I’ve been an elementary school principal for quite a few years now. When I first entered the role, I watched, listened, and learned from what other administrators did. In this early learning phase, I didn’t ask too much about why things were done the way they were. For example, think about some of the language we use and some of the events that typically place in elementary schools …
- “Late” slips
- “Warning” bells
- “Split” classes and compartmentalization of children based on their year of birth
- Monthly newsletters
- Sports Day in June
- Trophies, ribbons, and rewards
- “Gotcha” slips – slips given to students who act the way we want them to
- Report card templates, and “labelling” learning with letter grades, and percents
- Punishment and suspensions versus restorative action …
… just things we commonly see in schools that make questions jump into my mind.
I returned to the role of school principal during the COVID pandemic. Things were different. Things were difficult. To add to the challenge, our school was under construction, and students were housed at two neighbouring schools. How would we build community? How would we share important, unified learning and messaging with staff and students? Very quickly for me, the question of “How should we be doing morning announcements?” changed to “Should we be doing morning announcements at all?” For the first time in my career, I was able to be in classrooms while morning announcements were broadcast from the office. What did I notice?
- Morning announcements disrupt learning.
- The sound quality out of PA systems in schools is generally poor which makes announcements difficult to hear.
- Students really don’t need to hear much of the information that is shared during morning announcements, such as information that only pertains to staff.
- Students are visual learners, so announcements that are not accompanied by visuals are generally not effective.
Morning announcements were one of those things that schools have always done, and they have always been a polarizing topic. I can still hear the questions, comments, and concerns that have been voiced in the past …
- What is important to include in this type of communication?
- How do we get and maintain the attention of children and adults?
- When should they take place?
- Who should do them?
- How long should they be?
- How do we make them interesting and valuable?
While we waited for our school to open, living and learning at two separate schools, I made the decision, out of necessity, to produce a weekly video for Monday morning. The videos served the purpose of building community, connecting students to each other and their new school, and getting to know me, their new principal. Teachers could show the video at a time that was convenient for them and would not disrupt learning. As an added bonus, the weekly videos allowed me to do something that is a very important part of the principal role – providing instructional leadership. This tool has allowed me to introduce wellness, decision-making, problem-solving, numeracy, and critical thinking topics. I’ve been most impressed by, and thankful for, the staff I work with, as I regularly see evidence that they are building on the important topics introduced during morning announcements.
Yes, this is extra work for me, but when the “why” is clear, most folks are more than willing to go a little further in what they do. I see evidence each Monday morning as I visit classrooms, and teachers share morning announcement videos, that this new approach is successful. I feel that students feel closer to me and that I am more accessible to them. When issues arise and I need to have conversations with students, I know the messaging they have heard since it’s the messaging I crafted and shared via the morning announcements. Nothing replaces my physical presence in our classrooms, but appearing in the morning announcements each Monday morning enhances that presence.
For those administrators that worry about the technical “lift” required, I would recommend that they find a colleague they can lean on and that they not worry about making their work perfect. There are many tools you can use. For example, you can use PowerPoint to create your visuals (which you can use week after week by simply updating with new material) and on a Mac, it’s as simple as using Quicktime, software that comes with your computer, to capture the contents of your screen. Did you also know that you can create a screen recording using Microsoft Stream, which is part of your Office 365 account? Below are some resources to get you started!
In the end, it doesn’t matter how you start or how small the changes you make to your practice are. What’s most important is to question everything we do in school so that what we do adds value to the learning experience of students, and that we do so with a firm understanding of the “why”.
Best wishes and happy creating!