The first day of school is a misnomer. Everyday can and should be considered a first day. This Wednesday is the first Wednesday of the Week. Most will consider this Friday to be the end of the work week, but it is also the first Friday of this week. Everyday is a new day, and as a leader, the daily culture is influenced by the leader’s attitude toward it.
Having said that, there are a number of practices principals and leaders, novice and experienced alike, to do for the first day/days of school:
1) Avoid the office on the first day, even the first week of school. Be out and about your school. Be visible to students and staff alike. Your visibility will scream so much more than you what you ever say or write at your desk. Establish visibility and being out and about the learning as your priority, on the first day, and everyday afterward. It is difficult to lead a school from behind your principal’s desk.
2) Make the first week or two about relationships. Rules and curriculum or learning standards certainly don't matter during the first days; relationships do. The learning time that you will get later in the school year is completely dependent upon the quality of relationships that are established those first days of school.
3) Use their names- teachers and students alike. Nothing acknowledges the worth and value of a person like greeting them warmly, calling them by name, and sharing a positive comment with them. You will never get their heads if you don’t get their hearts.
4) Learn the power of empathy. Don’t confuse this with compassion, sympathy or being soft. Rather, use empathy on the first day and every day after to serve in giving others what is needed for them to be successful in learning and achieving. (note: this does not translate to giving them what they want- this is a very important distinction)
5) Focus on the students through the adults. One of my greatest failing forward moments from my first year as a principal was trying to run a classroom of 350+ students. I was focused on the students. I failed miserably. I learned that my role was to be a teacher of teachers- that I needed to focus on leading, supporting and building the capacity of teachers so they would, in turn, do the same with students.
Finally, develop an understanding that culture and leadership are two sides of the same coin. Their influence on each other is inseparable and direct. When one suffers, so does the other. When one is influenced, the capacity of the other is always directly impacted, and that knowledge prompts action for the better.