"This year is bound to be easier." This was my thinking at the start of the school year. I imagine I also believed we'd somehow have enough subs going into the school year as well. Needless to say, this school year was not easier. It presented a host of challenges that came with an unrelenting fervor. The complex needs many students showed up with made this one of the most demanding (and important) years I can remember. This doesn't mean there weren't incredible moments of learning, togetherness, and many collective triumphs. It just means that it's difficult to put the year into words. (I think I'm still bouncing back and forth between survival mode and processing things.) It also means that there's a good chance that some of the teachers you serve alongside may be struggling and trying to process things too. Providing the time and support for each individual on your team to process, rest, and eventually move forward is important. Most principals want to end things on a positive note -- to honor the tremendous effort and accomplishments of the team. I believe there's a symbiotic relationship between your final staff meeting and the culture you and your team are co-creating. And helping everyone understand the important work they've done matters. (This doesn't mean we should ignore the challenges and systemic changes needed to improve the profession...in fact, leaning into these conversations should be part of the daily cadence of your school's culture.) With all this said, we're always thinking about a meaningful way to approach our final staff meeting.
Last year, we shared some pictures and resources to support a "reflective walk" that could be used for the final meeting of a school year. This year, we used a time-capsule theme for our final staff meeting. The time capsule helped us focus our reflections on the things we might like to remember or hold onto in the future. We also provided staff with the following questions to think about individually for several minutes.
Who helped you get through the year? In what ways did they make a difference?
What's a meaningful success you experienced this year?
What's one thing you let go of that you learned you can live without?
Afterwards, we invited everyone to pick one of the questions to discuss with a colleague. Reflections were not collected and we didn't put anything in the time capsule. The time capsule was already full. It contained approximately 100 tiny glass bottles...one for every person on staff. And inside the glass bottles were small sheets of paper with "2022" printed on them.
The idea is to be intentional with what we want to remember most about 2022. We all faced unique challenges. How we carry those memories forward -- the stories we tell ourselves and one another about this school year -- will impact our work in the future. Without taking time to process individually and collectively we run the risk of bottling up a complex and confusing narrative that could be subconsciously carried for many years. Interestingly enough, some of the legacy-type conversations and reflecting we're doing (some connected to the time capsule reflections and others done organically at different times) at the end of the school year also lend themselves to how a principal could start the school year -- with intentionality and focus. (Doing a legacy walk or pre-determining what words, commitments, and memories you want to put in a time capsule before a school year even begins could be just as powerful.) So how are you approaching your final staff meeting? And what will your first and next steps be in the fall when your team comes back? This is hard work and taking time to remember matters.