Camping enthusiast and principal Scott Myers initiated a series of campfire chats with students to free up some planning time for teachers and give students a chance to talk with him in an informal setting. Included: A description of the discussion program.
If some days Hudson (Illinois) Elementary School principal Scott Myers looks more suited to lead a campfire sing-a-long than a staff meeting, it's because he probably is.
Myers started monthly campfire meetings with each grade level this year in an effort to free up more planning time for teachers. While the two teachers from each grade meet, Myers takes students into an art room decorated to look like a forest. Students sit around a pretend campfire to sing songs with Myers and talk about issues that have come up in classrooms.
They seem to pay more attention to me [around the campfire] than if I came into the classroom and talked to them about improving something, Myers joked.
Myers began brainstorming ways to free up more time for teachers to meet because the district is starting to implement the response to intervention (RTI) program and he wanted staff members to have time to plan together and coordinate efforts.
An avid camper who worked at a boys camp and now at a day camp in the summer, Myers decided the campfire meetings would be a good way to utilize his love of camping, reinforce aspects of the schools character program, and provide some positive group time with the principal.
To create his camping experience, Myers piled up wood in a classroom used for art classes and rigged up lights underneath yellow cellophane to resemble a fire. He brought in some potted trees and artificial turf. Images of trees are projected onto a screen and wilderness sounds play as students enter the room. He even strung up lights to resemble stars. Its just an environment different from the classroom situation, Myers told Education World. And yes, he wears his camping gear for the discussions.
Prior to the campfire meetings, he asks grade-level teachers if there are any particular issues that need to be addressed, and they become fuel for campfire discussions. The kindergarten teachers, for example, mentioned that students were having trouble keeping their hands to themselves, so Myers led them in a silly song about not using their hands to disrupt others.
When name-calling reared its ugly head in the second grade, Myers developed a hands-on lesson to show students how calling people names can cause lasting damage. He cut out the shape of a person from red poster board and introduced the children to Red. I asked them, If you didnt want to accept Red, what would you say? Someone said, Youre not very smart. Every time a student made a mean comment about Red, Myers tore off a piece of him. Then he asked students to suggest ways they could fix the hurt they caused. Students made nice comments about Red, and taped the pieces back. But the areas where Red had been torn were still visible. I said, You can still see the damage that had been done. You can say youre sorry, but the damage is still done, Myers noted.
To send the same message to fifth graders, Myers had them pound nails into a fence, pull them out, and paint the fence. Even after the wood was painted, the nail holes were still visible -- showing that not all damage can be undone.
Rather than me stand up and lecture, I can bring the message in a fun way, Myers told Education World.
Julie Barnet, a third-grade teacher, said the campfire meetings have taken some pressure off teachers. It helps us a lot, she told Education World. It gives us the opportunity for instructional planning; were able to get together on lesson plans and co-teaching. This helps us meet kids needs and helps us share ideas about doing more group activities.
Students also enjoy chatting in a camping setting. They love anytime they get to have some small-group time with Mr. Myers, and he gets dressed up in his camping attire, Barnet said.
For Myers, interacting with students and letting them get to know him better are pluses. This gives me time in front of students in positive way, he said. Its so easy to just see the stereotype of principals on TV who are very strict or buffoons. This way, they see me in a positive way.