In this blog post I share a play out of my playbook of how I traditionally spread winter joy, embraced the festive time of year and showed appreciation for my staff in the week leading up to a much needed break.
Last week I shared 5 tips for leaders to maintain sanity and nurture a positive school culture before Winter Break and I promised that this week I would share a tradition I created and have done each year as I get into the festive spirit. (You can reread that blog post here.) So, here I am, ready to share how I celebrate the week before Winter Break.
Early in my career I stumbled across a poem entitled ‘Twas the Week Before Christmas Break by Amy Oelschlager (linked here) and it gave me a giggle. During my first year as a principal, we were down to the final days before Winter Break and I was tired, my team was tired and things were crazy - the typical for any school right before the much needed and big break. We were already doing a lot of other things to celebrate the season, like Secret Elf and such but I had a desire to do something else/different to spread some joy, get into the festive spirit and show some appreciation to my staff and that’s when I remembered that poem I had stumbled across. I decided I was going to make a play off of the poem and treat my staff in the 5 days leading up to break.
During that first year, I rewrote the poem in 5 parts to go with 5 small things I was giving or doing for the team each of the 5 days. Over the years that has evolved and looked different each year. I really had to get creative during the COVID years when we were away from the building and do a drive-thru/delivery service but still pulled it off none the less. In the early years it was something I did on my own but as my leadership team evolved and eventually they became a part of it too. At the bottom of the post are some of the ideas I had/used and pictures of my ventures over the years with this tradition. I always did a mix of different gifts or acts of appreciation as the money sources were something I had to work through. I have funded it in various ways from donations from PTO or community partners (i.e., churches, local businesses, community members), Activity Fund monies, if I provided materials like books I was able to use Professional Development funds for those pieces, and some out of pocket expense at times. But, as all things, where there’s a will there is always a way.
In reflecting upon the joy and camaraderie that this tradition has brought to my school communities over the years, I am reminded of the transformative power that small gestures of appreciation can have on the culture of our schools. As educational leaders, we navigate the challenges of our roles with dedication, and fostering a positive environment becomes paramount. Sharing 'Twas the Week Before Winter Break tradition has not only become a cherished part of my annual celebrations and traditions as a leader over the years but has also served as a testament to the importance of creating meaningful connections within our teams. As I pass along this tradition to you, I encourage you to adapt and make it your own, recognizing the unique dynamics of your team and your school communities. And if you do take this on, please share it with me so I can see the spreading of this joy!
Examples from the first year:
“ ‘Twas the week before Winter Break and all through the week, the Principal was trying to not make it so bleak. So, on the first day Eli gave me some light reading. The book even seemed a little interesting.” Accompanied with a Kagan Structures mini-book.
“ ‘Twas the week before Winter Break and all through the week, the Principal was trying to not make it so bleak. So, on the second day Eli gave me a treat. It’s just one so it’s okay to eat.” This was accompanied with their choice of candy bar.
“ ‘Twas the week before Winter Break and all through the week, the Principal was trying to not make it so bleak. So, on the third day Eli gave me a break. An extra 30 minutes of lunch I could take.” This was accompanied by a slip that they turned into me and we scheduled a 30 minute time I covered them to extend a break.
“ ‘Twas the week before Winter Break and all through the week, the Principal was trying to not make it so bleak. So, on the fourth day Eli gave me a cup of cheer. It’s hot cocoa and all of the fixings, oh dear!” There was a cocoa bar set up for them in the lounge throughout the day to enjoy.
“ ‘Twas the week before Winter Break and all through the week, the Principal was trying to not make it so bleak. So, on the fifth day Eli gave me more than riff raff. It’s a nacho bar for a ‘nacho’ average staff.” There was a nacho supreme bar set up for them to enjoy during their lunches on this day.
Examples from the 2019-2020 School Year
(Credit to my former secretary Nikkie for penning the poem for that year)