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Prepare Your Staff for a Positive Start to the Year

Skyward Best Practices
Skyward Best Practices - Experience, Collaboration, and Leadership

Can you believe that August is already upon us? Although you've probably spent the summer preparing yourself and your team of administrators for the impending school year, it's time to welcome back your building-level staff. Here are a few ideas for getting things started off on the right foot.
Your approach at the beginning of the school year can set the tone for your entire staff, so why not make a positive impression? Your staff members are coming back from the most relaxing part of their year, ready and willing to tackle whatever challenges they may face. Approaching them with the same relaxed yet down-to-business frame of mind can help build relationships that will lay the foundation for nine successful months ahead. 


Pre-School Focus Group 

Summer is a great time for unfiltered conversations with teachers and other staff. They are more relaxed and not as pressed for time as they would be at an afternoon or night meeting during the school year.
Reach out to a few of your principals (preferably at schools serving different grade levels) and ask them to recommend some staff that they know are available to talk. Once you have some invitees, host a lunch at district headquarters. Make sure to emphasize the fact that this is an informal lunch. Set the tone by dressing casual so you don’t stand out from the group.
Once convened, simply ask your focus group to assess how things went last school year, what they perceive to be the greatest challenges facing them this upcoming year, and how the district can support them in those efforts. What you’re looking for are actionable items and strategies that can be used to inform the rest of your back-to-school messaging for the district. 


Social Media Brainstorm

Now’s the time to assess whatever internal efforts you are making via social media. This area of outreach changes so fast that it’s also a good time to take a general look at the social media landscape and see if you’re missing any opportunities.
For example, the hottest new network this year is Periscope. Think of Periscope as an opportunity to create your own interactive infomercial. The participant opens up a video stream and presents whatever information they feel is valuable, while interested parties tune in and can even ask questions via chat. Other solutions aren’t as interactive. Posting videos on YouTube doesn’t provide live feedback. Webinars can be expensive and complicated. Periscope does a good job of filling the gap without the need for a lot of technical know-how.
When considering your existing social networks, get some people together to brainstorm ways you can use those outlets more effectively. As we’ve mentioned before, setting up an editorial calendar now with the content you would like to broadcast over the course of the year can save a lot of headaches once school starts. Ideally, you'll be able to stick to your plan and leave room for flexibility when the unexpected occurs. Plus, you'll eliminate the 'grasping for straws' stage that used to come with the realization your Facebook or Twitter account was dormant for a while.


Welcome Back Video

Many districts produce a video to welcome back the teachers from their break. The star is usually the superintendent, but it can vary. This is usually the first encounter teachers have with administrators in the new year, so it’s important to set the right tone.
Above all, your video needs to be authentic. Straight talk from the superintendent will be much more appreciated than a standard pep talk. The benefit to using video over written communication is the ability to appeal to emotion and control the context of your message. Take advantage of this!
Start with a review of the last school year, including a frank analysis of district-wide assessment scoring (if you have the results back). Teachers are going to be studying their own scores during the pre-school week, but they’ll appreciate the “bird's-eye view."
Next, review the work district staff members completed over the summer. What strategies have they been studying? How has the district improved since the teachers have been gone? The employees want to know that the district is in better shape than how they left it. Also, it doesn’t hurt to show some of the ways that district staff is working for their success.
Finally, it’s time to preview the upcoming year. Are new schools opening? Have any finished recent renovations? What will be the focus of upcoming trainings and initiatives? This is the time to be a cheerleader for your district.


Concerted Training for Pre-School Week

When it comes to in-services, large districts typically try to get as many of their teachers in one place as possible to be sure everyone is focused on the same things. These district-wide trainings might last anywhere from one afternoon to the entire week. If you decide to go the in-service route, here are some ways to make it more valuable for everyone involved. 
First, separation by subject area is crucial. In terms of curriculum, strategies, and interests, math and language arts teachers, for example, have very little in common. Don’t take the 'one size fits all’ path, at least for part of the week.
Second, focus your training on one or two specific initiatives. Teachers will quickly get overwhelmed if they are bombarded with ten different strategies and data points to pay attention to over the course of the school year. Being overwhelmed quickly turns into tuning out. It also makes them quite nervous about how they will be evaluated.
Finally, everyone likes free stuff. Invite some of your major suppliers in to exhibit the latest tools your district has purchased, and ask them to bring as many branded pens, koozies, and gift bags as they can get their hands on. This will give the training a conference feel, which will be great for the teachers who don't get to travel to actual conferences.
Although a lot of these ideas aren’t revolutionary, it’s still important to come into this period of the summer with a specific plan. If the back-to-school process feels haphazard to the staff, they will wonder what else is done in a haphazard fashion throughout the district. Everyone should be working toward a positive start to the school year. Good things will happen when your people enter the school year on a confident note.

Best wishes for a successful school year! Want to learn more about how Skyward can help you facilitate the flow of information from the district office down to the classroom level? Contact us today.


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