As teachers, faculty members, administrators, and support staff meet together for the first time to kick off the opening school year I encourage everyone to do it the right way. We have all been to those opening day gatherings where things can go horribly wrong and set the wrong tone for the start of the school year. They become the topic of conversations throughout the first day, throughout the year, and they come back up through negative stories in years to follow. You get one time each year to make this event spectacular for your staff. You get that one opportunity when everyone in your district is gathered in one place to highlight all of the great things going on throughout the district. It is the perfect opportunity to get everyone in your organization so excited that they can’t wait until the kids walk through that door. This needs to be a special event for staff. This doesn’t mean you necessarily need to bring someone in from outside your organization to start things off. Districts can tap into the resources they have within their boundaries. However, if you have a defined theme or idea driving your work having someone that is passionate about that topic can add to the excitement that needs to be brought to the staff.
I have been part of many different opening days at multiple school districts. I have kicked off many years during my teaching days in an arena filled with teachers. I have also started off the year sitting in auditoriums of three other school districts. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter the size of the venue. What makes the difference is the positive energy that is brought into the venue. I have had the opportunity to hear from excellent speakers from within my own districts and also speakers from around the world. In one district I was able to hear Will Richardson come in and challenge many thoughts that educators had in our own district. This sparked a great deal of conversation by staff members throughout the opening of school. In another district, one of the elementary principles historically gave a speech send around a specific theme. People throughout the district looked forward to this individual speaking due to his way of communicating with those within the organization and the way he was able to bring fun to his important messages. No matter which approach your district takes on the opening just make sure to do it with excitement. Make sure you highlight the great things that are going on around each school. Make sure you have your staff leaving more excited than when they walked in.
My experiences have helped drive the planning that goes into my own opening with faculty. I will admit it is probably the most stressful planning that I do each year. Like I said previously, you only get one opening each year with your staff. You want to have a clear message, you want to build your staff up, and you want to have fun. I am sure like many other leaders around the country I spend my final hours of summer planning, sweating, re-planning, and replanning again to make sure my first day with staff is hopefully a great experience.
When I begin the planning I try to think of a theme that we will be focusing on for the year. This year my building will be focusing on three strands.
- Teaching and Technology
- Learning and Literacy
- Culture and Relationships
Our curriculum supervisor helped come up with a good acronym for this. He said call it TLC. We are in education so everything needs a good acronym. This is where my planning began. Whenever I plan a learning session I want to make sure of a few things. I want to make sure it’s fun for the teachers. I want to make sure I use strategies that they can then use back in their classrooms. I also want to make sure that my message does not get lost throughout the presentation. Many times we can throw so much into a presentation that our original message gets completely lost to the audience. I try to do my best to keep it simple and to my original message. Including some candy and teacher swag doesn’t hurt either. This year we raffled off a few jeans passes, 15-minute passes, and a few books that correlate to the theme of our year. The final piece that needs to go into your learning session is passion. We all know when someone is simply going through the motions. People can feel that and then they immediately get the feeling that this is “just another thing that too shall pass.” We ask our teachers to inspire the students in front of them every day. We need to make sure we hold that same expectation for ourselves.
I hope that your year has gotten off to an exciting start! I hope that you will share how you start the year off right with your staff. I am always looking for new ideas of how to jump start the year. Many times I can also take these ideas and incorporate them throughout the year to keep the excitement going. We only get to do this 1x each year. Do it big and do it with fun and passion!