Tweaking the master schedule, completing compliance paperwork, making last-minute teacher hires—those are all the things that you have to do as an administrator. But there’s another crucial aspect of your job. Obviously, the most important role of a school is to create an environment where students can learn and succeed. This is likely to happen when there is a cohesive, fun, and healthy staff committed to that goal. So it’s also important to go above the call of duty and help create a thriving staff culture. Here are a few ideas for what you can do to build staff culture at the beginning of the year.
1. Have a cookout away from school.
Invite your entire staff over to your house or a park for a cookout. Culture and community are everything, and you can never underestimate the power of food! Build your staff up with an informal time full of food, family, and fun. There is a reason why this is the first item on this list: Building and growing relationships with your staff now will lead to the family atmosphere that you need in your school. Think of it as deposits in your relationship bank that you will withdraw later when something difficult comes up.
2. Dream Time
Have a “Dream Time” for teachers by inviting them to plan out incredible events for the upcoming school year. No agenda, just envisioning how to make the year great. It is a time for them to share their dreams and passions with you and a time for you to say “yes” in supporting them. Treat your staff as professionals by having them decide what things to focus on for the greatest opportunities for your students. Make sure that teachers know that it is optional and have great snacks (food again!).
3. Differentiate PD
Model what you want from your staff by giving them differentiated professional development sessions based on their interests and needs. Don’t make them sit, git, and forget; but offer active learning sessions to polish their skills. Give them an interest survey or have a discussion about what they need to improve their craft. Ask them “What support do you need to make this year great?” Have them brainstorm individually and with colleagues. Don’t forget to give them unstructured planning time too. Teachers don’t need every minute scheduled for them.
4. Thank You Notes
Send thank you notes to all of your teachers. A personalized note recognizing something specific that they did last year and telling them how much that you are looking forward to supporting them this year. Break down the evaluator barrier that exists between you and them with feedback that is specific, helpful, and kind. If teachers trust you, they will not only perform their best, but come to you when issues come up instead of sweeping them under the rug.
5. Staff Activities
The staff that plays together, stays together. Plan out fun activities for your staff throughout the year. Schedule bowling, bonfires, skating, or game nights for your staff spread out through the year to continually grow culture and relationships. Schedule an Escape Room adventure for your staff to practice their collaboration and problem solving skills. You will be rewarded with a staff that likes to have fun with each other and is resilient when challenges occur.
6. Student Activities
Plan out fun activities for students too. Show your students that learning happens at a fun place. Your school already has special days planned around holidays or special events like homecoming, but take it a step further: invent a “holiday” just for your school to celebrate in a wacky way, have a school wide Thanksgiving feast (food matters to kids too!), plan an authentic service project that students will be proud of, or invite students to plan the craziest day ever. Students will see their teachers and you outside of your traditional “role” and will build connections that may not happen in the classroom.
The most important job that administrators have is supporting teachers and students by creating a vision for an incredible, learning community. Plan out how this will happen by building relationships with staff and students. Be as intentional about it as you are about curriculum, school improvement, and test scores. They result will be that every other decision that you make will go smoother with a culture of love, respect, and support of everyone (and don’t forget the food!)