I was about to enter my first year of a principalship, and you could feel the sunny Cape Cod days slipping away quickly. I had just signed my first principal contract, and I wanted to hit the ground running as soon as I entered my new middle level school. Friends laughed at me that evening around the late summer campfire when I threw out the idea of buying my staff engagement rings to show my commitment to all of them. The next morning, I promptly ordered 120 of the shiniest, gaudiest plastic “diamond” rings that you have ever seen. I wasn’t kidding when I stated in my interview that I was committed—“all in.”

I needed my staff to know I was in it for the right reasons and that this ring would symbolize the trust and engagement that would strengthen our relationship together as a learning community. There had been some recent turnover with the school administration, and I sensed that there was a lack of trust in the middle level leadership. While there were admittedly a few odd glances and maybe some snickering when I handed each staff member their ring, I bravely walked around that first staff meeting and placed the token into each person’s hand. Five years later, however, it may have been the best decision that this first-year principal ever made.

An Annual Tradition

What started as a silly token at that first staff meeting quickly became the start of an annual “unveiling” of a yearlong token that represented the vision for the school year. Those shiny plastic diamond rings have now been replaced over the past several years with keys to represent “keys to success,” anchors and helms to represent “leadership,” trees to represent “growth,” and this year hands to represent “all hands on deck.” These tokens are handed out to all staff and students at the start of each school year with the understanding that they represent our school’s yearlong vision. Monthly character words are attached to these tokens so that each month we celebrate our goals for our building. 

There is nothing more rewarding to see than those tokens displayed proudly when you enter a classroom or greet a teacher in the hallway. Year after year, these tokens continue to symbolize how far we have come as a family of learners. These tokens have given us an opportunity to set common goals and work together toward a vision that continually puts us all on the same page. 

‘All Hands on Deck’

This year, I have found myself often repeating the phrase “all hands on deck” and catching myself glancing down at the hand token that has been placed strategically on my lanyard. It’s amazing how something so small has shaped the culture of our middle level school from year to year. Now the task begins on what next year’s token will be—maybe something that represents a return to normalcy?

About the Author

Stacy Monette, EdD, is principal of Paul R. Baird Middle School in Ludlow, MA. She is the 2020 Massachusetts Principal of the Year. Follow her on Twitter (@MonetteStacy).


  • Margo Gessner says:

    How about something that represents being united; united in a common goal of standing together as a nation, indevisible…it just makes sense during this time of “segregation”. Love and respect you my cuz!

  • Cathy Creveling says:

    As your cousin, I could not be prouder of you! This is amazing!

  • Deborah Self says:

    What a great way to have buy-in from all stakeholders. This also demonstrates how the school community is being cohesive and intentional in their efforts of supporting the principal’s vision for achievement and success for all!!

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