Leading the Way with Staff Memos

Just over a year ago I heard Todd Whitaker speak to many principals at the annual AWSA (Association of Wisconsin School Administrators) convention. As always, I left with many great tips to continue leading my school, but the biggest tool I learned about was providing my staff with a weekly memo. Whitaker called it a “Friday Flash” or “Friday Focus” and is used to share best practices with staff, along with upcoming events and anything that can be shared in a memo and not waste staff meeting time (that could be better spent on learning/discussion).

I have since found a few other principal blogs used to share weekly memos with staff that I continue to follow for ideas, so I thought it was only fair that I share what I’m doing here for others.
I immediately began implementing this tool last year as a “Monday Memo” to staff. Whitaker says that this should be given to staff on brightly colored paper in their mailboxes, but I kept mine to email since I am also trying to lead staff using technology. This year I have expanded this practice to include:
*Monday Memo that includes “Great Things I Noticed Last Week,” “Upcoming Events,” “Nuts & Bolts Notes,” and “Tech Tips”
*Friday Focus that shares my professional reflections with staff on something I am reading or learning with staff
*Created a blog that includes these posts, the staff google calendar, occassional staff polls, my shelfari widget (so staff can see what I’m reading), and other resources
Since refining this practice, I have really come to see the benefit of sharing “Great Things I Noticed” because I have observed the same practices be implemented in other classrooms after posting them. Some of the Friday Focus messages I have posted have encouraged discussions that I have overheard in the hallways or had staff mention their reflections to me. Since starting this I have also had a couple of staff ask about how to get started with blogging, how to get started on twitter (since I often share things I learn from people on twitter), and ask to borrow books I’ve read.
I have previously shared a cross-post of one of my Friday Focus posts HERE.
Here’s an example of one of my Monday Memo posts from December:

Great Things I Noticed Last Week:
*While sitting in a 5K mini-lesson on setting a student excitedly said, “I just made a connection to another book we read!”
*In another 5K classroom students were practicing their Jolly Phonics with the SMARTBoard program and were able to read the following words: coast, grain, punch, and chimpanzee using their sounds. I bet the 1st grade teachers love to hear this!
*After 5th grade student presentations, the class was asked to give 3 positive comments and 3 things to improve on. I was amazed to hear the feedback given to students by students and surprised how much Daily 5/Cafe language carried over into the feedback for science presentations.
*5th grade started keeping track of “Writing Non-Negotiables” as writing skills are taught in mini-lessons. You can see the list from one class in the picture on the right. Mrs. B says that this list has really cut down on the time spent conferring with students for writing revising/editing–she does NOT help revise if they have a mistake that is on the non-negotiable list. Wouldn’t it be great if we had a list of expectations like this at each grade level?

Events This Week:
*Monday – Mentors meeting at 3:05 in Media Center
*Tuesday – I will be gone all day at the SLATE conference (School Leaders Advancing Technology in Education) in Wisconsin Dells.
*Thursday – No Office Day–I’ll be spending my day in 3-5th grade classrooms
K/2/4 Music Concert (including 5th grade band) at 6:30 PM
*Friday – Just a reminder to show your school spirit and wear your school shirt (please help remind your students too)

“Nuts & Bolts” Notes:
*Just a reminder that next week is already mid-quarter (I had to triple check the calendar to be sure!) so make sure you’re ready to send home a progress report for each of your students.
* We’ve added another Tech Tuesday to the calendar for December 20th. I know that’s a busy week, but there’s quite a few teachers excited about using Pinterest or wanting to learn how before break so Jean and Bethany will be teaching us how that day.

Tech Tip:
*I’ve seen some great websites being used on the SMARTBoards and in the computer lab that I’m sure students would continue to use at home if they have internet access. You can show them how to access the site from the student resources on the district webpage (if it’s there) or include the web address in your newsletter, which can be quite lengthy and difficult to type at times. If you want to learn how to make a shortened web address to share with students/parents for home and for easy access in the computer lab you just need to go to http://bitly.com and sign up for an account. Here’s a screencast I made to show you how to use this tool. Let me know if you need any help getting started on this.

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This Post Has 21 Comments

  1. John Skretta

    Great advice on the Monday Memo of “Great Things I Noticed” section! Keep the focus positive and offer specific praise – highlight successes. What gets noticed by leadership and is reinforced is more likely to become common practice and see widespread adoption.

  2. Larry Fliegelman


    The only problem with wht you do is that you are hard to keep up with. My teachers are soon to tire of that principal in Wisconsin 🙂

    Thank you so much for leading the way and sharing it as you go.

  3. Dr. Frank Buck

    I like the idea of keeping your Monday Memo digital. For 8 years, I did a “Friday Memo” as a principal. The 9th year, I traded it for a blog. The ability to include links and video made it a much better option. The ability to go back and fix a typo was another plus. The fact that all previous issues were neatly organized one under the other and were searchable was a hit with faculty members who would often refer back to previous posts.

    Just noticed you have my blog (Get Organized!) on your Blog List. Thanks!

  4. Principal Scott Osborne

    Fantastic practices Jessica. I like how you have ‘sections’ for the Monday Memo, that would improve what I’m doing.
    Another great post, thank you!

  5. Principal Scott Osborne

    Love the screencast too – because of your post I just discovered the Google Chrome extension for Bitly, very cool!

  6. Michael Berry

    I really enjoyed this post. I do something similar, called “and bolts” (we’re a nut safe school…get it?), but I picked up tons of great ideas from this post. I’m definitely going to borrow the “great things I noticed last week” thing. Thanks for the post! @principalbery

  7. Lori Cullen

    I really like this idea and I really support the notion of having all important staff meeting time spent on working and talking and learning together. If we are going to call people together to sit together we need to let them talk and work together, not just sit and listen to someone give item information that could be shared in other ways.

  8. Dwight Carter

    Hi Jessica,

    I read On of Todd Whittaker’s books this summer and calls led with him abou the Friday Focus. I began this school year with the GLHS Friday Focus blog for my staff that includes many of the same ideas you share in your blog. It’s been well received! Thanks for sharing your success story!

    Be Great,


  9. matthewweld


    Thanks for a great blog, and for your thoughts on making a blog for the staff. I am looking to be more of a technology example in my building, and will follow some of your suggestions in my building, too.


  10. @bellarenti

    I really like your section on Great Things I noticed Last Week. I generally do a Thank You’s section, but I think your specific examples from other classrooms is probably way more effective. I also noticed you have a no office day. Do you do this once a week?
    Thanks for inspiring me,

  11. PrincipalJ

    Thanks Aimee! I get in classrooms as much as possible, but also am trying to schedule 1 #NoOfficeDay per quarter…I don’t just observe on these days, but try to be more actively involved in teaching.

  12. Ellen Dietrick

    Great idea! Thank you! It is so helpful to see the example. Do you share the Monday & Friday posts by both blog and email? Whitaker says not to be tempted to share by email because it will get lost in the virtual pile. Do you find that to be true? Do teachers print out the email/post?

  13. PrincipalJ

    Good question Ellen! I usually follow everything Whitaker says, but here I do stray. I made sure at the start of the year that every staff member signed up via email to receive my blog posts in their inboxes (for blogger you can check feedburner to see who’s subscribed). This way staff get them in email, but can also just go back to the blog site to find old posts.

  14. William Blount

    Thank you for this idea! I have implemented it with my staff this year and have had very good feedback. I particularly appreciate the different sections and the positive lead-in.

  15. smithjohn321

    what a great web blog. I usually spend hours on the net reading blogs on event staffingAnd, I really would like to praise you for writing such a fabulous article. This is really informative and I will for sure refer my friends the same

  16. Anonymous

    Wow! I love the bit.ly shortening of the weblinks! Thank you for sharing that! I found that you don’t even have to type in the http portion of the weblink – just bit.ly/statecapitals works. Thank you!!

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