Dr. Marques Stewart, the Executive Director of Elementary Schools at Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools, brought a fresh perspective to the Learning Leadership Symposium organized by the Learning Counsel. His presentation delved into the challenges educators face in the modern classroom, emphasizing the importance of mental health, relationships, and community support in ensuring a conducive learning environment.

Dr. Stewart began his talk by sharing a personal anecdote from his childhood that ignited his passion for leadership in education. A pivotal moment occurred during his fifth-grade years when his aunt took him to watch "Lean on Me" starring Morgan Freeman. This unexpected outing sparked a realization in young Stewart's mind about his life's calling – he wanted to lead. This early inspiration laid the foundation for his future career in education.

Transitioning into the core of his presentation, Dr. Stewart highlighted a prevalent concern among educators – the inadequacy in dealing with students' social-emotional behaviors. Drawing from conversations with numerous educator friends, he revealed that a significant portion of their time, approximately 70 to 73%, was spent correcting behavior and trying to refocus students. The challenges had only intensified in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, putting additional strain on an already demanding profession.

Dr. Stewart took a brief detour to discuss a crucial aspect of the education system – recruiting the next generation of teachers. Reflecting on a recent college tour with his high school senior daughter, he praised a school district in South Carolina for its innovative approach to teacher preparation programs for high schoolers. He emphasized the importance of starting early to attract and cultivate future educators.

Returning to the main theme, Dr. Stewart redirected the focus to mental health and relationships within the education system. He defined mental health as a state of well-being that enables individuals to cope with life stresses, realize their abilities, and contribute to their community. As leaders, he emphasized the role of paying attention to changes, conducting wellness checks, and creating support groups within schools to foster a sense of community care.

In a metaphorical comparison, Dr. Stewart likened schools to Walmart – a one-stop shop that caters not only to the academic needs of students but also prioritizes the well-being of the staff. This holistic approach, he argued, was essential in today's educational landscape, which demands a comprehensive focus on both students and educators.

Concluding his talk, Dr. Stewart underscored the importance of being a listener. Encouraging leaders to engage in open conversations and truly hear the concerns of their teams, he highlighted the significance of communication in building a positive educational environment.

As a final note, Dr. Stewart hinted at the need to discuss how leaders in Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools are being supported. This teaser leaves the audience curious about the strategies and initiatives in place to nurture and empower educational leaders in the district.

In essence, Dr. Marques Stewart's presentation offered a multifaceted exploration of the challenges and solutions within the education system, emphasizing the pivotal role of mental health, relationships, and community support in creating a thriving learning environment.

See the full presentation below.