CELEBRATING THE SCHOOL’S CULTURE
The following activities, projects, events, strategies, or professional development recommendations can be successfully implemented for celebrating the school’s culture and values. A few of the ideas may be right for your school, or We hope, may spark an idea that will strengthen the values essential to your school.
“See them teach before they leave.” When teachers are permanently leaving a school, especially the retiring veteran, ask the departing teachers if it would be okay for other teachers to watch them teach during the final month of the school year. Use the slogan “See them teach before they leave”(in the look book)for a couple of days to encourage teachers visits. The principal should offer to cover some of the classes while staff members visit their departing colleagues. This type of project should become a catalyst for increasing classroom visits among teachers during the school year. At one school that observed this tradition, the departing teacher was presented with a plaque with the doorknob from her classroom mounted on it. Under the knob were the words, “Thank you for opening your door and sharing well kept secrets. You saved the library of knowledge from burning.”
Worthwhile faculty meetings It is important to stress that the meetings should not be used for communicating information that could just as easily be conveyed in other ways. For example, teachers quite rightly feel cheated if they have to remain at a meeting in which a list is being read to them. Faculty meetings should be for staff development, such as providing tips for working with non-English speakers or students who have been placed in inclusion settings, sharing ideas from professional articles, discussing classroom successes and seeking collegial advice to deal with frustrations, learning about new teaching strategies, analyzing data from test scores, or working on departmental, grade-level, or school wide curriculum issues. If a school schedules regular faculty meetings and there is very little substance to cover for a particular meeting, it would be wise to cancel the meeting every once in a while so that teachers can use the time to complete important class work. One principal did this, referring to the action as giving the staff “the gift of time” for the afternoon. “Whenever teachers encounter content that can be used to inform daily practice in the classroom at faculty meetings, they begin to actually look forward to them,” one principal noted.
Phoning the good news How often do we call parents to give the good news? Unfortunately, our reflex goes like this: Jack has messed up again; is it time to call his parents? We generally keep more interest in phoning complaints. It is rarely: Billy was very helpful with that new student, should I call his parents? We need to call home and send letters home when good new takes place. In some schools, students call from the principal’s office to give the good news themselves. One particular principal even uses a cellular phone while walking around the school and calls parents about the positive observation with the child present. This has served to positively influence parental attitudes toward the school.
The principal as reader and teacher. Students love to have the principal visit class to read a story or poem. The holiday season is a perfect time for this type of activity. The school librarian can be very helpful in selecting a variety of stories for each grade level to be read by the principal. About 15-20 minutes of time in each class works. Two or three classes a day for several weeks will do the trick. One principal who is a Vietnam veteran teaches when secondary students are working on this part of curriculum. It is very important for students to see the principal in a role other than a traditional one.
Principal for a day. A contest can be held in which the individual students send the principal letters stating why they should be chosen from among their classmates to “take over for a day.” The principal would become the student when exchange takes place. To get several students involved, the position can change each hour or class period. This will gradually introduce the students with the leadership qualities.
The principal’s scrapbook. School principals receive notes, pictures, art work, poems, photographs, cards, posters and so on from the students throughout the year. Posting these items as a principal’s scrapbook is a rewarding exercise. Students are drawn to this interesting three-dimensional scrapbook as it “grows out” on a bulletin board near the principal’s office. It becomes a folk history of the principal’s school year.
Principal walkabouts- and follow-up. Before school, in the morning, in the afternoon, or after school, two or three weekly, 1-hour walkabouts in the classrooms is a wonderful way of demonstrating that the principal knows where the true centre of the school is. If time permits, complimentary follow up notes should be sent to teachers, letting them know that you noticed their effective questions, the way they showed extra concern for a particular student, or that creative bulletin board display in their classroom. This is an excellent time to pay attention to those aspects of the school culture that you value and want to promote. One principal carries a writing pad and writes notes to give to others on these walks.
Providing buddies or mentors for teachers new to school. How many times have we all said, “If only I knew that when I entered the school?” A buddy or mentor system for new teachers is an excellent way of giving the newcomer a head start regarding those questions that are not answered in the teacher’s manual or during the faculty orientation meetings. A small stipend could be set aside for buddies or mentors to take the new comers out for dinner or breakfast.
Building traditions to celebrate important values. October 24, United Nations Day, is an excellent opportunity for any school to unify around themes such as respecting all humanity, global unity, strength in diversity, exploring other cultures, or the work of the United Nations. A school should celebrate and commemorate the importance of respecting one another regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or gender. Having the faculty working together on an activity such as United Nations Day reminds everyone of one of the most important reasons for schools: learning to get along with one another. There are, of course, other special days that can equally serve this type of theme, such as Earth Day or Martin Luther King Jr. Day. These days also give a school an opportunity to celebrate a theme that should go to the heart of schooling. A variety of activities stressing particular themes should occur throughout the day or possibly week of the special occasions. Student projects, films, and outside speakers should all be involved in the activities. School principals should do whatever they can to support faculty committees organizing these special events. Faculty, students, and parents all take an interest in the important values that are brought forth on these special days and, one hopes, throughout the school year.
Students as tutors of students. High school students enjoy tutoring younger students, and elementary school students welcome help offered by older students. A relationship between high school and middle or elementary school to develop a student-tutoring program is an extremely worthwhile activity. It is especially helpful for elementary students who need special attention and for high school students who can use a boost with their self-confidence. For all involved, this process builds important social and emotional skills. Often, these programmes can be set up following the regular school day. Many secondary schools offer course credit for this type of work. It will develop teaching skills in the students.
Peer counseling. Peer counseling is also a very worthwhile activity for middle and high schools when organized by school guidance counselors who can provide meaningful orientation sessions and monitor the peer counseling during the year. The peer counselors work with fellow classmates who may need someone to talk with because of their studies. Peer counselors have even worked with upper elementary school students, especially in conflict resolution on the playgrounds. School principals should view these student-to student programs as important opportunities to assist students in their social and emotional growth. Some high schools have peers operate a mock court system. Some judicial systems have greatly reduced a variety of crimes at the school site and in the immediate community. They have fostered the development and understanding of important principles as well.
School recognition assemblies. These assemblies should be scheduled to recognize students for positive accomplishment during a 6-to-8-week period. Teachers submit student names for recognition by the principal for a variety of accomplishments: improved academic performance, an outstanding oral report, helping with a charity drive, persistence, making excellent contributions to class discussions, improved English, environmental cleanliness, and so on. The assembly gives the principal an opportunity to emphasize important themes (behavioral or academic), wish happy birthday to students and staff, and welcome new comers or say good-bye to students leaving the school. A student musical interlude or class play may be the part of the assembly program.