Monday. Monday begins like most other days, as I play the role of official greeter to all the students entering through the main doors. I try to greet as many as possible by name. This is when I find out the results of yesterday’s volleyball game or ask grade 4 students if they are excited about their upcoming field trip. It’s when students tell me that it’s their birthday or that their mom had a baby or that my coffee cup matches my shirt. I also get a chance to chat with parents who walk their children to the door.
Shortly after the morning bell rings, all the students and staff begin gathering in the foyer for our Monday celebration. Our large foyer just holds the 235 students as well as staff and any parents that stay for the celebration. All the students sit on the floor, except for the grade 9’s who have the privilege of sitting on the benches. Each Monday celebration follows the same format: singing led by teachers, a theme presentation where a teacher, class, or guest speaker gives us a deeper understanding of our annual school theme, announcements and reminders, acknowledgement of birthdays (with a small candy for birthday kids), singing of “O Canada,” and prayer.
Usually by the time recess rolls around, all staff have a copy of the Monday memo delivered to their e-mail inbox. This memo highlights the week’s important events, tells who’s on duty for staff room cleanup, devotions, or bringing snack, and includes a to-do list for the week and other important things to know. This has become a key way of keeping everyone informed. I once read that if, as a leader, you are not absolutely sick of communicating, you’re not doing enough.
One Monday each month, our school board executive meets. This dedicated group of parents, plus the society administrator and I meet to discuss the business of offering Christian education. The meetings are filled with prayer, serious discussion, plenty of laughter and good food. Board members say they genuinely enjoy serving and look forward to the meetings.
Tuesday. At 8:00 a.m. each Tuesday morning, our staff gathers for devotions. Leadership rotates among the teachers, as we follow a theme, read a book together, or leave it open for individual creativity. We spend time sharing prayer requests and praying with and for each other. Often these prayer requests are follow-ups from the prayer walk we take through the school at the end of August, where we visit all the classrooms and listen to the teacher share prayer requests related to both their school and home life. We also pray with and for our office staff, in the gym and hallways, dedicating our entire school to God.
Once a month, our school council meets in the evening. Their mandate acknowledges their role in building community: It states that “The school council aims to both celebrate the blessing of Covenant Christian School and also to intentionally foster Christian community by positively exchanging information and resources …” They accomplish this role in many ways, including calling all new families early in the school year to welcome them and organizing the much-loved staff appreciation day. In addition, two to three teachers attend the meeting on a rotating basis and share informally what is happening in their class, how they are involved in other school activities, and keep the parents aware of what is happening across the grades.
Wednesday. Once a month, our teachers gather for a staff meeting.
All staff contributes to the agenda by placing items on the online shared calendar event. (I think that having a shared online calendar is one of the best tools ever—but that’s a whole other topic!) I take these items, add my own, and create an agenda. The focus is on items that need discussion, rather than being a way to distribute information. We include some professional development, such as updates on our curriculum planning template (“Teaching for Transformation”), assessment for learning, student self-assessment, and the effective use of technology. We try to wrap up our meeting in an hour so that teachers have an hour to write their monthly classroom letter. Along with alerting parents to upcoming classroom events, teachers are encouraged to use the letter to share the key curricular goals for the month along with the biblical themes connected to their units of study.
Thursday. A highlight for the staff is Thursday recess, where we turn off the bells and give the students a bit of a longer break. This allows the staff to gather and enjoy some snacks provided by the on-duty folks. Visitors often make a point of dropping by on Thursdays to enjoy this time with us: former staff (often with babies in tow), spouses, central office staff, and others. The atmosphere is usually loud, with several conversations going on simultaneously.
Frequently on Thursday afternoons you will find several teachers working on curriculum writing projects, having been released from their classroom with a substitute teacher covering their classes. We have high expectations for our teachers in terms of instructing all subjects from an overtly Christian perspective, and therefore are committed to giving them time to complete the necessary planning. Our “Teaching for Transformation” planning/teaching template provides the framework for this work.
Friday. At the end of a busy week, our staff gathers after school. We meet at 3:30 and after someone prays at around 3:45, everyone is officially free to go. Many staff hang around longer. In that time frame, along with the story sharing, someone often challenges everyone to “rate your week.” But rather than a typical “out of 10” rating, they usually chose a random number such as 437. This is a quick way for us to check-in with each other. Also, a Friday gathering is not complete until the “Healthy Interactions Award” is given. A number of years ago, all our staff participated in a conflict management/communication training process called “Healthy Interactions,” after which we were awarded a lovely wooden plaque acknowledging our completion of the program. After the plaque sat in my office for many months, I decided to award it to a staff member for a positive contribution made that week. Since then it has been traveling around the staff, with the previous week’s winner being responsible for appointing the new recipient. The short speech revealing the new recipient (often somewhat tongue-in-cheek) is written out so that it can be added to the growing bulletin board display in the staff room.
These are some of the ways we have built community at Covenant. You have probably noticed that most of the focus in this list is on the relationships among the adults including parents, staff, and administration. This is not accidental. We have been quite deliberate in organizing the school community in ways that forge strong adult relationships, as how the adults interact with each other will be a model for how staff interact with students.
Do not, however, think that this is a ten-step program for building community at your school. Most of these traditions have built up over time and suit our community and the people involved. But perhaps you can find an idea or two that you can tweak to fit your circumstances, or make up something new and then write your own article!