Some of my best memories as a child occurred when I was in elementary school. Since I was a child, community has been a large part of my life.
I attended a community school that played a significant role in my upbringing. There were many activities and programs at school and church that encouraged participation. I distinctly remember the happiness and presence of family, members of the community, and my peers when there were PTO meetings, school performances, or school carnivals. There were always local leaders such as nurses, firemen, and policemen with “McGruff,” the crime dog, who assisted in building crime awareness among children, all working together with the school.
I volunteered to help raise awareness and I participated in fundraisers that helped organizations such as March of Dimes or Student Council. I also witnessed the importance of school and community relationships. At a young age, my experiences taught me about leadership. I knew when I became a teacher having strong relationships with the community would be very important and a life-long obligation that I was willing to fulfill. Because of my lived experiences – growing up in a working class family of six with only one income from my father – the community provided a source of hope and security for challenges faced in resource-deprived environments.
So I ask, what does C.E.O of our classrooms mean? Community, Engaged, Organization. Before your mouths open and you gasp, ask yourself, “Why not?” Why not have a Community Engaged Organization right in your classroom, even if your school is not officially titled a “Community School.” I know what you are thinking: Where do I start? How do I begin? I do not have the resources or funds.
Guess what? You have all of those things and more.
First, start with the arrangement of your classroom. My students have desks where they keep their books and materials for school. But in addition to those materials, my classroom incorporates flexible seating including couches, a kitchen/refreshment area, and an area for parents, volunteers, or even staff to feel welcome and to work with students. The overall setting of the classroom includes lamps, rugs, beanbags, and pillows to enhance the feeling of a class community/family. When you walk into my classroom, you are walking into an environment that is warm, inviting, and that caters to students’ individual learning styles.
Second, write a grant proposal to assist with your plan. In 2014, I received a grant that enabled the National Education Association through The South Carolina Education Association to bring the NEA’s Cat-A-Van to our elementary school. The NEA’s Cat-A-Van Reading Tour is designed to get kids excited about reading and provides more than $100,000 of reading inspiration to high-needs schools. The grant gave me the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues in my school, my district, and my community. It also encouraged my colleagues to share instructional teaching techniques and practices. Students had the opportunity to experience leadership roles and parental involvement was increased.
Last, realize that you do not always have to transport children outside of the school to have a field experience. Neighbors, peers, family members, the grocery store clerk, or local businessmen are all experts at something in their lives. Invite them into your classroom.Honestly, most of the time they are flattered, looking for ways to volunteer, to give back, or just be involved in the education of children.
Why does all of this matter? Achieving my National Board Certification was one of my greatest accomplishments in the field of education. The National Board process was a dream come true.The five core propositions and the National Board standards address the whole child and provide opportunities for children to grow, not just address curriculum and test scores.
I am willing to take part in any opportunity that I receive to share best practices with my colleagues that will help improve the way in which students and teachers learn. Being a teacher is far beyond the teaching of children; it is a civic duty and responsibility that I feel should be shared with anyone within the profession.