The Reluctant Answer: A newsletter, if carefully and purposefully

The Reluctant Answer: A newsletter, if carefully
and purposefully constructed, can align staff,
instruction, PD, and morale….
By: Jarrod Mason, Hamilton Heights High School
Contact: [email protected]
Background That Led to Your Inquiry:
Simply using the Survey Results provided enough information to make me ask some serious questions about
my administrative practice. The Higher standard deviations were in two areas; instructional coherence, and
personalized and motivating instructional program. Identifying the factors that were most related to
improving these two areas was somewhat difficult. Staff Feedback through emails, face to face discussion,
and requested meeting topics (department chairs, School Improvement, and PLC) led me to the conclusion
that I had to do something to unify ourselves and our efforts for the betterment of us all. These things were
focal points in my action research:
Professional Development
Therefore, the purpose of my action research was to re-establish myself as the fostering agent of a cohesive,
adaptive, and motivating instructional program. With this purpose, I asked the question, “How can I increase
my capacity as a leader supporting a coherent instructional program?”
To gain insight about my wondering, I canvased emails, phone logs, and conversations with staff members
(searching for the names of those who provided suggestions for agenda topics, asked questions about
processes and PD, and any other face to face interactions that had to do with the following themes:
Perception of me as leader;
Student achievement issues (ie. grade distribution)
Once equipped with the emails and information gleaned from them, I was able to gain a broader perspective
of the issue(s). Once looking at the larger picture, it was clear that communication, morale, and professional
development opportunities had to improve.
To address these issues, I created a newsletter. Each edition (there were 16 total in the 18 weeks of the
second semester) contained sections aimed at remedying the deficiencies that were prevalent prior to the
start of the action research project.
The first section each week was Food for Thought. The point of this section was to provide perspective on the
everyday life of an educator, or sometimes just us as people, and remind us all that we are in this together. It
wasn’t long, and others sent me things to include in this portion of the newsletter.
The second section was directed specifically at increasing the morale of the staff. I titled this “What You do
Matters.” For the initial letter, I provided praise to someone who was going out of their way for students,
families, or other staff members where no one else knew about it. For subsequent editions, the teachers were
tasked to submit those examples to me for the newsletter. Here is an excerpt of an email from a teacher
about our custodian:
Out of the words of one of my students (after Chris cleaned up my giant mess- pleasantly), “You know who
deserves everything we got? Chris. He’s the boss!”
The third section was simply a calendar and reminder section meant to eliminate questions (and really provide
more information than the staff wanted) about what was when. This included school events, facility use,
extra-curricular schedules, and athletic events.
The final section was “Professional Development.” Unifying our efforts in a cohesive way was a critical focal
point of this, and I used this section as a way to provide a deeper pool of resources to focus on just a few
areas. Student achievement was the primary focal point, but I wanted to increase their perception of me as a
continual learner. To do this, I also provided them the resources I used to stay current professionally and
Statement of Your Wondering:
Stating Your Learning and Supporting it with Data:
I think it is easy to get caught up in the pace and magnitude of what is asked of us, and it causes us to
miss unifying opportunities for staff and students.
o Going to work every day to advocate and improve the achievement of every student in our
buildings is without a doubt why we all go to work. The key to realizing this is providing the
support and direction to ensure everyone else can stay focused on this. Anything that derails
this focus must be given a place and a time (maybe a newsletter) that does not impede the time
and energy set aside for learning.
Listen and take notes.
o Most of my direction came from those around me. Like many professionals, I can get caught up
in the pace of the work around me, and I forget to listen or see what is REALLY happening. By
actually looking at the data and asking a simple question, I was able to look at the emails,
conversations, and phone logs and SEE what was REALLY happening. It sounds simple, but
actually listening made this project, and my results, possible. Strategically asking the right
questions… and providing the proper support, you can affect serious change with those
sometimes reluctant to do so….most importantly, in favor of students. The following email was
sent near the end of the year, and it is a good example of where I hoped to take the morale:
Dear Mr. Mason,
I want to thank you for the kind words you wrote about our classroom for the school newsletter. We all
appreciate, very much, all of the support you and your administration have given us this year. We love
these kids, and they know the school is behind them. It makes a big difference in their daily lives,
believe me. I'm honored to have the opportunity to teach here at Hamilton Heights High School. It's
funny, as I'm from Kokomo, I knew Ryan White and his mom, Jeannie, all those years ago. It was
wonderful to know, then, that Hamilton Heights was so welcoming and supportive to Ryan and his
family. It's wonderful now to witness first hand, the blessings of this small community and school and
their outstanding dedication to the students and their success. Thank you all for everything.
Providing Concluding Thoughts:
The action research project was good for me because the answer to my wondering (writing a newsletter) was
something that I didn’t like. I didn’t like them as a teacher, and I swore for years that I wouldn’t do one in a
school I led. Fast-forward to life after this action research project….I will never go through another school year
without one.
Two-thirds of our staff participated in the What You do Matters section of the newsletter, and it is an excellent
example of how simply acknowledging what others are doing can make us all feel better about the hard work
we do. Without the newsletter, this untapped area of needed improvement would have remained unchanged
and stagnant. Moreover, without the willingness to go against my own personal views, I would not have
realized the improvements I did.
Looking forward, as a result of doing this action research project, I will do two things for sure….
~ I will always have a newsletter. The ability to communicate in a way that serves everyone is extremely
important, and will leave no excuse for not being on the same page.
~ I will never forget to ask myself, “Why not?” Questioning the things I am most adamant about is a good
thing. Asking myself, “Why not?” can lead to something very healthy and beneficial for everyone on the staff.