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Leaders, Reinvigorate By Hanging Out With Kids

kids playing.jpgSmiles. Laughter. Excitement.

Students run up to the school building door, ready for a day of learning and fun. They say goodbye to their parents with hugs and kisses and then they ascend the steps, smiling at me.

"Good morning," I say. "Have a great day."

"Good morning," they say back as they walk to their classrooms. 

Each child with his or her own personality getting ready for a great day.

Sometimes I'm fortunate to play principal for the day in our district's kindergarten center. There is nothing better than to visit the classrooms of kindergarten students learning new stuff. The energy is frenetic. Their joy is palpable and their teachers love nurturing this curiosity.

Whether walking around to participate in the morning meetings or watch a reading lesson, students are always engaged in their learning experiences and the more time I've spent there, the more used to me the kids and the teachers have become.

One time recently, I had the opportunity in one of the classrooms to participate in the activity. The teacher could see I wanted to stay and instead of working with one of the students (there were an odd number that day) she asked me if I wanted to work with the boy. "Yes," I answered eagerly.

"I'm Ashton."

"Hi, Ashton. What is this game we are playing? Can you teach me how to play?" I got down on the carpet with him and he placed the sight word game sheet on the floor.

"You roll the dice and move your button as many spaces as the number says. Then you have to read the word. And then it's the other person's turn."

"You want to go first since you know how to play? You show me how!"

He eagerly rolled the dice, right off the carpet actually and his teacher reminded everyone to have "soft rolls". Ashton got a high number, maybe five and he counted out five and then read the word that was on the sheet.

"I think I know what I have to do." So I rolled the dice and on we went. There was a timer on the board and kids were all over the classroom using all available space. Some were on the floor like us, in the nooks and crannies and others were at tables. Sooner than I can remember, the timer rang and our game was over and the teacher called us back to the carpet to share out.

Each child shared about who won and they eagerly cheered each other on. Ashton told the class I won, but he was close to winning the second game. "You basically won," I said, "just one away from the finish." He was a great sport and didn't want to lie about winning.

"Thank you for inviting me to play and being such a great teacher," I said to Ashton and I thanked the teacher for letting me be a part of her class.

What was more exciting was when I was back this last time, Ashton remembered me, even if he couldn't pronounce my name, he recognized me and said hi a bunch of times. 

What I miss most about being a teacher is the time I spend with students. They were my fuel and my energy and every day they reminded me why I teach. And in my new role, the students don't really know me yet. A few know my name because I've been in their classrooms a bunch of times, but they don't see me as a teacher or a role model yet, I'm just too new to the district. I know this will change in the future as I really do want to get more involved.

As fate would have it this year, I did have the opportunity to facilitate an extra help group for eighth graders before the state test. It was joyful to work with seven boys who came and felt even better when I saw them in class or in the halls and I knew their names.

These connections we make with students and with teachers are the building blocks to strong learning communities. We all work together and the better we know each person, the more capable we are at doing it better.

So leaders, if you get a chance, go into a classroom, not because you're doing walkthroughs or because you have something to say, but just for the sheer joy of watching students learn and observe their interactions with their peers and their teachers. It will give you a lift.

What suggestions do you have to help leaders or teachers recharge when they need a little inspiration? Please share.

*photo credit to Starr Sackstein

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