blog will be posted to my blog on Monday, September 16, 2013.

      I really enjoyed reading your blog post. When I was a student in grade school, I always loved the first day of school. Now that I am a junior in college, I still love the first day of classes. Like you said, it's a fresh start! On the first day, teachers and staff see a wide variety of students. What they do not see is all they bring with them or from where they came. They simply see who they are when they come to school.

      I could not agree with you more about building relationships and making connections with students. As a future educator, this is a main goal for me. Yes, it is important to teach students facts and subject matter, but it is also important to build relationships with students in order to pull them out of these dark shadows that they may come to school carrying with them. My favorite point that you made regarding how teachers can pull students out of the negative school cycle was the first one. It is very important to get to know your students' present and past, but not allowing that to affect your judgements or predications of how their future will turn out.

      I look forward to reading more posts from you.

      Elizabeth Johnson