Going the extra mile makes all the difference

Years ago, a principal for whom I once worked, told me, “In my opinion, it’s what you do that is not in your job description that makes the real difference.” This December, I had the opportunity to observe this concept in action on two separate occasions.

Ed Saxton
Ed Saxton

At our school board meeting Dec. 10, all of our elementary principals came to support the fourth-grade teachers who were presenting an update on our STEM initiative. It was a delightful presentation featuring a short video, highlighting several of the activities our fourth-grade students have experienced during the first half of the 2012-13 school year.

Presentations at board meetings are always more impressive when teachers are able to include our students. We heard from two of our fourth-grade students, Abrielle and Natalie, who described several activities to the board and the community at large. Their willingness to present with their instructors was impressive. Cooperative parents were willing to bring the students to the meeting. On this particular Monday, the meeting was the tail end of an emergency school closing tied to the snowstorm from the weekend prior.

When students, teachers and principals follow through on a presentation after a less-than-normal educational day, it speaks to dedication and commitment.  The quality relationship these students had with the instructors was evident and heartwarming.  It would also illustrate, “It’s what you do that is not in your job description that makes the real difference.”

The second example comes from a visit last week to East Bethel Community School. I had the opportunity to read to some of our students at EBCS. It is a great time of year to visit schools and observe the interactions taking place as we educate our students. Experts in education continue to emphasize the importance of building relationships with students.

Here are a few of the exciting things I witnessed. During a quick stop in the office to drop off my coat and put on my conductor hat, I saw the building principal seated with an office professional cutting paper place mats to be used during the Elegant Dining lunch periods. Elegant Dining is in its third or fourth year at EBCS. Students report to the lunchroom as they would on any other school day.

However, on this particular day, there are some interesting changes. The lights are dimmed and the place mats on every table are festive. Students, dressed in a variety of elegant attire, proceed through the lunch line where festively dressed, nutrition service staff serve them. At the end of the line, staff members, crisply dressed in white shirts and black pants, greet students. These staff members even don seasonal head ornaments. They are all adults who work at EBCS and at the district office.

Each server carries the lunch tray to the table for the student. When they are finished eating, students simply raise a hand and the servers clear the tray as well. It is extraordinary.  Did I mention the tables are candlelit? (Battery-powered, flicker lights of course!) Not only a display of fine dining but also another example of, “It’s what you do that is not in your job description that makes the real difference.”

To return to the earlier office stop, I journeyed to the kindergarten wing of the building. About halfway to my destination I noticed a kindergarten student seated on the floor. He was having an issue with his shoes. He had them on the wrong feet.

In front of the student was Larry, our custodian, on one knee, helping switch the shoes to the correct feet and secure a shoelace tie that would hold. Behind Larry was his large maintenance cart filled with items he had been moving through the hallway. You can be sure this illustrates, “It’s what you do that is not in your job description that makes the real difference.”

I spent the balance of the morning reading to the kindergarten classes and to a group of special needs students. I learned that when the announcements start, it is proper to stand. As I stood up with the students, one of my little friends said to me, “You need to face the flag.” So I did. “You need to put your hand on your heart.” So I did. “You need to look at the flag.” And so I did. He had me completely ready for the pledge, which we recited four minutes later after the announcements were complete.

As far as job descriptions are concerned, they are important; but I believe I agree with my principal, Nick Miller:  “In my opinion, it’s what you do that is not in your job description that makes the real difference.”

Ed Saxton is the superintendent of the St. Francis School District.

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