The Best School Year Ever: Reflections on Positivity and Culture

Wednesday, August 31, 20167:37 PM

Today was day three of my school new year. Tomorrow is freshman orientation, and on Friday, I meet my new students. I’m excited for the new year and for the changes I’m planning in my classroom and teaching.

But I’m also excited for something else: there’s change coming. In the first two days, I felt it everywhere. From conversation with administrators, to our edcamp unconference day, to the opening assembly and keynote. It was a very different start to the school year.

It focused on learning, positivity, relationships, and culture. We discussed meaningful change, disrupting the norm, and reflecting on growth. And it left me excited to move forward and get started.

I wanted to write tonight to share some quick thoughts about why these days excited and inspired me and share two great experiences that started our school year.


Last year, I ran our first ever Edcamp PD with #EdcampOHS, a building-level day of unconference style learning. We adapted the Edcamp model for 100 educators, and it was a real success. I wrote all about it in Making Professional Development Matter with the Edcamp Model and Life After Edcamp: What Comes Next?

This year, two district administrators teamed up to create an opt-in edcamp day to start the school year. They asked for input back in June but I was uninvolved in the real planning. That’s why it was so rewarding, inspiring, and meaningful to see 50+ educators choose to attend during the last day of summer vacation and to see a wonderfully planned event. Sessions focused on vocabulary, data, social media, Google Classroom, SIOP, collaboration, and so much more. A blank session board quickly filled up with 20 different topics and conversations for educators of all contents and age levels.

In addition to meaningful conversations and learning, many Tweeted and backchanneled throughout the day, sharing our work with the world. It was an awesome experience and I’m inspired by the leaps we’ve taken in designing meaningful professional development.

I’m looking forward to helping to plan more of it now that we’re back in school and to working to evaluate these models to determine their impact in our teaching and students’ learning.

It’s Going to Be the Best School Year Ever!

For years, we started school with an opening assembly, bringing the whole district to the high school auditorium for long speeches. In a hot and crowded room, with so much to do, this rarely felt like the most productive or inspiring of starts.

For a few years, this changed to building level activities and prep, but this year the dreaded assembly was back on the schedule. I heard rumblings that it was planned to be something special, and it really, really delivered.

Our Superintendent, Ray Sanchez, started by looking for teachers who were missing in an awkward moment where the audience isn’t sure what’s happening yet. He told us he had to find them, directed the district photographer (@MrQPhoto) to follow and record it live, and raced down the aisle. As he did, the video below started playing.

It was fun and funny and showed thought, humility, and positivity. I think it was the first time I’ve started a school year laughing. And laughing in the room with 300 other educators, most who are never in the same room or even building together, was powerful.

The video was followed by remarks from union and board of education presidents, but they were short and purposeful. Then David Kirkland, Director of the NYU Metro Center for Research on Equity, took the stage for a powerful talk on students, equity, and relationship. We wrapped up the morning with student performances and continued on our day.

And a day later I’m still thinking about it all. About culture. About change. And about tomorrow.

The start the school year is always a new challenge but it’s rewarding. It’s a change to start over, to build on successes, grow from failures, and impact students once again. Let’s get started.

What was your most memorable or meaningful start to a school year?

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