I love the excitement and energy a new school year brings; everyone comes to school with a great attitude and hope for a positive school year. School leaders must commit to harnessing the energy of the start of school and carry it all the way through to the last day. To do this, leaders must be strategic and intentional in engaging students, teachers, and parents. Check out these five strategies I use to engage as a school leader in my school.
Focus on Learning
One of my favorite ways to engage is to ask students and faculty what they are learning. Learning conversations go a long way in building a culture focused on learning. Challenge your faculty to have students design, build, publish, create, construct, or perform; we need to focus our learning on creating content and breaking from the status quo of learning in our schools. Think about it, when was the last time you took a multiple choice test, had to recite a historical address, raised your hand to speak, or couldn’t choose where you sat. These antiquated ways in schools don’t prepare students for our world; they prepare them to get an A in your course – and that doesn’t matter in the long run or to equip them for the complex challenges of our world.
I believe visibility is critical to build trust and engagement with students, faculty, and staff. To increase visibility, I placed high top desks at all of our major intersections in the building. Rather than sitting at my desk to do the endless emails and computer work that my job requires, I stand at the tall round tables to work in the halls so I can connect with students and faculty. I must admit, it can be difficult to get anything done because everyone stops by to talk, but that is exactly why I’m doing it: to build connections and engagement with our team. Another tip for visibility is to start early. I work hard to walk our school early in the school day before the challenges of the day can pull me away. A good friend of mine and a 2018 National Association of Secondary School Principals Digital Award Winner, Brian McCann, stands at his school doors to greet students in the morning while holding signs that say, “You Rock,” “You are Understanding,” and he takes selfies with students holding the signs. This may seem simple, but his regular and consistent presence each morning greets students in a powerful way and creates a confidence in him as their leader.
Play and Have Fun
If you aren’t playing or having fun with your students and staff, you are missing out on some amazing fun and opportunities to engage them in entirely new ways. For our opening faculty/staff meeting, I asked several of our teachers to perform songs for the team. Two teachers wrote a special music changing the lyrics of Billy Joel’s, “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” with lyrics that reflect our faculty/staff. Each holiday season, we started an event called, “Deck the Halls.” During “Deck the Halls” our faculty/staff dress up in the most festive way they can imagine and think up. Our English department dressed up as Snoopy characters, our Special Education Department dressed up as gifts and one of the teachers dressed as a Christmas tree. The Special Education department then recorded a video of the gifts rocking around the Christmas tree. We post the Faculty/Staff pics and ask our community to vote on the best and most festive department.
Look for small and large ways to celebrate the achievements of your students and staff. To do this, we are starting the Positive Principal referral to celebrate the great work of our students. Teachers write students up for doing something positive, we call them to the office, give them a certificate, take a picture with them and their certificate, post the pic on social media and then we mail it home. We are going to keep track of these positive referrals in our student data system to select a Chick-Fil-A Champion. The Chick-Fil-A champion will receive a coupon for a free sandwich at Chick-Fil-A. On another note, last year I celebrated a teacher’s birthday by going into her class, having the students gather around the teacher in a circle, and we all sang happy birthday to her. After the song, I asked students to share one thing they love about their teacher. The teacher was almost in tears as her students celebrated her and her teaching. Continue to look for ways to celebrate the work and achievements in your school, this will go a long way in building a positive culture.
What do hot sauce, a microwave, paper towels in the lavatories, and a salad bar all have in common? These are the things that our students asked for during our Falcon Feedback Friday sessions. One of my favorite things to do is to listen to students and how they think we can improve our school; as a result, our team created Falcon Feedback Friday. Every Friday, we randomly select 16 students, four from each class, and we ask them four questions to get feedback on our school.
- What does our school do great?
- How can our school improve?
- What do you dream our school can be?
- What can you do personally to make our school a better place?
We then take a picture with the students and share their results out with the school through our learning management system.
I also ask our faculty/staff these four questions during our end of the year meeting. I add these questions when meeting with faculty/staff:
- How can we support you where we aren’t currently supporting you?
- How can I improve as a principal?