Getting to know you, Getting to know all about you…
As I have settled into the first month of being a principal again, I have spent time writing letters to parents, stuffing envelopes, planning calendars and setting agendas, learning District procedures and policies, setting up my office, and lots of time — meeting with teachers.
After blocking out large chunks of time on most days the last three weeks of July using Google Calendar’s Appointment Slots, teachers were able to grab times, and they did. Some signed up right away. Others would find themselves available and interested in meeting with me and grab a still-open time slot the very next day.
Conversations, with structure if needed
The conversations were intended to be an opportunity for teachers to come in and simply share whatever they wanted to about themselves or about the school. The goal was that I would listen and learn as much as possible from as wide a variety of individuals as possible. This was not intended to be an interview or a chance for me to talk — though I did find myself making connections and jumping in and sharing those, or asking follow-up questions, or saying, “Wouldn’t it be great if…?” I’m unsure if those comments from me were helpful or unhelpful, but they certainly made each conversation unique, and, hopefully, such interjections provided staff members a chance to get to me know, too — both professionally and personally.
In advance of the conversations, I did share the following questions as stems to help frame the conversation, if necessary:
- What are your likes and dislikes?
- What do you want to share with me about who you are, where you’ve been and what you’ve done?
- What are your passions and interests outside of school that you want to share?
- What do you want to share about our school’s strengths and your strengths?
- What is an area that you think that our school could/should improve?
- What is a target area for improvement for yourself as an educator and leader?
Information and inspiration
After three weeks of dozens of these meetings, I have walked away with lots of information. I know a lot more about individual staff members, and I learned a lot about their range of experiences with and ideas about our school. Some clear themes emerged, and I look forward to sharing those with all staff members. There were key strengths that were identified, and as we take a strength-based approach to students and to school improvement, we’re going to rely on those strengths to make us the very best school for 12 to 14 year-olds that we can be over the coming years.
I was hoping to learn all of this, and the conversations met or surpassed my expectations. What I did not expect was the degree to which I would be deeply inspired during these conversations by so many individual teachers.
In so many conversations, I found myself deeply moved by the convictions and dedication of teachers to supporting our students and by their commitment to our school and our district. From people’s extraordinary life stories — both those that grew up in the neighborhoods near our school and those that have arrived here from around the world — to the level of optimism most people have for what students can accomplish, there was a depth that is nearly always there among dedicated teachers but that is so often missing in the political decision-making process about education in most state capitols and in Washington, D.C.
I have walked away from these conversations more excited for the coming school year than ever. My responsibility now is to meet this level of dedication with the structures and systems that will channel it toward improving our school and toward the type of engaged ongoing professional development that will allow teachers to take risks to build on all of our school’s many strengths to create the most innovative learning environment and community of learners (both students and adults!) possible in order to prepare our students for their futures.