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Welcome Back Teachers: Why Day One Matters

Each year I'm fortunate to spend the month of August criss-crossing the country as schools and districts kick off their school year. School leaders invite me to share inspiration, laughter and help improve school culture, but I always leave feeling incredibly inspired myself. I'm inspired by the educators I meet, the awards they are recognized for, and the awesome initiatives schools are leading for their students and teachers. The teachers are often encouraged to hit the ground running on day one - to create the kind of classroom that has kids running back on day two. We focus on how the upcoming school year will benefit the students - which is super important. But what about day one for our teachers and staff? What are we doing to make sure their year gets off on the right foot? How do we set a tone that will carry them through the first week, not to mention an entire semester? A successful school year starts with the adults on campus. We must focus on making our teachers and staff feel valued and appreciated - something every person needs, not just the ones that work at schools. As I visited campuses this month I witnessed the details that went into day one for the teachers; details that might seem small to some but can make a BIG impact on how these teachers FEEL.

I wanted to share some of the wonderful things I saw schools doing on day one to make teachers and staff feel valued and appreciated.


Harbor Creek School District in Erie, PA

From the moment I stepped on campus, it felt special. Some of the very first steps I took at Harbor Creek were alongside inspirational chalk messages including; "We love our teachers.", "One smile makes lots of smiles so go", "Be a rainbow in someone else's cloud.", "You are amazing!". I couldn't help but feel good as I headed towards the auditorium. Students had prepared the messages prior to the teachers and staff returning to campus. The convocation was kicked off with two songs from the high school choir. Sometimes we overlook all of the talent that exists on our campuses - and how much joy it can bring to others. Assistant Superintendent Buckley Cook, shared that the opening with the choir has become a tradition over the past few years. What a wonderful way to begin the morning and the school year!

Welcome messages for the teachers at Harbor Creek School District in Erie, PA

Happy greetings as the teachers arrive on campus at Harbor Creek School District in Erie, PA


Claremont School District in Claremont, CA

Want to create a school culture where everyone wants to be? Ask your teachers and staff what they need and then make it happen! Claremont School District provided child care for children of employees during their welcome back professional development day. District administrators spent the day playing games and building legos with the kids. This awesome benefit was a direct result of ASKING what employees needed and then putting it in action! SO cool and such a game changer when you start ASKING people what they need instead of guessing! 

Children of employees hang with administrators for the morning at Claremont School District in Claremont, CA


Glendora School District in Glendora, CA

Glendora Unified School District was one of the most spirited and welcoming events I have been to in my speaking career. As staff entered the gym, school cheerleaders cheered and music blared. The walls were decorated with student made signs welcoming everyone - it was like a pep rally for the staff! And my favorite thing of all - The Human Tunnel - about 50 student leaders formed a tunnel as staff members entered the gym: cheering, clapping, giving high fives. It made you feel loved and welcomed. I ran into one district employee who had a new position and was no longer required her to be at the event. Her friends were surprised to see her there and she said: "I didn't want to miss this, the kids make you feel like rockstars."  

The superintendent, Dr. Rob Voors, along with the board and administration seated behind him onstage, then spent the first 30 minutes honoring numerous staff members, sharing detailed statements from colleagues explaining why they were being honored and telling us more about them as people. After each employee was brought on stage, the entire staff of over 300 stood up and clapped for them. A wonderful display of collegiality, appreciation and teamwork. All of this, before I was handed the mic to give my keynote address. This type of school culture doesn't just happen overnight; it's not lucky, it's not easy, it's not random - it's intentional. This was a morning that was meticulously thought out, so many details all aimed at making people feel valued and appreciated. This was a community that people wanted to be a part of. 

Teachers and staff give standing ovations to their peers at Glendora School District in Glendora, CA

How are you working to make the people around you feel like rockstars? The people in our offices, in our schools, in our communities, in our homes. 

Do you work somewhere that has amazing culture? What makes it so awesome?

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