Collaboration and cooperation are some of the most important aspects to thrive in student education, but the most important, according to Lawrence Washington, starts with the teachers. As an administrator/principal for a K-12 school district, Lawrence has worked his way up from an English teacher in the mid-nineties to a devoted and dedicated administrator that is making sure that educators and mentors are trained effectively so that they can help each generation of students succeed.
“Teachers have a unique relationship with students, their mentorship or influence will ultimately determine the learning success of each student. With that in mind, I am very keen to make sure that teachers are aware of their impact and I work to help strengthen the relationship so that the student can actively learn and feel supported,” Lawrence explains. His motivations begin with giving students a chance to learn the way they do naturally.
This attitude was fostered pretty early on in Lawrence’s career path. After getting his master’s degree in curriculum, instruction, and supervision, he became an English teacher in 1995. “I loved doing this,” he says, “because I got to work closely with my students and really see them progress. I was able to celebrate their accomplishments and help them when they stumbled.”
Lawrence’s rapport with students and his leadership skills were noticeable, and he eventually rose to become the Dean of Students. He says that he enjoyed his job a lot because he was able to support the entire student body and implement 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.”
He believes that part of his role as administrator/principal includes mentoring aspiring education professionals, so he is always available for friendly 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. 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.”
Lawrence says that when these ideas are implemented in a classroom, the transformation a student undergoes can be remarkable. “They are allowed to really learn and express themselves in ways that are natural to them. They can blossom and discover that education really can be fun.”
“The future generation is going to impact the society of tomorrow so it is our job to be flexible, knowledgeable, inclusive, and supportive,” Lawrence explains. “Sometimes educators are the only ones that are going to be there for a student and will ultimately have the influence to guide and change their path into a more responsible and successful one. This is why I do what I do.”