Kevin Leake | Principal | Thomasville Middle School

“So, how do you reengage a burnt-out teacher?  Simple-you light them on fire”. Tabitha Pacheco in Education Week Teacher.
When I arrived on the campus of Methodist University this past February, I was not fully aware of the impact the conversation with other passionate educators would have on my thought process or what specific actions I would take to CHANGE THE CONVERSATION in public education.  
We discussed branding, teacher pay, economic development, being innovative, and many other topics that were on the hearts of those in attendance.   I left there inspired about the movement that had begun, yet my specific next steps were not yet clear. Upon seeing the above quote, Changing the Conversation at Thomasville Middle School instantly made sense.
So many teachers have exhausted countless hours developing lesson plans for students who lack the drive and motivation that correlates with the time spent in delivering them.  They do this while being constantly under the gun of standardized test results and meager pay. Very quickly can one become “burnt-out” and complacency sets in. The day to day grind of providing quality instruction becomes a challenge and the passion seeps away.  
So to begin the 2018-2019 academic year, shift at TMS will include:
  • Identify 4 core competencies that each employee will exhibit.
    • My leadership team will be significantly changing due to retirement and promotion.  We will undergo specific and targeted training on how we provide feedback to staff members.  
    • As a team, we will identify 4 core competencies based on the TCS district strategic plan and school mission statement.
      • Our interview team will be revamped, consisting of teachers that exemplify the 4 competencies charged to select candidates that meet our standards.  Interview questions will be revised as well.
  • Becoming honest about race and the role it plays in connecting with our students AND in how we as school leaders relate with  our staff.
    • The elephant in the room can no longer be ignored.  It will not be easy, welcomed, nor will there be immediate change, however it is a real obstacle that MUST be addressed.  I wish I had a dollar every time I’ve said this but I do not want to lower our expectations, however our approach must change.
  • Being resilient in resolving issues that may occur.
    • Just this past week a BLT stopped by my office on his way home.  I could tell he was perplexed about how to handle a situation and it was eating at him.  He presented a solution, but because of things beyond his realm of understanding, his solution was not one we could proceed with.
    • However, we left the meeting with different ideas to address the problem and the understanding that we would find a solution that worked.  
At the end of the day, the fire that each of us began the profession with (the idea that we could and would save the world) must be rekindled.  Finding new employees that are energetic, willing, and capable of shifting the momentum in a positive directions will be a simple, yet critical component of the work we do this year.  The leadership team will be self reflective in our practices and develop effective feedback strategies. Covey talks about when trust goes up, cost goes down. We can no longer afford to waste any more moments dancing around important issues that can have such a significant impact on student learning.  Finally, we will not take no for an answer and persevere until each challenge has been fully resolved. At Thomasville Middle School, we will keep the fire burning this school year and Change the Conversation from why our students “can’t or won’t” to “Look at how much they have grown!’
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