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Lawrence Washington: A Leader in K-12 Education


Lawrence Washington, the administrator/principal for a K-12 school district, watches as students and teachers file out of classrooms at the ring of the bell. “I like to step out of my office every day and see who I really work for,” he says. “I love my job, of course, but I need to get out from behind the desk and touch base with the people I serve: students and teachers.”

Lawrence is committed to both groups, because he believes the student-teacher relationship is extremely important. “I discovered the difference a teacher can make in a student’s life when I began teaching English in 1995,” he states. “I had just earned my master’s in curriculum, instruction, and supervision. I showed up in my first classroom, nervous but ready to set students’ minds on fire. What I learned as a teacher, though, is that it went further than that. I was also my students’ mentor and life guide. That first year taught me a lot about the influence a teacher has on young minds.”

Lawrence eventually left the classroom to become the Dean of Students. “I didn’t forget my teaching experience, however,” he says. “I now understood what teachers and students experienced each day, and I used that to improve how they were supported by the administration. I was an effective leader, and I progressed to being an assistant principal and then a principal/director.”

By working as a teacher and as an administrator, Lawrence has been able to develop a diverse skill set. “I’ve been able to learn about teaching, diversity and inclusion, HR, curriculum writing, behavior management, and leadership. Hopefully, I will be able to use that experience to become the superintendent of a school district in about five years.”

With his extensive experience, he is often approached by aspiring education professionals for advice. “I suggest that they stay in college and get something higher than a bachelor’s degree. It just isn’t enough anymore, honestly. With a higher degree, you will have more career options. Another very valuable skill is being bilingual. I also recommend that people who want to work in education learn classroom management and leadership.”

Lawrence says that anyone who works in schools, be it in a classroom or in administration, is an educator. “That includes me. Each day, I remind myself that I must help students grow academically, morally, and socially. I try to pay close attention to each student I meet and to understand their unique personality and learning style. Doing so means that I can enable each student to grow to become the life-long learner and active citizen needed in our society. In short, I do all that I can to ensure that all students learn and are successful. It’s a good feeling when I see that happen.”

How success is defined will depend on the student, of course. As Lawrence explains, “It’s tied to how much they grow personally. This growth is the spirit of our challenge in school. Without educational growth, there can be no learning.”

He says that teachers can help by remembering that appropriate learning takes place through many different experiences. “This means that activities must be designed to lead the student from practical issues to theoretical principles. Learning also occurs as students freely engage in making choices while weighing personal responsibilities and the possible consequences of their actions. It is our role as educators to present principles, values, and reasons to students and to encourage them to examine the choices and decide whether to accept them.”

He loves when teachers employ a diversity of teaching styles. “That is very effective in  making learning accessible to all students, who learn differently, as educators know. When I teach, it is important that I find ways to utilize those differences in a democratic atmosphere that fosters cooperation rather than competition. Group work plays a large role, for it allows both a hands-on investigation of the content and an opportunity to build social skills. It also allows for individual strengths to be highlighted within the safety of the group. Students can also express their ideas in ways other than writing; posters, stories, three-dimensional art, and role-playing are some of the alternative activities available in my class.”

The ability of a teacher to be creative and understand how their students best learn will lead to wonderful growth, Lawrence says. “They will understand themselves better and express themselves in ways that are natural to them. They will even discover that education really can be fun.”

Lawrence says that any tough days that a teacher or student has are nothing compared to the moments when everything clicks. “When a teacher has tried so hard to get across a point and they see that the student finally understands, that’s incredible. That’s when educators will know that they have done their jobs well, and the students will believe in themselves. In the end, my job is to do everything I can to help teachers make more of those moments happen.”