Guest post by Nathan Boyd

One of the most important lessons I have learned as a school principal is that children need to be in a relaxed state of mind in order to perform at their full potential. If students’ physical and emotional needs are not being met, their minds will not be ready to engage. Sounds obvious, right? Actually, creating the right conditions for students to learn is one of the biggest challenges for us as educators, because so many factors are beyond our immediate control.

Here are a few tips based on my experience working with teachers, parents, and community leaders, to cultivate a supportive environment for our students.

  1. Begin by ensuring that all students feel safe and surrounded by a school community that values student diversity, differences, voice, and need for security.
  2. Invest in professional development and teacher collaborations that promote clarity, growth, and student engagement within the classroom.
  3. Develop inclusive strategies that help create multiple pathways for students (and teachers) to experience and celebrate successes.
  4. Seek out and provide a variety of opportunities for students and teachers to take calculated risks in a climate and culture that supports innovation.
  5. Promote children’s health initiatives and focus on making health-related education and school-based activities a visible priority.

Pursuing all of these objectives will require discipline, organization, and constant communication—but remember you should not do all of the talking. Good leadership starts with active listening skills. Take the time to really focus on and hear what others are saying—and what they may not be saying, which is sometimes just as important. I’ll never forget when a parent once told me how embarrassed she was when she received an invitation to our school-led parenting class. While our intentions to provide resources and support for students in need were noble, we had not put ourselves in the shoes of a proud parent who wants the best for her child.

How many parents in your school can identify with the way this mother felt? How often do we truly take time to invest in meaningful relationships with our families, engaging in discourse that allows opportunities for parents and school personnel to exchange ideas in an environment free of fear and tension from both parties? Despite the high-stakes assessment game that each of us is forced to play, I urge you to choose to build a school culture and climate that supports and nurtures the whole child and engages families in a more meaningful way.

The pathways toward meeting a child’s needs should not be some revered secret recipe, only shared with some. It should mean that we collaborate with one another and that all school personnel are truly ready to invest in our school community. To be sure, it is not easy, and it won’t happen overnight. But don’t forget to have some fun, too. A little smile can go a long way to make everyone feel comfortable and ready to learn.

Challenge yourself to become a more active listener and leader, ready to engage and rally your team to build a more adaptive school community that meets the needs of students and their families head-on.

Reflect on how you engage parents: Do you ask or do you tell them about their children? Consider trying new ways to share and receive feedback from parents.

Nathan Boyd is the director of African American Student and Parent Services for South Bend Community School Corporation. As a former school administrator of 13 years, he prides himself on being a champion for children. He received the 2012 ISCA Exemplary Administrator Award, he was 2017 NASSP Indiana Principal of the Year, and in 2012, his school received a National Blue Ribbon of School Excellence. Follow him on Twitter @Principal_Boyd.

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