Summer may be ending, but as passionate educators we’ve been thinking about our classrooms and our schools for some time now. The question I’ve been pondering as a principal is: How can we create a school environment where, to paraphrase Lead Like a Pirate, students, staff, and parents are beating down the doors to get in, not out?
As students head back into the classroom, their minds may still be on the sunshine and beaches, or the mountains and all the great hikes they went on, but we’ve got to grab their attention and bring them into school. Here are a few ideas on how school leaders can guide their teams to create the #BestYearEver.
Starting the Year on the Right Note
Spruce up the place: Before students arrive, work on your own or with colleagues and paint some bulletin boards with chalkboard paint so that you can reuse and refresh them regularly. Get inspiring words up—buy some posters or make your own—on the walls of your halls or even in the bathrooms to remind students of the positive goals they have set.
Meet students at the bus with fun: Open up your first day in a fun and memorable way. Music can be a great opening when students get off the bus—have a staff dance-off, or lip sync to upbeat, positive songs. Dressing up in a silly or fun way will most likely bring a smile to the students’ faces. Or you can roll out a red carpet and treat staff and students like royalty or movie stars. Get out of your comfort zone—after all, as a leader you want to model what you want your students to do.
Greet all students: Use students’ names if you know them, and if they’re new and you don't know them, introduce yourself right away. It’s sometimes loud outside when the buses are arriving, so I invested in a speaker with a microphone so that students hear me calling out their names and introducing the new students when I meet them. This is one of the simplest things to do, but it helps students and staff to get to know one another.
Make time to create long-lasting relationships with your students: As an administrator, I ask teachers to engage students in icebreakers, team building, all-about-you activities, and much, much more for the first week or two. This helps teachers get to know the students in their class, and it helps students to get to know one another, as well. These activities can also be used throughout the year to keep the bonds with one another strong.
Invite parents in for a Parent University: Give parents information about what their child will be learning this year. Bring in an outside speaker to talk about a hot topic such as social and emotional learning, or a district staff member to talk about school and district initiatives, so that parents can better understand what’s happening around them. When we involve parents in what we do, we build relationships, open lines of communication, and create connections.
Continue the Relationships All Year Long
Create intentional time in your school and in your classrooms when students and staff can build healthy relationships. Focus on student interests, and invite parents to come in. Allowing students to choose activities empowers them to move forward with positivity, and it shows them that you care about what interests them—you can connect with them on another level.
We want to build strong connections with our whole school community. Adding a few simple touches those first days and weeks, and sprinkling them in throughout the rest of the year, takes little time to put in place. While money may be scarce in some of our schools, together our staff, parent, and student volunteers can always help in creating a great place.
By allowing our students to see our vulnerable side and building strong bonds with one another, we can definitely look forward to a year that flourishes with passion and positivity.