Not Your Favorite Buffet: Nourish Every Child’s Plate

Dr. Nathan Boyd, Faculty Leadership Coach, National Aspiring Principal Fellowship

For the last couple of years, I’ve had the distinct privilege of traveling in and out of phenomenal
schools. While connecting with new and seasoned administrators, I’ve been honored to meet some
truly passionate teachers. I get chills seeing teachers (of all experience levels) demonstrate
their enthusiasm and commitment to educating every child who walks through their doors. The premise
that “All Means All” (a promise to educate every child regardless of race, gender, nationality,
region, etc.) has been repeated in many schools. It remains a beacon used by many administrative
leaders that attracts families to their districts and schools. Despite our efforts, most in our
profession agree that much work must be done. Even though most would agree that every single child
who enters our schools deserves the best we offer, there still seem to be unanswered questions.

The three questions that remain universally divided from a common answer are:

  1. Why is it imperative (even more today) that we engage everyone in discussions about the need to
    educate every child?
  2. Why is it still necessary to normalize conversations with staff about common and collaborative
    practices designed to meet every child’s need, no matter how intense or challenging they may seem?
  3. Why hasn’t the achievement gap between some groups of children narrowed?

While lunching with a colleague, I chuckled as I unconsciously compared his plate to mine. I
couldn’t help but notice the selections he made as we went through the service line at one of our
favorite buffets, which showed how uniquely different our tastes and preferences are. From how he
meticulously separated his foods so they didn’t touch to how his desserts were lined up outside his
tray, it was obvious that he is particular about not only how his food should taste but also
appear. I couldn’t help but notice the vast differences between our food preferences. As I compared
his Picasso(ish) plate to my own, I busted out laughing (briefly) as my plate looked like I scooped
my food out of a trough with a five-gallon bucket and dumped it.

Although I am not sure how I immediately made comparisons in my mind to the preferences many
educators have regarding the type of child (student) they may prefer in their classes. I began to
imagine how easy it would be for educators to go down a buffet line and pick the type of student we
preferred in our class. Just as a buffet would have dozens of options, the idea of a student buffet
would be no different. My heart started to race, looking at his plate and imagining the selections
he might make down the student
buffet line. Would he only select students who came from two-parent households? Would

he unconsciously bypass students who practiced a different religion or spoke a foreign language?
Although only a figment of my imagination, the horrific imagery that crossed my mind answered every
question about why equity work (all means all) remains
necessary. This brief trip down the imaginary student buffet line brought me back to the importance
of “All Means All” and why educational leaders must remain committed to its meaning. So, to all my
educators (past, present, and future), when we hear “All Means All,” we must keep in mind that our
classroom (or schools) is not like our favorite buffet, where we get the luxury of choosing what
fits our taste.

However, as I ate and gazed throughout the room, I started to consider how other characteristics
that make up our favorite restaurants might be applied to benefit our schools and classrooms. Maybe
more children would find greater success if we compared our schools and classrooms in the following

Environment & Experience
Walking through the doors of my favorite steak house gives me an instant craving and a bit of
nostalgia. Whether it’s the multiple cuts of steaks on display when you walk in or the warm buttery
rolls that find their way to the table, I expect certain characteristics to be true each time I
visit. We all have expectations when walking into a fine dining establishment or your favorite
buffet. Most even come with a host that greets you at the door with a smile and a heart-filled
welcome. Basic expectations exist no matter what establishment you decide to visit. Customers have
certain expectations, from how they’re greeted when they walk through the door to expectations
around clean, sanitary practices with how their food is stored, prepared, and cooked as it makes
its way to their plate. I believe most would agree that visiting what you thought was an authentic
sushi restaurant would feel awkward and a bit confusing to find that it had Southwest Tex-Mex

Why should those same expectations differ for your children when they walk into the classroom? Our
children deserve to be greeted daily with a smile. Our children deserve to feel welcomed and wanted
in clean, bright, vibrant schools and classrooms. Our children deserve to be welcomed daily in
classroom spaces that celebrate the kids and provide an environment that encompasses the subject(s)
taught in the space. Our educational spaces should speak loudly about our profession, our craft,
and the promise we’ve made to each child (and their family) when they walk through the school
doors. Our children deserve nothing less than the same experience you expect walking into your
favorite restaurant.
The Main Dish
One of my favorite entrees is coconut shrimp! However, I am extremely particular about how I like
how my coconut shrimp is prepared. If not prepared correctly, I would have no pause in returning it
to the kitchen until it meets the standard I’ve expected from the chef.

You guessed it. Shouldn’t our students, their families, and the communities we serve also have that
same expectation surrounding our “main dish”? When we open our school doors, we promise every
parent and child that they will receive the best quality educational experience, regardless of
income level or what side of the city they come from. They

deserve educators (at all levels) who have shown a commitment to their craft/profession by not
treating it as a 9 to 5 job they can leave behind as the final bell for the day
rings. Like me, many would cease to visit and spend hard-earned money at their favorite restaurant
if the food somehow no longer met the standard of expectations. I’d find a new restaurant that
could prepare coconut shrimp just as I like.
Innovation & Influence
Your favorite buffets and restaurants thrive on the variety of dishes and their contributions to
the overall reputation and experience their customers receive. Likewise, schools build a greater
sense of community when parents, teachers, and students collaborate and take ownership of the
schools’ outcomes. Our schools’ “main dish” improves as we remember to create opportunities for
authentic open communication, involvement in decision-making, and shared accountability for the
success of all children we serve.
Ultimately, our schools, just like chefs, are asked to create new and exciting experiences and
memories (dishes) by encouraging educational innovation. We must always encourage those around us
to embrace new teaching methods, technology, and approaches that cater to the evolving needs that
our children express daily. Schools must work to foster a culture that keeps their educational
buffet fresh and dynamic for all learners (children and

Remember, serving our children is not a one-size-fits-all approach. We must ensure that all school
leaders embark on an educational nourishment journey that ensures that no environment and “main
dish” on our children’s plate is delivered below the standard of
high expectations in the diverse buffets of learning we call our schools.