It is back to school time once again! The energy in the air among teachers is magnetic. Each year it inspires me more and more as I see teachers go up to their schools weeks before school starts to begin working in their classrooms, paying attention to every minute detail to ensure that they create the perfect learning space for their students. They do this because they care, because they are passionate about their work, and because they want to make this the best year ever for their students. This compels them to invest enormous amounts of their own time and their own personal resources.
This is also the time of year when administrators are busily working behind the scenes to prepare for the year ahead. Fine tuning every detail from the master schedule to establishing the instructional framework are important tasks to create a safe and collaborative learning environment. However, how do you ensure that the work the administrators are doing and the work the teachers are doing are in sync? How can all of you be working on different tasks yet feel united and cohesive in your work? It all starts with working as a team to establish a set of beliefs upon which you will work as well as a purpose statement that will serve as your compass, pointing you to true north in times of uncertainty, crisis, and victory. As I have had the incredible opportunity of opening a brand new PreK-6th grade campus this year, Linda Lyon Elementary School, I thought I would share a little bit about how we went about doing this. I would love for you to add your ideas as well in the comments below.
As we built our staff for this campus, we had teachers coming from several campuses across the district as well as teachers coming to us from other districts. It was very important to us that, as we began our work as a staff, that we were all on the same page, working towards a common goal with a common set of beliefs. It was also important to us that every staff member had a voice in contributing to this work. In addition, as I worked with parents and students throughout the previous spring semester, I kept a running list of words, phrases, and ideas that they shared when they described their hopes and vision for our new school.
Early in the summer, I sent out an invitation for all staff to join me for a Linda Lyon Design Day. Our goal was to establish our beliefs and our statement of purpose as well as create some action teams. Because it was summer, the meeting was optional. While many more wanted to come than were able due to vacations and other commitments, we still ended up having two thirds of our staff present. We also invited those who were unable to attend to contribute their ideas via email, text, or sharing their ideas with a colleague who would be present.
We started our work that summer day by talking about how we want to be known in our community, our school district, and throughout the world. What will Linda Lyon Elementary School be about? We talked about how the work that we began that day will shape who we are, why we are here, and how we are known. We talked about what skills we want our students to have when we send them off to middle school. Next we worked in groups to generate words that came to mind when we think of the culture we want to create, the students we want to produce, and our purpose for being here. After each group posted their words on large chart paper for the whole room to see, they also shared their words and phrases out with the whole group.
A time of quiet reflection and writing followed in which each staff member wrote a draft of a purpose statement for our school. They were able to use the words and discussion we engaged in prior to this to help shape their statement of purpose. Each person then shared their statement draft with their table group. Next, each table group was challenged to write a purpose statement that evolved from the individual statements. Each table shared out their purpose statement, and then we worked toward developing a campus statement of purpose from the table group statements.
This is where the work gets hard, and I would advise proceeding cautiously. It is important that the facilitator creates a safe environment for all to feel comfortable contributing and being honest. Invest the time to do this, and it will make the entire process flow much more smoothly. Each table group wrote their purpose statement on large white boards that we placed around the room. Each participant was then given a marker and did a gallery walk. They were responsible for circling and underlining key words that they felt very strongly about including in our purpose statement.
We knew we wanted our statement to be powerful, to be memorable, to be something that we could call up to our memory in times of success, frustration, and failure. We wanted to be united in our encouragement of one another as we work together to live out our purpose as a team. Going through this process allowed us to really key in on the words we felt passionately about as a staff. While it is a messy process, we knew when we nailed our purpose statement. The whole team broke out in spontaneous applause. We knew that the statement "What starts here empowers greatness," described our work and would continue to compel us to give our best each and every day.
Our next step was to draft our belief statements. We really worked through a very similar process as we did when we designed our purpose statement. We asked ourselves, now that we knew our purpose, why we are here, what beliefs must our work be founded upon in order to empower greatness in our students? We started by having each person write 3-5 belief statements individually. From there, they shared their statements with their group, and each group wrote three statements. The groups each wrote their statements on the white boards, and then we again did a gallery walk in which each staff member had an opportunity to put a check mark by those beliefs which they felt strongly about, circle words that they felt passionately about, and underline key phrases. It was absolutely incredible how quickly this process went and how united the team was on the words, phrases and statements that they wanted to include. I really think this process went so well, because we knew our why. We were completely united on that, so we had a focus, a goal. The following belief statements are our final product of what compels us to empower greatness in our students, one another, and our community:
- We provide opportunities that nurture collaboration, innovation and creativity.
- We take ownership of our learning and our school.
- We embrace mistakes with resilience and grace.
- We build relationships in a safe, joyful environment where
all learners are excited to be a part
of our school.
- We honor the individual growth and voice of all learners.
- We value the strength of our partnerships with our families and our community.
The work that emerged that day has driven all of the work we have done as a team throughout this summer as we prepare to open our doors for the very first time. If you were to walk into Linda Lyon Elementary School tomorrow and ask any staff member why they are here or what is so exciting about being a part of the team, they will tell you "what starts here empowers greatness." We are all united in our belief that whether we are putting up a bulletin board, making class lists, designing learning experiences for students or meeting with a parent, we are empowering greatness in others. Our actions, the words we speak, and the way we approach our work should all point to our purpose, "what starts here empowers greatness." We are energized, excited, and ready to open our doors to our very first Linda Lyon Cubs on August 28, 2017!