Lawrence Washington: Inspiring the Teachers and Students He Serves

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Each year, the first day of school is just as exciting for Lawrence Washington, the administrator/principal for a K-12 school district, as it is for his students. He likes to  stand in the halls and greet kids and teens as they return after the summer, but he can’t help but feel the responsibility of the next nine months on his shoulders. “Running a school district is an enormous responsibility, one that I take very seriously,” Lawrence confides. “It’s a bit of a cliche, but cliches can be true: I can’t think of anything that is more important than educating young minds.”

He shares that he was always sure he wanted to be an educator. “It took me a while to know what path I wanted to take, but I knew schools were where I wanted to spend my career. In college, I earned my master’s degree in curriculum, instruction, and supervision. Then I went into the classroom in 1995 when I became an English teacher.”

Lawrence reflects that no administrator could do their jobs effectively if they didn’t have teaching experience. “That’s my opinion, but I think it’s very useful to understand firsthand what teachers do each day. In my own classroom, I experienced the teacher’s life, so to speak: dedication, effort, some frustrations, and celebrations. When my students accomplished something, I was right there to praise them for it.”

As much as Lawrence enjoyed teaching, he felt called to a bigger leadership role. “Becoming the Dean of Students was a true honor,” he remembers. “Suddenly I was supporting the entire student body, and that was exciting to me. I used what I had learned in the classroom and from other teachers to start programs that strengthened the school.”

Ultimately, Lawrence moved on to become an assistant principal and eventually the principal/director. “I am grateful for the career I have had,” he says, serious. “Look at the opportunities I have had, all of which have given me 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.”

Lawrence tries to use the knowledge he’s accumulated over the years to mentor those who would like to work in education. “They often ask if a master’s degree is needed, and I suggest they consider getting one. A higher degree often leads to 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.”

These days, Lawrence spends more time in his office than in the classroom, of course. “It’s just as exciting as being a teacher,” Lawrence thinks. “Only this time, I get to support the teachers, who do such inspirational work every day.”

 

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