Abigail C. Dressler

Luther Conant School
Acton, Massachusetts

Best Practices

1) Part of the role of an Assistant Principal is to put structures into place to ensure progress monitoring. We monitor an abundance of information about students: their attendance, their health, their assessments, their social interactions, discipline and testing records…the list goes on! In a busy elementary school, there’s also a different kind of
information that we must pay attention to: our instincts when something isn’t going well with a student.

When I began in my role it became apparent that many staff members had concerns about certain students, but communication during a busy school day made it difficult to ensure that everyone had timely information. I instituted a weekly “Student Watch” meeting with the building principal, the school psychologist, the nurse and the guidance counselor. Once a week, we meet together to discuss students who have come to our attention for any reason: social issues, academic concerns, family stressors, medical concerns, or any other reason. We talk about ways to support the student, and divide up follow-up action strategies. Classroom teachers are encouraged to submit a name to our “Student Watch” list if they have concerns.

This weekly meeting has been one of the most powerful things we do together because we share information and ideas. At our follow-up meeting, we revisit any names on our “Student Watch” list to see how the student is doing. Our “Student Watch” meetings are a way for us to carefully consider students who are experiencing difficulty and make a firm plan to support them right away. This structure provides another opportunity to monitor student progress and share responsibility for supporting students.

2) The most important thing I do as an Assistant Principal is to promote a climate of care within the school community. Being present and empathetic cannot be overestimated. I spend time daily listening to teachers, staff, families and students, because feeling heard and respected is paramount. Teachers who feel listened to, valued and supported are
then able to do the same for their students. After many years in public education and as a parent myself, I understand the importance of calling home to talk with families when there are issues to discuss, but also when it is time to celebrate student success!

I believe that building a climate of care extends to students when they are at Conant School and beyond. When I need assistance preparing a presentation for the community I often ask a sixth grader to collaborate with me. I try to send a message to all students that we support one another and learn together as a community. The students know that when they leave elementary school and move up to the junior high that I follow up on how they are doing. I might even show up for a hallway or cafeteria visit to say hello! I know our students feel valued and cared for when they email to share college essays or check in long after their elementary school days have ended.

Promoting a climate of care also means sharing leadership with teachers. There are so many gifted educators who write curriculum, craft innovative STEAM lessons, learn how to co-teach, mentor new teachers, and inspire students through anti-bias instructional practices! Supporting educators, listening to their views, spotlighting their amazing work and providing opportunities for leadership roles are all part of a healthy school climate.