Back to School–Making it Meaningful & Fun

I remember as a teacher how excited I was for Meet the Teacher and the first weeks of school. I knew those first few weeks set the tone for my classroom for the rest of the year. I needed to build relationships with kids and parents. I needed to set my expectations. I needed to show that I was fair and consistent.

The beginning of the year can make or break the rest of the year, so it cannot be taken lightly.

Now that I am principal I realize that the start of the year with the staff is no different. It is just as important, if not more, because it sets the tone for ALL of the classrooms on campus.  My goal for the first week  is that we all end the week pumped for the upcoming year! I hope my staff feels excited and eager to attain the high expectations for the year to come.  This is the time campus expectations are set, campus goals are communicated, as well as goals for teams and individuals. There are times set aside for each of these categories. By the end of the week before the children come back I hope my teachers and staff are EXPECTANT and ENERGIZED with PURPOSE and PASSION.  For more on how to have a culture of excellence see Candace’s blog.

While I plan for our staff development week, I ask myself these 2 questions:

Am I valuing my teachers’ time with my back to school schedule? 

Teachers, especially at the elementary level, want need to have adequate time to prepare for the beginning of the year. Teachers work throughout the summer to be prepared for the next school year and I want to recognize their efforts by giving them time in the “back to school” schedule.  I know that they will respect what I have to say more if I value their time. This is not only true at the beginning of the year but anytime we have meetings. We do not have meetings just to have a meeting. If it can be said in an email or in a flipped format, that is what I do!

Does my agenda impact instruction, morale, and/or staff relationships? 

This should be the main consideration of the first week back. As principals, we may have “required” agenda items that are out of our control.  However, the priority for agenda items should invest time in improving: instruction, morale, and/or staff relationships. During those moments that I must present less engaging (although still important) agenda topics; my goal is to present this in a very concise amount of time. I break up the monotony with a funny or good inspirational video/meme. Again, I do what I can in digital formats via email or a flipped format.

If it doesn’t meet the above criteria, then it doesn’t happen the first week back!

If we expect our teachers to keep 20+ kids engaged all day everyday, then we should expect ourselves to provide engaging staff development and staff meetings. 

I strongly believe in setting high expectations for staff and then setting them even higher for yourself.

Todd Whitaker said it best when he said:

“The difference between average and great principals lies in what they expect of themselves.” -Todd Whitaker

Practical Ways to Make it Meaningful

Personal Note

Morale Magic by Stephanie McConnell & Christine Bedre is jam packed full of great ideas to build a positive campus climate all year long. It has ideas for each month. By the way, if you do not follow their blogs “Principal’s Principles” and “The Picked Principal”, you are missing out!  One idea that I took  from it this month is that I sent hand written cards to my whole staff (cafeteria and custodians included) that welcome them back to  school. I also wrote one thing that I uniquely appreciate about each person at the top. This way it adds a personal touch.

People want to know that you notice what makes them unique and what they bring to the table that is important.

Side note: I saw this in Morale Magic in the spring and knew I wanted to do it! I planned out how many cards I would have to write a day in the summer to be done to send at the beginning of August! I wrote 2-3 a day. This helped with time management. I get them sent out in plenty of time and OF COURSE… a mercury spill occurred in the post office! This stalled all of the mail for about a week and a half! I kept hearing they had to throw mail out! I was so worried these would not make it.  Fortunately, I think all of the staff received their cards..just late! 🙂 

Always have a PO ready for Sonic

We collect a list of each staff member’s favorite Sonic drink. Our local Sonic will label the Sonic drinks with the name of the drinks so that we can organize them easily to deliver them! This year we had Sonic drinks delivered on our longest meeting day, and I will on the first day of school as well! This is a relatively CHEAP and easy way to show appreciation!

A Theme with a Vision

I love themes, and I love cute decor! I am a former elementary teacher, so it’s in my blood! I do, however, make sure my theme sets a vision and has a message. This year our theme is on making a difference. I’ve used “globes” as a visual, so those are sprinkled around the campus in different forms!

I always pair the theme with a new t-shirt for the staff!

Add in some humor and inspiration

I love sprinkling in humor and inspiration during the first week back.  Here are some videos I used for the first week back!

Intro video  Here is a video that I used before I got started by Gerry Brooks.

Finding your Why I showed this video to introduce the concept and importance of finding our WHY for what we do

Kid’s Perception I show this to discuss how “perception is reality” and how we should take advantage of every moment no matter our role on campus

Go Big or Go Home I show this to reinforce how it’s okay to stand out and GO BIG!

Making an Impact I showed this video at our last campus meeting before school began Monday. It was a great way to end the week!

Whatever you do as a leader for back to school, make sure it is respectful of your staff’s time and they see the thought you put into.

The little things make a big difference!