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Back to School – District Office Style

Jaime Festa-Daigle Education, Life in the Classroom, Professional Development

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I was scrolling through Facebook a few weeks before school started and stopped on an image by principal and school humorist Gerry Brooks.  I was dismayed. The image was that of a teacher’s nightmare, the nightmare of meetings being planned every second of pre-service week with no actual time in their classroom.  The punchline being it wasn’t a nightmare; it was the welcome back email from the district. Well, I send that welcome back email, and I plan a lot of that mandatory training.  

And I remember being that teacher.  And I remember the anxiety of, “will I ever get to plan for day one or day two or print my class list?”  I am going to share with you, for better or worse, some of the reasons why there is so much “stuff” during back to school week and how we can disseminate information in a way that we are not meeting-ed out.  Both which have to coexist if pre-service week is ever going to be less painful for everyone.

Mandatory training lists generally exist because of policy, district liability requirements, and law.  Typical topics may include sexual harassment, ethics, the evaluation process, blood borne pathogens, FERPA, and mandatory reporting. Many of us have experienced these as either slideshows or videos with no clear reason why.  It is just part of the things we do at the beginning of the year.

Yes, it is part of the school year spin.  But here is the reality for many of the topics.  FERPA is a really big deal. And I find that teachers and administrators alike don’t always really understand FERPA, no matter how many times we play that say FERPA slide show.  Mandatory reporting is a must, and as more and more teachers are coming from a non-traditional pathway, these ideas can be brand new. Going over that evaluation document may not be the thrill of your life, but staff and leaders have to have a shared definition of how we are being evaluated.  

These mandatory trainings, plus all the other meetings are an opportunity, not a punishment.  They should be viewed as an administrators’ opportunity to remind his or her staff that he or she knows how to model teaching.  The same expectations we have for teachers should be woven through these meetings. We model what we expect from staff. They should be professional development opportunities.  During new teacher week, I had a number of meetings and presentations to lead on ethics, the evaluation, and an orientation for substitutes. For each of these, I started with a lesson plan.  I reviewed existing materials and edited for my audience and my time. I had an opening. I checked for understanding throughout. I engaged staff in the presentation. I had them talk. This meant I didn’t read every slide, and I couldn’t just regurgitate the policy word for word. The staff and I spent actual time digging into policies and procedures.  

Meetings take time, but those beginning of the year meetings are the time for school leaders to define who they are and define what is essential.  As I look at the list that has to be done, I weigh what needs to be done right away with a principal or staff member leading it, what could just be viewed by a staff member in their classroom, and what could wait and be scheduled within the first few weeks, and what else is there to add.  Finally, are there any meetings that we have always had that could really come at some other time? How can we preserve time in the classroom and how do we make time together useful time? How does time together support school leaders as instructional leaders?  

The best training I have to make these things happen, is my teacher training,  I know that I did not want my students to experience just straight rules and syllabus in my classroom when I was a teacher,  They were getting that all day long, what a terrible first day. I needed to build community. I needed for them to know I led my classroom, I cared about them, and we were in this together, and then I could tell them all the “stuff”.  They had buy in. That applies to adults as well. Their brains need to be prepped for intake. I urge school leaders to be thoughtful in their planning of back to school week and any other meeting or professional development time. The time is precious. It is the number one thing I hear from teachers they wish they had more of.  Thinking about school leadership as instructional leadership for adults in our buildings must happen in order for back to school week to be as productive as we really need it to be.

 

 

Jaime Festa-Daigle

Phoenix, Arizona

My name is Jaime Festa-Daigle and I was born here in Arizona. I work as the director of personnel and technology at Lake Havasu Unified School District. I’ve worked in Lake Havasu teaching everything from 8th grade English to student council to college level government and economics. I was recognized as the American Civic Educator of the Year in 2012. I am fully focused on ensuring rural students have equal access to educational opportunities as their metropolitan counterparts.
I am an NBCT, Arizona Master Teacher, and an Arizona Rural Schools Association board member. During the small moments where I am not focused on how to make Lake Havasu High School the best school in Arizona, I am usually nerding out on politics, fretting about my teenaged children, or working up a sweat at Cross Fit.

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Comments 4

  1. Rachel Perugini

    Sounds like you’re very thoughtful in how you use your teacher’s time. My stress from those back to school meetings always comes with the anxiety of not having enough actual prep time before school starts and the surprises thrown at us 2 days before kids show up. One year our whole grading system changed with 2 days notice! Having to set up your classroom while redesigning your syllabus and rethinking all your grading practices makes for stressed out teachers.

    1. Jaime Festa-Daigle

      I bet that as thoughtful as I think I am it can be perceived that things are changing with very short notice, even if the planners have been planning a much longer time. We rolled out a new evaluation system this year and although we worked on it for close to a year, I am sure what many teachers saw the first time was overwhelming and in the midst of everything else. This is a perspective we all need to remember.

  2. Donnie Dicus

    Jaime, this is an eye-opening perspective! I have only thought about these meetings in the context of my own classroom and how they kept me from the work that I thought was more important. But you are correct, the information in these meetings is crucial. And not only crucial, but it would also be inequitable if all teachers in the district were not exposed to that information. Can you imagine the pushback if teachers started asking why some teachers got the information but others didn’t? The truth is the Back-to-School meetings are probably the easiest time for everyone to get this information.
    When I took my Master’s class, I had to take a School Law course. It was the first school law course I had ever taken and the first time that I had ever really been exposed to the intricacies of school law. I remember thinking, “I can’t believe I did not have to learn this in my undergrad and I can’t believe this has not been covered in depth during staff meetings?!”

    1. Jaime Festa-Daigle

      I spend a great deal of my time examining and writing school board policy these days. There are so many rules that we are governed by and it is imperative more stakeholders understand those rules. There are far too many teachers I hear that never knew about things like money for educational advancement or our dress policy or what happens when you break your contract and the answer of, “it’s in policy” doesn’t seem good enough. Trying to make the rules we live by as transparent as possible while giving all staff the time they need is some special magic I would love to make happen.

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