It is my privilege to be one of the educational leaders in our rural community with a student enrollment of 400 fabulous kids! There is a magical atmosphere in our school, and though I cannot take all of the credit for our pizazz, I know that my role as a leader contributes to it. To me, the heart and soul of a school district is relationships. How can school leaders cultivate a culture that puts relationships at its center? Here are some of the ways that Timber Lake School promotes strong relationships among our students, staff, families, and the community.


Building relationships starts with our kids! They are the reason we get to walk through the door each day and have best jobs in the world! My mission is to make my students feel welcome in my building and let them know that I truly care about them as a student and a person. I want kids to know I am their biggest cheerleader and am invested in their lives. This includes meeting and greeting them in the mornings, at lunch, and between classes, as well as attending their events. This gives me an “in” to have positive conversations with kids and get to know who they are.

We have a “Caught Doing It Right” initiative in our school where students receive recognition for going above and beyond to show their excellence. Giving and receiving Panther Paws from students is one of the best parts of my day. When young people do get sent my way for redirection, I hope to always treat them with kindness and respect to make the situation a learning opportunity and a way for them to get better.


Teachers are the heartbeat of the school. The staff in my district go above and beyond to provide top-notch educational opportunities. I want them to know that I see what they do and I appreciate their time and efforts. My role in building relationships with my staff is similar to students: they need to know they are welcome and important. I try to greet each teacher every morning. On Mondays, I distribute a specific quote to get them started for the week called “Monday Motivation.” Morale building has been a professional goal for me especially this year. I strive to create a caring, fun environment for my staff where they love to teach!


We all know that one of the keys to student success is family partnerships. Building positive connections early is key to gaining support. I enjoy visiting with parents by phone or at school events to let them know the positive things their kids are doing as well as how happy we are to have them in our school. It can be as quick and easy as, “Your daughter has such amazing manners! She thanks the cooks every day when she leaves her tray!” or “Wow, Joe did an outstanding job with his trumpet at the concert!” An open-door policy allows me to visit with parents about their questions and concerns. I feel it is important to be an active listener and truly hear the parent’s concern without becoming defensive. (A lesson that has taken time to learn!) I spend a significant part of every Monday afternoon on the phone with parents whose students are struggling academically. This allows early intervention as well potential proactive solutions. Each time I interact with a family, I imagine their child is my own child. I want families to know that their kids are precious gems to me, and I take my job educating them seriously.


Our little town is small in population but large in heart and support for our school. A double-header high school basketball game or music concert is a social event in our community, and it brings many into our building. This is an awesome opportunity to make connections with community members and business leaders. I want to make sure they feel welcome in our school and are proud of the job we are doing to educate Timber Lake students. Small conversations often lead to outstanding opportunities!

Our jobs as administrators are busy and hard. Don’t forget the little things that make the big jobs easier and more enjoyable. Relationships with all stakeholders are the key to this. How do you build relationships in your school?

Julie Marshall is the 6–12 principal at Timber Lake School in Timber Lake, SD. This is her ninth year as principal and 23rd in education. Julie is the 2018 South Dakota Secondary Principal of the Year. Follow her on Twitter @juliemarsh73.

About the Author

Julie Marshall is the 6–12 principal at Timber Lake School in Timber Lake, SD. This is her ninth year as principal and 23rd in education. Julie is the 2018 South Dakota Secondary Principal of the Year. Follow her on Twitter @juliemarsh73.

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