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Creating Powerful Partnership with the Community
You just might be missing out as a school leader. And that is a hundred percent true if you are not capturing the potential that exists within your community. Partners around near your school ages ago when I was still a school administrator in Chicago, our fearless leader, D’Andre, formed an incredible partnership with a tech company that was downtown. And this company had, as part of their mission and vision, to have sort of like outreach efforts and sort of socialgood type of projects that they wanted to be a part of and built in time for their people and resources, AKA money to fulfill that mission and vision. And so they sort of adopted our school and we had the best kids with such bright futures, and they were really into tech. So they redid the computer lab and got us the MacBooks. The furniture, they opened up doors that would’ve never been opened without the leverage that they had as a big successful tech company. At the time too, I was running marathons and raising money for clean water projects all around the world. And they were extremely generous with donations to that as well, because it was about supporting our students. So today’s conversation really is a deep dive into community partnerships and how a school can be a hub. And we have an expert who’s great at that, building relationships outside of the school with partners. And then the second half of the conversation is about developing relationships within the school with our staff. So I’m very pleased to bring you Dr. Woods on the podcast. Hey, it’s Danny. I’m a principal development and retention expert. I’m a two-time bestselling author, and I also host two of the world’s most downloaded podcasts. This show is for Ruckus Makers, which means you’ve made three commitments, you committed to investing in your continuous growth, challenging the status quo in designing the future of school now. And we’ll be right back after some messages from our show sponsors. The secret to peak performance is not complicated. It’s a plan on how to optimize the five fundamentals found in the Ruckus Maker mindset tool. This simple tool will help you consider where you are now and where you wanna be in the next 90 days. For each area, you can complete the tool in five minutes or less. Download it for free at betterLeadersbetter schools.com/mindset.
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Well, hey, Ruckus Makers. Today I’m joined by Dr. Danya Woods, who is a self-motivated enthusiast who seeks opportunities to enhance the lives of today’s youth through education, mentorship, and cultural exposures. Currently serving as an assistant principal of the Dr. Joseph E. Johnson Elementary School in Red Clay Consolidated School District. Her education philosophy centers on the idea that students learn best when their basic needs and interests are met. A native of Wilmington, Delaware, Dr. Woods obtained her Bachelor’s of Arts in Early Childhood Education from Clark Atlanta University, and both her Master’s of Education and School Leadership and Doctorate of Education in Educational Leadership from Wilmington University. When she’s not dedicating her services to the advancement of her students within schools, Woods devotes her time to uplifting her community, serving on city, county, and state committees and initiatives. Dr. Woods, welcome to the show.
Dr Danya (05:06):
Thank you, Danny. I appreciate it.
For sure. So you assert that school needs to be a hub. And that they’re not necessarily the hub that they used to be supporting communities in robust ways. Why is that?
Dr Danya (05:21):
With us going through a pandemic, we’ve kind of lost our way just a little bit. But as we are continuing to come out, we’ve been able to figure out what things that we used to have that were really meaningful and impactful within our schools. And one thing that I really believe is having our schools as communities, having us to be that hub that we used to be. So we’re no longer educating our students just with ourselves alone. It’s not just teachers, it’s not just staff, it’s not just the school leaders, it’s everybody involved. And that makes me even think about our back to school night that we had with me being at a new school, Joseph Elementary School, Johnson Elementary School, we are having our back to school night. But I was like, how can we connect with others who are in the surrounding area to let them know about us, to see what resources they have to provide those to our families. But I think it’s reaching to the right of us, reaching to the left of us, in front of us, even behind us, those we worked with in previous years, to be able to help our schools to be that hub that they used to be for our families and our students.
Can you tell us a little bit about what you have planned for back to school nights? So by the timeRuckus Maker’s listening to this, it’s already happened it’s November, but I like to get inside your head and just pull on this thread of how can the school be a hub and how are you doing some innovative things then with open or back to school night?
Dr Danya (06:47):
Absolutely. So with me being at Johnson Elementary School, that’s my first year here. I’ve only been here for probably like three weeks. So I know that they have a process for, but what I can share with you is what I’ve done and what I’m looking to bring here. When I was at my previous elementary school, we would have a place where the teachers would be stationed and the families would come and meet their teachers, just say, Hey, get a little bit of information, having a look at the classroom. Just make that initial connection. And that allows our teachers to be able to say who they are. But then also learn a lot about the families as well, because going to school for our kindergartners, or even some of our students who are coming to the school for the first time, it could be a little like, like it could be a little nervous.
Dr Danya (07:28):
We would have that set up. But then I had all of our community resources set up outside. They loved the idea, but then it got hot . So this year I’ll be trying to find some shade for them. But I was glad to have a plethora of them aligning the school. So where families could, as they walked up, meet the community organizations like our Boys and Girls Club, or like our organization for our county, Newcastle, Newcastle County Project Seed. We also had Girls Inc. Girls on the Run. We had our local churches who provide us with resources. We even had an organization called Friendship House that provided uniforms and clothing for our students as well as our families. So having that all lined up for them and then thinking about what things to do I need to make sure that they know while they’re here.
Dr Danya (08:19):
It was very inviting. We had our DJ playing, we had food, we had snacks, but we made sure that we provided them with the resources that they needed. And when I mentioned the information, I think that’s important. Sometimes our families come out in large numbers for specific events. So while they are here, my idea was, what do they need to know? If it’s meeting our counselors, if it is meeting our psychologists, if it is getting, not only that, but our Chromebooks, because they have to use that one-on-one technology, but putting the information in a packet for them as soon as they get here, but making them feel very warm, very, very welcome. And also helping them to understand that we’re here for them. One other table that I did have, and I did this a while back when I was working in the city, we were talking about just gaining information from families.
Dr Danya (09:14):
We’re often giving, but it’s should be reciprocal. What do you wanna tell us while you are here? So I had a table, and at the table there were jars. The jars were empty, but I had stones, like little wool, glass stones you get from like the Dollar Store. And there were different topics that our community partners could speak on. But then maybe there were some things that we found that parents talked to us about throughout the year. So it might have been like homework code or it might have been counseling or it might have been resources for families or whatever it may have been. So I love them to drop stones in the jars that they felt that they wanted to know more information about. And because we had our community partners, it was an easy connection. Hey, this is what our family said immediately. They wanna know more about how they can get support for, maybe they’re like bills or maybe if there’s like an eviction that’s coming up and they’re like, I need this, but who do I go to? Or maybe they wanna support with their child during homework, so how can we connect you all with them? And setting those programs up, but letting the families know these are the people that we surrounded ourselves with and that are supporting our school in and out.
To reflect back to what I heard starting with that in mind and like, what’s the information we want people to know? So designing the event around that. Secondly, really creating a welcoming experience. Where folks would feel like they belong. And then you did a nice thing where you had the community partners actually outside of the school, before people even entered campus. Like, here we are with the support. I really like that. And then you have this jar idea with the Stones. Can you tell me a little bit more, like what did you do with that information? Schools give a lot, sometimes they don’t ask for it. And that was data. So how did you use that data?
Dr Danya (11:08):
So I use that data to connect to the needs of our families. So like I said, if that was like they needed support with homework at home or that was resources for their families, if that was even just talking about healthy habits, just making sure that I connected them with the programming that our community partners already had in place. And it was a way for that extension not just to happen with the, or that connection, not just to happen with the kids, but for it to go deeper with our families. Because I think sometimes we only use one aspect of our community partners and that’s, hey, we have like, for example, this afterschool program happening. Oh, can you come in and can you support me? But our programming for our community partners is very robust. How can we pull out the other aspects?
Dr Danya (12:00):
I had a meeting the other day with the organization called Friendship House, and they provide clothing to our schools. And it wasn’t until I actually spoke with the director that I learned they do more than that. So I was asking her, okay, how can we then possibly connect our families with potential employment or even just sharing with them other ways that you go about supporting the community. But it starts with those conversations and then it goes to just connecting the things that they have. And of course, we counted the stones and saw which ones were more popular, but because we had a ton of community partners we were able to support in a multitude of different ways.
That’s almost like voting. Where people show their preference. But yeah,if a hundred families say, we want support with this, well the school better start communicating and figure out a solution for that. So that’s what I’m hearing there. That’s really cool. Did they just write the topic on the stone? Did they put their name as well?
Dr Danya (13:07):
I actually put the topics out. And then there was a space for them if there was something else that they wanted to add, they could put it there. But they went and dropped stones. There was nothing on the stones, but they would just drop a stone in. I see. They represented it.
The jars were organized by topic. And if a parent wanted to hear about Topic X, they’d drop the stone in there.
Dr Danya (13:33):
It makes sense. I have a lot of questions, so that’s super cool for the Ruckus Maker listening too. I’m just gonna point you to a book. It’s called Design for Belonging. And in there I had a conversation with Dr. Susie Wood, who’s outside of Stanford, but she did some interesting things just like Danya did with meeting parents where they’re at and using them to figure out how the school could best serve. So there’s some really interesting activities there. I wanna keep pulling on the thread of the school acting as a hub in the community. We heard about back to school night, but is there anything else, I’m sure there’s a lot happening throughout the school year. Is there one more idea that you wanna share with the Ruckus Maker in terms of how schools connect as that hub?
Dr Danya (14:24):
The first thing that came to mind, well, there were two things. There was one where we had a resource fair for our families. So not just in the beginning of the year, but then also to bring those resources back because things change. And we have new families that come in, but using our time with our families, like for our reading night, we have families come to reading night in our math night. And at the tail end of that we asked families to go into our gym or our cafeteria and get stamps from the different tables. And then that way the kids can get a prize or maybe it was like a little, like a fruit cup or something like that. But it encouraged them to meet other individuals after they participated with the reading or the math event. But I would say that would be a way to continue to push that information out to families, especially. We know the years change or has, as the years change, as the days change, excuse me, our families come from all over and they want to know what’s happening at the school. So the same people that started with us, there may be some changes and may not be the same people that in the school year with us, but utilizing those dates, like our math nights and our reading nights, to continue to put those resources before our parents is something that I thought that we did really well. And I’ll also add too, for our math nights and our reading nights, we were very strategic about them. And I think this goes back to it being like that hub, some of our families are looking at us like our jar for the academic support, they don’t know what to do all the time.
Dr Danya (16:01):
Math is different as they say, this is the new math you, so we thought why not just give resources. Why not just have the parents come in and we teach them how to use this with their kids? So we pulled the data for our families from the reading data, and we saw that this great band needs support on this grade band. So when they come into the classrooms, they’re getting things that are specific to what their students’ needs are. But then we taught the parents how to play the game with them. So it’s like they’re having fun while they’re learning. Because one thing that I did notice too, in research, like homework sometimes, like the effectiveness of it is not really high on the list. It’s one of those things that can bring about frustration at home.
Dr Danya (16:53):
It can bring about a very challenging time depending on the understanding of the parent and the understanding of the child. So we wanted to support that in creating a game. So teaching them how to actually do that game and walking the parents step by step by step. We saw many families leaving the classrooms excited, wanting to go down to the resource fair to get additional information and learn about the community partners that we had at the school. So just trying to make it fit the kids, but then also what do our parents need and how can we get the most bang for our buck in a sense.
You’re an expert connector and Bridge Builder. And I would also assert that developing relationships and building these connections within the community is super important for the success of the school and the students. That’s not easy for everybody. It’s probably maybe like riding a bike for you, but for others, how do I even, what’s step one? I’m curious for like novice Ruckus Makers who aren’t yet really leveraging the resources that exist in the community. I’m just curious, like how do you approach actually even building those connections? And I’m also curious ’cause people are always gonna talk about time. Where do you find the time to do this as well?
Dr Danya (18:13):
So I actually shared a little bit of this at an event that we had in Delaware. It’s called Policy and Practice and Oh, okay. It was really, really awesome to be able to share this with other leaders across the state. Because one thing that we do want, we want resources, we want the connections, but how do we go about doing it? Similar to what you asked me and I was able to share with the participants that it starts off small. you just do a needs assessment. What do you already have or not need assessment. You do an assessment of your school and see what you already have within your school. You have staff members who may have family that are connected to different resources. You may have connections yourself and just jot those things down. Maybe it could, it’s even like a form if you know someone that does a particular thing, whether it be academic, whether it can support our social or emotional or behavioral needs for the school, they can share that through a form.
Dr Danya (19:10):
But then I invited them to look around their school like within five miles or even a mile. Take a ride around your school, see what businesses or organizations are right there, where my previous school was and were my current school is. There we’re surrounded by different organizations not just homes, but there are people who do specific things that can be a support. And with what I do know is that our community organizations, they all, everybody wants to help in some way, shape, or form. But doing an assessment of who you know, and then also too what’s surrounding you and then taking it back to your data, looking at your data and saying, okay, this is what we have around us. These are people that I know, but then what are the need? What are the needs for our school? How can I connect these individuals or these organizations to the needs of our school? But I think it starts there.
Got it. Dr. Woods, I’m enjoying our conversation. We’re gonna pause here just for a second to get some messages in from our sponsors. And when we come back, I’d like to talk about connections, but connections now within the school, not outside the school. What do you see in your classrooms and how did you see it? As a principal, you can’t be everywhere at once. So how can you help support every teacher in the building? With Teach FX, teachers can gather their own feedback without relying on classroom observations. The Teach FX Instructional Coaching app is like giving every teacher their own instructional coach whenever they want it. Ruckus Makers can pilot teach FX with their teachers, visit teach fx.com/better leaders to learn how. That’s teachfx.com/betterLeaders. Teachers give it their all to empower their students. But what is it that truly lays the foundation for learning what sets all students up for success? As you know, unless students develop a solid foundation for learning, it doesn’t matter how great teachers deliver content or how emergent the technology is, or even how engaging a lesson might be When students hone executive functioning skills, those seemingly intangible suite of habits and behaviors, teachers efforts find fertile ground and everyone succeeds. Ironically, did you know that executive functioning skills are not taught? Rather, they are best learned when students get practice using them by virtue of engaging in a predictable daily learning routine? Our friends at Organized Binder have created a new course that will teach your teachers how to set students up for success. And you can learn [email protected]/go help your students [email protected]/go.
We’re back with Dr. Danya Woods, and it’s so awesome to have you here talking about connections outside in the community and building those partnerships. I wanna bring our focus now inward in terms of connecting with our staff. And I know that you really enjoy hosting staff one-on-ones. So can you talk to us a bit about your approach?
Dr Danya (22:23):
Absolutely. So with me coming into this new school, Johnson Elementary and even my previous school, I think it’s important to learn about the people that I’m going to be working with. And one thing that I did was have a conversation with a colleague and we just got together and we talked about them. I didn’t wanna talk about academics, some of ’em slid academics, but I just really wanted to get to know who they were, what they were all about, what their goals were, how their summer was going. And I think that that’s an important practice to have just by having small chats because I believe we’re to learn with each other. We have to learn about each other. So in those conversations, I learned what or which individuals had families that did specific work within the state, within the city, within the county.
Dr Danya (23:10):
And that was really like eye opening. It was like, oh my god. We have everything we need or a lot of the things that we eat right here within the school. But if I would’ve never had those conversations, I wouldn’t have known that one of our teachers here or our librarian more so she has her dog that she brings to the school. It’s really cool too to have a dog that’s always in the Spoke. But it provides our students with pet therapy. So that’s a resource for our students. They’re having a moment and they just need to just sit with a pet and just calm down and de escalate. That’s a, a resource that’s immediately there. Or some of our teachers have connections with families or their families actually provide certain services. But just altogether having those chats, seeing what they do, learning about them and how that can contribute to the betterment of our students and of our school overall.
The interesting thing, like if you don’t do that, you might accidentally, unintentionally cause a rift between relationships. People might take things personally on offense. Like, what if you went out and paid a lot of money and got a therapy dog, which is a good thing for the students not realizing that a teacher could do that. That their dog was certified or whatever, all that kind of stuff. And they’re thinking, oh, it’s ’cause Dr. Woods doesn’t like me. So I appreciate you sharing that. Do you have a script of questions and then veer off of them or are you just naturally okay with talking with people, but tell us a little bit more about that.
Dr Danya (24:44):
It’s both. I don’t want to be robotic in my conversations but I do want to get to know them personally. So I’ll begin with talking about your summer, how are things going? They make sure like trips and things that they have going on or that they’ve just been really relaxing and just taking a summer off. But then I’ll go into like family friendsI’ll learn about what people are reading, what activities that they’re doing and just try to make connections there too. I think that’s important. I found that people, some of the people are riding bikes. I like to ride bikes. Some of them are reading. So now I’m like, okay, if you read a book or I read a book, let’s share. Maybe we can read a book together. Sharing those kind of things. But I like to end with asking them, not academically, but you know, what are your professional or personal goals for yourself. Some people may share that on working on not taking in too much sugar this year where I am working on my time management or my consistency. And that allows me to support them as well. I’ll ask, now that you told me that, can I help you out with that? Can we work together? Can we, you know? They’re always like yeah. Or you know, I’ll let you know how it’s going so I can touch base with them or I can help to be an accountability partner, but it’s more, it allows me to be more of a connection with our staff because I’m not just coming in to see academics, I’m also coming to check on them as people. And people matter.
Yeah, people matter. And you’re seeing and hearing the people that you’re serving in front of you. I really appreciate that you’re doing a connection just like out, it’s about stuff that matters outside of school, which helps the teachers be effective inside the school. And then you’re asking for permission too. Hey, can I follow up with you on this? If you’re not trying to eat sugar and I see you got a bag full of sour, sour kids, can I smack those outta your hand? Afraid? Try to eat ’em.
Dr Danya (26:40):
What are we working on? Okay,
So I will say this too, if you haven’t yet read my third book, Build Leadership Momentum, there is a resource that has all the questions that you should ask in a one-on-one like Danya is talking about. And that’s included within the book too. And it could just get you started. So even though November is the beautiful thing about 90 day planning, you could do it four times throughout the year and really set yourself up for success. So thanks for sharing that. So, and, and too, like that permission piece, like use the data that you collect because then it’s just you’re demonstrating that you care. So just checking in with people and that kind of thing. So that’s awesome. You’re, you’re building connections within the school. And I will say, and I don’t know if you can relate with this, but a lot of schools struggle with this us versus them tension. I’m just curious how you approach that because really, there is no them, it’s all us. It’s all we. How do you approach that?
Dr Danya (27:45):
I have really been taking my time coming into the school. I’m a person who has a lot of ideas. I’m like, oh, I could do this, I could do that. I could do this. But then also too, knowing my audience and I find that no matter where I go, that us versus them does come up a little bit. And I hope the staff know that we’re all on the same team. I ask for their thoughts and their ideas about a particular thing. I may have in my mind what I would like for it to be. But I know that in working with the team, I need their input, especially if what I’m trying to make sure happens from district level down to the building level. I need to make sure that I get their input. So similar to having the conversations, it was the other day that we were creating our handbook and I know that was a need for the building and I could have easily just sat at home and typed it up or sat in my office and typed it up and be like, oh, here it is.
Dr Danya (28:44):
I heard about a brand new shiny handbook. It’s already ready. It’s printed in Spanish and English, it’s ready to go. But I thought, how much more buy-in and support what I get from our staff? And then also, building that connection, if I were to have them come in and say, okay, you take pages five and six, look at that. And then how can we add more to our academic or our discipline procedures or for dismissal arrival. You take pages six and seven and just get them to add into our documents for our school that allow them to take that ownership to also feel like they’re a part of it. And I really needed them too. I could’ve done it by myself, but I think that that was a good way for me to diminish a lot of the us versus them. And then when something does come up, like say if there’s an issue throughout the school year, I can, I try to do my best to just go check in before something becomes like a, a huge issue.
Dr Danya (29:42):
I might go check in with our union rep or maybe our team leads and say what’s going on? How can we work through this particular thing? And then they may gimme that insight because they are my leaders for the building, an extension of myself, an extension of what we’re aiming to do for or with the school. So having those individuals in position to be able to listen and communicate to me what it is that we need to improve on. So we’re doing it together. So I think that helps out with diminishing the US first them.
The handbook example is really nice too, because it’s not going through the whole thing with the entire staff. Breaking up into teams and giving chunks as well. So I think that’s quite effective. So thanks for sharing that. We’re at the moment where I asked the last three questions I asked all my guests, and I’m looking forward to seeing how you will answer. If you could put a message on all school marquees around the world for a single day, what would your message be?
Dr Danya (30:43):
That’s a really good question. I would remind schools that there is a connection in the community. And I think that goes back to initially what you were saying about what I think school should be, which is they should be that hub that they used to be. And as we are working towards that, having that reminder that their connection and community inside the school, there’s connection and community outside the school, just reaching across, reaching in front of us, reaching behind us, reaching alongside of us for the betterment of our students and of our school as an, as a whole.
And if you could build your dream school and you weren’t constrained by any resources, your only limitation was your ability to imagine how Danye would build her dream school? What would be the three guiding principles?
Dr Danya (31:31):
These are really good
Questions. There’s a reason why this show has been downloaded over 2 million times.
Dr Danya (31:36):
Yeah. This makes me even want to ask my staff that. What would you envision here? So I would say if I didn’t have any limitations, I would want my Dream School to be inclusive of all students, no matter, well, of course we have to have age ranges, of course, elementary, middle school, high school. But just being inclusive and accepting of all students. I think that it’s important to just see a student, but then also recognize that they’re all different and they all are very unique in how, and understand how their uniqueness actually adds to the place that we serve in. So just being inclusive, I would also say that, hmm, I would make sure that our schools are inviting people in who want to serve and support students who have a love for learning, but then also to want to show up and be their authentic selves.
Dr Danya (32:38):
I know sometimes even as an educator, I often felt like I was confined in a way, and I couldn’t cross certain lines and do certain things. I want people to come in and I want them to be their authentic selves because when our students see our teachers and our staff enjoying what they do, then they in turn enjoy learning, enjoy being in the school. I want them to not want to go home. I want them to be, you know like I was, when I was in elementary, middle school. I had a moment where I was sick when I was in elementary school, and my mom was like, D you cannot go to school. And I was like, but I need to go. I wanna go. I have to. I was crying. I remember mom telling me this. She was like, you have always been adamant about your academics and just being the best scholar that you could be.
Dr Danya (33:23):
So I would want students to feel that same excitement and, and sense of belonging when they are in schools, as well as the staff too. Just having that place that they feel that they have that ownership or they have voice in what is happening in that space. But those are, those are the two things that I can come up with right now. Just helping people to be their authentic selves and giving them the space to be able to do that while also educating students and while students are learning, but then also to being inclusive of all who walk through our doors. But as long as we’re working together for the success of our students, I think that that would be a great place to be.
Be a great place to be. So we talked a lot today about everything we discussed. What’s the one thing you wanna Ruckus Maker to remember?
Dr Danya (34:12):
I would want a Ruckus Maker to remember that in the work of education, that we can’t do it alone. We don’t have all the ideas, but the people that are around us, the people that are across the street in those businesses or that may be in the classroom, setting up that they have answers to the problems that we had, and getting them at a table, getting them on a Zoom that we can actually support and serve our students in the best way possible with just knowing that you aren’t in it alone. And to utilize the resources and the people that are surrounding you.
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