Elementary education lays the foundation for how students will grow and learn in school, and Hazel Grove Elementary School Principal Aimee Shedd is leading the way to help teachers and staff create a school kids want to go to, by creating a “culture of care,” while “keeping learning fun.”
This is Shedd’s first year as a principal after over 20 years in education. She has served in several roles across Habersham County at Level Grove, Hazel Grove and Woodville Elementary schools over the years as both an elementary classroom teacher and as an academic coach. She says working with children is the source of her and her staff’s joy at Hazel Grove Elementary, and as a principal, she wants to create a culture where students feel cared for, loved and supported in school.
“Before kids can learn, they have to feel safe, they have to feel loved, they have to have a relationship,” Shedd says. “Because students will do anything for you if they know that you care about them and you want what’s best for them, and school is not easy.”
A culture of care and fun
Shedd says that Hazel Grove’s goal is to create a strong foundation for Hazel Grove’s students, not only in terms of reading and math, but for their future education by showing them they are supported.
“We talk about creating that culture of care so […] we can hold [our students] to high expectations, and they can rise to meet those challenges that we’ve put before them because they know that we’re behind them, and we’re going to support them,” she says.
While part of working towards academic goals is support, another part is student engagement, and learning and fun go hand-in-hand at Hazel Grove. Teachers and staff are encouraged to try new, engaging activities to “keep learning fun.”
Shedd says that for many students and adults, there’s a negative school experience that made them dislike school that overshadowed their positive school experiences. She challenges her staff to remember what that experience was for them, and work to create an environment where good experiences far outweigh bad days.
“Once we get them [students] here, we want them to continue coming to school,” Shedd says. “When we’re having those lessons— when we’re reading those books that just really spark the imagination and spark creativity, and when they’re in art or PE— we’re just trying to ignite passions and excitement, for whatever those things are that they just really want to pursue [in] their future, because right now, every door is open. I want to open every door and give children an opportunity to experience a lot of different things.”
An attitude of gratitude
Shedd says that it isn’t just students that need to know they’re cared for and supported, teachers and staff need it too. In her leadership role, she’s working to make sure Hazel Grove’s teachers know that they’re appreciated.
“Teaching is very challenging, I don’t know that people realize how […] hard the job of an elementary school teacher is,” Shedd says. “They plan for every content area, it’s not like they have one [course to teach], like they teach science all day, or they teach math all day. They plan for every subject, which can be challenging. So in that, I’m constantly trying to celebrate them, to thank them. I feel like we all need to have an attitude of gratitude.”
Celebration is a major part of Shedd’s leadership at Hazel Grove for both teachers and students. As teachers help students reach their goals and their students work to achieve them, Hazel Grove’s administration brings them opportunities to feel appreciated and share exciting experiences together.
One of Shedd’s initiatives to celebrate Hazel Grove is the “celebration cart,” something that came from finding creative alternatives to keep students out of large gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and became something that brought a new level of engagement to classrooms.
The pandemic has made school challenging for many educators and school staff, and finding ways for students to safely get in-person instruction while keeping school a fun place to be hasn’t been easy. But Shedd says that the pandemic has allowed them to explore new ways to celebrate students and teachers and create positive experiences.
While gathering students together to celebrate them during teacher’s planning time was the previous go-to, keeping students out of large groups and within their classroom exposure bubbles has been a standard practice for the elementary school since re-opening schools. With the celebration cart, Shedd is bringing celebrations to classrooms.
“When we brought it into the classroom, the teachers got to celebrate with the kids, they got to see how excited they were,” Shedd says. “It gave the students an opportunity to be celebrated in front of their peers. They were so excited if we came down the hall.”
The celebration cart isn’t just for student achievements, it’s for teachers, too, and now students and teachers can all celebrate those moments together—something they didn’t have before.
Hazel Grove continues to “think outside the box,” and find new ways to engage students and teachers, and Shedd says the foundation they’re helping students build is building Habersham’s future.
“I just want parents and community members to know that while we have their children here, we are going to cultivate that culture of care, we’re going to focus on gratitude and growth, and we’re really going to build that solid foundation for our students so that they can contribute to our community in a positive way,” Shedd says. “Because Habersham is a wonderful place to be. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. And I want to make sure that it continues that way with future generations.”