Lawrence Washington: An Educator/Mentor for Students and Teachers

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As Lawrence Washington, the administrator/principal for a K-12 school district, walks the halls of the high school, you quickly notice how many students say hello to him. Many teens are leery of adults, especially an authority figure like Lawrence, but these students seem to have no problem sending him a shout-out. He smiles and greets them, making a point to use their name. “That’s the hard one,” he says, chuckling. “I see so many students every day that I mess up sometimes, but they forgive me.”

Lawrence is clearly passionate about his job and about the students and teachers he sees every day. “Honestly, I can’t imagine doing anything else,” he says. “It’s everything I dreamed of doing when I graduated with my master’s in curriculum, instruction, and supervision. I started as an English teacher in 1995 and had my entire career ahead of me. It’s been an adventure ever since.”

Lawrence eventually went on to become the Dean of Students. He says that he enjoyed supporting the entire student body and implementing programs that strengthened their academic performance. “I learned so much in this position that from there, I became an assistant principal and eventually progressed to being a principal/ director. I really have been fortunate because by working both in the classroom and in administration, I’ve developed a diverse skill set. I have experience in teaching, of course, as well as in 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 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 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.”

The ability of a teacher to be creative and understand how their students best learn will lead to wonderful growth, Lawrence says. “They will understand themselves better and express themselves in ways that are natural to them. They will even discover that education really can be fun.”

Lawrence allows that this change doesn’t come overnight or easily. “It can come, however. The best feeling in the world is when a student who used to hate school and did poorly suddenly sees their own potential. They believe in themselves and in their ability and come alive. That is the moment that every educator, including me, devotes their career to achieving. Educators are heroes, and I am proud to work alongside them every day.”

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