My wife is in new teacher orientation this week. She’s helping teachers new to the district understand how things work there. Next week all the teachers will be in for meetings. This is a typical way for the school year to start. I’ve been seeing Twitter messages from teachers all over the country who are going through these meetings for the last couple of weeks. Some of these events are helpful and interesting. Some of them are, well let’s just say not so interesting. None the less these meetings are important.

Kickoff meetings at schools set part of the tone for the year. This is when teachers learn about changes in policies and procedures that have been developed over the summer. Pity the poor administrators who work through the summer on trying to improve things and get things approved by school boards. Goals for the year are outlined and discussed – sometimes vociferously. And there is often training. Teachers are trained in techniques, technology integration, new curriculum and teaching methodology, classroom management plans and all sorts of other things.

This week I am in a week of meetings to kick off the school and fiscal year for my team. It’s a little like the school kickoff meetings in some ways. There is some training. There is some discussion of new processes, plans, programs and goals for the new year. There are even some vociferous conversations. :-) One thing that is different though is that we are also having team social events. There are about 20 people in these meetings and we work all over the country. This is one of the few times in the year when we are all in the same place. Most of the rest of the year our meetings will be virtual – conference calls and Internet conversations (email, Instant Messages, etc). So we use these meetings to really get to know each other. There are a couple of new people who I have never met in person before. Others I only see at these meetings and the occasional national conference.

In many ways the social events – the chance to meet in an informal way – is probably the best part of these meetings. There is some of this in school start up events as well but its not as key a part of the schedule. There is usually breakfast and lunch at school kickoff days and there is a lot of re-connecting at these times. And of course during the days when there are classroom setup a lot of people spend time chatting on things that may not have to do with school. I did go on a state-wide event for teachers in Catholic schools in New Hampshire once though. This was actually a dinner cruise which included no more than a perfunctory kick off speech or two by administrators. Mostly is was social networking. I really appreciated that as a new teacher.

Schools are social organizations and the opportunity to bound with other teachers is, I think, an important and valuable part of the required meetings for teachers before the students show up. I don’t think we always appreciate that aspect of the meetings but I’ll bet people would notice the effect if these meetings didn’t happen.