By Andrew Hawk
This summer has passed faster than any that I can remember. It is already almost time for staff and students to return to school for what we all hope will be a year that is easier than the last. Many educators, including me, are facing the huge task of trying to overcome the learning loss caused by the pandemic shutdown. This recovery will not happen overnight, but it will happen. A good first step is to set a clear vision for the year ahead. You might be wondering, How can we do this? Educational leaders have been trying to answer this question for decades, but here are a few ideas that you may want to try as we work toward the start of the 2021–22 school year.
1. Form a Committee
The big challenge school leaders face is not producing good ideas; it is securing buy-in from teachers. Forming a committee is not a new strategy, but it is an effective one in securing teacher buy-in. Giving teachers a voice in the direction of the school encourages them to invest in new or different ideas. I recommend starting with a committee that has representation from all your grade levels.
2. Choose the Vision Carefully
Ask yourself, What will have the biggest impact on the most people? After reviewing my school’s local and state assessments from last year, my vision included meeting students’ social and emotional needs so we can address learning deficits in reading. In my opinion, a school’s vision can be described in two or three well-written sentences. Be intentional with your word choices. Language is one of your most powerful tools and should not be used lightly.
3. Ask for Feedback
Once your committee has chosen your school’s vision and written an accompanying statement, ask for feedback from your school’s stakeholders. Do not focus only on your teaching staff—seek feedback from your parents, students, and community members too. Send out a survey that is appropriate for different responders. What you do next will depend on the feedback you receive. You may need to tweak something, or you may be set to move forward.
4. Plan a Kickoff Event
Once you’ve received feedback and have your vision and statement set, plan an event to kick off the new year. I suggest doing something family based outside of school hours. This is a great opportunity to get the community involved with your school. Community support is instrumental to the success of a school. Here’s a hint: offering free food is a great way to boost attendance at school events.
5. Write a Tagline
It is also a good idea to identify a tagline to accompany your vision. I have never seen a school’s full vision statement printed on a cup or t-shirt, but most schools have a tagline to accompany their vision. My school’s tagline is “A Family of Learning.” Choose a catchy tagline that complements your vision and print it everywhere you can.
Should you put up posters with your vision statement and tagline? Yes! Banners? Yes! Have a school contest. No matter which class wins, you can decorate the school with all the entries. Your students will be excited to take part in the contest and see their artwork displayed. You can leave the decorations up throughout the year or change them out with the seasons. Invite your art teachers to get involved and incorporate your school vision and tagline into one of their lessons.
7. Keep the Momentum Going
Many schools start off strong each year, but not all finish strong. School days are busy with little downtime. It is easy for beginning-of-the-year initiatives to lose steam by winter vacation. Do not let this happen! Once you are off to a great start, do not let up. Plan some sort of event each quarter of the school year to help keep everyone excited.
8. Celebrate Successes
Incorporate your vision into your current methods of celebrating success at your school. If you have an awards ceremony each semester, give an award that focuses on your vision. Call on staff to display student work that supports your school’s vision. Find ways to recognize staff and students monthly or even weekly. Celebrating the times and people who embody your school vision can help keep your momentum going and increase your overall success.
9. Gauge Your Effectiveness
Were you successful in reaching your vision? Even if you didn’t make it all the way there, did you make steps in the right direction? Choose logical and fair ways to assess the effectiveness of your year’s work. Naturally, your school’s performance on state assessments is one way to measure effectiveness. But just as it is important to assess students’ learning using a variety of techniques, it is important to find multiple ways to measure your progress toward your vision. Attendance may be a good measure, or you could try conducting a survey for staff, students, and parents. It all depends on what your vision is and how you are trying to reach it.
Have a great year everyone!
Andrew Hawk has worked in public education for 18 years. He started as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He completed his bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. Andrew has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. Andrew has worked as a resource room teacher and also has taught in a self-contained classroom for students on the autism spectrum. In 2017, he earned a master’s degree in educational leadership, also from Western Governor’s University. This is Andrew’s first year as a building principal. He is the principal of an elementary school that houses kindergarten through fifth grades. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with this wife and two daughters.
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