PMP245: Handling Schools with Care with Joy Kelly

Joy Kelly is the co-author of the new book, Handle with Care: Managing Difficult Situations in Schools with Dignity and Respect, co-authored with Jimmy Casas. 

Joy has more than twenty-five years of educational experience in public and parochial schools as a teacher, coach, mentor, associate principal and principal. In 2015, she was named the Iowaa Associate Principal of the Year. She also provides coaching and training for new administrators in Iowas. Joy serves as a leadership coach for administrators across the country on behalf of J Cass & Associates. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in History from the University of Iowas, a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Northern  Iowa, and is a licensed PK-12 superintendent; she also has an Educational Specialist (Ed.S) degree from the University of Iowa.

Q & A with Joy Kelly

WDP: Please fill in the gaps on that intro, and can you tell listeners something else they may be surprised to know about you?

Joy Kelly: Once I was asked once to fill in the gap in the sentence, ‘I am an educator because _________________.’ I wrote, ‘I am an educator because is the most effective way for me to minister to others.”

WDP: You start the book with a story called ‘Would you rather I call mom or dad?’ Can you explain the story here and how it should influence the way we serve students?

Joy Kelly: This story reminds us that we never know what is going on in the hearts of your students. In this scenario, a principal had a student in her office for discipline. When she asked that question, he said, ‘You cannot talk to either.’ He went on to explain that his parents were dead because his father had murdered his mother. It is so important that we remember every student has a story. And every teacher has a story. It’s important that people see us as more than school officials. We must handle others with care...

WDP: Educators invest a lot of time in correcting behavior or guiding student discipline. What ideas should leaders keep in mind for ‘culturizing discipline’?

Joy Kelly: When students have missteps, we need to understand it is the job of students to push the line, and it’s the job of administrators to hold the line. But we cannot have those immportant conversations without first building trusting relationships. Take time to explain the ‘why’ behind school rules. Admit when you make mistakes. Remind students they are not defined by their mistakes...

WDP: The pandemic has led to many challenges, including helping students to feel connected to school pride and activities. What ideas do you have for educators to keep in mind when trying to ‘culturize’ even in diffcult times?

Joy Kelly: You find out a lot about your school culture during difficult times. Lead with relationships before rigor. Take time to ask, ‘What is it you need me to better understand?’ One of the first things I told my teachers when the pandemic began was that perfection is not expected. This perspective works with students and with staff… 

WDP: You also talk about being a ‘merchant of hope’. How can educators keep this in mind while also trying to achieve academic goals and outcomes?

Joy Kelly: Time, place, and manner are important. Ask yourself, ‘Is this the appropriate way to have the difficult conversation that is needed?’ Also, understand to be careful with power and give students options and choices. Finally, be open to feedback. I have to be willing to hear a little bad news if I’m going to improve...

Now It’s Your Turn

Listen to the entire podcast episode with Joy Kelly for even more takeaways! What ways can you build deeper relationships, provide students with choice, and give teachers permission to take risks? This week give yourself permission to handle your students and staff with care.

Reach out to Joy

Joy has presented on topics related to school culture at state and national conferences, including NASSP and ASCD. She believes the culture within a school is dependent on strong connections among all members of the community, rooted in kindness, respect and dignity. She maintains that the culture of an organization is directly related to its performance and that the responsibility for cultivating meaningful relationships throughout the school rests with all members of the community. Contact Joy via Twitter at: @joykelly05 or email

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker