How to build the ‘Beloved Community’

'There is a disconnect in many classrooms,' says Terri N. Watson 
By: | November 16, 2020
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Terri N. Watson, FETC keynote speaker

Terri N. Watson

How does a school’s leadership team build community when the educators in their buildings don’t quite look like the students in the school or surrounding neighborhoods?

“There is a disconnect in many classrooms,” says Terri N. Watson, an associate professor of educational leadership in the Department of Leadership and Human Development at The City College of New York. “The teaching force is largely white and female, and the student body is diversifying.”

Teachers and school leaders also need to develop new ways to reach out to parents and caregivers that don’t belong to the so-called “traditional nuclear family,” says Watson, also a distinguished visiting scholar at The University at Buffalo’s Center for Diversity Innovation.


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“Schools should be engaging with anybody who cares about young people, whether that’s an aunt or an uncle or anyone in the community who cares,” says Watson, who is researching how school leadership can improve educational outcomes for historically underserved children.

The COVID pandemic shift to online learning has given administrators and educators a new perspective on how closely involved many parents, other adults and older siblings are in a child’s education.

This means school leaders and teachers need to make an effort to connect with adults beyond a student’s mother and father, Watson says.

Educators also need to consider the realities students and their families are facing, and make sure outreach efforts are culturally relevant.

“Just because parents don’t show up to get report cards or at events doesn’t they don’t care,” Watson says. “We can’t discount the work being done in the home or community.”


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In her research, Watson has been examining how black female school leaders create “irresistible” school environments where kids can’t wait to go to class.

She intends to share those best practices—which include adjusting the structure and schedule of the school day—with other K-12 administrators.

“We know what doesn’t work—we see that in the opporutnity gaps that we have,” Watson says. “The place to begin is leadership, and figure out what we haven’t we thought about for the kids we don’t think about.”