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“School leadership is second only to teaching, among school-related factors, in its impact on student learning, according to research” - The Wallace Foundation

NEW! Provide Feedback on New Proposed Rhode Island Standards for Education Leaders

The Rhode Island Department of Education's vision for success by 2020 includes a strong focus on supporting and growing our education leaders to lead high quality schools that truly prepare students for success in college and careers in the future.  The  proposed standards were created in 2017 by an advisory workgroup consisting of superintendents, principals, teachers, and RIDE staff, and are meant to describe the knowledge and skills of highly capable school leaders of 21st century learning.

Please consider reviewing the proposed standards and giving your feedback by Friday, December 15, 2017.

NEW! Apply for a Leadership Mini-Grant!

RIDE is inviting district-level administrators, building-level administrators, and teacher leaders, as well as administrators of leadership development programs, to apply for a Leadership Mini-Grant. For the second year in a row, funding is available to support the continued development and growth of education leaders in Rhode Island.

Joy Souza, Leadership Fellow at RIDE, is facilitating the work around expanded leadership and building leadership capacity in Rhode Island.  Review the application below for more detailed information about the mini-grants.

Submission Deadline: Friday, December 1, 2017.

Looking for ideas?  Check out the Resource Bulletin.  If you need additional information about this leadership development opportunity, please email Joy Souza (joy.souza@ride.ri.gov).

First Day, Best Day

Posted by: Lauren Matlach on 9/19/2017
Joy Souza
Principal Fellow

Over the past thirteen years as a teacher and principal, I have experienced mixed emotions of joy and fear when it comes to the first day of school; I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s a sleepless night followed by a drive into school that I don’t remember because my brain is too busy thinking about the day’s schedule and new routines, my kick-off motivational speech to staff, my morning announcement to students, and busing…always busing. It is a day riddled with smiles by all, some conveying genuine happiness while others masking unsettled nerves. It is a day of first impressions, which means everyone-teachers and students alike- puts forth extra effort to create a positive one. It is a day that engulfs me with feelings of positivity, hope, and optimism for what’s to come. It is the start of something grand-a year of deep and meaningful learning. In the end, I sleep like a baby that night knowing that the first day is complete and the promise of an awesome year is underway. To me, the first day is always the BEST day.

I knew when I accepted the position as this year’s RIDE Leadership Fellow, I would be in for an amazing adventure that would afford me opportunities to expand my network and grow my capacity as a learner and leader. I also knew there would be sacrifices, including being away from the school that I love and the students I adore. What I failed to realize, however, was that by becoming a leadership fellow, I was forfeiting a “first day of school”. Thankfully, I am part of an amazing cohort of twenty Rhode Island school leaders who are participating in the National Institute for School Leadership Executive Development Program (NISL-EDP), a year-long program designed to build skills, knowledge, and commitment to lead high performing schools. Principals recently opened their doors to me so I could experience their first days of school, and answered some questions that revealed their thinking on leadership at the start of a school year.

Q1: How do you mentally prepare yourself for the first day of school?

First day of school mental prep has not changed much for me since kindergarten. I treat myself to a special first day of school outfit that will surely make a strong first impression (fashionably speaking), and I get myself a new lunch box that is equally as special. While I iron my clothes the night before and pack the lunch I will never get a chance to eat, I run through the first day’s events in my mind. When I put on that outfit the next morning, I feel calm and ready for lift-off. Surprisingly, I’m not the only school leader whose mental preparation is partly wardrobe-based. Principal Julie Zarrella of the Johnston Early Learning Center wears the same good luck dress every year on the first day. Other leaders, however, get mentally strong by being physically strong. Exercise was a common theme among leaders I interviewed, like Wendy Amelotte of Forest Park Elementary in North Kingstown who biked twenty miles the day before school started, or OJ Marti of Blackstone Valley Prep Middle School 2 who played 18 holes of golf to get mentally prepared. Some leaders ground themselves in communication as a way of getting ready. Rob Mezzanotte puts great thought into his opening message to staff and students at South Kingstown High School, while Brian Tetreault of Narragansett Pier Middle School makes phone calls to students to get them (and himself) excited for the first day.

Teacher standing with elementary students

Q2: What topics do you engage your staff in prior to the start of the school year?

Technically, most school leaders have two first days of school each year: the first day with staff and the first day with students. We get the privilege of being stressed out two days at the start of the year! The amount of time principals have with their staff prior to the official first day varies greatly depending on district calendars, contracts, and initiatives, but all the leaders I interviewed had at least one full day with their team before the arrival of students. I had the great pleasure of joining Adam Flynn, Assistant Director at Wm. M. Davies Jr., Career and Tech High School, as he worked with his staff on building strong and “synergized” teams. Teachers completed personality inventories as part of a compass points activity and then engaged in a super-cool “desert survival simulation” that had teachers practicing collaboration, communication, and decision-making skills. Lisa Little of Hathaway Elementary in Portsmouth chose to share with her staff an underlying theme from the NISL-EDP program: Average is officially over. She hopes to inspire them to find ways to push students to excel while thinking in creative and innovative ways. All the principals I spoke with mentioned the importance of grounding their teams in why they do this work, which was more than evident at Davies by the “Why I Teach” wall their teachers created.

Group of teachers giving a presentationBulletin board with comment responses to the prompt, why I teach, posted on it

Q3: What are you looking forward to the most this year?

The start of the school year is generally the most optimistic time of year for a school leader. When asked this question, school leaders Wendy Amelotte and Lisa Little talked about how excited they are to bring back the skills and knowledge they are learning in the NISL-EDP program to the teachers and staff at their schools. Leaders talked about a variety of initiatives that are priorities at their schools this year, and some themes emerged: focusing on social-emotional learning, digging deeper into data to improve teaching and learning, and building collaborative partnerships with families and the community. Nobody said they are looking forward to chaperoning a middle school dance, conducting a lockdown drill, or hosting a flu vaccination clinic, but I'm sure these things are further down their list of things to look forward to this year!

Teacher sitting with elementary students on mats in classroomTeacher working with elementary students in a classroom

Q4: What leadership strength do you draw upon at the start of the school year?

We all know that there is not a single, all-powerful leadership strength or skill that will ensure a smooth start to the school year, so choosing just one to talk about was challenging for the principals I interviewed. In my five years as principal at Blackstone Valley Prep Middle School 1 in Central Falls, I often found myself relying on my communication skills very heavily at the beginning of the school year. Whether communicating with students, staff, or families, it was the frequency, tone, and style of communication that was essential for sharing important information, building energy and excitement, communicating a vision, and giving my school community a window into who I am as a person and an educator. My colleagues concurred with me and identified other important strengths, too. Julie Zarella (Johnston Early Learning Center) and Josh Falk (Blackstone Valley Prep Elementary School 3) talked about the importance of emotional intelligence at the beginning of the year, to assess the anxiety levels of students, staff, and families, and address their needs accordingly. Being a positive cheerleader and champion of the work was also in the forefront, which was certainly evident at Blackstone Valley Prep Middle School 2 where teachers waved pom-poms as students arrived at school and Hathaway Elementary School where students and parents were greeted on a red carpet by the school’s new apple mascot appropriately named HAPPY.

Teacher in front of school entrance dressed up as red apple mascotTeachers waving pom-poms at students as they arrive at school

Q5: How would you describe the start of the school year in one word?

Really, how do you sum up the start of the school year in one word? Principals gave it a try...hyphens allowed!

Word art displaying the words personal-connections, growth-mindset, motivation, smiles, new-beginning, relationships, energizing, teams, fear, exciting, optimism, collaboration, synergy, fun, fresh-start, communication

From one leader to another, I wish you an amazing year of learning and leading. Tune in again to learn more information about joining the next cohort of the NISL-EDP and other leadership opportunities and initiatives at RIDE.

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