Spotlight on Kim Staff: Creating a Sense of Belonging

  • Kim Staff in her office

    When Kim Staff came to MPCSD as a young humanities core teacher in 2004, “student wellness” was far from the buzzword it is today, yet it was already foundational in Ms. Staff’s classrooms. While growing up in a complicated family dynamic, she attended nine different schools, an experience that taught her the importance of belonging and fostered the strong sense of empathy she feels for our students to this day. As a teacher, face to face interaction became the norm in her classroom - talk to your neighbor, work together on a project, look each other in the eye, circle up and share - those are the tools Ms. Staff brings to her work along with her belief that positive relationships are key to student success.


    Within a few years of starting at Hillview, Ms. Staff used a MPAEF Jeannie Ritchie grant to start a program called “Becoming a Man.” Describing herself as gender neutral, she grew up wondering what it meant to “be a man” and as a teacher found herself naturally most compatible with the “behaviorally exciting” boys in her classes, many of whom had struggles in life which caused unmet emotional needs manifesting as anger. Ms. Staff channeled her compassion and empathy and own adolescent struggles with emotional regulation into developing ways to help children meet their emotional needs and learn to love themselves, all of which leads to greater engagement and success at school. As the district focuses more on teaching and supporting to the edges, creating space and acceptance for all students is the norm, not the exception. Ms. Staff has special appreciation for Hillview’s Club 41 which provides a safe space for LGBTQQ students and allies to belong, which she considers a blessing for her as much as the students.


    By 2013, Ms. Staff’s ongoing work with emotionally driven students became the PIVOT and THRIVE programs which are still part of Hillview’s programming to help students understand and redirect their emotions into positive behavior. In 2014 with a grant from Sequoia Healthcare District, Ms. Staff expanded her wellness mission to include all students and the Hillview staff. Currently she serves in a district-wide role as Coordinator of Wellness and Integrated Services. While much of her work focuses on mentorship and behavior intervention, she is helping expand the use of restorative practices throughout our classrooms. As a “circle hustler” she encourages and trains teachers on using community circles - a time during which all students circle up and share around a common question. The sense of intimacy and bonding that community circles create pave the way for better classroom management for both teacher and students.


    If there’s one thing time with Ms. Staff will engender it is understanding. As a teacher and mentor, she leads with her blessings and burdens and own life lessons because they expose her humanity and invite others to do the same. In an accomplished career, what she is most proud of is the acceptance and trust her students have for her, which she accredits to her own willingness to be vulnerable and her extreme patience. When working with a struggling student, the smallest accomplishments are huge. It may take years of perseverance and starting over, but a child that learns to care about him or herself and says “thank you for believing” in me is the greatest reward Ms. Staff can receive. As she says, “There’s no magic bullet for working with kids. You just show up again and again and give yourself.”


    If you have questions about wellness throughout our district or about the services Ms. Staff coordinates, please email her.