Happy first day of school! Ah, the enthusiasm, the excitement, the exhaustion! One of our goals as principals is to maintain that first day of school feeling. How do we keep the momentum, the joy, the excitement about saying goodbye to summer and hello to fall? How do we keep kids running to us instead of running away from us?
Think back when you were a classroom teacher. What was the most important thing that you developed, nurtured, culled, and ensured was always at the top of your mind? RELATIONSHIPS! The building of a caring community of learners! Before we could expect achievement of any type in the classroom, we had to ensure a nurturing, caring culture! The same goes for our school! No doubt your focus these first weeks will be learning children's names, hugging and high fiving, developing great kid relationships, but one of our biggest jobs is to develop and maintain an exemplary adult learning culture.
I stumbled upon our friend Roland Barth's quote the other day and it reminded me once again about the importance of developing staff school culture in order for a principal to ensure the smooth implementation of any new change initiatives, programs, and/or curriculum development. How we as adults feel about our work, how we treat each other, how we care for one another, have to be tended to and nurtured to a high level. A statement from one of my educational leadership books has stayed with me for well over twenty years, that the culture of the place had more to do with high student achievement than anything else.
One of the first things we can do as principals is to assess our current culture. Christopher Wagner, in a December 2006 article in Principal Leadership, shared the School Culture Triage Survey as a tool that we could use to help us determine the pulse of our adult learning culture. Your School Improvement team, or a small task force analyzes the information to set goals to affirm the good stuff you are doing building a caring learning culture, and what needs some attention.
The anonymous survey can be given paper and pencil, or could be turned into an electronic survey(a copy can be found doing a Google type search) and given to your staff. The survey measures the degree to which three distinct “culture behaviors” are present in a school:
- Professional collaboration-To what degree do teachers and staff act like a Professional Learning Community and meet and work together to solve organizational, instructional, or curricular issues?
- Affiliative and collegial relationships: To what degree do teachers and staff like each other and work well together, support and nurture one another doing the hard work of educating students each and every day?
- Efficacy or self-determination: To what degree do teachers and staff demonstrate a personal sense of passion and purpose for the work.
- Distribute the survey to teachers and administrators only.(I chose to give the survey to all instructional staff. I did administer the survey electronically and allowed for filtering of teacher, paraprofessional, instructional support staff, etc.)
- Distribute surveys without the scoring page. (We are educators: we look ahead, and it skews the results every time!)
- Ensure that everyone understands that this is an anonymous survey—no names.
- Involve teachers (all staff) in the collection and tabulation of the surveys.
- Share the results with the staff at the next faculty meeting. During this meeting, many schools select one or two items for improvement. They often select a task force to develop and implement an action plan. (I delegated this to our School Family Culture Team)
- Administer the survey again as a follow-up in three or four months to monitor progress.
Tip of the Week: We always steal great ideas from others right? Well, this gem I stole from Todd Whitaker, the first time I heard him at a MEMSPA annual conference well over ten years ago. You have to act now however! What you are going to do is create a special Christmas or holiday card that you will send to each and every one of your staff members' parents, spouse, or significant other. Here is what you need to do:
- Have your secretary or administrative assistant collect the names and addresses of all of your staff members' parents, or if deceased, spouse or significant other. Have him or her share that it is confidential and a surprise.
- Have someone who is good at taking pictures (or yourself) take a cute picture of each staff member surrounded by kids that he or she works with. Keep a checklist so you don't miss anyone!
- Turn this picture into a holiday type card. There are several computer programs that can do this and you can copy and fold the card yourself at school or use one of the services provided by Walgreens, Snapfish, etc.
- On the front cover will be the cute picture of the staff member surrounded by kids with some type of winter holiday decoration (be mindful of staff member religious affiliations-keep it neutral) On the inside, write this message:
Dear Gladys and Fred,
Just wanted you to know how your child (wife, husband, etc.) touches and changes the lives of children at our school each and every day. Wishing you a wonderful holiday season.
Your child’s (spouse's) principal,
PS Send these out the Thursday or so before the school holiday break so that they arrive while everyone is away recuperating and hear all about it at family gatherings. Make sure you collect your secretaries information and that he or she gets one. (My secretary made sure that my mom and dad got one as well!) Trust me, this one special card will be talked about for a long time around your building and you will hear from parents via cards, letters, and phone calls!