This key illustrates success, such as finding ways to ensure a new school initiative is a success from the first year.

5 steps to making a new school initiative take flight in Year One

A principal shares her playbook for inspiring teachers to move beyond buy-in and develop a sense of ownership

When I started as the new principal at Brookwood three years ago, my first goal was to get a sense of the school’s climate. With my leadership team, I looked at our students’ results from the Georgia health survey to see how kids were feeling about school. We also did a survey of the staff that asked them to name three things they loved about the school and three things they wished they could change.

Looking at those responses from students and teachers, the most conspicuous area of improvement was the school culture.

Related content: 4 ways to ensure a successful school culture initiative

As leaders, we needed to improve our relationships with our students and help them develop competencies such as social awareness, self-management, and responsibility. Identifying the need for building-wide change was the easy part. Getting everyone in the building to embrace a new school initiative in Year One was the real challenge.

Here are five steps we took to get everyone on board.

1. Create a committee.

If you’re a leader launching a new program, you can’t own the program yourself. Success comes when teachers don’t just buy in, but feel ownership of what they’re doing. When people buy into something, they’re agreeing to do it, but when they own something, they feel responsible for it.

Our path to instilling that sense of ownership started with our Positive Learning Environment (PLE) committee, which was made up of teachers from every grade level. The committee decided that the best way to improve the culture in our building was for students and teachers to adopt the 7 Mindsets curriculum.

It was a big change, but right from the very beginning, the idea wasn’t coming from me. It came from a committee of educators with amazing knowledge and a clear vision of where they wanted to go. And before we asked teachers to get started, we spent time deciding what the social-emotional learning program was going to look like for Brookwood based on where our students and their families were.

2. Set clear and attainable goals.

Our goal for the first year was to help teachers understand and lead mindset lessons. Every Monday they taught a lesson, and every Friday, each class had a morning meeting to wrap up what they had learned.

This was such a success that for Year Two, teachers set the goal of having a morning meeting every day. This allowed them to get deeper into lessons, which helped them realize that parents had to be part of the conversation, too. For Year Three, we’re focusing on communicating and partnering with our students’ families.

3. To start something new, you have to get rid of something old.

In education, we’re so quick to add “one more thing” to what we ask teachers to do. Adding a new thing on top of everything else is a simple recipe for failure. When we decided to change our approach to social-emotional learning, we took a hard look at what was and wasn’t working. We ended up dropping the bullying program that we had used for years because the mindsets lessons address bullying, and we wanted to give teachers and students one clear way to address those issues.

4. Celebrate the successes along the way—and make it loud and proud.

We start every faculty meeting with recognitions for one another. The best stories come from the classroom, and I’m always asking my teachers, “How were you vulnerable with your kids today and what did you learn?” With a new school initiative, principals have to talk about the successes as well as the things that fell flat. If you don’t, by the time October hits, you completely let go of it.

As a leader, I see the value of being a little silly. We end our faculty meetings by putting our hands in the middle and saying, “One, two, three, go be awesome!” Teachers laugh, but they love it. They need to see me being cheesy about being positive. When they see me being vulnerable, they feel more comfortable to be a little vulnerable too.

5. Don’t be afraid to have conversations with those who resist change.

When you think about those who are going to resist, meet them where they are. We often want to avoid those people, but we shouldn’t. If they’re concerned about a new school initiative, I make a point of connecting with them in person to hear their thoughts so we can work through them. Many times, they have valid objections such as a fear of losing academic time. My job is to explain why they won’t. When they’re skeptical, I often use the expression, “I need you to trust me before you believe me.”

Believing me can take some time. During my first year at Brookwood, I would walk around the school every Monday morning between 8:00 and 8:30 to see if teachers were doing their mindsets lessons. In the beginning, they weren’t. But by the end of the year, they were.

In our first PLE meeting this year, we looked at the course we would follow this year. I didn’t set any exact expectations for when teachers should start, but when I walked around the school on Monday, every veteran teacher and every new teacher was engaging their students in a mindset lesson. I never discussed it, but they did it because they’ve taken ownership. They trusted me in year one, and now they believe me.

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