Smile at strangers and you just might change a life.
On a cold winter day last month I stood at the front door
of a local school, fumbling to open it with my arms full of video
equipment. It was a quiet morning, with regular classes canceled for
parent/teacher conferences. I looked through the glass and saw Alan, the
school principal, moving toward me. He gave me a hearty greeting, even
though we'd met only once years before. He then grabbed a couple of
tripods and ushered me to the classroom where I'd be helping with setup.
Hours later I was walking down the hallway chatting with
Jen, the literacy coach. She spied an older man who was stopped in the
middle of the hallway, looking confused. Jen immediately excused herself
from our conversation and walked over to help the man, who was trying
to find his grandson's classroom.
I realized in that moment that the school has a DEARO
policy, whether it's official or not. (It's probably not an official
policy since I just created that acronym this morning.) Drop Everything
And Reach Out is the attitude of every staff member when they see a
visitor who needs help or looks confused.
I thought about another school I visited months before,
where most of the students were walked to the school by their immigrant
parents from the public housing nearby. I observed dozens of parents
outside the school joyfully and tenderly kissing their children goodbye
that morning, but none of them stepped over the threshold into the
school. The principal explained to me later that day how hard it is to
get parents to come into the building. He even makes a point of being at
the school door before a parent conference to usher them in, because he
knows how difficult it is for many of them to enter.
Most readers of this newsletter are comfortable in schools.
We've spent most of our waking and working hours in classrooms since we
were five years old. We know the lingo and rituals, and where the staff
bathroom is hidden. It's easy to forget how uncomfortable, even
threatened, many adults feel by schools. New security measures put in
place in the past decade have only increased the anxiety for visitors.
In our rush to get to the next thing, it's tempting to ignore that
stranger who looks perplexed in the hallway. The Germans have a phrase
for it -- "wie Luft behandeln," which means "to be looked at as though
When the whole community is trained to look for that
discomfort and alleviate it as quickly as possible, it sends an
important message: "We are here for you and your children. This is your
place too." What's your policy for reaching out to unexpected visitors
to your school?
This week we look at grouping. Plus more as always -- enjoy!
Founder, Choice Literacy
Free for All
[For sneak peeks at our upcoming features, quotes and extra links, follow Choice Literacy on Twitter: @ChoiceLiteracyor Facebook:
Jennifer Allen's Literacy Coach Jumpstart online course runs February 5-16 and includes three on-demand webinars, the Layered Coaching DVD, Jen's book Becoming a Literacy Leader,
and personal response from Jen tailored to your needs on the class
discussion board. Choice Literacy and Lead Literacy members receive a $50 discount off the course fee. Click on the link below for more details: