Whitney Green is an assistant principal at Ooltewah Elementary in Hamilton County Schools, Chattanooga, TN. She currently leads the implementation of EL K-5th and is taking full advantage of utilizing Kiddom within the classrooms at Ooltewah Elementary as both have positively affected her students success this year. She is excited to share her drive and her experiences with others.
This article is the second of three in our "Get Set, Connect, Engage!" Back to School Series for School Leaders. Today we're focusing on how administrators can Connect with teachers and staff by building a culture of SEL for their community. We will update the other blogs here as each is published:
- Get Set – How Administrators Can Best Support Teachers This Year
- Connect – Building a Culture of SEL in Your Learning Community
The beginning of the school year is a critical time when setting the tone for faculty and staff, and the pandemic brings great emphasis on the need to support our faculty socially and emotionally this year. But the question on many of our minds right now is, how do school leaders support our teachers emotionally while still remaining energized and passionate ourselves?
As they say, it takes a village. Strengthening the social emotional connections in your community can go a long way towards improving overall morale and all of the support systems in place. I believe the first step as leaders is recognizing what your building needs – every school has their own unique climate, and it is the school leaders' job to keep a pulse on community needs. Though these needs may vary school to school, I believe most of the following community-building ideas can be used to help any school build greater connections through a culture of SEL.
1. Foster Community-Building Activities
Activities should allow faculty and staff to have time discussing important topics that will relate to the school year ahead, while also providing time for them to get to know one another. Larger schools are the most challenging to create unity, as many rarely get a chance to meet each other or even know everyone on the staff.
Not everything has to be school-related! Finding opportunities for teachers to release stress and anxiety is important too. Food Truck Fridays are a new idea we came up with that have brought excitement to our faculty. This year we are also going to offer after school workout sessions, probably twice a week with a certified personal trainer.
Learn more about why social emotional learning skills are so crucial in the COVID-19 era in this on-demand webinar.
2. Provide Opportunities to Highlight Teachers
Providing opportunities to highlight teachers who are going above and beyond, from attending athletic events to turning in all of their paperwork on time, can be a great way to build community and morale. You could even show your appreciation through gifts such as jeans passes, an employee of the month/week award, a feature on the morning announcements/news, etc.
Again, you want teachers to walk away feeling valued, regardless of what the data shows or even initiatives you have, you need to value your teachers if they are to trust you as their leader. In order to be a true leader, you must have people following you, otherwise you are just out for a walk.
3. "Being Human" Event Committees
Committees are another great way to support teachers and staff. We currently have a committee that specifically focuses on providing fun opportunities for our teachers as well as handling life events such as funerals, weddings, baby showers, etc.
I believe making teachers and staff feel special and appreciated is key to building social and emotional support. Our administrative team also makes a point to celebrate EVERY faculty member's birthday. I know this sounds like a lot, but is truly doable and goes a long way with your faculty. We put all the birthdays on the master calendar and then take time out of our day to go at some point to sing and present them with a birthday card with either a Chick-fil-a or Starbucks gift card. Again these are just ideas, but I can say from experience, they have worked for us.
4. Reimagine the Faculty Meeting
One new initiative we're carrying out this year is Motivational Mondays: we are essentially rebranding our faculty meetings as Motivational Monday Meetings. Reimagining a tired tradition all begins with giving it a new name. At the beginning of every meeting, we'll start with something positive by asking faculty to share something good that is going on, has happened, will happen, etc.
Having ice breakers and light moments when hosting faculty meetings with heady info sessions will be vital this year, as you don't want to "drill and kill" your teachers with hours of information or too much sitting around. Be mindful to provide opportunities for the faculty to get up and move around, having activities ready that still align with your focus .
5. Keep Open Lines of Communication
As leaders, we need to keep faculty aware of things that are happening and gain their insight when needed. A faculty I used to work with shared that one of the things they appreciated most was the fact we communicated with them regularly, always keeping them in the loop and gaining their insight on building-level decisions. I think the pandemic supported an environment where communication was key. I think I had forgotten as an administrator how much teachers appreciated open lines of communication.
This back to school season needs to be empowering and inspiring, no matter what the data says. Teachers feeling valued is critical to the success of the school. Tough conversations will be had and high expectations will be set, but it all needs to start with teachers feeling empowered to take on these challenges, because their work is too important.
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For the first time, educators can share and manage digital curriculum, differentiate instruction, and assess student work in one place. Learners can take assessments online, see student performance data with the click of a button, and teachers have the insight and tools they need to create individual learning paths.
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Everything you need to know about the new Kiddom + Illustrative Mathematics by Kendall Hunt K-12 digital curriculum partnership.