Improving Schools: Why Do You Do What You Do?


WholeChildBannerWe are all part of the school community and we all serve the whole child.

“I’ve been a hospital nurse for 38 years and a school nurse for 20 years, and I love to nurture in both the school and hospital setting—it’s part of my genetic makeup. I love to provide the hugs, encouragement, and inspiration that all children need.” —Carmen Hill

Carmen Hill is a school nurse in St. Louis, Mo. Throughout the day she dispenses medication; monitors students with asthma, diabetes, and severe allergies; performs first aid; helps children with ADHD; and attends to students with coughs, fevers, and sore throats (who possibly should have not attended school that day). In addition, Hill must also assess students for possible abuse, counsel students that are bullied, and, more often than not these days, provide snacks to students who are hungry.

“I have to take care of my kids so they can go back to class and learn,” she says. “There are many schools that don’t have a school nurse at all, but my school is fortunate to have a school nurse fulltime. If I wasn’t here, who would take care of the sick kids?”

“I know that with a lot of patience, understanding, and guidance, my students are capable of accomplishing anything any other student can.” —Saul Ramos

Saul Ramos has worked with visually impaired students in Worcester Public Schools in Massachusetts for the past 15 years. Officially, his responsibilities as a Braillist include reproducing school materials, such as worksheets, textbooks, quizzes, and tests, into Braille using current computer technology. The main goal of his work, however, is to ensure that his students are fully integrated into their neighborhood public schools, become familiar with their surroundings, and become as independent as possible. Ramos’ students, who are blind or visually impaired, require adaptations to the school environment and a hands-on curriculum. He is there to ensure that they have what they need to excel and that they are motivated and challenged to reach their full potentials.

Why Do You Do What You Do?

Ask yourself—whatever your role in your school is—why do you do what you do? Why do you work where you work? Why do you make sure that the kids are treated well, encouraged, noticed, and cared for?

Every adult in the school community plays a role in creating, bolstering, reinforcing, and strengthening the school environment. Every interaction with a child matters and influences how that child feels, acts, and responds. As James Comer, founder of the acclaimed Comer School Development Program and an ASCD Whole Child Commissioner, says, “With every interaction in a school, we are either building community or destroying it.” This means that with every interaction we help create and form the climate and culture of the school. We all help determine whether or not it’s a safe, nurturing, and supportive environment for learning.

Whether we are principals, instructional coaches, physics teachers, custodians, security officers, or paraeducators, very few of us can be fully defined by our official titles. What we do every day and why we do it expands outside our job descriptions because we care about kids and we see ourselves as part of the bigger picture.


At its recent annual conference for education support professionals (ESPs) in New Orleans, the National Education Association released Education Support Professionals: Meeting the Needs of the Whole Student. This free digibook is based on the ASCD Whole Child framework and tenets and highlights the broadening roles that ESPs engage in every day to help ensure that each child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.

The more we view ourselves and others across the school community as part of a network that is “locked into a conspiracy to make certain that I grew up to be a responsible, contributing citizen (James Comer)” the better we are able to understand the influence and affect we have on children.

Education is a vast profession and we all play a part in its success, whatever our official roles may be. So, the next time someone asks you what you do, don’t just answer with your title. Think about what you do, who you serve, and how you support them.

Are you a teacher or mentor? Are you a custodian or part of a support network? Are you a school nurse, a principal, a specialist, or a food service manager? Are you the one responsible adult for a child, a connection to the broader society, an adviser, or a caregiver? Download the digibook and see examples of how school support staff like you help increase the odds that children succeed.