Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Best Start...

This was our first week of school. It was busy, exciting, and filled with positivity. On Thursday and Friday, I had a lot of different people come my way, and all said the same thing. “This has been the best start of the school year since you have been here!”  I quickly said thank you, but at first was taken aback by the statement. This is my third year at the school, so this is our third start together. Has it really been that bad in the past?

I will admit, the first student day three years ago was not my best. Within 30 minutes of starting, the school was in a non-emergency lockdown due to a disgruntled person in the parking lot making threats. And dismissal was a disaster, as I was trying to roll-out a new dismissal procedure on the first day of school and I did not do a very good job making sure all parents knew what was happening. Lesson learned. So, I do admit, the first student day I was in the building was not the best. And along with that, I was new to the building and was sharing my vision. My staff didn’t know me and I didn’t know them. There was definite anxiety with the excitement at the start of school that year. I was following a well-liked and good school principal, who literally started that school in 2001. He had been the first and only building principal before I entered the doors. So, we were supportive of each other as we got to know one another. Nevertheless, it was a tough start. But, my staff stayed with me, and that year, we built trust and communication throughout the school.

Last year, our first student day was much better. We knew what to expect of each other. There were a lot of initiatives going on, so I know my staff was overwhelmed with it all. Along with that, our incoming kindergarten class was large, and so we knew we had a lot of routines to learn. The beauty was that all my staff was returning with only a couple exceptions, and so we built on what we started in the first year. Together, we redefined our purpose and direction through one of the most exciting collaborative discussions I have been a part of in the past few years. We established stronger procedures together, created more in-house professional development opportunities and discussions, which led to 3 summer book studies. It was a fantastic school year with abundant growth opportunities for both staff and students.

This leads me to this school year. We only have a couple staff changes again, so we are building our third year together as a team. The first staff day was one of the most positive exchanges I have experienced. We did team-building exercises and shared our common, collective vision. We all agreed on our goals for the school year, supporting one another to build a strong school community and reclaim the joy of education within our school. There was so much positive energy during our first staff meeting that the room physically became quite hot! The first staff days were exhausting, but adrenaline was pumping so high, the positivity could be felt everywhere in the school. And the first student day was exactly the same! Our students walked in excited, energized, and the routines fell into place very quickly. It has been outstanding! Our dedicated staff, parents, and students made this the best start of our school. Their hard work and preparations made a difference, but I know it was that vibe when walking into the school that had the biggest impact. The positive, welcoming, and energetic vibe has truly set the tone for an amazing school year ahead.

So, after a couple days of reflection, I would also admit that this start to our school year has been the best yet. Digging deep, I ask the question, why? Why has this been the best start yet? It all comes down to one element, but a very powerful one - our school culture.

I remember back to the days when I was working on my master’s degree in educational leadership, and my mentor shared with me that it takes at least three years to build and/or change a school culture. This is not to say the school culture I entered was bad, but I’m a different person, and so with it I bring a different culture to build. I have been fortunate to have a supportive administrative team and an amazing staff who have stayed with me during these changes in the past couple years. My staff has shared their thoughts and ideas to taking our school and our students into the future, and it is exciting to be a part of these changes! It has truly been a team effort, built over time, with open doors and conversations.

The start is important, but the journey is lasting. We did not let the first start determine our journey. We kept the vision at the forefront, and continued to have conversations to drive us toward the future of our school. We built communication and trust, empowering teams and collaboration to become the norm in everyday interactions. This takes time. And the ultimate compliment this week was, “This was the best start of the school year since you have been here.” Our school culture meshed, came together with all of our routines and procedures, but more importantly, it was our vision and positivity, coming together for our students on the first days of school. That energy that has pulsated throughout every classroom has been transformative. This is the ultimate reward.  

Our journey has been great, and the adventure ahead will be even more exciting. Thank you to my staff, our parents, and the awesome students of our school for making this the best start since I have had the privilege of being the principal and lead learner at Ryan Park Elementary!

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