LMS Principal releases book

LMS Principal releases book on Creativity & Collaboration in schools

LMS principal
David Rolfe/Journal

LEXINGTON — When Sean Gaillard found himself in a time of trouble, Paul McCartney came to him, speaking words of wisdom: “You just wait.”

In 2013, Gaillard was the principal of Wiley Middle School, hopeful that an application for a $1 million federal grant would transform the school into a cutting-edge learning center for science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

That dream crashed hard when Gaillard learned that the grant was not approved, leaving him with the difficult task of breaking the news to a staff that had worked tirelessly on the application.

As he had many times over his life, Gaillard sought comfort in the music and lives of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, the Beatles.

A Beatles fanatic, Gaillard is well-versed in the band’s history. Standing there in front of his faculty, he recalled the words a defiant McCartney uttered when the press all but declared the band yesterday’s news in 1966. “You just wait,” McCartney said, according to band lore.

The Beatles were within months of releasing “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” a sonic masterpiece that blew everyone’s minds with its studio wizardry and boundary-pushing songs such as “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” “A Day in the Life” and “With a Little Help From My Friends.” Fifty-one years after its release, it remains one of the most famous recordings in rock music.

And just as McCartney refused to let the doubters stifle the band, Gaillard implored his staff not to give up on their vision. Eventually, a STEAM program was established at Wiley, born from the hard work that went into the grant application.

Gaillard, who just finished his first year as principal of Lexington Middle School, has used the Beatles as his touchstone in more than 20 years as a teacher and principal, compiling his ideas into a new book, “The Pepper Effect,” which espouses using collaboration, creativity and innovation in the classroom, much as the Beatles did in the studio.

Gaillard’s love of the Beatles is apparent in his office, which includes posters, records and stickers on his Apple (of course) computer. He often sports a pair of Sgt. Pepper-themed socks.

He caught the Beatles’ bug as a child, growing up in Winston-Salem, when a teacher at St. Leo’s School, chastised him for using bad language.

“I thought I was in big trouble,” Gaillard recalled. “She said, ‘Mr. Gaillard, try to watch your language and listen to something articulate and profound like the Beatles.’ That stayed with me.”

Shortly after, Gaillard became obsessed with the band, devouring the Beatles’ records in his neighbor’s collection, listening to the band on his clock radio late into the night and reading all the books he could find.

“I didn’t have much of a life,” he said.

Once he began teaching, he incorporated the Beatles into his lesson plan, teaching poetry with the songs “Norwegian Wood,” “Penny Lane” and “She’s Leaving Home.”

“Music levels the playing field. Everyone has their band; everyone has their artist. Music is that universal language,” Gaillard said, “and that crept into my leadership.”

After teaching English at Reynolds High School, Gaillard became an administrator, starting as an assistant principal at Kernersville Middle School. Former principal Debbie Brooks recalled all the Beatles’ memorabilia in his office. But more than his love of the Fab Four, she remembered how well he connected with the school community.

“He loved going into classrooms. He’d always lean over and talk to students and see what they were doing. At faculty meetings, he’d have discussions with teachers on what unit they were on, and then walk out to the car pick-up area and immediately strike up conversations with parents,” Brooks said. “He’s just an all-around great teacher in my opinion. I’m sure he has bad days, but boy, we never knew them.”

The Pepper Effect involves four tenants: believe in your vision; believe in your masterpiece; believe in your collaborators; ignore the naysayers.

One example Gaillard relays in the book involved an unsightly corner in Lexington Middle School that housed a collection of old computers and had become what he called a “sad little corner of our school.” Determined to put it to good use, he assembled a brainstorming team that included a community partner and colleague.

They later brought in several students and teachers and encouraged them to “dream out loud,” ideas that were noted on a whiteboard. Teachers became energized by the student voices, Gaillard wrote, and laid out plans for a flexible, collaborative learning space that will be ready when students return in August. The furniture and supplies for that once sad corner recently arrived.

“This is the same abandon the Beatles had when creating ‘Sgt. Pepper.’ There was no template for the creation of their masterpiece. They had a vision and will to make it into a reality,” he wrote.

Not all of his colleagues or students share his Beatles’ love, Gaillard said with a laugh.

“I get eye rolls. It’s ‘He’s talking about the Beatles again,’” he said.

Liking the Beatles is not a prerequisite for reading the book. It’s more about creativity and collaboration in the classroom.

“I love these conversations with educators, beyond (talking about) test scores and those things,” he said.

Winston Salem Journal
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