Opening Days with Staff - Tips and Tricks to Help You

wendyz@michiganprincipals.org's picture

You’ve been running around like a crazy person for the last 2-3 weeks: attending various meetings, addressing building concerns, last minute hires, meeting new families, running orientation, the list goes on and on! You haven’t had a spare minute to think about opening day with staff and its right around the corner. Here are some ideas to get you off to a positive start:

Opening Staff Meeting

  • You know your staff…would they respond better to a meeting centered around a playful theme or goals for the year? Perhaps it's a combination of both. Try integrating your school mascot into the theme: Wildcats stampede toward success! Falcons soar toward their goals! Bulldogs on track for achievement!

  • Remind staff of your school improvement goals and of strides you’ve made toward achieving them. What can you celebrate from last year to encourage staff to continue their work this year?

  • During your opening meeting be sure to welcome the staff back for another great year – begin the meeting with a positive message, complimenting their strengths. Take time to introduce and recognize any staff members who are new to the building with a personal intro: where did they go to college? Where have they worked previously? And any other personal details of interest. Recognize any staff happenings that occurred over the summer: special trips, new babies, kids going off to college, weddings, etc. It is nice for the staff to have time for personal sharing.

  • Try to keep minutia to a minimum – everyone’s mind is already on prepping their classrooms and getting organized. If there are items that can be covered in a memo spare them the lecture.

  • A typical opening of school requires the staff to do a number of tasks, make them a checklist to ensure completion: turn in your updated emergency form, sign your acceptable use policy, sign for and pick up your keys, consider a donation to the staff fund, consider joining the PTA, pick up your technology from the media center…get everything on the list that you can think of.

  • Gifts…ok, I know we are all broke, but if there are any discretionary funds it is always good to give staff a token to welcome them back: pens, planners, water bottles, tote bag, coffee mugs – any thing with the school logo is a great touch.

Team Building and Icebreakers
We always want to model what we want to see in the classroom. If you want teachers to build relationships with the kids – you need to build relationships with the staff. Try to use activities staff can replicate when the students return.

Substance?
OK, so you’ve done the positive talk, covered the required topics, fit in the new technology pieces and you still have a half-day that needs some substance and structure? This piece is totally dependent upon the needs of your staff, but no matter what the topic it should help to fill their instructional toolbox or improve their start to the year.

Possible topics/activities:

  • At the secondary level most teachers will begin the year by: reviewing their syllabus and sharing classroom rules and expectations. Give the staff some structured department time to:

    • Come up with icebreaker activities to do with students as a “bell ringer” every day for the first week of school.

    • Require staff to develop common syllabi for each course. What do you want to see on the syllabus? (CLICK HERE FOR AN EXAMPLE) Overview of the class, a list of key topics and major assignments and texts to be used. Will there be any field trips are there any materials that would be helpful for the student to have? What is the make up work policy? What is the testing policy? Does the teacher use their website to post assignments? Allowing teachers time to develop common policies is beneficial to staff cohesion and for students/parents.

    • Provide staff with time to develop positive classroom expectations. This is not a list of “no’s” but a list of things that the staff will expect to see. Teachers often take behavior for granted, but spending time clarifying expectations for behavior is important- even for juniors and seniors. Don’t forget to address academic integrity and technology- be sure students understand what constitutes cheating and what/when technology is permissible to use during class.
  • Grading…nearly every staff can spend some time talking about grading practices. This is an area of great change and always stimulates lively discussion and passionate feelings. You may want to share some articles and spark some talk around this topic. Ken O’Connor is widely recognized as a leading authority on this topic. A Google search of his name will bring up a wealth of available resources: articles, YouTube videos, PowerPoints that could be put together for some great opening dialogue.

  • You’ve shared the School Improvement Goals…give teachers time to set their own goals: personal goals that are not part of the evaluation process and then their student growth goals: one that is individually developed based on their students and one that is more closely aligned with a building school improvement goal. Make sure goals are academic, measurable and aimed at improving student learning. Along with the goals staff should include strategies and activities they will use to help students meet the goal along with professional development they will do to work toward to the goal.

Hopefully this gives you some ideas and direction to get off to a positive start. There are many distractions this time of year but you have to make the first day or two as productive as possible. Typically, staff may have an afternoon designed for “room prep” – toward the end of this time it is fun to do an impromptu “ice cream social” in the staff lounge. Dig into your own pocket or tap some PTA funds to supply an assortment of ice cream sandwiches, juice bars, drum sticks etc. Just make an announcement on the PA that all staff are invited to the lounge for a quick ice cream social. It will be a welcome surprise and a nice touch.

Have a great opening day with staff – do your best to make these days all about them. Avoid scheduling any parent meetings or anything in your office that would keep you from being accessible to the staff. You want to be able to be visible and ready to help – always the servant leader. Go get ‘em!