Season 5, Episode 5 of the FocusED School Leadership Podcast with Guest Don Parker

by | Jan 10, 2024 | 0 comments

6 min read

Be The Driving Force in Your School with Don Parker

This is Season 5, Episode 5 of FocusED, and it features our guest, Don Parker. It was originally recorded in front of a live audience in Delaware and provided as a professional development experience in collaboration with the Delaware Department of Education, Wilmington University, and The School House 302. Don’t miss what Don Parker says about being the driving force in your school, and so much more.


Don Parker Brings a Tons of Experience to FocusED Listeners


Dr. Don Parker is a transformational keynote speaker and professional development provider. He specializes in SEL, supporting teachers to build trusting relationships with students, restorative practices, trauma-informed practices, and improving the culture and climate of schools to enhance students’ and teachers’ feelings of belonging.

Dr. Parker is a former principal and served at Posen School in Posen, IL, where he improved the school climate, staff collaboration, parent engagement, and student achievement. 

Before that, he was the principal of Lincoln Avenue School, a K-8 school in Dolton, IL, where he improved the culture, implemented a resilience program, managed the implementation of restorative justice, and increased attendance and student achievement. 

Dr. Parker has a strong belief in creating a school climate in which the entire staff strives for excellence to meet the academic and social emotional needs of each student. He has presented throughout the United States at distinguished educational conferences, including ASCD, the Every Student Succeeds Act Conference, the National Principals Conference, the Illinois Principals Conference, the Oklahoma Secondary and Elementary Conference, the Raising Student Achievement Conference, the Transforming School Culture Conference, the Innovative Schools Summit, just to name a few.

Dr. Parker is the author of the book Building Bridges: Engaging Students At-Risk Through the Power of Relationships and Be the Driving Force: Leading Your School on the Road to Equity. Follow Dr. Don Parker on Twitter: @DrDonParker1.

FocusED Show Notes with Don Parker

Don starts with the fact that equity issues aren’t new. The achievement gap has been static for too long. Don says that leaders are driving this work or pumping the brakes. 

Don says that equity work starts at the top. 

Don talks about the fact that people will follow a person before they follow a cause.  

Don’t miss what he says about sharing data to create a sense of urgency. We need to take an honest look at our practices and start the conversation with empathy. 

Don talked about the fact that 72% of students feel that they need social and emotional support but don’t get it. 

We need to take an inventory of our academic support to ensure that we’re reaching all students. 

Don says that we often make assumptions about the community and what they need, but the better strategy is to ask them. Are our family engagement and education strategies targeting what the community needs? 

Dr. Parker says that we need to use surveys more often to gather information about what our families want from the school, maybe there’s something they think we should be providing that we’re (even though we can). 

His story about a family who had a food deficit is inspirational. 

If Don could improve every school, he would make sure every student felt valued in the school environment. His water bottle analogy is incredible. 

Don talks about strategies to create belonging and says that it’s not rocket science. 

“99% of education is encouragement.” ~ Don Parker

Don tells our audience to listen to podcasts, go to conferences, and read books. He names Anthony Muhammad’s book, Transforming School Culture.  

Joe asked if anyone outside of education inspired Don, and he pointed to a touching story about his uncle. 

Don mentions the leadership of Barack Obama and overcoming seemingly impossible challenges. Find out what Don believes are the skills that Obama used to be successful. 

He wants to see more on the topic of educator empathy…how to be more empathetic for the sake of our students. We came up with this title for a future book, The Empathetic Educator

As final words, Don talked about the professional development that he’s doing around the country and how he helps educators to work better with students who have trauma in their lives.

Related School Leadership Content Based on This Show

Two books that we recommend on the topic of social and emotional learning.


Thanks for listening to FocusED, an educational leadership podcast brought to you by TheSchoolHouse302 @, where we publish free leadership content. Go to the site, subscribe, and you’ll get all of our content sent directly to your email. 

FocusED is your educational leadership podcast where our mission is to dissect a particular focus for teachers and school leaders so that you can learn to lead better and grow faster in your school or district. Let us know who you would like to hear from next. 


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