At 8:45am in the morning, I stood on the edge of Greenfield Middle School’s athletic field, next to the principal, waiting for the first bell to ring and signal some 200 students to head to their first-period class. As I was taking in the sights and sounds of the students, tossing footballs and casually connecting on this bright sunny San Diego morning, one student decided to step out of his comfort zone and ask me a question, “Are you the new assistant principal?” I said I wasn’t but would be working with the principal to provide students exposure to the world of work. He seemed to like the idea. I asked him what he wanted to do with his future? He didn’t hesitate to pitch his practiced response, “A football player – wide receiver.” I thought to myself, should I burst his bubble, knowing the chances of him getting to the pros are less than 1%? Or do I just go with it; wish him the best and let it go? Instead, I said, “Great!” and then asked, “What’s your backup plan?” He responded, also without hesitation, “A chemist.” That was not the response I was expecting. I asked the student his name and told Deon that it was very nice to meet him.
The bell rang and the students made their way to class. I thanked Deon for sharing his dreams of the future and we headed in our respective directions. That interaction gave me a lot to process. An 8th grader had just shared his dream to become a pro athlete, but better yet, he had a backup plan to become a chemist. Brilliant!
Principal Calvert saw me speaking to Deon and asked about our conversation. I told him about our interaction and shared the comments Deon made about his future. The students were spilling into their classrooms when I saw Principal Calvert reach for his radio and call out: “G1 to the office, what’s Deon’s first-period classroom?” What was Principal Calvert up to? Did he want to commend Deon for taking a risk to meet a guest on campus? Did he want to ask him more questions about his future plans? The principal clearly had something in mind.
We reached Deon’s class and the principal called him to come with us. We quickly picked up the pace as he said, “We have to get to room 201.” As we marched down the halls, I asked Deon if the principal had ever pulled him out of class. “No,” he said and I replied, “I’m guessing it must be something good.”
We walked through the door of class 201 and I instantly knew we were in for something unexpected. Room 201 is the media studio and a schoolwide telecast of morning announcements was in progress. I thought we were going to observe the students running the telecast, but Principal Calvert had another idea – we were going on the air.
Three chairs were off to the side of the anchor desk in front of a green screen. Deon, Principal Calvert, and I each took a seat. Deon was nervous. “Have you ever done this before?” I asked, hoping to distract him. He shook his head indicating that he hadn’t. “You are going to be great and how cool is it that the principal pulled you out of class to be on TV,” I said. He nodded while nervously fidgeting with his hands. 3, 2, 1 and the camera cut to us. Principal Calvert began addressing the school with updates. Chromebook sign up forms are in the office…, safety vests are being ordered…; then he switched gears and introduced Deon and me.
“This is Ed from USD who is helping develop our World of Work program and Deon from 8th grade.” Principal Calvert prompted Deon to share his vision for his career that he had shared with me earlier. I chimed in with how great it was to hear about Deon’s dream job and his backup plan to be a chemist. I highlighted that I was impressed that Deon had considered his strengths and passions and had given his future some real thought. Principal Calvert closed the session, and we walked Deon back to his class and went on our way.
I was so impressed – excited really – with this experience. I couldn’t help but reflect on it for the rest of the day. I wanted to share my experience with others; to show a wonderful example of an educational leader using agency to connect and inspire his students. I went home and began to type away at my computer to share this story.
For Principal Calvert it seemed like just another day on the job, but for me, it was a chance to witness a highly engaged principal – one who listened to the uniqueness in Deon’s story and capitalized on an opportunity to create a special moment for his student and to inspire other students. For Deon, although the school day started out like many others his decision to notice someone different in his world, and take a brave step forward to ask a question, created an opportunity he did not expect. Deon has a dream, and willingly shares it with others. As a result, he received special recognition from his principal, creating a moment that he and I will never forget.
Well done Deon and well done Principal Calvert; thank you for inviting a student to share his authentic voice and to inspire his classmates to consider their own futures. May every educator strive to inspire and learn about their students’ dreams and their unique strengths, interests, and values.
Here’s a link to the morning broadcast featuring a dialogue with Deon, Greg, and Ed. https://youtu.be/jxzkOFqr3Vw