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Lawrence Washington: The Classroom is Where Our Future Lies

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Across America, students will soon return to school, and the familiar sounds of ringing bells, stampeding feet, and babbling voices will fill the halls again. Teachers will command their classes, students will (pretend to) listen, and schools will fall back into a familiar rhythm that hasn’t changed in decades. While our elementary, middle, and high schools are the center of education in every state, supporting them are our administrators, who work hard to make it all flow without hiccups. Lawrence Washington, the administrator of a K-12 school district, understands what it takes to run school districts even though the work of his staff is largely unseen by students.

“What we do is keep the wheels turning, so to speak,” Lawrence says. “We ideally will be ghosts, meaning that the spotlight will be on the teachers and students while the administration will do what they can to support them. My staff is amazing, and they keep everything running so smoothly that we’re basically forgotten about! That’s the way it should be.”

Lawrence wasn’t always an administrator. He first started out in education as an English teacher after he received his master’s degree in curriculum, instruction, and supervision. He eventually left the classroom to become the Dean of Students. “That was a dream come true for me,” he recalls. “I was really interested in learning more about how schools were run, so this was a great step for me to take.”

One of the biggest days of his career came when he became a principal/director. “While I don’t like cliches, sometimes they really are true: getting that job was a true honor. I am where I am today, however, because I became a teacher first. Starting in that position means that the skills I have are very diverse: 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.”

Passing on his knowledge of the school system to those just starting out in education is Lawrence’s priority. “I emphasize that they should consider getting a master’s degree because it will open up more career options. Another very valuable skill is being bilingual. Spanish is useful, but there are also other languages that can benefit you. 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 or not to accept them.”

He stresses that a diversity of learning styles among students is necessary. “I believe in providing a variety of strategies to make learning accessible to all students. 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 practice critical reading and writing in activities that demand an exploration of ideas and hypotheses after careful research and planning. They 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.”

Teachers and students both, Lawrence says, thrive on the transformation the students undergo when these ideas are used in the classroom. “The students feel more at ease because they can learn and express themselves in their own way. Teachers, of course, just love to see progress, so the classroom is strengthened for both.”

No matter what part of the education system Lawrence works in, he will always be committed to the classroom. “It’s funny how complex school districts are,” he reflects. “Really, though, whether you work in Athletics, Food Services, the English Department, or somewhere else, it’s all about the classroom.”

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