A World Full of Merritts: Leadership in the Classroom

Jeremiah Merritt is a leader. He is also an elementary school teacher. This Sunday, the Observer covered provided a follow up to a story written about Merritt and his students four years ago.

There aren’t a lot of official statistics to measure his efficacy yet – and the odds are stacked against him and the kids you will read about here. Schools like his are designated as challenge schools – where graduation rates average about 50 percent and test scores are low.

The story reminded me of the teachers who came together for a planning this summer on our campus. The strain of how to prepare for another year of challenges in the middle of budget reductions, layoffs and increased stress was visible on their faces.  

Mike Whitehead facilitated a team session for Tracey Pickard – one of the district’s most passionate principals – and by the time it was done the team had stripped away recycled fears and doubt and committed to a bold vision for 2010. Some of them even made personal promises concerning their own wellness so they could be fully ‘there’ for the kids..

Principal Pickard’s staff took the vision back to the school – and left no stone unturned. Pickard asked Mike to speak to the students to get them signed up for the same future the teachers and staff had committed to –where student success is mission one.

More than one person said, “Spirit and vision are nice, but what matters is results.” Many thanks to the Observer for the stories and photos of Jeremiah Merritt’s students – they provide compelling results. Many of them have been resilient if not ambitious after his influence.

Our educators are some of the most influential and powerful change agents in our community. Their impact will be felt far into the future by the choices of the children they teach. Jeremiah Merritt created a culture where the kids became leaders. Tracey Pickard went out on a limb to inspire leadership from her staff and her students to include them in creating a vision of what is possible for their school.

Can we do the same? To see a future for our kids is to see a future for our community. To do this we have to strip away a lot of stuff, including our own resignation, cynicism and doubt. Sometimes this means putting down the numbers –if just for a moment – and celebrating the teachers as they teach, and the students as they live, learn and grow.

Because we find that when we are present with each other when it really matters, when we pick the numbers back up, we will likely be very pleasantly surprised.

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