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Keeping first-day-of-school excitement alive

3 min read


Why are kids and teachers so excited to come back to school? To cover new curriculum? To get really good test scores? To spend all day indoors with a minute-by-minute schedule guided by the many rules described in their student and staff handbooks? I think not.

What’s in the heads and hearts of our returning students and teachers?

  1. They return with the hope that people will “get them” and that their interests, passions, strengths and needs will be looked after.
  2. They hope someone will truly care about them and work to help them become the best that they can be.
  3. They want to renew old connections and make new ones.  People need to feel connected to school in deep meaningful ways. With connection comes caring.
  4. They want to feel trusted, respected and empowered.
  5. They want to be recognized for their efforts and accomplishments.
  6. They want to feel that they can make a difference in their own lives as well as the lives of others.
  7. They want to develop life skills for future success and meaningful impact.
  8. They want to be engaged — not just on social networks, but in real time with real people.
  9. They want to feel peaceful, happy and safe.
  10. They want to question, discuss and think critically.
  11. They want to be creative.
  12. They want to be become optimistic, responsible, productive and resourceful members of society.
  13. They want to have fun.

When we walk through the doors in the fall to begin the new school year, is this what we are thinking about? When we think about accountability, do we feel accountable to create a school culture that nurtures all of the above? Do we understand that, if we do create this ideal school culture, curriculum will be covered, test scores will soar and self-discipline and inner motivation will rule? Are we trying to capture enthusiasm or keep the lid on it?

What can we do to keep this spirit alive throughout the year?

  1. Work together in an atmosphere of mutual respect and shared responsibility.
  2. Empower students and staff to show initiative and take significant actions.
  3. Nurture self-discipline through minimizing rules within a clearly-defined mission, values and culture.
  4. Ensure that everyone is treated as a unique and valuable individual.
  5. Allow students to explore for at least part of the day to build individual confidence and perseverance in tackling new problems.
  6. Engage students in a broad, challenging, relevant curriculum.
  7. Create opportunities for people to connect through meaningful activities and learning.
  8. Ensure that learning and school life are fun.
  9. Create a school where people want to “be” and “become” the best they can be.
  10. Be an enthusiastic champion of all of the above throughout the year.

As a principal of an inner city school for many years, I was able to work with my students, staff and community to create this environment. It wasn’t that difficult as we were really just honoring inherent human needs and values. The most difficult part was working through the constant bureaucratic focus on measurable outcomes and the narrow definition of how we get there. With an unwavering focus on what we know our kids and teachers need and thrive on at school, we can capture and maintain the First-Day-of-School enthusiasm throughout the school year. We can and we must.

Carol Hunter is a retired elementary-school principal. She also is an author, speaker, consultant and founder of Impact Leadership. She recently published “Real Leadership, Real Change.”