ARCHIVE: Catching the Bus: Leon Springs Elementary School faculty gears up for new year

Story and photograph by Pamela Price

This story originally appeared in the Leon Springs Community News, August 2010 edition.

LSE teachers Shirley Wittneben, Vicki Eoff and Taelor Swaney climb aboard a luxury bus as part of their in-service training. Image copyright: Pamela Price, 2010

While area children gathered up pencils, paper and erasers in anticipation of autumn, teachers at Leon Springs Elementary School climbed aboard a luxurious charter bus to start the school year off in high style–and learn a thing or two on the ride.

The August 16 bus trip kicked off the school’s annual back-to-school training. Earlier that morning, principal Kathy Dodge-Clay welcomed new and seasoned teachers to campus for a full week of activities.

In the library, it was hard to miss the week’s theme, “Hop on the Energy Bus.” Images of traditional yellow buses graced the official schedule and table decorations– just as they had the invitations sent to teachers earlier in the summer.

“On our campus, we have many veteran teachers. I feel that it’s important to invite them back to school every year,” said Dodge-Clay, who has served as principal at Leon Springs for 12 years. She added that this year she’s welcoming a record number of new teachers, too.

Teachers enjoy breakfast in the library. Image copyright: Pamela Price

As the school’s chief administrator, Dodge-Clay oversaw all components of the staff development activities. She was also responsible for selecting Jon Gordon’s popular motivational book, The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work and Team with Positive Energy, as the training text.

“The book has so much positive energy. Because of the many competing demands on all of us, we can lose our focus,” said Dodge-Clay. “I’d read the book and then heard Gordon speak at the statewide TEPSA [Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association] conference. I knew this was the book for us. We’ve done several book studies in the past, but this is the first time with The Energy Bus. I’m excited to see where it takes us.”

Intrigued by Dodge-Clay’s plans for using Gordon’s book in her school, a representative of TEPSA, Kirsten Hund, attended the August session.

“Kathy always presents for us at conferences and workshops,” said Hund, TEPSA’s director of programs. “I wanted to come down and experience the fun and see how this training works. I’ll take photographs and information back to share Kathy’s great ideas with other principals who might want to use the book at their schools, too.”

Dodge-Clay described Gordon’s ten rules as suitable for students as well as teachers. “It’s very kid-friendly. We’re using this book not just for our staff, but also because we hope it will have a ripple effect from teachers to students,” she said.

In anticipation of the weeklong August training, Dodge-Clay gave the book to all staff members as “a summer reading assignment” back in May.

“The positive energy is inspirational and I wanted everyone to have time to read and enjoy it before school began again,” she said.

To underscore the book’s message, Dodge-Clay decided to riff on the idea of the “energy bus” in a big, memorable way. So, on the morning of the 16th, Dodge-Clay handed out “tickets” and invited the staff to meet her in the bus loop.

There, the air-conditioned chartered bus–provided courtesy of Joe Sepulveda and Tuxedo Charters in Boerne –greeted the educators and whisked them off to three, off-campus sites for professional development activities. At the end of the morning, teachers disembarked at a private retreat center.

“I invest in my teachers [counting on] the ‘ripple effect’: they will invest in their students,” said Dodge-Clay with regard to the significant amount of time and energy expended by her office in planning the in-service training. “The job of being a teacher is highly demanding and full of stress, the ‘ten rules’ that Jon Gordon talks about in his book will help us to keep things in focus and really concentrate on what matters: our relationships with one another and with our kids.”

During the school year, the book’s content will be threaded throughout campus activities and classroom plans. Several of the decorations used for the summer training session will remain in place or re-used. Teachers will post monthly reflections after each faculty meeting on a blog.

“[In] daily morning announcements the children will be receiving ‘Tickets of Praise’ and recognized for kind deeds and such. They love to hear their names on the morning announcements, and then they get to come to the front office where everyone brags on them for a cookie coin which they get to redeem at lunch for a cookie,” Dodge-Clay said. “We are thinking about having some of our students work on videos to act out the ten rules, and then we’ll show the videos during morning announcements as well. We have t-shirts with buses that we will wear each Friday for Spirit Day. Currently we have the shirts for our teachers–the PTA bought them for us, which was very generous. They also ordered t-shirts for themselves. We are hoping to design t-shirts for our students as well.”

The principal regards the images and themes she’ll be highlighting from the book throughout the school year as a means of creating “a common language that helps strengthen our community.” Dodge-Clay added, “One of our main goals is to keep the positive momentum going all year long.”

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