What is a great school? How does it look? Feel? How do you know it’s great? It is rather an elusive thing to put your finger on what defines a ‘great high school’. Certainly there are a number of books that you can read, each of which has their own flavor on what to do to be ‘great’. When I became principal at Rock Springs High School 4 years ago, I am rather unclear on how to, as a school, be great! I really focused on academics, what instruction looked like in the classroom, and making sure our teachers were using strong instructional strategies. Great, right? Certainly nothing wrong with focusing on academics, we are a school after all. We pushed hard on graduation rates, which have dramatically risen, but something seemed to be missing. We are a Jostens Renaissance school, have been since inception of our Renaissance program in 2007. Our program as focus on attendance, grades, may other areas to impact our school culture. I am very proud of that program, but still, something was missing.
This summer, while at the Jostens Renaissance conference, it hit me like a bolt of electricity. Every year I attend I come back fired up, ready to make change, impact our kids in a positive way…you know, the usual! This year, with the eye on school culture and climate, I set out to make an impact, not a drop of water in the lake but a crater in the mountain type of impact, on our school culture and climate. With the excellent work of several staff and many students, we transformed the look of our building during July and August. (see – https://darrinpeppard.edublogs.org/2015/08/24/wall-post-labor/ )
But painting the walls is not the missing piece…but it might be what puts it all in motion. As we begin this year, that missing piece has been identified – one that will not go missing again. This year IS different – that missing piece is a High Five. No, not just the actual act of a high five but 5 items to keep high on the priority list.
Rock Springs High School is on the #RoadToAwesome
because of our High Five – the five most important things we, as school leaders, must do to ensure success.
1. Be a Team – often, especially in High Schools, we become so caught up in our content and our departments that we may not know everyone teaching in our building. RSHS has a staff of nearly 100 teachers and over 150 staffulty working in the building daily. It is hard to know who everyone is unless a concerted effort exists to unite them. This year, our crew began the year, like many other districts across the country, in a district-wide meeting. The difference, our team was dressed in a team polo shirt.
Sure, its just a shirt…but the tone that it set was that we will work as a unified group all focused on the same thing…success! On our first day of school, we told staff that we could use the day as a ‘spirit day’ – to which nearly 90% wore their team shirt again! Don’t get me wrong, it takes more than a shirt to develop a team; we will have to do much more. For example, this year we are all reading Daniel Pink’s Drive and will reference the book in each staff meeting. I gave each staff member a copy of the book at our first meeting and included a personal note to each of them. It was worth the time it took to write to each person and share a thought both about the book and something personal. We asked each staff member to read a few pages from the book then discuss with their table group what it is that motivates them. Very powerful what was shared out, so much about wanting to make an impact on kids lives, a desire to self-improve, and many who want to always be learning themselves. Each upcoming meeting will be similar, with pre-selected groups having those important critical self-reflection conversations, aimed at getting to the core of what we do and why we do it. The bonus, work with others you don’t know well to develop more of a team.
2. Show your kids you care – here is something that should be automatic, but often gets overlooked. We know that kids will work hard for those who care about them as more than just a grade, just a face in the room, just another kid. We talk a lot about relationships in our school – and in many places we really do it quite well. But it starts when the student enters the building daily. Daily we are greeting kids at the front door with a smile, a handshake, knuckles, and holding the door. This is a great opportunity for us to get to know our kids and work to know them by name (1400 kids, its not easy). Mr. Skinner (one of our leadership team members) instituted #HighFiveFriday at RSHS this year – and today we greeted kids with high-fives. (I actually handed out paychecks to staff today with High-Fives as well). Really get to know your kids, celebrate who they are and what they do…one of our murals that we painted this summer focuses on who are kids are outside of school…one more way for us to show them we care about who they are both in and out of school.
3. Focus on more than academics – that doesn’t mean stop focusing on academics, that is a critical element. One of the 7 A’s @DwightCarter talks about in his post The Seven A’s of Successful High Schools (http://dwightcarter.edublogs.org/2014/07/09/the-seven-as-of-successful-high-schools/#.Vd0U8tO6PYI.twitter). Putting the spotlight on all the great things that kids and staff do will increase buy-in and school spirit. We held our 2nd annual “Tiger Town Bash” Wednesday night – essentially a big city-wide pep rally for all our fall activities. Great turn out from the community, lots of spirit and Tiger Pride (tons of orange and black) and every fall activity represented. Was a great opportunity to rally everyone together and focus on the great things our kids and coaches do. This will also generate some buzz for tonight’s big game! #ProudToBeATiger
4. Support your staff – Nobody should be made to feel insecure in their place of work. Our teaching staff all, at a minimum, have a bachelor’s degree of course, with many holding master’s degrees and even a couple doctorate degrees. We have set clear expectations of parents, and called them on it when they fall short, regarding their treatment and behavior with RSHS staffulty. We won’t tolerate parents yelling at us, and staff is empowered to leave a conversation if that happens. We will work to get them any resource they need to improve student learning. We tell them and show them that we appreciate them. Most importantly though, they simply need to know we have their backs – which is part of being a team.
5 – Reinforce your beliefs and Be Grateful – I am honored to be the person who carries the title Rock Springs High School Principal. I am grateful to work alongside the best educational staff in America! This year I am committed to reinforcing our beliefs and priorities each and every week. Tell your kids you love them, show them you care, embrace your staff and be a team!
This is the RSHS High Five – Team, Care, Focus, Support, and Reinforcement – this is what has us on the #RoadToAwesome and off to a fabulous start to our school year.
Until next time…inspire others,