As an elementary school principal, I have the opportunity to interact with students in a bunch of different ways. From high-fiving boys and girls as they’re dropped off each morning to shooting hoops with a group of students during recess to popping into classrooms to see kids engaged in learning, being with students is the best part of my job.
Not too long ago I had the opportunity to host Lunch with the Principal. Each month, every teacher selects a student who has been excelling in class, demonstrating perseverance, showing great character, etc., and those students get to join me for a pizza lunch. It’s a fun way for me to sit down and chat with students, praise them for working hard, and connect with them in a more relaxed setting. Totally casual. Just students, our assistant principal, and me, shooting the breeze over gourmet (or at least affordable) Little Caesars pizza.
After students had their fill of pizza and were dismissed back to class, I walked through the staff lounge where one of our 1st grade teachers stopped me in my tracks with this comment.
“Hey, Brent. Calvin was was so excited to have lunch with you today. He even got a haircut yesterday to get ready.”
“Wait. What?” I said. “He got a haircut for Lunch with the Principal?”
“Yep. That’s what he told me,” she said with a smile.
Apparently, the simple act of getting to eat $6 pizza with me was a pretty big deal for this 6-year-old, enough so that he wanted a haircut to be part of his preparation.
I was totally blown away. I was humbled. And I was a bit ashamed.
See, in that moment, I realized that in the busyness of my schedule, I had overlooked the importance of this time. While seemingly simple in my eyes (pick up pizza -- check, buy ice and soda -- check, set out paper plates and napkins -- check), this was more than a simple event on my calendar. For this student (and probably a good number of those who attended), this was HUGE. This was a chance to eat with the principal. It’s weird for me to even write that, but today I was reminded of my influence, even when I’m too busy or dense to realize it.
It wasn’t just pizza. It was an opportunity to connect with those I serve, a chance to talk about their pets at home, what they like to play at recess, and what they hope to get for Christmas. It was an opportunity to get to know my students, and for them to get to know me.
I was reminded that students don’t necessarily have a dozen things on their calendar that have to get done. I was reminded that for them, I may be the ONE thing on their “To Do” list, the one thing they’re looking forward to that day. I was reminded of the incredible power I possess to make a difference in the lives of my students, of the power all educators possess. It’s a bit scary, but what an opportunity! An opportunity I don’t want to miss.
So the next time you find yourself thinking “It’s just pizza,” “It’s just a smile,” or “It’s just a high five,” remember -- that pizza, smile, or high five may be making a student’s day, week, or even month. That student may be telling Mom and Dad about it or writing about it in their journal. Who knows? Your action may even lead to a haircut.
Brent has worked in the field of education as a teacher and administrator for 25 years. He is currently Principal of Alta Murrieta Elementary School in Murrieta, California. Read more about Brent here.
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