How to Plan Back-to-School Professional Development

Back-to-School Professional Development
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The school year has ended; your teachers and students have left the building, and you’re closing out the year. As a proactive school principal, you know the work doesn’t stop. You likely have a lot on your to-do list: hire new staff, finalize the campus map so your custodial team can work their magic, support summer programming, and plan your back-to-school professional development!

For many principals, working out plans for kicking off the next school year can be an item that is last on their to-do list because it doesn’t seem as urgent. But, if you can take care of it early, it will allow you some mental space to actually recharge during a well-deserved break in July. We will discuss some optimal practices to ensure that your back-to-school training and kick-off to the next year is engaging and starts the year off right.

Reflect on Your Current Needs

As you think about where you want to lead your campus next year, it’s important to reflect on where things are. As well-informed leaders, we want to make sure we are referring to data to support our reflections. Data sources you may refer to might include end-of-year campus climate surveys, teacher retention rates, counselor and discipline referrals, family feedback, and exit surveys from staff leaving the district. After reviewing your data, start by reflecting on the positives: what are some of the strengths of your campus’ climate? List out what is working well. 

Next, you can reflect on the growth opportunities. Again, you must look at the data and use that to guide your reflection. What is the data saying about the climate that can be tightened up? Are the vision and mission clear? Is student success the primary focus for the staff? How well do stakeholders communicate with one another? How does the staff work through conflict and problem-solving? You can start by listing all the ideas you have for improvement, but it’s essential to prioritize the top one or two. Pick one or two that will impact student success the most. If this opportunity for growth is accomplished, how will that support the success of all students on your campus?

Now that you have identified your strengths and area(s) of growth, write an actionable goal for your campus climate. You need to make sure your goal is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound, inclusive, and equitable (SMARTIE) for all stakeholders. You will prioritize this goal as you think about your back-to-school plan.

Why Back-to-School Professional Development Matters

Back-to-school professional development might be the least exciting idea. When you think of the first week or two of in-service training, it likely makes you think of meetings day after day, hours discussing district initiatives, reviewing campus data, and exhaustion after leading back-to-back staff meetings. However, we’re going to change all of that. With your goal for campus climate in mind, you will use team-building activities and a campus theme to reinvigorate your back-to-school kickoff. 

As a tired principal at the end of the school year, you might feel like the last thing you have time or capacity to do is think of a team-building activity or a theme to infuse into your back-to-school planning, but this is an area where a small investment of time and planning, can potentially pay off dividends on your campus climate. A well-thought-out plan can help reinvigorate your campus’ vision and mission statement and provide your staff with a motto or idea to connect to their why. It can reignite a cohesive learning environment and a sense of pride in your campus.

Team building activities can improve relationships among staff and allow space for them to connect in other ways apart from their roles and jobs. Team building experiences also provide a safe and comfortable space for your employees to develop the skills to improve communication, problem-solve and creatively think about scenarios related to their work.

And one of the best things about incorporating a theme and team-building activities into your back-to-school kickoff is that it will “walk the walk” for your staff. They will be able to borrow ideas from your training and apply them to their own roles. The impact on your organization’s social-emotional health can significantly improve by deliberately planning a cohesive theme and team-building activities that can support your work. 

How to Develop a Theme and Plan for Team Building

As you think about your theme, consider how to infuse it into various facets of campus life. As always, select a theme that supports your campus climate goal. Then think through the following:

  • How can you promote this theme? What goodies and gifts might you use to “rebrand” your campus with this theme?
  • Is there a motto or catchphrase that you can use for the year?
  • How can you tie this theme into ongoing campus activities?
  • In what ways can other stakeholders be brought into this theme? How will students and families be included?

While it’s fun to do team-building activities, they should also be intentional and meaningful. When you are thinking about your team-building activities, keep these ideas in mind:

  • What is the desired learning outcome for the group? How will this support the overall campus climate goal?
  • Pre-plan any small groups or partners if needed- would it be beneficial to the activity to be deliberate about who works with who?
  • When you select a team-building activity, complete a practice run or walk through the activity to ensure you have all the materials needed, clear instructions planned, and can answer questions as needed.
  • Plan your debrief questions ahead of time. Carefully planned questions will ensure the participants connect the experience to the larger idea you are trying to establish.

To support your work as you plan out your back-to-school training, download our free Team Building and Theme planning templates.

Let us know your thoughts or other ideas in the comments below!

Natalie is an Educator Evaluation and Leadership Administrative Specialist at ESC Region 13.

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