An office with a view is a perk of any job, whether you are a top executive in a Forbes multi-million dollar company or a junior high principal in a small East Texas town. I would be ready to debate with anyone that my view surpasses any other. I would say that my view is better than a breathtaking sight of a snow-covered mountain, a high rise view of sparkling city lights or the mesmerizing site of waves of a vast ocean. I have no windows, but two doors which lead into two different hallways.
The view directly from my desk is one of a large bulletin board with pictures of children. It is mounted in a hall that serves as a passageway for staff members. The door behind me allows me to see a hallway that supports the steps of hundreds of children everyday moving from class to class, teacher to teacher. Eyes are the windows to the soul and I have many windows which are all different. The eyes in the pictures staring back at me from my bulletin board belong to students who have not experienced much academic success for one reason or another. I see their smiles and know each one has a story and I am responsible for adding chapters to his/her story in the two years he/she is on our campus. I wonder if they realize how much they have affected my life, my story, by viewing things from their eyes. My goal is to remove their picture at the end of the year, which means they have accomplished the goal of passing Texas’ mandated assessment (T.A.K.S.) with the help of many people. While I sit at my desk, each student adds fuel to my fire of doing whatever it takes to ensure their success.
The opposite view of the hallway behind my desk changes every day. This hallway is a home for those same students who are on my bulletin board, but also for many students who have experienced success in school. But this also makes me question myself. The question that burns inside of me is, “Have I enabled those students to reach their highest potential?” Many of our students, academically successful or not, are searching for safety, a place to belong in addition to finding someone who believes in their dreams. All of my students’ faces serve as my window, the best view in the world, in my opinion. Gilmer, Texas is nestled in the Piney Woods of East Texas. Bruce Junior High is home to 350 amazing seventh and eighth graders along with 45 dedicated staff members who are incredible. We often say that every student who walks into our building immediately steps to the forefront of every teacher’s concern regardless of the class they attend or the grade they are in. “It’s not those kids, it’s our kids.”
In 2003, our philosophy took an entirely new meaning. The Power of SMART Goals was introduced to Gilmer ISD and now that three years have passed, I reflect. I do not know how to think of education, student success and leadership capacity without referencing Jan O’Neill and Anne Conzemius. Using the SMART Goal Process to improve student success has been a renovating and driving force in Bruce Junior High School and Gilmer ISD’s current success.
I was born and raised in the south; I have been fortunate to know many wise individuals who I admire for their own personal philosophy about life in general. Many of my idols use a story, a wise tale, a quote, or an analogy to make a point “hit home”. I, too, find that I fall into this category. “Not seeing the forest because of the trees,” is not exactly what I was searching for, but if I reverse it to “not seeing the trees because of the forest,” it fits. This saying describes how I feel we viewed our campus on many different issues (i.e. state assessment results, school culture, and shared responsibility). I believe before the implementation of the SMART Goal Process, we focused too much on seeing the “forest” and unintentionally overlooked the “individual trees” that made the forest what it was. We did not see the uniqueness of each student, their strengths and weaknesses and in the same respect, we failed to see our own strengths and weaknesses as educators.
Relating this analogy to our campus now, we are now analyzing data with a campus focus, subject area focus, teacher focus, and most importantly student focus. Our GAN (greatest area of need) and our specificity of instruction have positively altered our student outcomes. We value data; we use it to make it personal to drive the instruction for each student. It not only allows us to view the forest, but appreciate each tree despite the differences it may hold. The view from my office also makes data relevant and personal to me as a principal. The successes and shortcomings do not disappear each day. We see the possibility in each student’s smile. Each student whose picture is on the bulletin board has been chosen for a specific reason. They are adopted by a staff member who does not teach them during the day. Our secretaries, custodians and campus resource officer also take interest in a student and become a provider of hope and trust, just as our teachers do. As the year progresses, a positive relationship is formed and conversations are had about his/her academic progress and accomplishment of their goals. The BJHS staff member becomes the cheerleader for that student’s heart and soul, no matter what. “If a student does not believe in the messenger, he will not believe the message” (Kouzes and Posner). Our staff guarantees that our students believe in our message which is simple…their goals can become a reality.
“We celebrate what we value” is a motto that can be seen hanging on signs throughout our school and heard coming out of mouths of staff members. We collaborate with each other, with our students, our parents and even have internal conversations with ourselves to identify what each student needs to be successful at BJHS. SMART Goals have allowed us to be united as one and foster hope within each student. At the heart of collaboration is trust (Kouzes and Posner) and trusting relationships are essential for learning (Marzano). As I described, the pictures on the bulletin board, the eyes that look at me daily are not only fixed there, but active in our halls, cafeterias, gymnasiums, and band halls.
My view is never the same. It depends on which window I encounter and which eyes I have a conversation with or which smile is reflected to my face, but with each student I see a need for hope. It is evident that the hope of becoming a better student, a better person and the hope their goal, big or small, is attainable. Hope lies within each of them and within each of us as educators. Hope is the prerequisite to achieving the highest level of performance (Kouzes and Posner) and allows us to persevere.
Jan O’Neill visited our campus in May of 2009 and it was an honor to give her the opportunity to catch a glimpse of our students and capture a moment of our teachers being a candle and spreading light. She was able to see her and Anne Conzemius’ dream through the windows of Bruce Junior High School. The SMART Goals Process has become the driving force of our staff and students in our shared educational journey. Hope lives within each of us as we witness student success.
It has been said that a person can live forty days without food, four days without water, four minutes without air, but only four seconds without hope. We, at Bruce Junior High School, myself in particular, feel that in addition to not surviving long without hope, we could not envision ourselves surviving or celebrating very long without the SMART Goals Process. It is a hard task to try to pinpoint one aspect of our campus, one student’s story or one teacher’s journey because the SMART Goals Process allows us to view our abundant forest while nurturing each individual tree. We invite you to visit Bruce Junior High School; we promise a view you will always remember.
-- Dawn Harris, Principal, Bruce Junior High School, Gilmer ISD, Gilmer, TX