We all want the opportunity to help build the leaders of tomorrow but one important thing we must equip future leaders with is a strong sense of character. Muriel Summers, principal at A.B. Combs Elementary, in Raleigh, North Carolina, takes this to heart, tirelessly working to create young, charismatic leaders, who understand the needs of themselves and others. Here is her story.
Ten years ago, upon her initial arrival at Combs, Muriel Summers was faced with losing her school’s magnet status. In order to maintain it, her Supervisor tasked her with creating a specialized magnet school concept “like no other in the U.S, using no additional resources”. Through much deliberation, and after attending a keynote given by the late, Dr. Stephen Covey, Muriel decided to transform the school’s stagnant culture and curriculum and shift its core focus to center upon Leadership. The rest is history.
A.B. Combs is a diverse elementary school, boasting children from 64 countries. By recognizing that each student possesses unique gifts and talents, and building on students’ strengths rather than focusing on their weaknesses, Muriel and the other faculty guide A.B. Combs students to continually achieve high levels of academic performance year after year. Combs success in teaching leadership is so apparent that hundreds of administrators and teachers from around the world come to the school’s “Leadership Days” twice a year to learn of their amazing program, in hopes to implement a similar version in their schools.
The staff at A.B. Combs is constantly innovating, and looking to help students not only perform to key learning targets, but to become true 21st century learners equipped for whatever lies ahead. Muriel Summers and her staff were among the first schools to implement LEGO Education BuildToExpress, a way of using LEGO bricks to foster a deeper dialogue with students. Working closely with LEGO Education, A.B. Combs helped pioneer the use of this facilitative classroom method that strengthens students’ abstract thinking and problem-solving skills. The BuildToExpress process combines specific teaching principles, professional development, and a specially formulated set of LEGO bricks to create a hands-on learning environment where teachers can facilitate healthy classroom dialogue and all students can form a deeper connection with what’s being taught. In one lesson, the teacher invited a World War II Veteran to speak to the class. She then had the students create LEGO builds that expressed what they had learned about the role of veterans and their service in war time. Can we add another example here?
According to Muriel Summers regarding BuildToExpress, “There’s no price tag that you can put on what I have seen happen as a result of providing this for our children. I’ve been in education thirty-four years, this is a gift. It is a gift of expression, a gift of confidence, a gift of collaboration, a gift of higher-order thinking and problem solving, it’s a gift of understanding and there is absolutely nothing else like it out there to bring about conversation and understanding and appreciation for one another’s ideas. The bottom line is the academics are soaring as a result of us finding ways to infuse it into every curriculum area in the school.”
BuildToExpress has enhanced A.B. Combs’ leadership program by developing a healthy environment where students learn from one another and respect one another’s thoughts. Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders and don’t we owe them the chance to have characteristics we can be proud of?
After first using BuildToExpress in the classroom, a student said “thank you for letting me use my imagination.”