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.