Passionate Teacher Leaders

My learning journey has, as this blog will show, been greatly influenced by links in tweets. Two of my Twitter friends are Salome Thomas-El (@principal-EL) and Richard Lakin (@Thanks2Teachers).

I found out about these two men by looking them up on Google. They are both very similar in some ways and in others very different.

They are both passionate teachers who became excellent Principals with a desire to effect change and bring about success for their students. They have both written books about their experiences that I have recently read and which I will discuss now.

“Teaching As An Act of Love” by Richard, is, as the cover says,  “Thoughts and recollections of a former teacher, principal and kid”. It is a book which has a number of stories about Richard’s teaching career but also brings out his philosophy about teaching and his desire throughout his career (and now) to create a real learning environment for the children in his care.

As an ex-headteacher myself I found myself wishing that I had read this book a lot earlier in my career. I feel that it has a lot of really good things to say about organising schools, motivating teachers and involving parents.

It is a book that has some very funny stories (I especially liked the story about the chicken at Christmas) and also some very sad moments. The author has almost total recall of a very long career and has kept a lot of the materials that he used throughout.

The book is available as a free download from Richard’s site which is http://www.thanks2teachers.com/ The book can be accessed at http://www.thanks2teachers.com/Home/TheBook/AboutTheBook/tabid/63/Default.aspx I would strongly recommend that you download it as it has much to offer for student teachers, experienced teachers and especially those who are aiming to become principals.

Richard is also a passionate opponent of the current testing children to death policies of both the last administration in the United States (with No Child Left Behind) and his misgivings about the direction of the present administration’s approach. He is very concerned to promote the “small schools movement” and writes about how we need to humanise education for the good of the child.

Salome Thomas-El is known to many as Principal El. He is a charismatic individual who has a passionate interest and concern with the education of the children in inner city Philadelphia where he has worked for many years as a teacher and also a very successful principal.

I researched his background using Google and found that he had written a book called “I Choose To Stay”. It was about  ( to quote the front cover sub title)  “a black teacher refuses to desert the inner city”.

I read this book to find out about his motivations to stay in the inner city of Philadelphia (which I have a personal connection to as I have cousins who live there) and found that it was a riveting read which shows just how he grew up in a deprived area of the city and had no father figure on a regular basis. He was a highly intelligent child and was able to go to a very select High School. He managed to go to university and found prejudice there because of his colour.

He wanted originally to work in the media and indeed would probably have had a really good career in T.V. (he appears quite regularly on a T.V. programme in Philadelphia giving advice on healthy lifestyles). He decided though, eventually, to go into teaching and found his real calling.

In the book he details the problems that many of the children from the deprived areas of the inner city of Philadelphia. As he states he has attended too many funerals throughout his career and seen able children who were killed in gang fights or died of substance abuse who may well have gone on to become really useful citizens for their community, city and indeed country.

But there are the success stories as well. In particular he shows how he used one idea, the game of chess, to motivate the children at his school to show that they were as good (and indeed better) than other children who came from more privileged backgrounds.

I had a personal interest in this because, as a young teacher with two highly able children in a primary school in a deprived area of Essex, I found chess as a a means to motivate and interest these children and for many years I ran chess clubs in the schools that I taught in.

As Salome writes in his book, the game of chess is all about using the mind to outthink your opponent. It develops spatial awareness, strategy and also the ability to think ahead. The school he worked at had once been National Champions in the U.S. but the game had fallen away and was no longer played by many at the school. Salome reinvigorated the game and used it as a means to give confidence to the children. It wasn’t easy as there was initial disinterest but from initial successes and hard work he managed to breakthrough and his school teams won many championships, often against opposition that was older than themselves, including the National Championship again.

The book is about more than chess.It is about a great teacher and leader who has inspired others and has chosen, as the title of his book says, to stay in the inner city and fight for the children he so obviously loves and cares about.

I enjoyed reading both of the these books. I found that I cried at points in both and was inspired by the sheer passion that was shown to really make education work for the children they taught and led. I would highly recommend anyone who has an interest in motivating children and getting them to achieve their real potential to read these books (Salome also has a new book out at the moment so look up his other work on Amazon).

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