In August, administrators should be well underway with planning for the first few days back with teachers. But have you planned the same old back-to-school first day boring and mundane stuff that you’ve always done, or are even required to do by law, or are you prepared with something exciting? If you follow theschoolhouse302.com, tell us something new and different that you’re doing in a comment below. If not, we’re here to help with four very simple strategies to set the right tone for a great year.
Strategy #1: Give Teachers Time
The most important thing that you can give teachers in the two or three days that they’re back to work before students arrive is time. When teachers leave, they pack their stuff. Why? Because we tell them to. Why? Because we have to clean the school and move furniture and relocate people and set up technology, etc. etc. etc. A quality learning environment takes time to build. Let teachers have as much time as possible in their rooms before students arrive. Just because teachers are back before students, doesn’t mean that their time should be consumed with meetings and professional development. Time in their spaces is time well spent.
Challenge #1: Give teachers time in their classrooms, and walk around the school to hear the buzz. With time in their rooms, take your time as the school leader to visit each one to reconnect after the summer. Building and maintaining strong relationships is critical for success.
Strategy #2: Don’t Talk Too Much
Of course there are things to review, but, please, don’t talk too much. If you’re spending hours or days in the auditorium or library, presenting new information to teachers, you’re likely wasting your time and theirs. What teachers need more than anything else when they come back to work is time to prepare for the arrival of students. Of course, you do have logistical stuff and mandatory trainings and some PD that covers “the new thing” that’s happening this year, but resist at all costs the need to gather folks for large periods of time in common spaces. Chunk these meetings out—if you have three days, give teachers one full day and gather them for two mornings rather than for a full day of sittin’-n-gittin’. Remember, not everything needs to be covered in the first couple of days, in fact that is a common misconception and error. Use this time to ensure that everyone is clear on the vision and goals. Be sure to ignite the passion necessary for a good school year.
Challenge #2: Anything that can be communicated in written form, should be. Reviewing the teacher handbook, new procedures, or anything strictly informational should be put into one-page directions/documents for handout, not presentation. Rely on your teacher leaders, such as your department chairs, to cover essential information in a timely manner.
Strategy #3: Make It Fun
Whatever “it” is, it should be fun. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be hard work preparing for kids to come back, but it certainly doesn’t mean it has to be boring or dreadful. Coming back should be exciting and upbeat. That starts with leadership. As the leader, positivity is critical. If you communicate in any way that summer-is-over-woe-is-me, then that’s exactly what you’ll get from the staff. These are the most important jobs on the planet with the most rewarding set of circumstances and the most explicit set of goals and accomplishments to celebrate. That has to be fun.
Challenge #3: Prepare positive responses for when folks communicate the challenges that we all will experience this year or the simple feeling that they’re not overly excited to be back. Don’t feed in to it and find every opportunity to keep the passion for teaching alive.
Strategy #4: Celebrate Summer Successes
Most teachers didn’t spend their time over the summer sitting by the pool. They worked, and some worked hard for the profession. They took classes, they wrote curriculum, they attended conferences, they taught summer school, and much more. Celebrate that to kick off the year with great things that folks did since they last you saw them.
Challenge #4: Have someone in the office reach out to the staff prior to their return to collect information about fun things that folks did with their summer months, to include professional activities. Celebrate great vacations and acknowledge any new accomplishments and contributions to the profession.
Bring teachers back to school with a bang and tell us how it feels. Remember, as the leaders of your school or district, the tone you set for your teachers is the same tone teachers will set for their students!
Joe and T.J.