Christen J. Hutchinson

Clara Barton Elementary School
Oxford, Massachusetts

Best Practices

1) Building relationships is essential within a school community. I believe this is the most important best practice to achieve in creating and sustaining positive relationships with students, staff, families and community members. I was inspired by one of the assistant principals I worked with when I was a teacher. She made it her goal each year to know the name and face of each student of the 500+ students in the building. That became one of my goals when I took on a leadership role. I enjoy greeting students off the bus and being able to greet them by name when I see them throughout my day. When I was a teacher, knowing my students was very important and I make sure any students that seem to need more attention are on my radar so I can check on them proactively as well. I’ve worked with the district social worker to create a weekly clinical meeting where teachers present any concerns with students and we work along with the adjustment counselors, school psychologist and district BCBA to strategize additional ideas to support the student.

I spend a lot of time building positive relationships with students, especially with those who are frequent office visitors, this allows for respectful conversations when discipline is involved, including with parents. I also have several students who have moved on to middle school and still contact me. I’m happy that they still find me to be an important support in their lives.

My office door is often open and I’ve created an inviting space for students and adults. Students enjoy stopping by to chat, have lunch in my office, or earn coming by to color, use a fidget or play a quick round of Uno. My door is also covered with student art and notes. Adults know my office is a quiet space and I’ve been told I have a “naturally positive countenance” which puts people at ease. They recognize me as a calming presence and someone they can talk to about anything. I believe in actively listening and have at times been a support to hear staff while they vent about personal issues. Staff need to know they can have a safe person to talk to and trust.

2) My most commented on best practices are my communication skills and timeliness. I reply fairly quickly to emails and families have commented numerous times on their appreciation of my quick responses. I’ve made sure to communicate weekly with families (and share that information to my staff too so they are on the same page). My principal also introduced me to Twitter and the #GoodNewsCallofth Day initiative so we recognize students for doing good things and I often share positive things with families about students and the things happening in the school.

I believe transparent communication is key to creating and sustaining relationships. Leaders should communicate often to ensure stakeholders are informed, are inclusive and offer appropriate two-way communication. I collaborate with the PTO members and attend meetings as well as after school events so families know who I am. Since I send out so much communication, families will often find and reply to one of my old emails if they are in need of something as they know they will get a prompt response.

I maintain an open-door policy where anyone can come over to talk or ask questions. I believe effective communication is necessary with all stakeholders and is necessary for growth and school improvement. Staff also know they can rely on me to get things done. If someone needs something, I will check into things and try to get it done as soon as possible or at least refer them to the correct person. I know I prefer to get something done and out of mind versus knowing I have one more thing to do later.