Brighton School is under the state's mandatory School Improvement program for the fifth consecutive year, based on our test scores. Even though we made great gains last year, our school still qualifies for a State Peer Assistant. This year we a have a Peer Assistant who has been in the business of improving schools for eight years. Linda Hatton has been a godsend as she has patiently walked me through the process of school improvement.
From the moment Linda arrived at Brighton, she began talking to me about the need to get someone to donate a conference table for our grade level meetings. I will be honest, I just did not see how this was going to make a difference. I generally dismissed her with a nod as she continually brought this to my attention. I felt our narrow student table and set of rickety chairs sufficed for our weekly hour-long grade level meetings. After all, weren't we as teachers used to making do?
In October, I was speaking to the Birmingham Leadership Cohort at a dinner meeting. The meeting took place in the elegant offices of a prominent local law firm. As I looked around the room at this prestigious and affluent group, Linda's request surfaced in my mind. In my speech, I mentioned that our school needed a conference table for our grade level meetings, and I described the table and chairs we currently used. Somewhat to my surprise, I received several offers to donate a table and chairs. In addition, David Donaldson of Vulcan Materials said his company would adopt our school. I was in awe!
Numerous employees of Vulcan Materials have since visited our school They have started a volunteer reading program in our Kindergarten and Third Grade Classes, provided a catfish/chicken dinner for our faculty and staff on our teacher workday, and worked on our playground on one cold Saturday (they plan to help us completely renovate the playground). They are also sponsoring a field trip for our third-graders at one of their plants.
In December, a beautiful cherry conference table with ten plush chairs was delivered to our school, compliments of Baptist Princeton Hospital. When the teachers saw the new table, they were thrilled. Comments were made that they were "real" professionals now! In fact, the men who delivered the table were so astonished by the joy displayed by teachers for the new table, that their company is now donating two elegant teacher's desks with chairs. I was stunned by how the new table had such an immediate impact on teacher attitudes. I am sure I looked bewildered as I caught Linda giving me a big smile and the "I told you so" look!
Since that day, I have thought often about why I did not see the value in this new table for our teachers. The only explanation I can come up with is that I still have the mindset of many classroom teachers who believe our job is about sacrifice. Teacher professionalism is one of my constant themes, something I talk about often in speeches. However, I have been so focused on professional conduct and performance that I did not take time to think about how we are treated. Linda, who has worked for years in many low performing schools across our state with great success, knew this was where we had to start. When teachers are treated like professionals, their self-image begins to change.
I am embarrassed about this blind spot in my own vision of teacher professionalism. I hope never again will I miss the opportunity to speak up for the needs of teachers who give so much. This will become a standard practice for me in any community or corporate speeches I have the opportunity to give.
Every Wednesday, I hope you will picture Brighton teachers sitting around a beautiful cherry conference table in very comfortable chairs, discussing our work and our students in a very professional manner.