By Mike Pinto, IPLI Mentor and Principal at James Cole Elementary School
When I was in my principal infancy, there were several years when staff morale was low because of budget cuts, contract negotiations, or academic or state changes. To combat that feeling, I decided one year that we would have a staff theme that year. We called it Big E – the E standing for Enthusiasm. Big, bright, lime green t-shirts with “The Big E” were purchased for everyone to be worn the first teacher day and for various days during the school year. The Staff Theme was built to improve morale. It was silly and its purpose was to unify, not divide. The concept has stuck and for the past 13 years, a new theme has been unveiled to each staff I have led. The credit for the idea of a theme goes to Barbara Pedersen from C.L.A.S.S. who taught me a lot about theming classrooms and theming curriculum. She taught me about brain research and in the process also taught me about climate. We continue to have a staff theme with shirts purchased from various funds I cobble together. We also have special days when our staff can wear their shirts and also wear jeans. I continue to have a theme each year for a variety of reasons which include:
- A staff theme is just fun. Each year the theme has a bit of whimsy to it. It’s a way for us to show up at our corporation opening meeting wearing the same shirt and feeling part of our own team within a larger team.
- A staff theme unites. Again, a school’s climate is something that can easily ebb and flow. The theme allows me as a leader to focus us back on where we need to be when outside distractions pop into our path. It also is something which allows me to navigate toward good depending upon that year’s theme and the creative ideas which come my way.
- A staff theme focuses on our mission. Several years ago our staff fine-tuned our mission statement into three short sentences which we utter on afternoon announcements. The theme is a way for me to tie what we are doing back to our mission.
- A staff theme allows me to navigate waters with our staff through what I know will be choppy waters with new mandates and expectations. The year following many RIFs, we had a theme about Creating On A Canvas. This theme was focused on looking at the canvas we had in front of us and controlling what you can control with the colors you have been offered, not focus on those you don’t. We had a theme one year about Strengthening Our Core when we tackled a new and challenging writing curriculum. When we focused on differentiation, we had an ice cream theme. We have even have themes about Keeping it Simple when I have sensed that a lot has been added to plates and we just needed to hunker down and do what was in front of us, and do it well.
- A staff theme helps pinpoint my own administrative goals. Part of my annual evaluation requires me to craft and implement two or three administrative goals. The staff theme is part of this sharing with my assistant superintendent and is a way to show focus and vision moving forward.
- Last Year’s Theme centered on Home and next year’s theme centers on belief in children. Both were inspired by wonderful children’s books. Your inspiration can come from many different vantage points. Be creative!
As you look toward a new school year, you might consider creating a staff theme. It might just be a way for you to unify your staff and move forward through new or challenging waters. Give it a try. The complete list of Cole Staff Themes Through the Years is linked here.