Adam Huffaker

Freedom Elementary School
Highland, Utah

Best Practices

1) As a school administrator, I have felt that one of my most important jobs is to prioritize students’ needs. This became extremely apparent as our school, community, and everyone around the world experienced changes with COVID-19. We discovered glaring problems in student learning, behavior, and well-being during and after school closures, at-home learning, and policy changes. A perfect example of this is with a new second grade student who came to our school. This student was really struggling to acclimate to our school environment and this was obvious to the teacher as well as myself. As I partnered with the parents to find ways to help their child, we learned this student’s educational history. They had their preschool experience canceled halfway through the year because of COVID closures, they had a virtual kindergarten experience, and a fully masked and limited in person first grade. This student was missing valuable learning experiences they would have received in a normal experience with school. This was a lightbulb to me! If this student was missing these experiences, I think other students might be missing them as well. I immediately worked with our Social and Emotional Wellness team to put together a curriculum to help teach our entire second grade students’ skills that the teachers had identified as missing. Skills like how to make a friend, how to talk kindly to others, how to show respect, and how to be compassionate. Our school counselor then taught these lessons to the entire grade level. Slowly, but surely, we saw a change in our students. Playground behavior was better, teachers complained less, and we received fewer parent calls and emails. This was not something you could find in the mandated curriculum. Because we care about students, we took the time and energy to create something that they needed to be successful. This resulted in a better overall experience for everyone at our school. Taking the time to put students first and meeting their needs is worth it!

2) When I was young, a teacher of mine used to tell me that “This life is about relationships.” I have made this my motto as a school administrator. We are in a people business and the best way to work with people is to spend time getting to know them. I have been at 5 different elementary schools and the first thing I do at every school is to build relationships with those that I will be working with. I spend time out at recess. I eat lunch with the students. I talk to our teachers and staff often to keep up with their lives. I talk to parents when I see them in the building and attend every after school event that parents would be invited to in an effort to meet more. Building relationships is a two-way street! I tell people about myself, my family, hobbies, and interests so they can see me in a different light. I can think of many times that this motto has helped me as a school administrator, but there is one that I always think about. When I was a teacher, I made time to get to know another teacher who taught at the same school as me, but in a different grade level and on a different team. I would try to help him whenever I could. He eventually transferred from that school, and I left to become an administrator at another school. As time went on, I ended up being moved to the very same school that this teacher had transferred to. Our relationship was still there, even though my job had changed. In one particular episode, a parent came in to complain about something this teacher had done. I respectfully listened, but what this parent was saying didn’t make sense. I knew this teacher very well, I had continued to foster our relationship, and I knew that something was wrong. I offered to mediate a discussion between this parent and the teacher. The meeting started out nasty. The teacher felt threatened by the parent and the parent felt threatened by the teacher. Knowing that this teacher hadn’t done the things he was being accused of doing, I supported him through the conversations with this parent. By the end of the meeting both the parent and the teacher felt supported. The teacher knew I had his back because he knew me and I knew him. Conversations were smoother because of the relationship that had been built over the years. Relationships are the key to progress and spending time building and maintaining relationships with everyone I work with are worth the time and effort to cultivate a great school!