When I arrived at King, the culture in the building was anything but positive. As a matter of fact, one of my first interactions I had with the staff was when someone came up to me and asked me to sign a petition questioning the principal’s proposal to spend money on improving the teacher’s room. Seriously? That was a big problem? I was personally afraid to walk down the eighth grade hallway during my first year at King. I had a room full of students struggling with reading. As I walked around the school, there were often some teachers clustered by a doorway chatting quietly, with unhappy looks on their face. There was more to change than the teacher’s room. We were a school struggling with adult culture.
During the following three or four years, the tension grew. Our principal was implementing a school reform model, called Expeditionary Learning, and not everyone was on board. There were meetings with angry parents and concerned teachers; the beginning stages of the change were challenging and uncomfortable. But behind the scenes, work was being done to build a cohesive team of teachers. We went on Outward Bound experiences-many of which unfortunately took place in the pouring rain! The principal secured funding for the staff to experience whitewater rafting, a terrifying activity for some of us but one that required collaboration. Each August, we were paid to plan integrated curriculum, and we used protocols to present our work to one another safely. Slowly, but surely, through deliberate planning we became a team and were able to focus on the students-together.
That is the school I returned to after my first conference as Maine’s Teacher of the Year for 2014. I wasn’t worried about anyone being “jealous” of my opportunity. My colleagues were supportive, proud, and interested in my assessment of the conference. They continue to have my back as I ask them to adjust the schedule for our team so I can attend meetings and deliver presentations. The encouragement I feel from the educators in my school is the type of support our students feel every day from the staff and their peers. Positive attitudes are contagious. Tomorrow, the first Saturday of February vacation, staff members will head into King to support the students and teachers of the drama program as they perform The Wizard of Oz two days late, due to our never-ending winter. A change in culture can occur. There are intentional moves by administrators and teachers that can support this transformation. We all have a responsibility to contribute to the professional and caring atmospheres of our schools. As baseball manager Casey Stengel once said, “Getting good players is easy. Getting ’em to play together is the hard part.” We have certainly learned how to “play together” at King and I am so thankful. Every school, every teacher, and every student deserves this.