Picture of FiveEvery year after the staff’s pre-planning and welcome back to school message; it’s time for the one on one meetings with the staff members. During this time we reflect, set goals, and I’m able to learn a great deal about each and every teacher. As a principal, I have an old saying “you can’t correct until you connect.” This is applicable to student to teacher and administrator to teachers and staff. There are five critical questions teachers are asked during pre-planning. Teachers are asked to have these questions answered prior to the meeting.

  1. How do you feel about your performance last year and what’s your perception of your teaching? If it’s a new teacher, proceed to the second question.

This question is asked to gauge each teacher’s thought process as it relates to accountability and transparency. One of the many challenging aspects of the teaching profession is finding the time to develop best practices for reflection. However, it’s one of the most important components of improving. There’s a professional development session provided by administrators and instructional coaches on how to do effectively reflect after every lesson taught.

2. What are your goals and expectations for this year?

The definition of a goal is something that you are trying to achieve. Whereas an expectation is a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future. There’s a major difference in the two and I prefer having an expectation that greatness will happen.

As a principal, my expectation has remained consistent for ten years. I begin every school year with the same expectation. That expectation is for “100% of My Students to Excel Academically.” When asked this question, teachers usually refer to their data from the previous year. This is usually when S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, and Timely) goals are set. During this dialogue we have a very candid discussion on the difference between goals and expectations. One year a teacher’s scores were not that great. She only had a 44% proficiency rate on the state assessment. When asked what her goal was, she replied, “My SMART goal is 60% of my students will be proficient.” I then asked her which 40% did she expect to fail and was she prepared to call the students parents and let them know her goal for their child? There was no response. We then began a discussion on the difference between goals and expectations. This psychological approach has been beneficial for me as a principal in regards to my teachers having high expectations and goals for ALL students.

3. What are your goals for the next 30 days?

I ask my teachers to write down their goals for the next thirty days and to update them weekly. It’s important to write the vision (goals) and make it plain, and to anticipate changes as new experiences are coming. Additionally, when assessing your annual, monthly, weekly, and daily goals, you’ll unclutter your time of the unnecessary. Teachers are asked to bring these goals with them to pre-planning meeting and they’re provided examples as well.

4. What’s one of your strengths’ and one of your weaknesses?

Before I ask this question, I reveal one of my strengths and a weakness as well as my plan to improve in my area of weakness. Additionally, these answers provide us with very important data for prescribing professional development.  

5. Do you have any personal situations that are going on that can possibly affect you at work (e.g. school, sickness, or family matters…)?

I recently added this question to my list after a dispute between two grade levels who were on the same hall. Initially, I thought the dispute was very petty as we were departmentalizing, which meant at any given time you would have several classes in the hallway at the same time. Additionally, there was friction over occupying seats in a timely fashion during lunch. However, after meeting with the eight teachers individually and asking this question, some very important information was revealed. Three teachers had a recent biopsy with possible cancer diagnosis, two teachers’ parents were terminally ill and now living with them, two teachers were going through a divorce, and one teacher’s child was diagnosed with leukemia. After discovering this important information, I conducted a meeting with both grade levels and reported the findings. There wasn’t a dry eye in the meeting. However, they now had a support system and formed a community on that hall and both of the grade levels performed the highest that year on the state assessment.

Therefore, every year I end my personal pre-planning meeting with this question and I lead with revealing my personal issue. For example, my mother had three strokes since November of last year, she’s in the early stages of dementia, and had hip replacement surgery, and I’ve become her primary caregiver. This is where the rubber meets the road during this question as a few things happen. First, I’ve become vulnerable as a leader, I have shown my staff that I too have personal dilemmas and most importantly, the teacher knows my concern is much more than data, achievement, and test scores.