Last year at this time, I was happy only if I enclosed myself in my classroom and focused on my group of students and the ELL program at my school. I felt stifled and micromanaged, and morale and school spirit were at an all-time low.
A year later, and 7 months into new leadership, the difference in the air is palpable. Problems still exist and always will, and there will always be disagreements or people who are unhappy. However, our new leader has breathed life into our school with her art education, enthusiasm, incredibly deep caring for kids, understanding of teachers, and what she calls "Patty Bode's crazy ideas". An accomplished art educator who has extensively taught, presented, and written about art, social justice, and multicultural education, Patty has more energy than most 6 year olds I know; she is the kind of person who gets to work early, having already gone on a 5 mile walk and done 3 loads of laundry.
The transformation in our school is evident all over. The entrance to school has cutouts of many hands that can be seen through the windows with the words "Open minds, open hearts, open ARMS" (also the acronym for our school). The cafeteria is a vibrant place with games, coloring, and puzzles available for students on the days we can't take them outside for fresh air. Classrooms are busy with creative and engaging work.
Some of Patty Bode's crazy ideas have happened already or will be happening. Take the entire school, including the administrative staff AND the custodians to see "Hidden Figures"? Sure! Why not? All grade walking field trips to see dance performances at our local Fine Arts Center? Let's do it!. Be the first public school nationwide to host the Family Diversity Project's "Portraits of Transgender People" photo exhibit, and then pilot our very own exhibit of immigrant families in our school? Yes!! Patty has a "let's make it happen" attitude that makes you think you really can make it all happen.
Other exciting events at our school include a digital citizenship curriculum, led by our amazing librarian Peter Riedel; a viewing of the film "Screenagers", about overuse of screen time and its consequences; more integration across subjects and teams; and the return of inquiry groups, led by teachers, as a cornerstone of professional development for teachers.
Patty has brought a sense of "by any means necessary" for reaching our students and their families. Beginning in the summer, she made home and work visits to reach out to families and make them feel welcomed. This gave me a sense of freedom to be able to say to families, "What time can you meet? We will make it work." I have a group of 6 or 7 Latina moms I text with updates, questions, or concerns, and I would challenge anyone to tell me those moms don't want to be involved in their kids' schools. They text me back right away and often, and they know we care about their kids. It is just this kind of thinking outside of the box that some families need.
But most importantly, I think that teachers at our school feel heard. Most people know that they can stop by Patty's office for a chat any time the door is open, and they don't always need an appointment. Patty goes to team meetings often, and in staff meetings listens to concerns with a patience I admire. Teachers do not feel afraid to make their voices heard, because they know that at heart she is also a teacher. She is also not above donning an apron and coming to my class (or others!) to engage students in a color-mixing/hand-painting activity to follow up on a discussion we had about melanin.
The purpose of this blog post was not so much to show my esteem for Patty, though she is pretty great. The purpose was more to show how important leadership is to a school. There was a time when I thought it didn't matter who was leading our school, because we teachers knew what to do and how to do it anyway. Now I realize how it feels to have an instructional leader who can really influence and change a school for the better. Lucky me, I am able to work with her and my co-AP closely in this process. I'm learning SO much.