Back to School…Like a PIRATE!

Beth Houf

Back to School….Like a PIRATE! The Challenge is ON!

Update: I wrote the original post below on the eve of becoming our district’s new middle school principal in the summer of 2015. Our building wanted to do something big on those first days of school to show our change in our mission to create a school that our students, staff and parents are beating the doors to get IN, not out. We wanted to get our kids so excited about learning on day one, that they couldn’t wait to come back the next day.  What I can say, without a doubt, is the first day of our first year together at Fulton Middle School was one of the favorite, most memorable days of my career. I watched our staff pour their hearts into teaching and showcase their passions for the subjects they teach. I experienced our students enjoying learning, from the first minutes of class. I experienced all of us trying new things, some successfully, some not, which laid the beginnings of a foundation of growth mindset. These first few days set the tone for our year, which truly was amazing! The original blog is as follows and then I’ve added some BONUS material to the end. Thank you so much for reading and making this year the #BestYearEver for your students, staff, parents and YOU!

What is most exciting to me is seeing this foundation alive and well two years later. We continue to push ourselves as a staff to make the first days of school more BAM and less blah. We refuse to get stagnant and are truly dedicated to creating a school that our students and staff are running to get in, not out. This year, after seeing the success other middle schools were having, we decided to start a house system in our school. (Here is the background info on house systems: We started with the WHY, which is to create a school environment that is both emotionally and physically safe so that students can thrive at high levels. Of course we want our students to learn at high levels, but it is hard to do that when you do not feel safe. The summer was spent planning and organizing. We also had our students help with the foundational pieces. Seeing the excitement for the possibilities in the faces of our staff and student was truly priceless!

I CAN NOT WAIT to kick this off in our first day assembly! Big plans for another big first day assembly at Fulton Middle School! (also a special shout out to our amazing art teacher, Craig Chapman @ArtFMS for his work on this!)

Instilling a pride in our school and community is another big goal for our year. One way we have started to do this before the first days is a building makeover. After seeing a post on Twitter, our staff was inspired to do something similar for our students as well. The walls and bathrooms of our school got a big makeover focusing on empathy and empowerment…two traits that we will focus heavily on this year.

Something that Shelley and I feel that is so important is to not forget to make school amazing for our staff these first days as well! We can’t push teachers to change first day practices and continue to do the same old boring inservice. I can’t give away all my secrets yet, but here’s an example of an alternate to sit-and-get staff pd that I did with our new staff. We took a field trip with our treasure map below. This was a great way to build relationships and help our new staff navigate our large building.

(You can use this map by going to the following link:

Our challenge to you is to rethink the traditional back to school…for staff…for students and for parents. How can you create experiences that will keep the positive momentum going all year long? Please take a moment to share your thoughts and actions on the #leadlap hashtag. Shelley and I will be featuring all of your wonderful ideas on our blog over the next month! We can’t wait to see how you will make school amazing!

Original Post, August 2015:

Sometimes an article finds us at exactly the right moment. Moving to a new position next fall, I have been in back-to-school mode all summer. First impressions are the most important, so I’ve been constantly thinking and brainstorming about how to start the year for students AND staff with a bang. My personal mission is to collaboratively create a school that our students, staff and parents are running to get IN rather than out. I knew the traditional first day of rules and rules and more rules would not work.  Then I stumbled upon this treasure:

I immediately shared it with my leadership team on our Voxer group as well as a few PLN members for feedback. As Dave Burgess says, the snowball began to roll. I had immediate feedback on a Friday night from everyone. An overwhelming WE MUST DO THIS came back to me loud and clear. (on a Friday night in July, I might add!) I shared the article, as well as the amazing quote by my friend Don Wettrick, author of Pure Genius to my PLN and I found there are several others ready to make this happen as well! Then I found a blog by Don on this very topic as well. YES!! Create culture FIRST! When the right culture is cultivated, it’s amazing how the need for specific rules diminishes.

I had a conversation with my PIRATE principal pal Jay Billy about how awesome it would be get our colleagues to take this Back to School…Like a PIRATE challenge with us, not just teachers, but school leaders as well. This challenge is to not only make the first few days of school an EXPERIENCE for our students, but to extend this thinking to our staff learning. How can we minimize the mundane and maximize the excitement for our profession; for our passions in education?

Our theme for our school year at Fulton Middle School is Together, We CAN! This works perfectly for our challenge as well. Jay and I created this Google Doc to collect ideas to KICK up those first days of school. We would LOVE it if you would add your amazing ideas as well. Imagine the possibilities of a year that starts in such a positive way. That snowball will continue to roll into the BEST YEAR EVER! Together, We CAN change the way things always have been those first few days of school. The challenge is ON! Let’s make it happen!

Google Doc for sharing:

Opening day assembly with a principal dance off!
Mr. Kerr had a mean stanky leg!


My whip and nae nae was pretty sweet!
But I definitely went down in defeat!