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Friday, July 2, 2010

End-of Year and Opening Day Celebrations/Retreats

Bringing closure to the end of one year and setting the stage for the next school year is one of the most important jobs for anyone in a supervisory position. This is important whether you are a school principal, an assistant principal, a curriculum specialist, a department chairperson, a resource teacher, etc. Generally these celebrations are for the entire school with recognition being given from various supervisory persons to specific groups.
For example, if you were doing an island theme each department chairperson would place a lei on each department member in recognition for a job well done when cued by the school principal, who is the master of ceremony for the event. End-of-year celebrations should be pure fun. They should be loud, silly, and sort of off the wall. I recommend noise makers, dance contests, throwing beads, etc. The teachers should be allowed to let their hair down and be told that they have done a good job. I recommend a pictorial presentation for all end-of-year celebrations that include pictures of all staff members working with students. These pictures should also highlight the goods things about the past year. I would include pictures of student-centered instruction, honor roll assemblies, the prom, field day, sporting events, awards won, end-of-course test celebrations, etc. End-of-year celebrations are about patting your staff on the back. You want to make the entire staff smile; and hopefully, some staff members will shed a tear as they relive their successes. This needs to be a fun yet emotional event. Set your presentation to a great piece of music to set the mood. If your school division does end-of-course tests this is where the preliminary results should be shared with the staff. End-of-year celebrations would not be complete without five statements or initiatives that define what the focus will be for the next school year. You need to send the staff home with knowledge of the school’s successes, but also with what you would like your staff to be thinking about over the summer. You want your staff to have time to think about the next year’s initiatives while they are not stressed and have time for creative thinking.

Opening day retreats are also meant to be lots of fun but they are also the place to outline what I call the “non-negotiables.” An Opening day retreat is where the theme and final school initiatives are announced for the year. School initiatives are three to five items that the school needs to work on to show growth. You need to limit the number of items you are focusing on as everyone must support the initiatives and be held accountable for doing so. You can download a sample here. Just like end of year celebrations, opening day retreats need to involve lots of noise, laughter, and fun; but also, they need to include expectations, goal setting, and focus. I believe that every opening day retreat must include a time when all teachers write and state one commitment they will make to improve instruction for the upcoming year. I recommend they be written on large visuals and announced in a creative way to either fellow department members or the whole staff if the size of the school permits. Whichever method is used, the first person to announce their area for improvement should be the principal of the school. When I do any closing celebration or opening retreat, I always divide the faculty up into groups and have contests for them to compete in. It makes for a great time. You may also want to consider using a book with your retreat as a means of getting a certain message across. For example, if your school is in need of change, Who Moved My Cheese is a great book to use. Sniff and Scurry and Hem and Haw can easily be characterized as typical teachers in most schools. Sniff and Scurry are teachers who are always willing to try new things, Hem will come on board eventually if you prod him/her along, but Haw will drag his feet and will not conform to help the school. Haw is the “it’s all about me teacher.”

Some of my favorite celebrations are listed below.

Happy New Year- This is a good closing or a good opening party concept. You can use hats, horns, and do a toast to either end the year or open up a new one. The good thing about being a teacher is that each year you get to evaluate your previous performance, make changes, and start fresh each September. This concept is very attractive to teachers and builds confidence that they will improve each year. If closing the year with this celebration you do the same things but the toast is to congratulate your teachers. Each teacher should then be asked to wish those around them a Happy New Year setting the stage for a fresh start in September.

Let’s Keep “Rockin and Rollin” at (Your School’s Name)- This is a great opening day retreat concept for the school that has just experienced some success but is not there yet. This 50’s theme party can have a dance contest, administrative performances, and fun costuming for the leadership team.

“Set Sail with the (Your school’s mascot)”- This is an opening year activity and is mainly about getting everyone on the same page. The principal should wear a captain’s hat, and the teachers should wear sailor hats to represent the crew. You will be emphasizing that everyone must depend on and help each other if the school is to be successful. I used the Price Pritchett book called Teamwork in this opening year retreat to drive the message home. Each group was assigned a chapter to read and then reported to the rest of the staff the five most important items for schools outlined in the assigned chapter. Use BIG strips of paper to write on. It is not necessary to use all chapters in a book when using it for a retreat; use only what you need to get your message across.

“You can Catch a Lot of Fish if You Use the Right BAIT”- This is a good opening year retreat for a school in need of change. I have done a fishing contest and presented each teacher with a “teaching license” after they presented their commitment for the year. I used the book Fish Tales for ideas.

“Round ‘Em up”- This can be an end-of-year or opening day celebration. You can be rounding up the success you have had or rounding up the troops to fight for success. You would give all the staff cowboy hats and bandanas and might want to incorporate line dancing or square dancing for fun.

Mardi Gras or Island themes- These make good end-of-the year parties. The principal would tell the teachers he wanted to take them to Mardi because of the good job they had, but they wouldn’t let you close down the school so you brought Mardi Gras to them. If using an island them you can tell the teachers that you had planned to take them to Hawaii but the flight was cancelled so you had to bring Hawaii to them. For Mardi Gras give the staff hats, beads, noise makers and have your department chairs decorate AV carts and have a throwing of the beads. The teachers will love it. For a Hawaii theme give the teachers leis and grass skirts and have everyone do the hula.

If I find there is interest in end-of year and open-day retreats, I am willing to answer questions and help you develop your ideas.  

To get files or discuss ideas related to this article please email me at smmcnamee@comcast.net 
If your computer does not have a program that allows you to click and send email then cut and paste my address into your own email program.

To find more Staff Development Tips go to the Staff Development Tips Page.


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