As a former teacher and teacher of teachers, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen’s heart is never far from the classroom. In this post the commissioner recaps her recent stops in Tipton and Henderson County on the Classroom Chronicles tour.
By Candice McQueen, Tennessee Education Commissioner
After much anticipation and several cancelled visits because of inclement weather, I finally had the privilege of visiting both Tipton and Henderson Counties this past Friday. While the day itself was not much above freezing, the reception could not have been warmer. Dr. Buddy Bibb, Director of Schools for Tipton County, and Steve Wilkinson, Director of Schools for Henderson County, provided extraordinary opportunities for direct feedback from teachers as well as access to classrooms and conversation with students. I’d like to share two highlights from the visit.
Over and over during the last month, I have had individuals share their concern that soft skills have been pushed out of schools as a result of the expected academic rigor in our classrooms. My visit to Covington Integrated Arts pre-K-8 Academy demonstrated a model of how to do both seamlessly. In fact, not only does Covington integrate the Leader in Me approach to Stephen Covey’s seven habits for elementary age children, but the school also uses the arts as a mechanism for student engagement. I witnessed students with leadership skills, such as project management and problem solving, and communication skills that the principal reinforced in every conversation as she gently reminded them how to greet visitors or confidently share their accomplishments. Students were eager to share in every classroom and did so with ease, eye contact, and energy. Teachers were equally confident and quickly shared their academic goals and how they knew their students were reaching these goals. Moreover, teachers and students were owning their academic results and displaying these results all over the building. What I loved about these displays of academic progress was that they were interposed with art murals, student-created art and writing pieces, pictures of the recent school-wide play, inspirational quotes on the wall, and student evidence of their understanding of the leadership skills from the Leader in Me concept. In fact, the best evidence of the seamless integration of soft skills and academic skills was how every student interaction I had throughout the visit embodied what employers desire of their workers – competence, initiative, passion, goal-setting, and perseverance. Hats off to Covington Integrated Arts Academy. I look forward to hearing more about your students’ success!
For Tennessee to be able fill the growing workplace needs at the level required for success, we must ensure that 55 percent of our population has a postsecondary degree by 2025 as quantified in Tennessee’s Drive to 55 goals. To that end, we must diligently mentor students toward the careers in our communities while engaging them in rigorous and relevant educational work that prepares them to have choices about postsecondary. While at Lexington High School, I was able to engage with a Career and Technical Education program under Mr. Davis that spoke to the passion and workplace connectivity that our CTE teachers must have to move our students to success after graduation.
In the Building Trades CTE course, students were focused on woodworking and craftsmanship as they built tables. Students in the course were also mentored around what their options were after graduation – with many taking dual credit courses at the local Tennessee College of Applied Technology – so they could easily move into a certificate or two- or four-year program appropriate for their desired career. The principal at Lexington High School, Mr. Lindsey, indicated that the Building Trades program had grown exponentially since Mr.Davis’ arrival as he had the students doing relevant projects connected to the community and had relationship-building skills that engaged students to perform. This is yet another reminder that simply building a CTE program is not enough, we must hire the best teachers who can navigate mentoring our students and engage them successfully in showing them the possibilities for their futures. When we do this, we will not only meet but will exceed our Drive to 55 goals.
Check back to Classroom Chronicles for more updates from the commissioner’s tour.