Atwood Primary School Principal Jennifer McGee Reflects on “Core Skills”

This submission is from the May 2019 RSU 18 Administrative Report, submitted by RSU 18 Assistant Superintendent Keith Morin.

The Principal’s Pen by Jennifer McGee, Principal of Atwood Primary School 

I was struggling for what I would write about this month.  After all, I have been writing Principal’s Pens for 20 years now.  As I was staring at my blank computer screen, a man, who had been working in the building installing toilet paper dispensers, appeared at the door of my office.

“Are you the principal,” he asked peering around the corner.

“I am,” I said, rising from my seat.  

“Good, I want to talk to you,” he said extending his hand to shake mine.  I’m always a bit nervous, never knowing what I’m about to hear. And then he continued, “Ma’am,  I have been working in school buildings for 38 years, and I have NEVER done this before…but I want to tell you, you have the nicest bunch of children I have ever seen.  They are so polite, so nice. I want to make a donation to your school.”

He went on to tell about the thousands of schools he had been in for the past 38 years, and could not believe how delightful and well behaved our children are…and so young!  

That visit, prompted this month’s Principal’s Pen.  

This entire school year, I have been taking a course called The Educational Leadership Experience.  Each month, a group of Maine educator’s tour businesses in Maine that are on the rise and hiring! It’s been a wonderful experience, and one of my take-aways is this:  soft skills have become core skills.

In the past, employers used to refer to traits like manners, punctuality, interpersonal skills, and work ethic as “soft skills”. No longer. Now they are called “core skills”.   The reason for this change is simple. If people don’t possess these essential skills, they will not keep their job. Workplaces are demanding their work force arrive with these core skills in tact.  And I happen to agree.

Manners matter.  And manners in all shapes and forms make a difference.  When I was a child, we sat at the table and had dinner as a family. My elbows were not allowed on the table, my napkin was placed in my lap, we were expected to chew with our mouths closed and not talk with our mouths full.  We also said “please” and “thank you” when we passed food to one another.

My Mom was a stay-at-home-mother, so family dinners were a regular thing.  When I was raising my children, we had more than a few dinners in the car…and admittedly, family dinners around the table were rare…but…manners were expected. Always.

At the beginning of the school year, here at Atwood, during our very first town meeting, we begin talking about the importance of manners.  And our duty teachers are wonderful about reminding the children to say “please” and “thank you” as they go through the breakfast and lunch lines.  And you all are certainly doing your part, because today a complete stranger noticed how very polite your children are!  So there: core skills…check!

I think it was kind of symbolic that this repairman also said he wanted to donate to our school because of the kindness and politeness of our students. It serves to show us that unexpected and surprisingly wonderful results can come from positive interpersonal skills.   

Children can learn this too.  I know, when my children were small, I didn’t want rude friends over to our house to play. I wanted the polite, well-behaved, nice children!  So there are rewards for manners.

And it feels good to be polite and kind.  A first grader skipped into her classroom on her way in from recess, “I held the door for my friends,” she said!  She felt good inside. As adults we like that feeling too. That’s why sometimes people pay it forward in the Dunkin Donuts drive thru line, that’s why we have “secret pals” at work….to leave each other random surprises, and that’s why it feels good to bring a bouquet of flowers to someone who does not expect them!  Giving really is a selfish act…because it feels so great!

So ultimately my message for this month’s Principal’s Pen is to say: Keep it up parents!  You are doing a great job raising polite children who want to do the right thing. A random stranger working in our building watched and listened to your children, and he said they were the BEST children he had ever encountered in his 38 year career, and that’s pretty great.   

Keep at it!  Manners are core skills that will serve your children well their whole lives.  You may feel like you are the “nag police” when you insist your children say “please” and “thank you” and “excuse me” and “I’m sorry” and “chew with your mouth closed”, but you are setting them up for a lifetime of exercising solid core skills that will serve them well every single place they go!  People notice.

This story was also featured in the OC NJ Daily Newspaper.