When Pizza Isn’t Just Pizza – Featuring the Voice of Brent Coley

Editor’s Note: Brent will be sharing his #eduinfluence message on January 20, 2017 as he keynotes CUELA Palooza. Check out the sched: CUELA Palooza Schedule. You can also hear this story and more on Brent’s Podcast: “Teaching Tales”

pizzaAs an elementary school principal, I have the opportunity to interact with students in a bunch of different ways. From high-fiving boys and girls as they’re dropped off each morning, to shooting hoops with a group of students during recess, to popping into classrooms to see kids engaged in learning. Being with students is the best part of my job.

Not too long ago I had the opportunity to host “Lunch with the Principal”. Each month, every teacher selects a student who has been excelling in class, demonstrating perseverance, showing great character, etc., and those students get to join me for a pizza lunch. It’s a fun way for me to sit down and chat with students, praise them for working hard, and connect with them in a more relaxed setting. Totally casual. Just students, our assistant principal, and me, shooting the breeze over gourmet (or at least affordable) Little Caesars pizza.

After students had their fill of pizza and were dismissed back to class, I walked through the staff lounge where one of our 1st-grade teachers stopped me in my tracks with this exchange:

“Hey, Brent. Calvin was so excited to have lunch with you today. He even got a haircut yesterday to get ready.”

“Wait. What?” I said. “He got a haircut for “Lunch with the Principal?”

“Yep. That’s what he told me,” she said with a smile.

Apparently, the simple act of getting to eat $6 pizza with me was a pretty big deal for this 6-year-old, enough so that he wanted a haircut to be part of his preparation.

I was totally blown away. I was humbled. And I was a bit ashamed.

See, In that moment, I realized that in the busyness of my schedule, I had overlooked the importance of this time. While seemingly simple in my eyes (pick up pizza — check, buy ice and soda — check, set out paper plates and napkins — check), this was more than a simple event on my calendar. For this student (and probably a good number of those who attended), this was HUGE. This was a chance to eat with the principal. It’s weird for me to even write that, but today I was reminded of my influence, even when I’m too busy or dense to realize it.

It wasn’t just pizza. It was an opportunity to connect with those I serve.

A chance to talk about their pets at home, what they like to play at recess, and what they hope to get for Christmas. It was an opportunity to get to know my students, and for them to get to know me.

I was reminded that students don’t necessarily have a dozen things on their calendar that have to get done. I was reminded that for them, I may be the ONE thing on their “To Do” list, the one thing they’re looking forward to that day. I was reminded of the incredible power I possess to make a difference in the lives of my students, of the power all educators possess. It’s a bit scary, but what an opportunity! An opportunity I don’t want to miss.

So the next time you find yourself thinking “It’s just pizza,” “It’s just a smile,” or “It’s just a high five,” remember —

That pizza, smile, or high five may be making a student’s day, week, or even month.

That student may be telling Mom and Dad about it or writing about it in their journal. Who knows? Your action may even lead to a haircut.

Brent Coley has been an educator in southern California for over 20 years as both a teacher and an administrator. He is currently Principal of Alta Murrieta Elementary in the Murrieta Valley Unified School District. He is also an instructional technology leader in his district, helping teachers infuse technology into their teaching to support student learning. A firm believer in the power of collaboration and sharing, Brent actively shares with other educators on Twitter and through his podcast “Teaching Tales”. Find out more at BrentColey.com. Follow him @brentcoley .

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Brent Coley