Teachers are dedicated, passionate people, so as a principal I encourage my teachers to recharge their batteries over the summer. At the same time, I try to stay connected enough to them that they’ll come back in late July feeling excited and knowing how much I value them. Here are five ways I use the summer to set the stage for the fall and stay connected with your teachers.
1) Handwritten thank-you notes
Once I get everything settled down from the end of the school year, I hand-write a personal note to every teacher and mail it. Email or text might be quicker, but there’s something so powerful about getting a note from your principal in the mailbox. Starting in mid-June, I write five to seven notes every night until I’ve sent a thank-you note to each of my teachers.
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This year my notes will all relate to our mindset of the year, “We Are Connected.” These notes don’t have to be long. I just tell each teacher how grateful I am for them, and include one personal thing such as, “I know this year was hard because you had a baby and you were learning to balance, but you rocked it. I just wanted you to know how proud I am of you for that.” Or, “Hey, you ended your first year! Take a deep breath. Enjoy the summer and know that you’re appreciated.”
2) Grade-level play dates
Every summer I encourage my grade chairs and teachers to get together as a grade level and play. It could be a pool party at somebody’s house. It could be going to a movie together. Research shows that if you connect personally with someone, it leads to more trust between you. In the summer, when everything is not so hectic, you can bond differently than you do during the school year and stay connected with your teachers in a new way.
3) Sharing wacky pictures
Another way we bond over the summer is through our Facebook group for teachers and staff. We post challenges every week like, “Who’s the farthest from the school right now?” So if somebody is on a trip to Italy, they can post a photo and win a prize.
We might just ask, “What’s everybody doing today?” People will send in pictures of their feet at the beach, or maybe somebody is with their child getting their wisdom teeth pulled. That also helps us know if we need to check on them to see if they need anything.
Mostly, though, it’s fun stuff like who can send the wackiest picture.
4) Personal tours of the school
At the beginning of July, we bring all of our new staff together. We meet up at the school at about 4:00, and I give them a personal tour of the school. Our school is huge, so they really appreciate having someone tell them, “This is where you put your lunch,” or “This is the machine that has the good, crunchy ice.”
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If we don’t help them feel at home during the summer, it can be a real distraction once school starts. I know this from experience. I’ll never forget my first year teaching here in Forsyth County. On the first day of school, when it came time for me to take my kids to music, I didn’t know where to go. I was horrified. To keep that from happening to anyone else, I make sure all of our new teachers know where everything is in the school.
5) Answering big (and small) questions
After the tour, we take our new staff out to dinner and I answer every single crazy question the teachers can think of. What are the non-negotiables? What are the real rules of the school? For example, our bell rings at 7:10, and I want every teacher at the door of their classroom, greeting students, at 7:10.
The number one question I get is, “What’s the dress code?” And then it’s the little things like “How do I get school supplies?” “What’s the copy code?”
Answering these questions ahead of time saves me and my staff from having to answer them on the first day of school, when everyone in the building is focused on creating an awesome new year for our students. Staying connected over the summer helps us all feel prepared and excited to jump into the new year.