Educator Spotlight: Meet Randall Sampson
Professional development coach in Ohio strives to implement culture in the classroom
This story is part of a series that celebrates outstanding teachers in our Flipgrid community. Stories by Angela Tewalt.
It’s a chilly Friday morning in the fall in Columbus, Ohio.
For “Buckeye Nation,” this means there’s a football game tomorrow. At school, the students are wearing their scarlet and gray, the “Buckeye Battle Cry” is playing on the loudspeakers in between classes, and teacher Randall Sampson is marching down the hallway with his fists up. He chants loudly, “O-H!”
The students bustle around him. You can hear the shuffle of their feet, their lockers slamming shut and that squealing team spirit chatter. They respond to him immediately, “I-O!”
Randall repeats himself – this time maybe walking a little faster as he bobs through the students, cupping his mouth with his big hands, raising his chin and deepening his voice – “I said, ‘O-H!’ ”
“I-O!” They cheer back. This goes on for at least a minute more, until each student retreats to their next class with a big smile on their face. Randall’s smiling, too.
College football means a lot to families in O-H-I-O, but for Randall, those Friday mornings aren’t about the chants or a fight song or what you wear to school. It’s about the experience for the kids.
“Every day’s not going to be peachy,” says Randall, who’s been in education for 20 years. “But at the end of the day, these kids aren’t going to come back to talk about the Pythagorean theorem lessons they learned. Their best memories are going to be about the people who loved them.
“So tell me, what do you truly believe in? Your content? Or your culture?”
Creating Culture for Both Students and Teachers
Randall was raised in Pretoria, South Africa, where he spent his days around family dinners, going to church and playing with his cousins.
“Everybody has a life story and a pathway they follow, and, for me, those experiences were very rich,” Randall says. “I had family. I had people. We’re all a tight-knit community, and we played like kids do. Regardless of how difficult any situation might have been, we had that human connection, and those positive experiences far, far outweigh the negative.”
At the age of 8, Randall and his family immigrated to the United States, where his mother would work as a nurse in Ohio. He remembers flying into New York City, when he awoke to the pilot on the speaker, “Ladies and gentlemen, look out to your left window. There’s New York City.”
“It was like a storybook,” Randall recalls. “I woke up, I looked out, and you could see the Statue of Liberty. I got out of that plane as a kid and I said to myself, ‘I’m here. Let’s go. Let’s make it happen.’ ”
Years later, the stars are still in his eyes, and his ambition fires more than ever. Randall is the kind of educator and the kind of human that changes people.
For years, he worked both as a teacher and as an administrator for K-12 in the Columbus school districts. Randall was the one who knew everything about the kids, asking about families and initiating conversations in the hallway. He would sit with the students during in-school suspension, bring them a slice of pizza and not let them leave until they felt loved, cared for and good about themselves, no matter what.
He would pass around a WWE wrestling belt as a reminder that all students are capable of success, achievement and support, and he was the teacher who showed the teachers what it meant to respect others, merely by being himself.
“You got to be the person who takes some kind of action,” Randall assures. “So that’s what I do.”
Working Together to Build Positive Experiences
Today, Randall owns Liberty Leadership Development, where he coaches teachers and studies data to close achievement gaps and boost graduation rates. Always with a keen focus on human interaction, he reminds fellow educators of intentional behavior and caring relationships above anything in the classroom.
“I always want to show folks that you can make an impact, but it’s a long game,” he says. “It’s like running a relay race. If I’m a fifth-grade teacher, I’m going to give those kids as much as I can during my time with them, but then I’m going to trust that my colleague in sixth grade is going to take the baton and keep running.
“We’ve got to keep mentoring all the way through and building culture all the way through – truly honoring every kid, connecting deeply with every kid and empowering them.”
Not only did Randall grow up in Buckeye Nation, he played college football himself and then coached young kids every summer through the NCAA, so he knows the value of working together, and he sees the same system of success in education.
“We’re very optimistic here – we got United States ambition! Big games, big hopes, but sports really do teach us the value of teamwork,” Randall says. “Every play in football, for example, is 5 or 6 seconds, but then you get 30 seconds in between, and those 30 seconds are about communicating the plan, holding hands and everybody aligning. If somebody tells you you’re misaligned, you’re okay with that. You want to shift and make it right for your team, right?
“So what are we doing in education if we can’t tell a teacher, ‘You need to realign’? We need to always be checking in with each other, leading by example, believing in our kids, and we need to be here for the right reasons.
“What does that look like for you?”
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