Sunday, September 11, 2011

First Exposure, First Staff Meeting

With thanks to Todd Whittaker, I have been talking a bunch about First Exposure recently. In August, at the Vermont Principal's Association Leadership Institute, Todd talked about making sure that the first exposure to a new idea is done right or it will take a long time to recover.

Well, as with every single thing that Todd says, I have not been able to stop thinking about this (ok, this might be the only thing that I remember from Todd's four hour session ;).

Anyway, I left the conference and immediately turned into Wemberly and started worrying about my First Exposure. No, I have not taken to wearing nothing but a trench coat. I am talking about the first staff meeting at my new school. Throughout the month of August, I added items to my draft agenda with the idea that I would pare it back to the essentials. I joked with the teachers that I had cut my four page annotated agenda down to 1.5 pages. The thing is that it wasn't really a joke.

Agenda cutting is harder than it sounds but very satisfying. Of course there is so much to cover at the beginning of every school year, but at the beginning of a principalship, the pressure is really on.

With the meeting scheduled for Monday morning, I finished my agenda on Thursday night so that I could show it to my mentor on Friday. (It was my idea to meet then and to ask for feedback on the agenda. I am very luck that my district values mentors for principals).

Turns out that I hadn't really finished on Thursday night. Armed with very insightful suggestions from my mentor, I continued revising through the weekend.

By the time I finished making fruit salad at school on Sunday afternoon, the agenda I used the next day was complete. Here is an edited-for-public-consumption version of my annotated agenda:
  1. MEET THE PRINCIPAL (20 min)
    1. Quick background
    2. My core beliefs/Values
      1. Learning
      2. ALL Children Can Learn and Be Successful
      3. Leadership
      4. We do what is best for children.
      5. It’s all about the relationships!
      6. Process & participation matter in decision making.
      7. Community
      8. Safety, Respect, Learning
    3. Humor
      1. I take my work very seriously
      2. I use humor to help me keep my balance
    4. Some basic expectations I have of all staff
      1. We never argue. We never yell. Never use sarcasm. With students or adults.
      2. Check email at least once per day. Monday Memo, etc
      3. No surprises. For me or parents.
      4. Step up.
      5. Invite me in.
  3. MEET THE NEW FOLKS (20 minutes)
    1. count off into fives and split up into groups
    2. New person tell the following to the group
      1. Something you do for fun and relaxation.
      2. Why did you want to work at WES?
      3. Where did you grow up?
      4. What gets you most excited when you are working with students?
      5. What is your favorite dessert?
    3. One group member report out and introduce the new person
  4. HISTORY OF WES (30 min) (Bill to facilitate this part)
    1. Line up by the Year first hired
    2. Pair up with a person next to you.
    3. Talk about:
      1. Name, position, year started and/or years at WES, memory from the first year and/or issue of the day
    4. Share with the group what your partner shared (you may use notes) 
    5. Record timeline as we go (Bill)
  5. POWERSCHOOL (5 min)
    1. Ticket to leave, answer on a note card: What do you need from me as Principal?

Well, on the big day, the food was a big hit. In addition to the fruit salad, I had all sorts of pastries and lots of coffee.

The meeting itself seemed to go well. I am not a great read of staff groups during meetings, and I ought not play poker with most staff. Anyway, they listened politely and participated actively during the Meet the New Folks section of the meeting.

The highlight of the meeting was definitely the History of Wolcott Elementary School section of the meeting. We moved from the Multi-Purpose Room to the Gym. I asked the Director of Curriculum to facilitate so that I could participate. He did a great job, and the group, again, participated fully. Listening to folks talk about their start at WES and their years at the school, was a fantastic history lesson for me.

image courtesy of flicker user dvortygirl CC