Last year I moved schools from a 50 year old (but my room looked Dickensian; no direct sunlight, grates on the windows, mice) school, Leigh Elementary, to a factory fresh school with the cheerfully natural name of "Smiling Creek". I tend to move every 4-6 years to keep my teaching fresh, to learn new things, and have an excuse for not knowing what is going on. I was looking for a move.
When I was thinking of leaving my beloved Leigh, I had NO intention of going to a new school. I have taught in two new schools and a third in its second year, with the amount of work it takes to get a school up and running is daunting, you usually start with limited supplies, the students are a massive pack of wild cards, the parents have unrealistically high expectations, and trying to build a school/staff culture takes time and energy (which you already used up moving). New schools are a constant year (or ten) of playing catch up. Going into my 30th year of teaching (yes 30th and yet I'm only 19), I didn't think I had it in me to go to a brand new school.
But I did.
Why? The first and biggest reason is Remi. Remi was my principal at Leigh. He's a smart, fair guy who handles chaos in a very low key way. In the time that Remi was principal at Leigh, the population doubled. In addition to the solid core of teachers that were already at Leigh, Remi was able to attract and hire excellent teachers to keep pace with the student population growth. When I found out that Remi was going to be opening Smiling Creek, I started to budge a bit about going to a new school.
Knowing that I had opened a few schools and with my interest in classroom environments, when Remi began ordering supplies and furniture for the new school, once in a while he would run an idea past me. Unlike previous new schools, I had the sense that Smiling Creek would have sufficient supplies to open. So that ticked another box in Smiling Creek's favour.
The part that finally tipped the decision to shrug off my resistance to a new school was the new staff. When I found out the who the teachers from Leigh that were probably going to move with Remi, plus the names of the teachers from other schools who were interested in moving to Smiling Creek, I could NOT pass up this chance. When the dust finally settled with staffing, I was working with some newish friends, some old friends, some young up and comers, and some veteran legends.
What about the other parts that dissuaded me from a new school? The work load of opening, the catch up, the kids and parents? The last parts were less unknown than I thought or were overcome easily. The students were not as wildcardish because a good chunk of them were coming with us from Leigh. Likewise with the parents; we knew lots of them and they knew what to expect in a Remi-run school.
What about the first year work load and the culture building? Again, I think Remi really set the tone. Remi has a style of principaling (is that a word?) that really appeals to me:
- 1. Bring together the best people possible.
- 2. Have a loose plan/flexible framework, but figure it out along the way. Together.
- 3. Trust in your people, and support them where they need it. And then get out of their way.
Looking back, Smiling Creek's first year wasn't that much more work or stress than a typical school year. It was by far, the easiest of the new-ish schools where I have worked.
My take aways?
- Start slowly.
- Work together.
- Never say never.
- Grey polyester does not look good on almost everyone. (Okay, me).