As a native of New England, I have long savored the month of October with its crisp, fall weather (even more so when the Red Sox are in the thick of the things). And as a career educator, I have long believed that October is prime time for learning in schools – for students and for adults.
Time is our most precious resource in schools. As leaders, we need to ensure that we get the maximum use out of the limited time we have to engage with teachers in meaningful learning and improvement work. Here are a few reminders as we prepare to turn the page to October…
1. Revisit Your Opening of School Goals: Many principals devote a lot of energy to preparing creative and uplifting opening of school presentations. This is certainly important to getting things off to a good start. Keep in mind, however, that just because you emphasized it (whatever the “it” is) on opening day, does not mean it is not going to happen without follow-through and planning. Having heard the focus once and having now settled in with their new classes, teachers are often in a much better place to revisit a goal or area of focus for the school in October.
2. Plan, Plan, Plan Your Meetings: As with location in real estate, planning is critical to making the most of the faculty and team meeting time that we have available. In reviewing your goals for the year, think about the aspects of the work that are the most substantive, that require the most mental energy, or that involve the most change. October is a great time for “heavy lifting.” Plan your meeting time accordingly.
Somewhere along the way, I was told that for meetings with meaningful content (Shouldn’t all our meetings involve this?), I should spend three hours planning for every hour of meeting time. While smaller team meetings may not require quite this much time, certainly I found over the years that meetings involving the entire faculty did. And if your district provides the luxury of early release time for professional learning, using the time well becomes even more critical.
The key to planning is being clear about desired outcomes and having a “lesson plan” that will enable participants to interact and get engaged. Sometimes it can be helpful to use the structure of a protocol. I have found the National School Reform Faculty (NSRF) to be an excellent resource for protocols that help structure conversations and working together: http://www.nsrfharmony.org/free-resources/protocols
3. Schedule Yourself: October is also prime time for starting the teacher evaluation process. If you have not done so already, sit down and make a schedule for yourself. Set goals for completing observations and stick to them. Don’t make the mistake of waiting to the weeks before evaluations are due. Who knows what else will be vying for your time and attention at that time?
Wishing you a productive prime time. Go Sox!
P.S. Take note that two of our workshop offerings for school leaders in October are on time management strategies for the evaluation process and making our meetings more effective (see below).