Experiencing Education from the Perspective of the Educator

I woke up at 4:45 am. My routine seemed normal, however,  rather than prepping my computer space for remote operation, I dressed in relaxed attire paired with sparkling sneakers to walk the hallways of JN Ervin Elementary School. One thing I knew for sure, I’d get my 10,000 steps without a doubt.

At 7:15a, I started the day waving to parents as they dropped off their kids. I waved with a big smile and introduced myself as “Principal for a Day!” I didn’t know exactly what to expect.  Nevertheless, Principal James Wallace knew just how to model perfect practices for being a well-loved leader at JN Ervin Elementary. How did I know? Because every child who walked by headed for the staircase screamed, “Heeeeyyy Mr. Wallace!” followed by an enthusiastic high-five or fist bump. I watched in awe with a big smile. Not only were the children excited to see Mr. Wallace, the parents, too, waved from their car windows, “Good morning, Mr. Wallace, have a great day!” It was a heartwarming entry to my morning as “Principal for a Day!”

My first impression: They are a beautiful, caring community.

When the last wave of children arrived, one little girl ran to Mr. Wallace to say, “Mr. Wallace, today is my birthday and you know what that means.” Mr. Wallace chimed in saying, “Morning announcements!” She excitedly screamed, “Yes!” We then headed toward Mr. Wallace's office and before I knew it, a group of kids piled into his office to gather around the microphone. The excitement was remarkable. Principal Wallace was a pro. The entertaining morning announcements started with a funny joke and the children loved it. They were excited to be a part of the daily announcements and a connected member of a beautiful, caring community.

My second impression: They are resilient.

Principal Wallace and I walked the hallways and high-fived children along the way. I met the teachers, assistant principals, the school counselors and the cafeteria workers.

The most impactful moments I encountered came from the Q&A sessions I had with the gifted and talented class, and Mr. Sims’ 5th grade reading class. The face-to-face interaction with the students highlighted their brilliance and determination to excel despite societal challenges. Principal Wallace explained that JN Ervin Elementary School is located in an underserved area and resources are limited. It was both impressive and inspiring to see how students thrived in this environment. They truly are resilient!

Final impression: They are family.

JN Ervin Elementary’s motto is “We Build Champions!” I enjoyed seeing this motto executed in real time. These champions-in-training are confident, determined, and strong. More importantly, they are family.  

As I walked the halls and observed the connections, I concluded that they are family. It was beautiful to see. The very message I champion daily is the same message I witnessed at the school: Human connection is key. I witnessed teachers working tirelessly to not only instill educational knowledge but also serve as role models in how they communicate and connect with students.

Connectivity is an important human need for all ages. Students often find this through classmate interactions and teacher support. But it is important for us to remember that as adults we have this same need for understanding and connection. Seeing the strain on educators, first-hand, to be a confidant, a supporter, an advocate and mentor, only further demonstrated to me the need for peer support in the education community. This can naturally happen on the campus as I saw at JN Ervin Elementary School through empathetic communication, making space for individuals to feel heard and valued, and offering a safe space to thrive. Support outside of the campus walls is also needed and that is why I am so passionate about unlocking authentic connection opportunities that are available anytime and anywhere. Not everyone will find this naturally in the workplace and we have to make connection and understanding part of our basic human needs that cannot be ignored.  Psychological safety provides an opportunity for personal growth and emotional resilience.

My “Principal for a Day” experience was extraordinary. I believe I received more from the children and staff  than they received from me. It was an honor to see the challenging and rewarding work that happens in the school each day. I was only there for one day, but I felt like I walked a way with a new perspectives and insights into what life as an educator is. Eye-opening doesn’t even begin to describe it. Now, I’ve become part of the family and I’m excited about that. Until next time, JN Ervin Elementary. Go, Jaguars!

Dr. Jada Jackson Hill
VP Well-being

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