Helping write student’s stories…

I’m pleased and honored to be writing my first post as a contributor to Connected Principals.  I’ve been blogging about educational issues at KARE Givers since last December, but as a new vice-principal, I thought this forum would be an excellent place to collaborate with fellow school administrators about education leadership issues specifically. I thought I’d start my post stream about the best advice I received last year as I began my journey in school administration.

Last year was a challenging and exciting opportunity for me to contribute in my new role. I was appointed as a vice-principal of Mattie McCullough Elementary School, a thriving K-5 shool with a technology focus. I was eager to get involved and make an impact.  In my first casual meeting with my principal, Mark Jones, we spoke about how best this could be done. He told me my first job was to get to know the kids, and get to know their parents… sit back a bit and learn how things flowed in my new school. This seemed rather simple at first, much less involved than I anticipated my initial  responsibility to be in the new job.  Nonetheless, I took his advice and it proved to be the best advice I received all year, and very much aligned with my personal philosophy pertaining to engaging students.

In my previous placement as a middle school counselor before coming to Mattie, and as a teacher working with kids manifesting severe emotional and behavioral challenges before that, I learned the value of learning kids’ stories.  I was eager to learn the stories of the people who make up the culture of my new school.

I believe that every student has a personal learning story, and I think of that story as containing three main components: the student’s past; the student’s present and the student’s future. In a more specific context for me as the teacher, these components translate into the story I need to learn about (past), the story I need to help write (present) and the story with the happy ending (future).

Mark has been at Mattie McCullough since it opened eight years ago. He has mastered the art of engagement relative to our students, their parents and the community we belong to as a neighborhood school.  The connection he has to the school is tangible and obvious. Newcomers to our school pick up on it right away. We have the type of school that supply teachers want to come back to over and over again once they’ve had their first assignment- it’s just a great place to be. Mark’s daily interactions with students, staff and parents are genuine and purposeful. He knows the story of each one of our 450 kids, their parents and every staff member. Through the effort he has become a collaborative and contributing author to each one of their personal learning stories.

Above all in education, I believe students must feel a sense of empowerment and control over their learning. We all write the best stories about ourselves; our experiences, thoughts, feeling, actions and words. In order to allow kids to be the authors of their own learning, we need to give them the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the process. As I got to know the kids in our school, and their parents, I began to put together their stories and the learning journey we would travel together began.

Helping write each of our student’s personal learning stories is a privilege and responsibility I am proud to accept as a school administrator, and I’m grateful for the wisdom of my principal in reminding me how important  building collaborative relationships with our students and their families is if we are  to do this supportively and effectively.


Sean Grainger