Our First Days; The Gift of Time

cc licensed flickr photo by FABIOLA MEDEIROS: http://flickr.com/photos/fabiolarebello/206950948/

I was inspired to write this post after reading Kelly Christopherson’s blog post on his first days of school with his staff.  This is a really important day to set the tone for the year and I wanted to share my thoughts on what we do as a school the first days before students come back.

I start off the first 2 staff days we start off with about 90 minutes of staff meeting. This meeting is to reconnect with staff after the summer and then deal with items that need to be addressed before the end of the year. Then for the rest of the time, staff is encouraged to go do whatever they need to do to get ready for the kids. We have a divisional meeting on the last day (for about two hours) before the students come back with all the teachers in the district, but other than that, the rest is for teachers to prepare.

Now some of you may be thinking that this is the best time to really move forward with the new initiatives for the school year.  My question is, how many of your teachers are really engaged at this moment?  Their minds are most likely in their classroom and what they need to get done.  I guarantee you that if I had meetings for those 2 days that teachers would still be prepared but they might also be wiped by the time the students are there.  I want my staff to be as energized and welcoming to our students as possible all the time, but especially those first few days of school.  Even with all of this time, they are still going to stay long after the “regular” work day. The last thing I want is a teacher staying until midnight the day before school starts.  They need their energy!  If I am truly thinking about what is best for our students, I want my staff as well rested (although most of us can’t sleep the night before) and prepared as possible for the kids.

As a classroom teacher, I remember just thinking during our principal speaking about all the stuff I wanted to do with my classroom and what I needed to prepare.  I thought about this so much, that my mind often faded during when others were speaking.  As teachers we want to set the BEST tone with our students those first few days in the classroom so it can be carried on throughout the year.

We have a very comprehensive professional development plan that we implement throughout the year, but how much change are we going to make in that first day?  If our focus is on building relationships with our staff, take as much as you can off their plate at the beginning of the year so that they can feel as prepared as possible.  The respect you show towards them will be reciprocated.

Just my two cents.

19 Comments

  1. Elaine said:

    When reading this entry I was reminded of something Chip Wood says in his book, Time to Teach, Time to Learn: Changing the Pace of School. He says that while driving past a school one day he was taken aback when he saw the School Zone traffic sign. The sign alerted him to slow down as he was approaching a school. He relays the thoughts he had of how ironic it is that we ask cars to slow down when approaching a school while those inside the school typically are running around at full speed – and not always to the benefit of those inside!

    As a former elementary teacher, and now a district administrator, I say kudos to you George for your careful design of these days and for considering your audience as you did. You are also modeling for those who facilitate learning to remember to slow down when needed and create the same considerate attitude for their learnings.

    Have a great start to your year…I really enjoyed reading this :).
    Elaine Smith
    Fife Public Schools
    WOW Coordinator

    August 16, 2010
    • Thanks Elaine 🙂 I know that the school year is a marathon, not a sprint so we will have a lot of time to make change. Long lasting change takes time and although we can bring up ideas on that first day, we are not going to move very far ahead no matter what we do on that day. These things take time and if we focus on the long haul, and not the short term, we will ultimately do better.

      Thanks so much for your comment!

      August 16, 2010
      • Elaine said:

        You’re welcome and a small edit…I meant to say ‘learners’ not ‘learnings’ in reference to your teachers thinking about their audience as you have thought of them :).

        August 16, 2010
  2. George – I agree wholeheartedly! I think too many Principals worry about a big dog and pony show on the first day to kick off the new year. All we really accomplish is frustrating our teachers with things that are much less relevant than what they have on their minds, welcoming their students on opening day.

    We need to keep it much simpler. Welcome teachers back in a warm, genuine fashion that you would hope they would use with their students and then let them prepare. Maybe if we let go as Principals a bit more, our teachers will let go in their classrooms a bit more as well?

    Thanks for the reminder!

    August 16, 2010
    • I agree Patrick…I want my teachers to treat our students like we treat each other. Respect their ideas, respect their time, and have an understanding of their needs. Hopefully this is one of the way that this is reflected in my own practice. I knew you would understand this!

      August 16, 2010
  3. George,

    You have my heart! Time is so important. I think teachers are in most districts just expected to put in the extra time to get things ready! Your staff is blessed!

    August 16, 2010
    • Thanks Becky…they are extremely appreciative of it.

      August 16, 2010
  4. I read this blog post of yours today on your other blog too, and was actually just coming to comment on it when I saw your tweet about it on this blog. I think that you make a very valid point here: as the year starts, teachers really do want their time in the classroom to prepare for their students, and it’s important to have this time. If we’re innundated with PD at this point, we won’t be taking in what we need to really do our best with the information provided.

    That being said, I’ve always wondered about providing some PD at the end of the week before school starts. At this point, the classrooms are done, teachers are organized, and they’re excited about a new year. At this point, teachers seem more receptive to change or trying something new: the year is fresh and exciting! I don’t know if this would work, and I’ve contemplated it a lot myself, but each summer I find myself learning some new, wonderful things, and I always wish that there was time to share some of this information before school starts. I guess that I’ve come up with my own solution, and shared this information through our school e-mail conference, where people can explore it when they want. I find that others are starting to do this too, and it’s nice to have this opportunity to share. Maybe this is a good compromise …

    Thanks for another great post that really had me thinking!
    Aviva

    August 16, 2010
    • Great thoughts Aviva…I really appreciate your openness and thinking aloud on this post. Here is a part of my thought process on the first day. By letting teachers and staff know that I appreciate that time is short and I want them to be as prepared for their year as possible, it is one thing to tell them that, but it is another thing to actually show them that with giving the gift of time. Through this, I hopefully have deposited in their emotional bank accounts and their appreciation will be reciprocated back. I know that some are totally ready to go and do not need the time (although really, we always have work we can do), but what about the first year teacher? They are nervous and probably would appreciate having the time to talk informally with other teachers about how they can be prepared for those crucial first days. It is my job to ensure that they have supports and connections in place, but I have the entire year for professional development. If I am cognizant of our time and plan it effectively, we will still be able to implement everything that we need to do.

      Just my thoughts 🙂

      August 16, 2010
      • I completely agree with you George, and I know that I always appreciate when my principal gives me this time, and I know that others appreciate when their principals give them this time too. I guess that I’m just torn about the best time to do PD. Sometimes I just wonder if when the year is fresh and the possibilities seem endless, if it would be a good time to inservice on something new. Would more people embrace change at this point? It’s hard to know, and there are many reasons not to innundate teachers with PD before school starts that maybe it’s really not the time to do it. In your reply, you spoke a bit about new teachers informally talking to others to help prepare, and maybe it’s through these informal conversations that we share ideas with others and learn something new too. I know that this happens a lot at my school, for both new and experienced teachers.

        You’ve certainly given me a lot to think about here, and I really appreciate it!
        Aviva

        August 16, 2010
  5. Safina Noorani said:

    George,
    Great post! Giving teachers time is absolutely essential in the first few days. Unfortunately, our board has mandatory compliance training scheduled during this time. A year cannot go by without showing us the “how to use a ladder video”. Do you have any mandatory training?

    August 16, 2010
    • Sorry for the delay in the response.

      In our division (which I am blessed to be in), we all have opportunities as principals to decide the direction of our school and do what we feel is in the best interest of our schools. We have divisional priorities, but all of the schools are different and work through a different process. Kind of differentiated learning based on schools!

      I appreciate the flexibility we are given as a school.

      Thanks for your comment!

      August 17, 2010
  6. In the UK we have inset days -training, meetings , department meetings, and prep for the new school year. I think our school has the balance right. First day: meetings etc; Second Day: only the year 7 students in school, like an induction day, so time to prep (year 7 are the secondary school freshers .- all left primary school at 11 years old.). The whole school starts on day 3.

    Steve

    August 16, 2010
    • There definitely has to be the balance between prep time and PD. We have to have time to collaborate but we also need to ensure we have time to be fully prepared to welcome our greatest resource back to school!

      Thanks for your comment

      August 17, 2010
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