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Lawrence Washington: Empowering Students to Learn

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Lawrence Washington, the administrator/principal for a K-12 school district, is a people person. “It’s a good thing, too,” he says, smiling, “because as part of my job, I’m responsible for 1,100 students, 50 teachers and staff, and 3 administration staff. It’s a bit of a juggling act most days, I admit, but I am supported by a fabulous team of people who help me run everything smoothly.” 

All of those people are always on Lawrence’s mind. “I take my job very seriously, and I believe that it’s my responsibility to be sure that everyone has what they need. By doing so, the real focus of each day – what happens in the classroom – can thrive.”

It’s clear that Lawrence enjoys his job. One reason is because he is involved in every area of the school. “Schools are complex places, and I’ve been fortunate to have worn many hats. After I got my master’s degree in curriculum, instruction, and supervision in 1995, I became an English teacher. I loved doing that, truthfully. I enjoyed working with other teachers to help our students progress in their education. I eventually left the classroom to become the Dean of Students, but I never forgot the students and the joy of teaching.”

Lawrence was effective in his new role, and he later was promoted to being an assistant principal and then a principal/director. “You can see, then, that through my work, I’ve gotten a detailed view of how schools are run, and it really is fascinating.”

By working as a teacher and as an administrator, Lawrence has been able to develop a diverse skill set. “I’ve been able to learn about teaching, diversity and inclusion, HR, curriculum writing, behavior management, and leadership. Hopefully, I will be able to use that experience to become the superintendent of a school district in about five years.”

With his extensive experience, he is often approached by aspiring education professionals for advice. “I suggest that they stay in college and get something higher than a bachelor’s degree. It just isn’t enough anymore, honestly. With a higher degree, you will have more career options. Another very valuable skill is being bilingual. I also recommend that people who want to work in education learn classroom management and leadership.”

Lawrence says that anyone who works in schools, be it in a classroom or in administration, is an educator. “That includes me. Each day, I remind myself that I must help students grow academically, morally, and socially. I try to pay close attention to each student I meet and to understand their unique personality and learning style. Doing so means that I can enable each student to grow to become the life-long learner and active citizen needed in our society. In short, I do all that I can to ensure that all students learn and are successful. It’s a good feeling when I see that happen.”

How success is defined will depend on the student, of course. As Lawrence explains, “It’s tied to how much they grow personally. This growth is the spirit of our challenge in school. Without educational growth, there can be no learning.”

He says that teachers can help by remembering that appropriate learning takes place through many different experiences. “This means that activities must be designed to lead the student from practical issues to theoretical principles. Learning also occurs as students freely engage in making choices while weighing personal responsibilities and the possible consequences of their actions. It is our role as educators to present principles, values, and reasons to students and to encourage them to examine the choices and decide whether to accept them.”

He loves when teachers employ a diversity of teaching styles. “That is very effective in  making learning accessible to all students, who learn differently, as educators know. When I teach, it is important that I find ways to utilize those differences in a democratic atmosphere that fosters cooperation rather than competition. Group work plays a large role, for it allows both a hands-on investigation of the content and an opportunity to build social skills. It also allows for individual strengths to be highlighted within the safety of the group. Students can also express their ideas in ways other than writing; posters, stories, three-dimensional art, and role-playing are some of the alternative activities available in my class.”

When teachers have the freedom to teach and students’ learning styles are respected, it benefits everyone, Lawrence says. “A lot of students’ frustrations about education will disappear. They won’t feel like they are being forced into a mold. Teachers will see the results of their efforts, and students will realize their true potential. It’s really special to witness this when it happens. It makes the classroom be what it should be; a place where students grow self-confidence and develop into future leaders of our society.”

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