Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Added Value

I travel to sixteen elementary schools in the Howard County School system. These schools are home to Regional Early Childhood Centers, operated under the auspices of the Office of Early Intervention. My job is to support the overall curriculum and IEP goals through Music and Movement.

I often feel like the Mystery Shopper of the Howard County Schools. Day in and day out, I am walking through the halls, interacting with office staff, using the restrooms in the faculty lounge, observing classes, and noting the condition of the facilities.

I feel privileged to be trusted enough as a staff member to move freely through the hallways. I'm not here to dish dirt or relate some juicy expose, and in fact, there's nothing of that sort to relate.

There are funny stories of course. I wrote about the window to nowhere here. I find it amusing that posters in the hallways ask children, "Are you single, straight, and silent?" My favorite was the teachers' restroom in a school undergoing renovation. Workers had actually pulled out the stalls much too early in the process, and had to put in temporary plywood ones at the last minute. Female employees responded by labeling the room and stalls with golden crescent moon symbols in protest.

Yesterday I saw a child and a staff member walking through the hallway together. They stopped at a bulletin board. The student was holding a pointer with a pointing hand at the end. "Can you find a letter A?" asked the adult. The girl hunted and searched, eventually resting her pointer on the right letter. They talked about the bulletin board for a bit, then moved on.

Cambridge Dictionaries Online defines the term added value in this way: an improvement or addition to something that makes it worth more. In that moment, I saw: one-on-one attention, the chance to move around and take a physical activity break, empowerment of the student by giving her the pointer, extending the activity of "reading the room" to the wider school facility, using a different approach to reinforce letter recognition.

Things like this are happening all the time in our schools. The depth and breadth of what our teachers and staff do for our children is not always visible. As parents, we get frustrated and angry when our child has a bad day, or struggles, or when things that are being done make no sense to us. And we certainly should reach out under those circumstances for help and clarification. I certainly do.

But, as an unappointed Mystery Shopper, I want you to know that there's a lot of added value you may not be aware of. And your involvement in your child's education, at home and through supporting their school, may be the greatest added value of all.

So if you get a chance to walk through the hallways, look for those little moments. They cannot be assessed by standardized tests. They are creative, humanizing, showing respect for the learner. Once you start seeing them, you will notice them more and more.



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