Lessons From the Crossing Guard

Today’s post is by lead learner, Karen Norton, an elementary principal in Carlisle, AR.


Hats…educators wear many and they all serve a different purpose. My hats, for instance, include being an elementary principal, a mentor, a teacher, a cafeteria worker, a crossing guard, a nurse, a counselor, a disciplinarian and many other things in my small school.  Some hats I like better than others, but regardless of my preference, they are all necessary.


I jokingly refer to one of those hats as the “Crossing Guard”. Each morning I greet the students as they arrive to Carlisle Elementary School and each afternoon I send them on their way making sure they are clear to cross the street. While many call this “duty”, I call it a blessing. This time affords me the opportunity to connect, influence and encourage our young people every day. It also allows me to get to know our learners on a different level while providing them a certain level of comfort knowing they are going to see a familiar face.


On a recent bitterly cold morning (yes, we have those in Arkansas) I was busy in my office preparing for the day when I heard a noise outside. Glancing at the time, 7:01 am, I could not imagine what was making the noise.  Following the sound to the front sidewalk, just outside my office, I found its source. A young student (5) had been dropped off in the dark, alone and well before the “allowable” drop off time of 7:30 am. He huddled in the corner trying to block the wind…crying and shivering from the cold or fear – or both. I unlocked the door and invited him inside to visit until the other students started arriving. I learned so much about this little guy, whose name I struggled to remember. He sat drinking the hot chocolate I had fixed for him and we talked. He told me all about his new baby brother and how he had a loose front tooth. He took great pride in making it “wiggle” for me.  As we talked, I realized the power of the morning and afternoon “duty” and I was saddened that I still couldn’t remember his name. Finally I asked him to remind me of his name. He said his name loud and proud and I was incredibly thankful he didn’t seem disturbed by the fact that I didn’t already know it. As we continued to visit, I was struck and humbled by the power of words, the power of understanding and the power of empathy. I will never look at my role as “crossing guard” the same.


As I think about school leadership and the many “hats” leaders wear, I strongly believe:


In building relationships with students…it matters most – Student need to know they are safe, loved and heard. Smiles, handshakes, high fives and fist pumps are often all it takes to make a child feel special, acknowledged and valued.


 In showing empathy – Daniel Goleman, author of the book Emotional Intelligence, defines empathy as the ability to understand others’ emotions. Children often have a difficult time expressing and sharing their feelings. It is imperative that educators be mindful of the feelings and needs of our students.


In being positive,  especially with discipline – Positivity is just as contagious as negativity…so why not GO POSTIVE?


Discipline of others is not punishment. You discipline to improve, to correct, to prevent, not to punish, humiliate or retaliate. – John Wooden




In bringing a passion for the work every day – There is NO room in education for “fake it until you make it”…. because they know. We aren’t fooling anyone. You can’t count on tricking kids, especially in today’s world – they experience a lot of fake. Be genuine. If there is no passion, please find a new profession.


EVERY student has a story and deserves someone to listen to it and encourage them to share it – Rita Pearson said it best, “Every child deserves a champion”. Someone  to gently nudge them to explore and identify their own why….I want to be that someone for my students.


Educators should wear every “hat” with determination and pride- Sometimes, for me; the “hat” is in the form of a hair net! CES students LOVE seeing me help out in the cafeteria. It all started out of necessity and I had no idea what an impact it would have on my students and my team. It provides yet another opportunity to interact and build relationships. While not the sidewalk…it is still a great view and a great lesson!




Who knew the view from the sidewalk could be so enlightening. My crossing guard “hat” is one that I will never permanently take off. I believe it makes an impact on our students. I know it makes an impact on me.


I encourage you to learn from and enjoy the view from your own sidewalk regardless of what “hat” you are wearing.


For more by Karen