Teaching is not for the faint of heart. Whether you teach in an affluent or poverty challenged environment, the stress, demands and expectations can take an emotional and physical toll on the classroom teacher.
At Lakewood Primary School in Phenix City, Alabama, we have recognized the need to support and encourage our faculty and staff throughout the school year to help alleviate these pressures. This past summer, our leadership team decided to adopt The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy by Jon Gordon as a book study. Our goal for the 2019-2020 school year is to fuel the team and our school by “turning negative energy into positive achievement.”
How we began
In order to cultivate this positive energy, our leadership team is encouraging and inviting all faculty to get on the bus. We kicked off the school year by purchasing the entire staff a personal copy of The Energy Bus, and everyone received energy bags filled with treats, energy bus t-shirts, and a bus ticket inviting them along for the ride. They soon would realize; this was no ordinary book study!
Traditional book studies focus on small groups of individuals with similar needs and/or interests. We wanted to involve the entire faculty. Most important, I wanted to give faculty members an opportunity to group with others in the building they rarely see or communicate with in the course of each day.
We created five small group bus stations that consist of 8-10 faculty members across the building. Each station has two members of the leadership team on it to help provide guidance throughout the year. During the first meeting, the teams named their group, began to dig into the book by studying the first two rules, and discussed ideas to promote a positive energy throughout the building.
To help guide the groups, we also purchased “The Energy Bus Action Plan Guide” and “Field Guide Workbooks.” Although most of the group focus is on the rules of positive energy and not allowing “energy vampires” to control the school year, for some staff the group offers an outlet of support, which is important for their well-being during tough times.
A positive, supportive culture
In the book, George, the main character, is faced with challenges of life and work. Everything seems to be going wrong, but he is still expected to prepare and present a big project which requires time and teamwork.
Teachers can experience ups and downs during a school year, similar to George. No matter what is going on at home or in life, they are expected to come in each day prepared to present lessons with a smile on their face – and to respond to all the demands of everyday school life.
Even though I recognize the importance of taking care of our staff and maintaining a positive school culture, I also know that I cannot do it alone. To help with culture-building, each Energy Bus team is tasked with a teamwork project to promote positive energy throughout the school year.
Our trip so far
Currently, Lakewood Primary is in the fourth month of “The Energy Bus” book study. So far our group projects have included personal praises, Energy Bus selfies with “Tickets of Appreciation,” positive morning quotes, “Thankful in November” social media posts, and a JOY bulletin board.
When our groups meet, everyone in the building wears their Energy Bus shirt, and occasionally, we ask our students to wear their yellow LPS shirts for an Energy Bus day.
Originally, the book study was scheduled to be complete by December; however, the motivation and inspiration of the projects and group meetings have encouraged our leadership team to take advantage of the momentum and push forward with our efforts to create a climate and culture where teachers and students love to come to school each day.
Participating in The Energy Bus book study is just a stepping stone in creating a positive environment at the school and in our personal lives. That said, my strong belief in the value of this initiative is being confirmed. Spending time working with your staff to create a high-energy environment is just as important as adopting the latest innovative practice or working countless hours on professional development.
In the long run, relationships matter most for authentic learning. This is true for both engaging students and building teacher efficacy. We’ll continue to focus on positive energy, because like Jon Gordon says, “When you stay positive and just keep moving forward, great things will happen!”
Sarah Kimmel is Principal at Lakewood Primary School, a kindergarten-2nd grade school in the Phenix City system. She has been an Alabama teacher, ARI reading specialist, and school administrator for 18 years, working with Phenix City School District. Sarah holds a BS degree in Elementary Education from Auburn University, a MA from Troy University, and an ED.S from Columbus State University.