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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

The Little Chapel That Stood: Remembering 9/11

By Peter DeWitt — September 10, 2011 3 min read
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Around the Chapel,
Of Old St. Paul,
Blow the dancing leaves
Of the coming Fall.
In the morning breeze
They leap and fly
Beneath the towers
That scrape the sky

(The Little Chapel That Stood, 2003).

The summer is a great time to reflect on past, present and future practices as we sit in our empty buildings spending quality time with out secretaries. As administrators, how can we have a bigger impact on our students? How can I get students to want to talk with me instead of having them fear my title? How do I reconnect with the teacher I used to be before I became a principal? The older I get, the more there is a chance I will become disconnected.

It all begins with reading. I was having an issue making it to each classroom to read, so I decided to meet the kids on common ground...in the library. We will have “Story Hour” every week in our school and I am the reader. Deb, our school librarian will provide me with some great books and I’ll pick a few of my favorites as well. We also plan on choosing books that have the same curriculum focus as the grade levels I will be reading to.

I orginally planned one session, but quickly added three more sessions to the day. The Little Chapel That Stood was the first book I read to our 2nd through 5th graders. Although I will not always read books that have such a heavy message, it was important for 9/11 to be a part of our conversation. The students have been exposed to the tragic event through the media and conversations at home with their parents so many had some basic knowledge of the event.

As I begin my sixth year as the principal, I have been brainstorming ways to engage our students and get to know them better. I take them off the bus every morning with the assistance of our teacher’s aides, stop by their classrooms to say good morning, eat lunch with them and try to learn all of their names (a little over 400 kids!) but I want to do more.

Over the past two years we have seen so many tough times in education that we need to find fun ways to connect with our students, and there is no better way to do that than through good literature. As much as observing classes is a great way to see teachers and students in action, I wanted a way where I could be responsible for providing them with some educational lessons.

Books with a Message
I have to admit that I was apprehensive about reading the book entitled The Little Chapel That Stood to our elementary students last Friday. The story, which was written by A.B. Curtiss and illustrated by Mirto Golino, is about St. Paul’s Chapel which is across the street from where the World Trade Centers once stood. The strong little chapel was built in the mid-1700’s and still stands today. It has quite the history.

We all remember where we were on 9/11. It was a day that we all felt unsafe, stunned and we were not sure how to move on. That insecure feeling still surfaces as I think about that day because the whole event still seems so raw.

As the centuries passed,
And the city grew
Its buildings grew higher
And wider,
And tallest and grandest,
The city’s great pride,
The New York
Twin Towers
Rose up by its side
(Curtiss, 2003).

Now that we have approached the tenth anniversary of that tragic day, our school was trying to figure out how to commemorate it and educate our students in a natural way. To avoid the conversation about September 11th with our students would be irresponsible. As a public school system it is our job to discuss events like this with our students. We just need to do it in an age appropriate manner.

We have a tendency to make reading so scientific that sometimes we forget to make it fun. As a principal, I think it is really important that I make it fun because too often I’m the symbol of discipline and order. I want to be the symbol of fun and excitement. It’s kind of like a campfire story without the campfire. Our goal is to find ways to bond closer together, which reading definitely does, and The Little Chapel That Stood is definitely a story about an event that bonds us together.

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Curtiss, A.B. & Mirto Golino (2003). The Little Chapel That Stood. Old Castle Publishing. CA.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.