On any given day, Lawrence Washington’s office is a hub of activity. The administrator/ principal of a K-12 school district spends his days overseeing annual budgets, meeting with teachers and department heads, counseling students and worried parents, and making sure schools are following complex federal regulations.
“I’ll be the first to say my job isn’t easy,” Lawrence says, “but I love every day. Running a district means that every day is different, and I am very fortunate to have an incredible staff who help me do it all.”
Lawrence has worn a lot of hats in his educational career, but he says the most important one was being a teacher. “The classroom is where the real action is,” he states. “That’s where teachers are shaping the minds of our next leaders. If I hadn’t been a teacher and experienced everything that happens during lessons, I don’t think I could be an effective administrator today.”
Lawrence’s path to managing a school district began when he got his master’s degree in curriculum, instruction, and design in 1995. “After teaching, I then moved on to being the Dean of Students,” he explains, “and that’s when I got my first taste of what it takes to run a school. I was definitely intrigued by what I learned. I enjoyed listening to students and teachers about their ideas for strengthening the educational experience, and I did my best to implement policies that could help.”
Lawrence went on to become an assistant principal and then a principal/director. “Each time, I got a broader view of how schools are run, and I loved it. I really enjoyed managing the school overall and helping all of the departments merge together.”
All of this experience means that Lawrence has developed a diverse skill set. “I’ve been able to learn about teaching, 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.”
With his extensive experience, he is often approached by aspiring education professionals for 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. 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.”
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 to accept them.
He loves when teachers employ a diversity of teaching styles. “That is very effective in making learning accessible to all students, who learn differently, as educators know. 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 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 explains that all of this makes the educational system stronger. “Too many students, I believe, feel apathetic about school because they are unintentionally made to learn in ways that are not natural to them. By adopting a more flexible way of teaching, both students and teachers come alive and create what I like to think is magic in the classroom.”
These days, Lawrence does everything he can to help teachers create that magic. “If I do my job right, then that will affect what happens in the classroom,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if I am setting a budget or discussing new policies with teachers – everything I do is meant to ensure that the learning process comes alive for everyone involved.”