An Opening Activity to Help “Focus”

Wednesday, September 1 was the first day my staff joined me back at Jerome Middle School. We began the day in a district meeting, and then after lunch, we joined together in our library for the first faculty meeting of the year. @wcarrozza, a principal I follow on Twitter, said it best. That first faculty meeting of the year is one of the most difficult for a principal – it is the one where we set the “vision” or “focus” for the entire year. This year will be one full of challenges, so I wanted to begin the year on a very positive and motivating note.

There were a few things we did – but one of them I stole from a blog by “whatedsaid”. She took the time earlier this summer and wrote about what she “used to think”, and what she “now thinks”. I began talking to my staff about the fact that I truly appreciate all the hard work and improvements we have made over the years since I have been an administrator in the building – first as an assistant principal, and then as principal (this is my 5th year – 3rd as principal). I didn’t want them to be frustrated about the fact that we didn’t meet the requirements for AYP (missed it by a VERY narrow margin – subgroup) – I wanted them to focus on what we have learned about teaching, students, learning, etc. in the last few years. The following list is what JMS teachers used to think, and now they think….

JMS Staff 2010-2011 – “I Used to Think….Now I Think”

I used to think we had to cram for the ISATs…
Now the learning is more transparent.

I used to think we all taught in our own little boxes…
Now everything we do is interconnected.

I used to think elective and support staff were isolated….
Now we are an integral part of learning.

I used to think teaching standards was teaching to a test….
Now I think teaching standards guides instruction and shows mastery.

I used to think re-testing shouldn’t be an option…
Now I think without re-testing proficiency and mastery aren’t possible.

I used to think the textbook was the curriculum….
Now I think the textbook is only a resource.

I used to think that student effort = proficiency…
Now I think that teacher effort and the student = proficiency.

I used to think there was ONE best way…
Now I think there are MANY great ways.

I used to think tests were just for measuring…
Now I think testing should guide my instruction.

I used to think technology was just for the teacher…
Now I think technology is great for everybody!

I used to think I had to grade everything…
Now I think learning can happen without a grade.

I used the think I had to teach the “same way” to all students…
Now I use differentiated learning.

I used to think grades were important…
Now I think learning is important.

I used to think all positive feedback is good…
Now I think feedback should be specific and individualized.

I used to think I would never take a pay cut….
Now I think I will survive with a pay cut.

I used to think that all kids can learn and grow…
I still think all kids can learn and grow.

There were many more things we did in that beginning staff meeting, but my hope is that this exercise let the staff think about the great changes we have made – and look forward to a great year to come.


  1. Ed said:

    I used to think I only reached the students and teachers in my school
    Now I think by sharing my ideas, I can reach other educators around the world.

    I’m glad one of my posts inspired you to start the year with such a positive reflection. Thanks for sharing it. The ‘I used to think, now I think’ activity is one of the thinking routines from Harvard’s Project Zero. Are you familiar with their visible thinking material? I highly recommend it!

    September 6, 2010
  2. Lyn said:

    What a powerful exercise and way to ask your colleagues to challenge, reconsider, and reflect upon what they know about teaching and learning. Definitely will try to incorporate this into the work we do in our school this year!

    September 6, 2010
  3. Jen Von Iderstein said:

    I like this. However, I want to share what I experienced…..

    This is the first year that I have taken part in first day activities not as a teacher. I am currently completing my internship to fulfill my program requirements for my administration/principal certification in NYS. The district I am interning in had the staff create the new district wiki. The teaching staff was divided up by the administration and sent off to answer the question “Our District Can….” Without divulging too much information as I do not know if the wiki is public or just for the district. The staff went out and used flip cameras, videos from youtube, and anything else they could find to answer the question. It was truly amazing to see what they came up with! I thought the Superintendent did a great job of bring the staff of the entire district together on a different level.

    September 6, 2010
  4. Janet Avery said:

    What a fabulous activity by your district Jen-I will share that with our district administration!

    September 6, 2010
  5. Jen Von Iderstein said:

    Thanks! I will check today to see if there is a link that people can visit to see the wonderful creations by the staff.

    September 7, 2010
  6. Greg Gorman said:

    Great post Janet, can certainly use this with our administrative and teaching staff. So much of the good things we do is so common sense. I think we look at complicated answers when we don’t have to.

    September 7, 2010
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