Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom Chat: Tim Foster, Principal, Cochran Elementary, Jefferson County Public Schools, Kentucky

This is Part Two of our breakfast-in-the-classroom interview with Tim Foster, principal at Cochran Elementary in Jefferson County Public Schools. Today we take a closer look at the morning routine at Cochran, and learn more about Mr. Foster’s approach to stakeholder engagement with teachers and school staff.

Like many breakfast-in-the-classroom champions, Tim Foster believes that one the keys to program success us stakeholder buy-in. When he speaks to other principals about the program, Foster stresses the importance of open communication and an open mind.

“Any program needs personnel buy-in, because naysayers and negativity will result in a negative program,” said Foster. “I tell colleagues to give BIC a chance, and to look for ways to incorporate it into daily lessons. It’s a way to have kids engage in academics the moment they walk through the door.”

While some of his staff had reservations, keeping the lines of communication open and creating an organized process for the morning meal helped bring reluctant stakeholders on board. At Cochran, the focus is on what’s best for the students and it didn’t take long for staff to see that breakfast-in-the-classroom came with undeniable benefits.

“You have to believe in the program, and once you see the outcomes it makes everything worthwhile,” said Foster. “It sets children up for a successful day. Our teachers have made it family time. Some play classical music, others have a Kid President video running while the kids eat. Each teacher takes that time and creates what they feel is necessary for the team building and culture of climate components of their classrooms.”

Breakfast-in-the-classroom has also provided opportunities for students to take leadership roles, which also contributes to the teambuilding atmosphere teachers create in the classroom.

“We choose students in fourth and fifth grade who have excelled, and we have them deliver breakfast to the classroom as well as helping the teachers set up. Another nice thing about BIC is that teachers get to meet kids in the building who are not in their classrooms or grade level. That becomes a teamwork collaboration piece that we wouldn’t have if we weren’t doing breakfast-in-the-classroom,” said Foster.

So, what exactly does a morning look like at Cochran? Mr. Foster gives us an outline:

  • School opens at 8 a.m., buses arrive at 8:15 a.m. Students are sent to various locations as they arrive on campus, including computer and iPad labs, and the school library.
  • At 8:30 a.m., approximately 100 kindergarten and first grade students do “shared reading” time in the library with teachers.
  • Older students go to a computer lab or one of two iPad labs; once full, the remaining student body waits in the cafeteria where they can do math flash cards, read, or do homework.
  • At 8:55 classroom teachers pick-up their students; students are in classrooms by 9 a.m., where they eat breakfast while doing lessons. Breakfast ends between 9:15 and 9:20 a.m.

“It’s calm, and that is huge,” said Foster of the difference BIC has made in the morning. “When I first arrived [at Cochran] it was chaotic in the morning. I felt like I was more of a disciplinarian than an instructional leader, and I didn’t like starting the day that way. I felt like we were setting ourselves up for failure.”

It was that chaos and confusion that led Foster to jump at the chance to give BIC a try when JCPS child nutrition director Julia Bauscher brought the idea to his attention.

“Julia is fabulous, and has always supported us. She looks for anything that can help us support our students. She has been our #1 fan and we could never have done this without her support.”

BIC has helped Foster and his team build a new school culture where students meet the high expectations set for them, and enjoy learning.

“We are now in the top 33 percent of schools in JCPS,” said Foster. “My kids can compete with the best, and that’s what it’s all about. In order for that to happen, you have to be full! Being well nourished to compete—that’s part of life.”

That’s not to say that kids aren’t kids at Cochran—it’s still an elementary school after all! However it’s important for students to have a good work-life balance, just like adults.

“My kids work so hard, and at lunch our cafeteria is crazy and loud, and that’s okay! It’s a time they can actually release after working all morning on math or reading,” said Foster. “At breakfast—just like in our ‘real world’—it’s a time to meditate, to set up your day, to plan what you’re going to do with your time. That’s the way we look at breakfast here.”

Moving forward, Foster sees breakfast-in-the-classroom as an integral part of his school’s atmosphere, and an important ingredient for student success.

“If they told me they were taking away breakfast-in-the-classroom I would be devastated,” said Foster. “When I was in grad school they told us ‘All children can learn’ and we have flipped that into ‘All children will learn’; our kids know when they walk into this building they will learn.

“It has been a lot of hard work, but we have an amazing faculty and staff,” continued Foster. “Every adult at Cochran loves children. Our motto is ‘Where children come first’ and BIC is one component of putting children first. Kids cannot be successful if they are hungry.”

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