Fun for a Change - Insights by an Elementary Principal

“If you never did, you should.  Things are fun and fun is good.” – Dr. Seuss

At Chase Elementary School, we are about to embark on a transformational journey that will inevitably challenge some of our thoughts about the way we are used to doing business.  Earlier this school year, our school was one of ten selected to “pilot interactive and blended instruction as a model demonstration site” ( in the 2014-2015 school year. Part of the school selection process for these “Lighthouse Schools” included an anonymous survey of teachers to determine their level of buy-in for making the shifts associated with this initiative.  An overwhelmingly positive response to this survey indicated that our collective mindset was poised to meet this challenge head on.

Although some preliminary PD has been done since the announcement of selected schools in January, the most significant changes will start in the fall, including a 1:1 device environment for students in grades 1-3 and visits from other schools and organizations.  Rather than sit on our hands and wait for this change to happen to us in September, we have used this time of transition to challenge our staff to consider what our school culture should look like in order to navigate the impending changes in the most effective and, as the quote above implies, FUN ways possible.  I know some of us have trouble thinking of the words “change” and “fun” in the same sentence, but we are committed to making these two ideas co-exist throughout our Lighthouse experience so that change isn’t something that happens to us, but is a wave that we ENJOY riding toward a brighter future.

We know that the concepts of change and fun go together like oil and water for many people, so we asked our staff to consider looking at change from a different perspective – a child’s!  For children, change can be pleasing (nothing better than a changed diaper!) and even downright exhilarating.  Few things are more exciting for a teenager than when he changes his status from passenger to that of a driver. We are challenging our teachers to deliberately develop a culture of FUN and excitement as we journey, with our students, through a significant transformation in the coming school year.

In order to “lead purposeful change in order to maximize learning goals” (ISTE, 2014) and cultivate an environment that will allow us to truly enjoy the newness of this experience, we knew it was critical to determine what our current culture looked like to us and what it communicated to others. Sure, this could have been done through a series of surveys, but we didn’t want to be boring in an effort to develop a culture that is exciting.  Instead, we asked teachers to walk around their classrooms and the school with digital cameras and take pictures of the signage, student work, and other things on the walls.  Realizing that school culture is, in some ways, shaped by the things we don’t normally notice, we “walked” through school-related Tweets, our Facebook page, newsletters, and our website.  We asked ourselves, “what non- verbal messages are we sending to our stakeholders (parents, students, OURSELVES, etc.)?”

This coming fall, we hope to extend this activity by printing the pictures we took (or using apps like PicCollage or PhotoGrid to make a collage). Then, we’ll write down our impressions of these photos on sticky notes (or annotate the collages digitally). We want to know - Do our messages convey unity or division?  Equity or partiality?  Do they communicate a desire to meet the needs of all of our learners or just the majority?  Is there any FUN embedded in our messaging?  Does what we hang on our walls indicate that we are teacher-centered or learner-centered?

The changes ahead will be exciting, for sure, but they will also be frustrating or anxiety provoking, at times.  We’ll need to commit, together, to find joy in all of the ups and downs, because things are fun and fun is good.

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About the Author
Author: Douglas
Douglas Elmendorf is the principal at Hillcrest Elementary School in Baltimore County, Maryland. He is also an adjunct faculty member in the College of Education at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Elmendorf received his doctorate in instructional technology in 2012 from Towson University. He has been married to the love of his life since July 2002, and has four wonderful children, including a set of twins.

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