Mr. Wilson "Walks a Mile"
Principal Learns Lessons by Assuming Different Roles
May 10, 2021 -- Teacher (and Staff) Appreciation Week was held May 3 – 7, 2021. From food truck lunches to swag bags, there were various celebrations held to honor Manassas City Public Schools employees.
Principal Andrew Wilson of Round Elementary got creative in his approach. He signed up to “walk a mile” in the shoes of some of his staff members. After “walking” far more than a mile as a kindergarten teacher and literally running to keep up as a custodian, Wilson said he not only feels more appreciative of his staff but he’s also determined to be a better leader and supporter of them.
Wilson said, leading up to the week, he asked his staff what would make them feel most appreciated.
“My teachers emphasized how important it is to them that I know what they experience every day,” he explained. “Seeing and hearing is different than feeling it through experience. If I can ‘feel’ it, then I can truly call upon my empathy when leading, advocating, and making tough decisions that impact the teachers and staff.”
Wilson chose a random number from a list of certified/instructional staff members and another number from a list of classified/support employees to determine his fate. The names selected were kindergarten teacher Veronica Campbell and custodian Maria Pereira, which promised Wilson would get a wide range of experiences.
“My request to those I was filling in for was to experience full immersion,” he said. “I wanted the complete experience. My goal was to ‘feel it’ and really try to be present with the challenges and rewards. I then wanted to imagine that I was in those shoes all day, every day. I can never completely get the full experience (day in, day out), but I wanted to try and glean how the daily grind must feel.”
Wilson got that opportunity on Thursday, May 6, 2021.
He spent his morning teaching Mrs. Campbell’s kindergarteners. During breakfast, he quickly learned that teaching kindergarten could be a messy job.
“Breakfast and student engagement don’t mix well,” he joked.
While the students enjoyed having a guest, Wilson said they were quick to point out any mistakes he made and quick to tell the teacher when he didn’t stick to their routine. He said he struggled with time management and found it tough to get through the day’s lesson plan.
More importantly, Wilson said he learned the difficulty teachers are faced with when dividing their attention between students in the classroom and those learning virtually.
When the students transitioned to lunch, Wilson shifted into his next role: custodian.
Wilson did not shy away from any of the custodial duties. During his four-hour shift, he cleaned lunch tables, swept floors, cleaned bathrooms, and made sure he cleaned all spaces to protocol.
“The clock moves slower when cleaning toilets,” Wilson said, noting how hard the custodial team works.
“They never stop moving, and at 4 p.m. I was completely exhausted.”
Custodians are on a tight schedule, making sure to sanitize each classroom and common spaces between uses. Equipped with a cart full of cleaning supplies, Wilson learned the efforts custodians take to keep students and staff safe and healthy and the facilities clean.
“This work is a grind, and for our custodians to stay positive and take such pride in their work says a lot about the caliber of individuals we have on our custodial team,” he explained.
After his day “walking a mile” in others’ shoes, Wilson was exhausted. However, he reflected on the experience and shared his findings with his staff.
“What an experience I had yesterday!” he wrote to staff in an email. “It was hard work and so much fun seeing everyone (students included) get a big kick out of it! It is one thing to hear and see what it is like to teach or clean, but it really sets in when you experience it directly.”
He made sure to tell his staff how appreciative he is of everyone on staff, noting “every person in this building is essential.” Wilson also promised to use the lessons he learned to better lead and support Round employees—with empathy.
“My biggest takeaway was that every position has its challenges and rewards,” he said. “Every person is essential and part of a bigger system that all comes back to the students. If everyone can see how their work connects back to the students, we will be a successful school and division.”
Wilson said while he set aside just one day to participate in the project, the lessons he learned will last a lifetime. He hopes to continue his learning and “walk a mile” in the shoes of more employees next year.
While the experience was enlightening for himself, Wilson said he hopes that students also gained perspective.
“No job is more or less important than the next. Everybody in every position has a right to feel valued and respected,” he said. “We are all a part of a family where we lean on each other to give the best environment and experience to the students.”
Students and staff were amused by the experience, often asking questions of Wilson and intrigued by his willingness to participate.
“Because of that, it dawned on me that I’m not the special one for playing ‘dress up’ for a day,” he said. “The real heroes are the ones who do the work every day.”