Hardin County and Jackson-Madison Encourage Student Leadership


As a former teacher and teacher of teachers, Commissioner of Education, Candice McQueen’s heart is never far from the classroom. In this post, the commissioner recaps her recent stops in Hardin County and Jackson-Madison on the Classroom Chronicles tour. 

By Candice McQueen, Tennessee Commissioner of Education

Last week, I had the privilege of visiting schools in Hardin County and Jackson-Madison in West Tennessee, where I saw what student-empowered education could look like. Teachers and principals in both districts were involving students inside and outside of the classroom, giving students the opportunity to make learning relevant for them and helping them develop into lifelong learners and community leaders. Below are some of my favorite examples of these initiatives.

Hardin_Parris (2)

Wall highlighting teachers who show leadership qualities at Parris South Elementary.

My first stop was Parris South Elementary School in Hardin County, where I saw the Leader in Me program in action. The purpose of this program is to teach all students critical leadership and life skills, based on strategies outlined in the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Student and teacher investment was clear as I saw the program in action. One group of second graders even recited the classroom mission statement they created. In another room, third graders told me their favorite leadership habit and why it is important.

When I visited a second school, Hardin County Middle School (HCMS), I learned they also recently adopted the Leader in Me program. Students told me the program has helped improve the climate of their school and that they were thrilled to develop their leadership abilities.

Student-Inspired Instruction

Students at Hardin County Middle School show off their talents.

Walking through the halls of HCMS, I heard students singing as I approached an amphitheater.  Joy radiated from the students as they showed off their talents, and while I was there, I listened to another student perform a song that he wrote.  I spoke to the creative dramatics and theatrics teacher who told me that the idea for the course originated from students; they wanted an outlet to express their creative side. The school responded and founded this class, which generated so much interest that it now has a student wait list.

At Madison Academic High School in the Jackson-Madison County School System, students are also offered options to learn both inside and outside of the classroom. Even though they require every student to take a speech class, they intentionally plan the curriculum around the students’ interests. I saw one set of students engaging in a debate while another set of students in the same class read monologues to each other. It is exciting to watch our teachers personalize learning, allowing students to choose their experience based on their interests and comfort level.

Additionally, Madison Academic had a mix of after-school programs that could pique every student’s interest, such as tennis, academic decathlon, and yearbook.

Connecting Students to College

Students at Andrew Jackson Elementary practice writing sentences.

My last school visit of the day took me to Andrew Jackson Elementary School (AJES). At AJES, school leaders and teachers work diligently to develop mindsets that every student can go to college. When I first walked in the building, I noticed a large picture of all of the teachers in their college t-shirts hanging in the window of the front office and different college flags for the students to see. I was then told that every Friday is “College Friday,” and students and teachers are encouraged to wear their favorite college t-shirt. It is so important that students are exposed to the range of options that they will have later in life, and I was so happy to see AJES’ commitment to making sure every student saw a postsecondary path in their future, even in their earliest years.

I am grateful to all of the educators who allowed me to visit their schools and classrooms as part of my 10,000 teacher tour.  I especially want to thank Sen. Gresham, Rep. Byrd, Mayor Davis, members of the Hardin County school board, and the County Commissioner, for taking time to experience the exciting and inspirational work being done in classrooms across our state. Follow more of my travels here on Classroom Chronicles as my tour continues throughout the fall.