What School Is All About

Growing Leaders recently hosted a RoundTable for Principals in Atlanta. It was a joy to hear from best-selling author Dan Pink, authors Will Parker and DeeAnn Turner and an educational panel made up of Julie Diaz, Gary Davison and Dorothy Jerrett.

One of my favorite learning moments, however, occurred during a break.

Renee Hood approached me to talk. Renee serves as high school principal of Boyd Buchanan School in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She told me about an incident on her campus this past year that became a highlight for hundreds of students, staff, parents, and faculty. Her story became a highlight for me during that RoundTable.

Renee told me about Kim Derrick, who’s worked at the high school for almost two decades, as their Aftercare Director, serving kids from Pre-K to 6th grade. In January, Kim suffered a stroke that left her with limited mobility in her left arm. Jason Owens, a long-time friend and colleague who teaches at the high school, grieved over her disability, but soon he got an idea that could be a win/win for her and his students.

He challenged his engineering students to do something to help Ms. Derrick.

Since his class was about engineering, he asked if his students could create products or equipment that would help Ms. Derrick with ordinary, everyday tasks.

“The overwhelming response was that’s what they wanted to do,” Jason said. “They want to do things, they want to be involved, they want to make a difference.”

And that’s exactly what they did.

A Classroom That Solved a Problem

These students clustered into teams and began thinking about the problems Ms. Derrick would have without the full use of her arm. After coming up with a list of challenges, these learning communities began designing items to help her solve those problems, so she could continue to live a relatively normal life—even after a stroke. Some ideas were more helpful than others, but eventually they came up with projects that could be prioritized and developed. They worked for weeks. Then, one by one, these students presented their products to Ms. Derrick, demonstrating how they worked and how they could help her:

  • Lift heavy items in her home
  • Open jars that are tight
  • Transport possessions
  • Accomplish her tasks at work

Ms. Derrick smiled from ear to ear as she saw the outcomes of their work. In fact, everyone in the room was moved as they realized:

1. The students actually were able to demonstrate what they had learned.

2. The students had the chance to give back to a staff member at their school.

3. The students transformed classroom theory to practical applications.

4. School returned to its original purpose: solving problems and serving people.

As Principal Renee Hood relayed this story to me, she was beaming. I could see the pride in her eyes and her smile as she saw the connection that was made between education and genuine problem solving.

This is what school is all about.

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What School Is All About