Throughout the summer, I often keep my eye on experiences that could serve as inspiration for ways in which I could think differently in the upcoming school year. In fact, I evaluate each experience for its potential presence in my future leadership decisions. Last week, at my block party on Sesame Street, I was reminded of four essential attributes of successful classrooms and schools. Yes, I do live on Sesame Street. These reminders did not take place on the countless trips I took on the inflatable slip and slide or while I was throwing a baseball at the dunk tank’s target (although I do believe that fun should saturate teaching and learning). Yet, the ice cream party for the tens of kids (and adults who stopped by for a taste and some awesome coffee) hosted by Mr. and Mrs. Bradshaw (Mr. and Mrs. Bradshaw, Sr.) motivated this blog post and a look at key elements of great schools
One can imagine the scene when an ice cream party in a neighbor’s gazebo is announced at a block party after kids spent hours getting dunked in a dunk tank, sliding down water slides, eating sno-cones, and filling up with as much sugar as they could find. “What? Ice cream? Where? How do I get there? Up that hill????” I was one of those kids. I quickly grabbed my son, Max, so I would have an excuse to get a bite of chocolate. Well, I knew he would want ice cream, too. Of course the expected scene ensued. Kids were grabbing, yelling with excitement, asking to try flavors (as if it were an ice cream shop), etc. I looked up to see the Bradshaws as calm and cool as can be. Speaking to a five year old, “Can I help you young man? Sure, coming right up.” Mr. Bradshaw even went through each topping choice to ensure kids made the right choice. AMAZING! As educators, we need to model this same patience. Let’s allow kids to be kids and in the midst of bursting energy, still make students feel as if they have as much time as they need to make the right decisions. Due to the Bradshaws’ patience, there was personalization in this gazebo. All kids should get this in their ice cream sundae and more importantly, in their education as well.
In hearing the adults’ comments as I was enjoying my chocolate ice cream (see above), many people were impressed that there were choices for ice cream flavors, cones, and toppings! This ice cream social could have been simple. Chocolate or vanilla ice cream. Chocolate syrup and maybe a cherry. Nooooo…not in the Bradshaw Ice Cream Gazebo. I was even able to grab my favorite topping…gummi bears. With many flavors and toppings to choose from, kids were able to create their perfect dessert. This should be our same guarantee for students in schools. Choices. When we dedicate our schools to our students’ needs, we know we must provide options and different paths to success. All kids learn differently. Let’s make sure we provide spaces where all kids can have a voice. Let’s imagine schools where students drive the details of their coursework. Schools where teachers and school leaders make their way into students’ classrooms (it should be THEIR space not ours). Let’s think about ways in which we can gain students’ input before we plan our instruction. Students should be able to create their own process and product. Perhaps we could finally hear why a gummi bear in ice cream makes sense! My mother still can’t understand it.
In taking all of this in, I immediately knew I was going to be writing about this experience. I took notice of the Home Goods-like signs that were precisely hanging in the gazebo. Ice Cream Cones 10 cents. Twisted Licks Frozen Custard. Was this added touch necessary? Did it impact the kids? Absolutely! Just like the environment that was established in this gazebo, the walls in our schools can talk. What do we put on the walls in our classrooms and hallways? Do the walls speak to the culture that we aim to create? Let’s think about these important questions despite these details sometimes being overlooked. Let’s have kids fill the walls with artwork. Let’s provide students opportunities to play their original films on televisions spread throughout the school. Let’s have chalkboard walls where students can leave inspiring messages. Or questions. And let’s answer them…one by one.
If I had to guess, the Bradshaws served sixty to seventy kids ice cream. Maybe even more because I caught some of my guests getting seconds. Of these children, it would be safe to say that they didn’t know eighty percent of the kids. It didn’t matter. All kids were given the highest level of respect and treatment. The Bradshaws were friendly. They asked questions and invited everyone into their space. Race, class, gender, history, and every other social construction that people put into play never took a role in the gazebo. Can we make sure the same is granted in our schools? Can we strive this year to raise complete awareness so this culture exists between kids as well? The culture in the gazebo was open. It was positive and it was welcoming! Let’s keep our eyes wide open so we pick up on the intended and unintended actions that establish relationships, culture, and community in our schools. It could be the difference between students wanting seconds and others needing them.
Sometimes we find content for our writing and for our leadership in uncommon spaces. The Bradshaws funding and hosting an ice cream party in their backyard gazebo is not a common practice. It was so kind and humble. It was pleasantly unique. Pleasing kids was at the core of every question, statement, and intention. Similarly, in the words of Dr. Bill Brennan, let’s be INTENTIONAL about our ATTENTIONS when we deal with our students this upcoming school year. Let’s give all kids what they deserve…their just des(s)erts.