More Than a Selfie: Overton Principal's (daily) birthday tradition

More Than a Selfie: Overton Principal's (daily) birthday tradition

By Tyler Dahlgren

It’s somebody’s birthday, and the door to an elementary classroom at Overton Public School swings open. Students grow wide-eyed in anticipation as Principal Brian Fleischman enters and locates the birthday boy or girl.

This happens nearly every day, but, for the kids (and for the principal) the routine never gets old. Their eyes dart from the principal to their teacher before they zone in on the lucky classmate celebrating his or her special day.

It’s selfie time, and they know it.

“The elementary kids, they’re funny because they know when it’s someone’s birthday, and the minute I walk in they’ll point them out and yell ‘You gotta go! You gotta go!’” said Fleischman, who began this ritual of posting birthday selfies on Twitter at the beginning of last school year.

The idea came from a keynote speaker Fleischman heard while attending a National Principals Conference in Philadelphia. The first year of trying it out, he only posted tweets with students whose birthdays fell within the boundaries of the calendar school year.

“Over the summer, I was like ‘Man, we’re missing all the summer birthdays’, so we did half-birthdays this year, too,” he said. “It’s been fun. The reaction of the kids has been pretty funny to see. Little kids love it, and high schoolers are sometimes like ‘We really have to take a picture?’”

You guys take selfies all the time, Fleischman tells them. One more isn’t going to hurt.

Fleischman has seen the full spectrum of student reactions, but it’s the unenthusiastic ones he enjoys the most. The less excitement a student shows about their birthday, the larger the spectacle.

“I usually try to catch high schoolers during passing periods, but for the few who act like they really don’t want to make a big deal out if, I’ll buzz up to their classroom and make a bigger scene,” Fleischman laughs.

Search the district’s #WeROverton hashtag, and your stream will be flooded with the uplifting well-wishes. Some with preschoolers turning four. Some with seniors old enough to vote. It's a positive example of how social media can be used to brighten a student's day.

"It's using it as a voice for the school to promote the positive things happening, because often times there's just so much negativity out there," he said. "If we don't combat that with positives, then negativity is just going to fill the void."

Fleischman, who is in his 11th year as principal at Overton, has seen the simple act of taking a selfie seep into his school’s culture. Point, smile and click. Type and post. Easy enough. But for some of Fleischman’s students, the simple act means so much more than a selfie.

“Some of the kids, when they come to school, and it’s sad to say, but that seven hours we have them is the most stable seven hours of their day,” he said.

Fleischman tries to keep that in perspective. The walk to his office takes a couple of minutes, valuable time for the principal as he aims to build a deeper, stronger relationship with his students through meaningful conversation.

 “I try to talk to them a little more and let them know that somebody does care about the things going on in their life and the things they are dealing with,” Fleischman said. “There is a trust that is developed, and for those kids in those difficult situations, trust is a huge issue.”

Fleischman urges his staff to pursue similar relationships with their students. He urges them to tweet out successes when they happen in the classroom. He has teachers who care. Teachers who share one common characteristic, he adds.

“They all went into education because they wanted to work with kids,” he said. “Sometimes, the older we get, we can lose sense of that. I feel my staff has continued to run with that idea. We’re here for the kids. They may annoy us sometimes with the things they do or their little quirks, but, at the end of the day, the kids are our clientele, and that’s who we are always going to focus on.”

The kids ARE the culture at Overton, and that’s the purpose behind Principal Fleischman’s selfies.

To make students feel special.

On their birthdays, and on every other day of the year.