Constantly Connecting

Tara Falasco dances her way to student engagement.

Topics: Principal Leadership, Student Engagement

Having taught fourth and fifth grades for more than a decade before moving into administration, Tara Falasco remains deeply engaged with the students at Blue Point Elementary School in Blue Point, New York, and the larger community.

Her breakout session at NAESP’s 2022 Pre-K–8 Principals Conference, “Creating a Culture of Connections,” offered a host of ideas to make school more fun for everyone, including family nights, live-streamed virtual bedtime stories, and themed days of the week.

Principal magazine recently asked Falasco about shaping her school’s culture, student engagement, and other topics.

With whom do you seek to build connections in the school community?

Anyone and everyone! Creating connections with the teachers, staff and faculty, and parents comes naturally. We have started to take it a step further and build better connections with businesses in the community. Restaurants donate snacks for PTA meetings or give out coupons to the families who attend. We hold family contests where the prizes are experiences such as a trip to a children’s art studio or an ice cream shop.

What tips do you have for making read-alouds more engaging and productive?

Practice, practice, practice! Take the time to read the book a few times and pick talking points to share with the students. I use it as an opportunity to model what good readers do: make connections, make predictions, ask questions, etc. To keep them engaged, I give students a task to do, such as noticing something in the pictures, text, or characters.

What’s the best “leadership moment” you’ve had since becoming a principal?

Presenting at the NAESP Conference in Louisville was a big honor. It was amazing to feel like a leader to other principals around the country—principals who are amazing leaders themselves and principals who I’ve personally learned from. It meant so much to get emails and tweets about my workshop and to hear I’ve inspired them.

Your school has themed days of the week to engage students. What’s your favorite?

Tunes Tuesday! In administration school, they don’t teach you to walk around wearing a Bluetooth speaker fanny pack, but that’s what I do. As students walk in, I’m blasting Kidz Bop and dancing around, and it is so much fun! After arrival, we have a big dance party in the hallway—teachers, too. I’ve actually had a parent tell me that their child was mad because they had a dental appointment on a Tuesday and were going to miss it.
Best compliment ever!

What is the best book you’ve read in the last year?

She Leads by Rachael George and Majalise Tolan—hands down! It came at the right time in my career and included stories from so many strong women that I needed to hear. It made me realize I wasn’t alone and gave me the strength to realize my worth.

What is your favorite part of the school day as principal?

When students are leaving for the day, I love walking out with them and talking about their day. I love seeing students with huge smiles, giving them high fives, and getting big hugs. Hearing “See you tomorrow, Ms. Falasco!” or “Have a good day, Ms. Falasco!” melts my heart. We have a phrase: “You’re awesome! You’re the best! You rock!” Hearing that from a student is the icing on the cake.