What Schools Need: Love?

A Massachusetts principal reflects on a common thread at NAESP’s annual conference.

A Massachusetts principal reflects on a common thread at NAESP’s annual conference.
By Liz Garden
July 2018, Volume 41, Issue 11

Several song titles popped into my head as I reflected on NAESP’s Pre-K-8 Principals Conference in Orlando, Florida. I heard Tina Turner singing “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” I started singing The Righteous Brothers’ song “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.” And then I couldn’t help but hum along to The Beatles’ song “All You Need Is Love.” I attended several amazing sessions in Orlando, and many of them shared a common theme: love. You might be wondering to yourself what Tina Turner and the concept of love has to do with a national conference for educational leaders. The short answer: everything.

Make Caring Visible

Several sessions stuck with me even as I left Florida to return to Massachusetts. The first session I attended was titled “All In! Creating Partnerships with Families and Community,” presented by Jessica Cabeen. Cabeen packed the session with useful takeaways, such as creating a parent blog, recording and posting monthly videos, developing parent podcasts, and partnering with community organizations.

Presenter Jessica Cabeen in the Exhibit Hall.*

I am excited to add Cabeen’s suggestions to my parent engagement toolkit. Woven throughout those practical tips and ideas was a much more important message. Cabeen shared a personal narrative of the difficult interactions she has had with staff who taught her son. She also shared a story of a child and a family who she remained connected to through every grade level and beyond, including being asked to speak at a family member’s funeral. Her message came through loud and clear: School leaders need to be vulnerable, show emotion, be empathetic, and establish a loving environment.

It’s not enough to simply develop and check off the tasks on your community engagement strategy. Families and community members need to see how much you care about every individual in your school. We need to be truly “all in,” tears, fears, and all.

Be a Champion for Children

I also attended “Trauma Informed: Our Journey to Student Success,” presented by Kelley Begley-McCall and James Moffett. I am sure many of you have staff who have certainly “lost that lovin’ feeling” when it comes to dealing with student behavior. Begley-McCall and Moffett shared their experience on how to bring love back into their schools and into their interactions with staff and students. They are pushing people out of their comfort zones and encouraging all to strive for major mindset shifts in behavioral practices.

While they gave specific action steps to take, such as using peace corners, encouraging staff to practice mindfulness, and following the plan to praise publicly and criticize privately, what stuck out for me the most was when both of these principals shared stories of how often they tell their students that they love them. On a regular basis, these principals model for their staff by saying to students “I love you,” “We love you,” “I’m glad you are here,” and “I am proud of you.” And they don’t just say these words to certain students. They let all of their students know this, especially the ones who might not love you back, who might not respect you, who might not want to love you. Think about each of the students in your school and ask yourself: Who is this child’s champion? When that “lovin’ feeling” is lost with your students and your staff, be the leader that welcomes love back in and helps it spread throughout your whole building.

Love More

How can I put into words a description of Hamish Brewer’s session, “The Relentless Principal: Tattooed, Skateboarding and Making Education Fun Again”? If you were not in this session, you missed out on a truly inspirational and powerful experience at NAESP. It was standing room only. Educational leaders packed into the space, and Hamish filled every inch of the room with his enthusiasm for kids, passion for connecting, and dedication to bringing about educational change.

Hamish Brewer speaking to a crowded room at #NAESP18.*

One of Brewer’s first statements was, “There’s not enough love in our schools today.” Brewer shared how he has brought love back into the middle schools that he has worked in and stressed that we all need to bring love to our students. I can say with confidence that every single person listening to Hamish Brewer speak left the room motivated and ready to bring about change. We laughed, we cried, we danced, and we came together in support of doing what is best for kids.

What’s the answer to Tina Turner’s question, “What’s love got to do with it?” I would say that in education love has everything to do with it. Our society, and in turn our educational system, has “lost that lovin’ feeling.” Numerous times at the NAESP Conference, the message that we all need to let love back into our schools came through loud and clear. It won’t cost a thing to bring love into your schools, but the payoff will be tremendous. We certainly want to advocate for teachers who love teaching and we need to develop kids who love learning, but what we ultimately need is for every adult to let every student know that they are loved.

Liz Garden is principal of Leroy E. Mayo School in Holden, Massachusetts.

*All photos courtesy of Lifetouch Photography.

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