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Back to School Guide for Families

A back to school guide for administrators

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This Back to School Guide provides five weeks of activities that focus on building a supportive environment for staff at the start of a new school year. The activities are designed to build staff connection and well-being, and they are also adaptable to an in-person and/or virtual context. 

We encourage administrators to adapt the activities to ensure they meet the needs and contexts of staff, considering what is culturally responsive as well as meets specific safety and space requirements. 

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Week One: Setting the Foundation

As we enter a new school year, it is essential to gauge staff’s needs and create supportive routines and structures in order to build a stable foundation for the year. All staff members are arriving with varied experiences from the past six months, and consequently may be impacted in different ways.

Early on, it is important to build in time for staff members to share their experiences and start to identify their needs as well as ways they can be supported. Additionally, establishing routines and setting clear expectations creates predictability and a sense of safety for staff. The following actions will help staff navigate this new context.

  • Set clear, realistic expectations for in-person and virtual working hours.
  • Review any new routines and make sure staff have the support necessary to effectively do their jobs, including strategies to support physical and mental well-being. Consider recommendations from this checklist for enhancing staff and teacher well-being.
  • Build in time for staff to share best practices for the new learning environment.

Week Two: Building Relationships

Identifying ways to foster relationship-building is key to building a supportive school community. Positive peer relationships among staff members create a sense of belonging, increase collaboration, and positively impact staff well-being.

There are many ways to connect! Choose strategies that best fit your school team and consciously build them into your school day, such as:

  • Engage with staff to collaborate on a fun team activity that gets everyone up and moving. It could be a virtual dance party, a game night, or anything your staff will enjoy doing together!
  • Use conversation starters -- such as these Quick Connection Cards from Sanford Harmony -- at the beginning of a staff meeting to encourage connections.
  • Provide opportunities for staff to express gratitude toward each other. For example, you could reserve part of your staff meeting for community kudos or set up an appreciation station for staff to write notes of gratitude to each other. Use our Guide to Building a Sustainable Gratitude Practice in Your School Community for more ideas.

Week Three: Exploring Emotions

While staff may be primarily focused on their students’ feelings, it is equally important that they check in with their own feelings. Staff may be feeling a variety of emotions. Once they’re able to identify these feelings, they can determine what is needed to move forward.

The following activities can help staff build time into their days to take note of their feelings and clearly communicate that their well-being is a priority:

  • Allow staff to schedule breaks to care for their well-being.
  • Share these resources to encourage staff to check in with themselves.
    • Checking your ‘B’s’ – stress manifests differently for everyone, but as individuals, our stress tends to show up repeatedly. To identify how your stress appears, notice your three B’s: your body, beliefs and behaviors. As you go throughout your day, notice how your three B’s make an appearance and/or change.
      • For example, you may find that your jaw is only tight when you are completing a specific task, or you may find insecurities arise when you are doing something outside of your comfort zone.
    • Try some mindfulness exercises to pause and notice your feelings.

Week Four: Advocating for Your Needs

The ability to advocate for your needs is an important resilience characteristic. To put this into practice effectively, put the emotional identification activities from week three into action through effective communication. This requires us to build a psychologically safe environment where staff feel comfortable engaging in this type of communication.

The following strategies will communicate to staff that you want to work together to ensure their needs are being met:

  • Promote district-sponsored health offerings.
  • Create processes that help staff and teachers express emotions and collaborate to find solutions.
  • Share these resources to help staff learn how to advocate for their needs.
    • Check out this eLearning module to find balance, learn more about holistic well-being and how to set boundaries. Once you have completed the module, you could:
      • Map out the well-being areas in which you feel confident, and the areas where you would like to improve. Commit to trying one new practice.
      • Define your boundaries – identify your “yeses.” Then share these boundaries with your work team so you can strategize about how to best meet everyone’s needs.
    • Complaining can be an incredibly effective way to advocate for your needs. The key is complaining the right way. Watch this video to learn more, then try it!

Week Five: Recalibrating

Now that we are five weeks into the school year, it is a good time to pause and reflect on what is working, what is not working, and what we want to change. Create time to connect with staff and gather feedback on how things are going. Be sure to listen to needs and work collaboratively to develop solutions.

These purposeful activities help ensure that staff feel heard and be confident that you are working to meet their needs:

  • Use this guide for surveying staff to gauge their perspective on their well-being and job satisfaction.
  • Plan for continuous improvement so adjustments can be made as the year advances and the school context changes.

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