As summer is winding down and students are anxiously awaiting the beginning of another school year and school administrators are preparing to welcome teachers back for pre-planning, there is a lot of planning required for the upcoming school year. While there are many last minute details that need to be finalized to ensure your school year is a success, time is running out to finalize your plan to enhance your school culture. One could argue that nothing an administrator can do over the summer will have a greater impact than improving your student achievement and attendance, reducing discipline, and ensuring school safety than creating a positive school culture. The following is a quick checklist of tasks we have done in the past to ensure that our school is a place where students and families are beating down the doors to get in and all students have the opportunity to succeed.
- Develop a theme – Use your administrative and leadership teams to develop a focus this year. This theme should be tied to your established vision and mission. Our theme this year will be tied Jocko Willink and Leif Baben’s book, Extreme Ownership.
- Establish a process to communicate your theme, first to your staff then to students and stakeholders – Our first faculty meeting will be facilitated by our administrative team and will set the tone for this year’s theme. Our students will have lessons from Extreme Ownership during our teacher-as-advisor program, and our social media and parent communications will include similar takeaways.
- Design a major kick-off to the year – According to Jerald (2006), low attendance during the first 30 days of the freshman year is a stronger indicator that a student will drop out than any 8th-grade predictor, including test scores, other indicators of academic achievement, and age. For us, we put together a “Welcome Week” that culminates with a free tailgate for all students, staff and their families at the first home football game of the year. This event should be more than a random, one-time event; continue to find ways to tie the fun into your culture!
- Plan activities tied to your culture – These activities should not be just random, fun events, but rather events that reinforce your theme and directly contribute to your culture. Opportunities for activities should be designed to be earned by students who display a specific, desired behavior (attendance, grades, etc). For instance, students who are present throughout the entire month of April will be eligible for free popsicles at lunch.
- Establish clear, defined, and attainable objectives for your students – The goals for our students that we communicate frequently throughout the year are tied to our A, B, C’s. Our Attendance goal for all students to miss no more than five days of school for the year. Our goal for students’ Behavior is to make wise decisions and avoid losing instructional time by being placed in In-School Suspension and/or Out of School Suspension. For Course performance, we strive for 100% of students to leave the ninth grade academy with at least five total credits with four being earned in their core content classes. We know that students who are successful in their A, B, C’s are significantly more likely to graduate on time compared to their peers who are unsuccessful in these areas.
This list is not a comprehensive list of things we have focused on this summer; however, it could be a good starting point if you are feeling the pressure of a rapidly approaching school year. However, I would suggest to anyone who wants to immediately improve their school culture to focus on one small, specific initiative this year. Like the old proverb says “the grass is greener where you water it.” Even watering one “plot” of your culture can improve your student achievement and attendance, reduce discipline, and ensure school safety.
This blog was written by David Leenman. Mr. Leenman is in his 14th year of education. He has served in both middle and high schools. Before becoming an assistant principal, Mr. Leenman worked in special education and history and coached basketball, football, and soccer.