One of the most important responsibilities for a school leader is building a strong community among the students, their parents, and the school’s faculty and staff. While there are many ways to help foster a great community, a principal’s morning interaction with his or her students can help set the right tone for the day that keeps the school community motivated and believing in themselves.
I spoke with Rodney Pierre-Antoine, ACE’s Director of the Notre Dame ACE Academies and a veteran school leader, to get his thoughts on the importance of a consistent, positive morning interaction with students.
One of the most effective ways for a school leader to connect with his or her community is through a morning assembly. Pierre-Antoine said that, when he was a principal, the most important aspect of his morning assemblies was to keep Christ at the heart of his message and to co-create an atmosphere “animated by the Gospel spirit”. A morning assembly provides the school community a daily opportunity to break open the Word and encounter Christ through communal prayer and fellowship. He leveraged this daily platform to spread the good news to all members of the community (students, parents, faculty, and staff), that God loves them and calls them to love one another.
Another crucial aspect to a successful morning assembly is to celebrate the students for their accomplishments, but also encourage the students to celebrate each other.
“At one of my schools, I would use the Friday assembly to reflect back on the week and recognize those students who modeled Christ-like behavior and embraced the student-learning expectations,” Pierre-Antoine said. “As students became more comfortable with this routine, I would encourage them to celebrate their peers, which helped further strengthen the community as a whole.”
Less Formal Interaction
While morning assemblies are important, not all interaction between a school leader and his or her students is quite as structured. Pierre-Antoine said he made it a point to always be outside at the carpool fifteen minutes before the bell rang to greet students and their parents and grandparents. He would smile, welcome them to school for the day, and make every effort to make the whole family feel as though they were a part of the school community.
This type of morning interaction bled over to other times of the day and the week—at the end of the day when parents were picking up their children, on weekends at sporting events and other extracurriculars.
“I wanted to constantly model that I was trying to build a community in Christ that supports one another and that rallies around the school,” he said.
Why It Matters
Building a strong and positive school community isn’t just about making parents and students feel welcome when they arrive at school for the day, and it isn’t just about setting a positive tone for the day at a morning assembly. By making a concerted effort to do those things, though, a school leader can be responsive to the needs of the community when more significant issues arise.
Pierre-Antoine said it all comes down to a ministry of presence. School leaders should take advantage of the very visible platform they have each day to help model for, direct, and guide their students, parents, faculty and staff. It is this presence, this relationship that separates an administrator from a school leader who truly walks with his or her school community day by day.
“Walking alongside those we serve provides us ample opportunities to bear witness to Christ by our words and actions,” Pierre-Antoine said. “Whether it's a handshake or a hug at carpool; a reflection on Sunday’s gospel; an inspirational video from YouTube; a read-aloud from an old favorite like the Giving Tree; affirming a member of the community for a good deed; a blessing on a group of students like a CYO team before a big game or the eighth graders prior to taking their high school placement test; a prayer intention for someone who is ill or who has recently returned home to heaven; so many different activities can take place during morning assemblies, but there is only one goal, make God known, loved and served.”