#PrincipalOfficeHours: A Conversation About Building School Culture During Reopening – and Beyond!

This year, back-to-school looks very different for your students and your team – but school leaders like you are doing so much to make sure your school culture feels as strong, inclusive and encouraging as ever. Recently, your fellow lead learners came together on Twitter for a #PrincipalOfficeHours chat on everything that goes into building a shared sense of care, connection and community! Below, you’ll find a quick roundup of the plans and ideas they’re using in their school communities – from encouraging student relationships to collaborating with teachers to promoting family engagement. As you browse the highlights, we hope your fellow leaders’ voices will spark inspiration for you and your plans – and serve as an encouraging reminder that all your efforts to build a supportive school culture matter so much to your students!

Special thanks to the chat moderators, Principal Elvis Epps and Assistant Principal Jody Ratti. Follow @PrincipalProj for news of each upcoming #PrincipalOfficeHours – and add your voice to the next conversation!

Questions:

  1. In a few words, describe how you want your school culture to feel this school year.
  2. How can you build on your existing school culture to maintain and develop connections this school year?
  3. How are you working to make sure new members of your school community – both students and staff – feel connected and welcome?
  4. How can your team help students make or deepen connections with one another?
  5. How will you build an anti-racist environment, where every student feels comfortable bringing their whole selves to school?
  6. Share one way you are including students’ families in your school culture this year!
  7. Share ways you are inviting teacher voice! How can you work to build school culture together?

Educators

Question 1

In a few words, describe how you want your school culture to feel this school year.

“I would love for our culture this year to be one that is filled with empathy and grace, but also one fueled by passion and enthusiasm for making this an outstanding year despite the challenges.” —Educator Dawn Harris

“Trust and learning have to be at the forefront of school culture. We need leaders, teachers, students and guardians to trust each other. Everyone has to be open to learning as we go through this ‘new normal’ school year.” —Assistant Principal Joel T. Brown

“I want everyone to feel connected and part of our family despite whatever distance there may be … and when we can safely gather, I want everyone to feel like we have missed them sooo much and are sooo happy to be back together!” —Assistant Principal Jason Fullen

Question 2

How can you build on your existing school culture to maintain and develop connections this school year?

“This year, I will build on our current school culture by scheduling frequent, small-group, ‘just because’ check-ins. No meetings. No deadlines. Just ‘because you matter’ time.” —Principal Alexa Sorden

“In order to build on our current school culture, I’m constantly trying to make sure that my team knows that we’re all in this together. I told everyone today that there’s no one that I’d rather be in this with than them, and I meant every word of it.” —Assistant Principal Jody Ratti

“I think this year, school culture is a ‘go big or go home’ situation. My team is awesome, and they are always up for fun things. Even though we don’t have students in the building, we can still dress up, be spirited and try to engage them digitally.” —Assistant Principal Jenny Britton

“I’m staying intentional about starting every meeting with an inclusion and checking in on our team consistently. Continue our private staff Facebook page for connection and laughs. We have to remember what really matters: each other.” —Assistant Principal Bethany Stoddard

Question 3

How are you working to make sure new members of your school community – both students and staff – feel connected and welcome?

“For my team, I’m inviting new members to weekly meetings to build camaraderie with the existing team. For students, we have an hour of advisory scheduled every single day, synchronously, to intentionally build a community of love and joy where everyone feels a sense of belonging. For families, we’re hosting regular Zoom nights, sharing weekly family updates in school messenger, scheduling time for teachers to contact their students’ families and building intentional time in the schedule for family connection!” —Assistant Principal Bethany Stoddard

“I am making new staff and students feel welcomed by virtually introducing team members with their photos, and meeting on Google Meets with new students. Virtually checking in on new teachers and partnering them with veteran teachers.” —Principal Alexa Sorden

“I’ve held weekly Facebook Live Q&A sessions to connect with families and students and help build community. I’m bringing in teachers and staff to share and connect with our community as well!” —Principal Kathy Walker

We gave everyone school supplies and a shirt with our catchphrase for the year! We’ve also made it a point to really reach out on social media with live broadcasts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. Messages of excitement, unity and, of course, understanding.” —Assistant Principal Michael Gutierrez

Question 4

How can your team help students make or deepen connections with one another?

“We are working to help students make deeper connections through one another by implementing specific social-emotional learning lessons and through designated virtual time for clubs and activities.” —Assistant Principal Kelley Capper

“By first teaching ourselves how to make deeper connections. We had several PD opportunities where we learned how to create more inclusive spaces. Once we know, we can model the behavior we want our students to emulate.” —Principal Shavon Jackson

“Create safe spaces on your campus for students to share how they feel about situations in our society, their home, communities, and themselves. Young people need to know you care about them. Help them learn how to handle setbacks and face challenges.” —Principal Elvis Epps

“We have to offer opportunities for students to be able to collaborate. Breakout rooms are helpful for doing this virtually. It creates smaller groups and allows students to build relationships while learning from each other.” —Assistant Principal Joel T. Brown

Question 5

How will you build an anti-racist environment, where every student feels comfortable bringing their whole selves to school?

“Anti-racist teaching must begin with the principal. The principal must be intentional about making this part of the school culture. Students want a place where they can speak freely without being judged, chastised or disciplined.” —Principal Elvis Epps

“As a school leader, it is my responsibility to ensure children feel that they can bring their whole selves to school, and one way I make that happen is through the curriculum. Students can see themselves in our curriculum.” —Principal Alexa Sorden

“Anti-racism begins with knowing the students and families we serve. Connect. Learn their culture. Then celebrate it. Including students, families, teachers and community members in school decisions will help to build an environment that supports all students.” —Assistant Principal Andrea Roberson

“Anti-racism starts with creating a school filled with anti-racist teachers. It’s a journey the whole school must learn to embrace. This work is far from simple, and we need to make sure we’ve done the self-reflection necessary to be able to meet the needs of ALL students.” —Educator Dawn Harris

Question 6

Share one way you are including students’ families in your school culture this year!

“Morning announcements. Many families are now hearing them since they are ‘in’ our classrooms. So we speak to them. Our announcements are now ‘community announcements’ with a message for everyone!” —Assistant Principal Michael Gutierrez

“Twice a month, I host a Zoom meeting to update families and answer any questions they may have.” —Principal Sarah Updegraff

“My goal is to make family contact a daily habit this year. I want to reach out as soon as possible to ensure connections have been made early – and continue often, so that if we have to switch to remote learning, the relationships have been established.” —Educator Dawn Harris

Question 7

Share ways you are inviting teacher voice! How can you work to build school culture together?

“Reopening my school has taken a different set of skills. My school has an Education Building Committee that meets with me often to address issues and concerns on campus. My teachers know they can discuss anything that’s on their minds.” —Principal Elvis Epps

“On our virtual teaching days, we meet before instruction to discuss our plans and after to debrief. Community is part of communication!” —Principal Sarah Updegraff

“We have so many amazing teacher leaders that we are always pulling them in. I share all of my communication venues, and we are continuing to reach out to them, asking them to keep leading. They create the culture with kids, so we need them!” —Assistant Principal Jody Ratti

“I am personally listening to teachers and implementing ideas (and giving credit to them) that assist our building in meeting our goals! I am also inviting them to individual virtual meetings to listen and learn more about them as teachers and people.” —Assistant Principal Kelley Capper

“We’re building school culture through surveys and team meetings. We provide the team with the agenda before the meetings so they have time to provide input. We listen and adjust after feedback from our staff. Communicating with our team each step of way, creating trust and reducing anxiety.” —Assistant Principal Joel T. Brown