A Focus on Character Development for All Students

In this NAESP Center for Innovative Leadership video podcast, Andy Jacks and Hamish Brewer talk with Texas principal Amber Teamann about combining academics with character-development to build positive experiences for all kids.

Center for Innovative Leadership

Principal Amber Teamann heads Whitt Elementary in the Wylie School District—where the entire district is character-driven. They call it the Wylie Way, and it goes hand in hand with the district’s academic focus.

Leading a school with 674 students in kindergarten through fourth grade, Teamann has her hands full—but she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“My goal is for my kids to want to be here every single day,” says Teamann. “I want them to love school. I want them to remember me. I want them to have memories of elementary school and interacting with their principal. But I also want to prepare them for their next steps. I want to push them academically but also make sure they’re having fun and loving to learn.”

She prioritizes all students. It’s not just something she says; it’s truly a way of life for her and her team at Whitt.

“You can’t do something for everyone,” someone quipped to her once. Her response? Challenge accepted.

The Challenges

  1. How do you teach your students to be good people?
  2. How do you enable students with special needs to experience what other children get to experience at school?

Principal Spotlight:

Amber Teamann
Principal, Whitt Elementary, Wylie, Texas
Twitter: @8Amber8
Website: TechnicallyTeamann.com

Being an educator isn’t just Amber Teamann’s day job; she’s also a published author. In Lead With Appreciation, Teamann and co-author Melinda Miller focus on making your campus where people want to work. It’s a philosophy she brings into her school every day, making it an enjoyable place for her faculty and staff. A happy staff means Whitt’s students are set up for success. The big question in Texas: Who’s her team? For Teamann, it’s a no-brainer. She’s a Dallas Cowboys fan for life.

In this video, Teamann walks you through the halls of her school to show-and-tell how she combines academics with character-development as she and her team work hard to build positive experiences for all kids. You’ll learn ideas to:

Live the Wylie Way. In addition to an academic focus that lands the Wylie School District at the top of the ranks in Texas, the entire district focuses on what it calls the Wylie Way—a character-driven approach that helps students become good students and good people. The Wylie Way spans all grade levels, with schools shutting down for one day every nine weeks to focus specifically on character-building.

Measure all levels of achievement. Whether it’s academic or acts of kindness, Whitt’s Brag Board is one way to recognize students for their achievements. Students get to sign the chalkboard, and with the students, Teamann gets to call the students’ families to share the achievements.

Make students with special needs—and their families—feel like a valued part of the school. One student at Whitt has Sanfilippo syndrome, a degenerative disease with a limited life expectancy. Before he started kindergarten, Teamann worked with his mom to lay out a plan make sure he gets to experience everything every other student in the school gets to experience. She prioritizes days like World Sanfilippo Awareness Day, World Autism Awareness Day, and World Down Syndrome day as a way to support students with special needs and promote awareness of their conditions to the school community.

Three main takeaways:

  1. Ensure what you do for kids includes all kids.
  2. Be intentional with every single message that comes out of your school.
  3. Value relationships over being right.

Share your strategy: How have you transformed a school space to celebrate students? Go to the NAESP CIL webpage to tell us—and you could be one of the next principals we profile.