Experience the Power of Positive Words

Tom TenBrink, Jenison Public Schools

During each of my twelve years as Superintendent of Jenison Public Schools, I have established a district theme. The purpose behind it is to focus everyone’s attention on a specific area within our large district. I learned long ago that when we target something in our district that needs to be improved upon we are able to get it done if everyone is working together toward the identified cause.

This year, our district theme is “Experience the Power of Positive Words” and it is intended to help our staff keep a positive focus when dealing with all students, but especially those who are under resourced.

Every student deserves to hear positive words spoken to them from the significant adults in their lives.  To help implement the theme, all staff were provided with a list of hundreds of positive words that they were challenged to find a way to integrate in their daily conversations with their students. Staff was also challenged to share this theme with their students and teach them different kinds of positive words that could become a part of their everyday vocabulary.

Having a district theme challenges the JPS staff to reach higher than they thought possible and to make a commitment to making a difference in student’s lives by purposely acting on the reason behind the theme. They are primarily focused on how the adults can better meet the physical, social, emotional and intellectual needs of the children entrusted to our care every single day of the school year.

Past themes for the district have included “The Art of Possibility”, “Together We Are Jenison”, “Find Your Cliff”, “Each one, Reach One” and “Exploring New Horizons”.   In and of themselves the words of these themes seem pretty non-descript, but the power lies in all that happens in sharing this theme with our staff.

During the Opening Day events for teachers, a significant amount of time is set aside to educate staff on the area or topic that is represented by the theme. For example, “Find your Cliff” was a reminder to teachers and staff members to be observant of those students who seem to be alone, friendless, unhappy all the time, and not finding success at school.  The district challenge was for each person to find one student to come alongside of who needed a significant adult in their life who would help them to develop self worth and put a smile on their face.

To keep the theme present and active in each building, posters are created which features the theme. They are presented to all staff members to be displayed prominently in their area of work in the district (i.e. administrative offices, classrooms, lunch rooms, etc.).  In addition, most years I provide monthly reminders that feature quotes that build upon the theme that we are focused on for the year.

This year has been much different than past years. Our district wide emphasis is on the under resourced student. We have done my training with our staff to help them understand what teaching strategies are necessary to help our under resourced students be successful at school. [This is where the poverty simulation at the beginning of the year came into play.]

Every year the JPS staff members appear to be truly excited about the theme that has been chosen for the year.  I know that many of them have made this a point of emphasis in their interaction with their students and are encouraging their students to do the same. Many classrooms are actually building their own list of positive words they want to use.

As we cross the midway point of the school year, it is my hope to finish what we started, STRONG!  And that by the end of the year we will see a change in behavior that will include much more positive communication from adults to students and from students to students.

Thank you to all administrators, teachers and support staff who encourage our students every day with positive words!

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