How School Leaders Can Finish the Year Strong and Build for Next Year

Now is the time for leaders to focus on effective time management and listening to your school community. Set yourself up for success now and next school year, too.
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Around this time of year, most school and district leaders are eyeing spring break. It’s the time of year that many balls are still up in the air and fatigue is beginning to set in from all the juggling. Sadly, we know spring break will inevitably fly by and those balls will still be there waiting to be picked back up when school resumes. So, how will you proceed? Will you continue the juggling act or develop a different approach? 

Continuing to juggle often leads to burn out and lack of planning for the next school year, and no one wants that. So, to finish the school year strong and lay the foundation for next school year, we recommend picking a strategy that focuses on time management and actively listening to your school community.

Prioritize your time and activities to finish strong

In the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey offers a time management matrix that can be helpful for school and district leaders. For those that are familiar, let this be a refresher. There is no better time to be reminded of this timeless tool. For those that are not familiar, Covey breaks down activities in his time management matrix into 4 categories of activities.

©Stephen Covey

Do any of these activities look familiar, and can you relate to the corresponding categories? For example, are you starting the day checking emails that will deter you from getting into classrooms to advance instructional excellence? Or are you handling things like managing building substitutes which other members of your team are better suited for?

According to Covey, the goal is to do away with the activities that are truly not important for your role, though they may seem urgent. You want to shrink the amount of activities in category 3 and really focus on the activities in category 2 that are not urgent, but are important. For example, optimal time management for the remainder of the school year could look like having step-back meetings with your leadership team, looking at your goals and plans for the year, and deciding to focus on two high-leverage priorities and actions between now and the summer. 

And, remember, you can say no 

Experts across all industries also encourage leaders to learn to say no because it helps to create more time for what matters most. Every day so many situations present themselves as urgent and you must learn to push back against them or they will distract you from the important leadership activities. In not saying no, you are modeling for your team that they can come to you with matters that they feel are pressing and you will drop everything to address them. In all of your interactions, you want to remind your team that they need to focus on what is of most importance. Saying no is important too. 

Actively listen to your community to build for next year

All year long you have been building and sustaining relationships, and this time of year it is critical to continue listening to your community so you can end the year strong. And, you can lay the groundwork for the key action steps, school improvement or strategic plan, and professional development opportunities that will propel student achievement forward in the next school year. Here are three strategies to consider. 

Engage with your teachers

With teacher shortages and a workforce climate of high turnover, it is more important than ever to meet teachers and staff where they are and be open to listening to their honest feedback. Teachers often will only speak freely if they feel psychologically safe in an inclusive environment created by a leader who has practiced self-reflection.

“Today’s teachers want to be heard. They want to know that beyond the cursory open-door practices, that you see and hear them."
Brandy Reeves, Chief of Staff & School Leadership, Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools

One of the ways school and district leaders are soliciting feedback from their staff is to hold stay interviews, which are informal conversations that managers use to retain strong employees. District leader and New Leaders alum Brandy Reeves has used the technique at Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools and says, “Today’s teachers want to be heard. They want to know that beyond the cursory open-door practices, that you see and hear them. They want to be invited to conversations where you engage them around the work and who they are as a person. They want to be valued.”

Add opportunities for student voice 

Students who have a voice in how their school is run feel more invested in their education. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. This spring, you want to create proactive space for students to share their experiences. Many school and district leaders are using empathy interviews to uncover needs that may have gone unnoticed or unspoken. Using open-ended questions, these one-on-one conversations with an individual student or group of students  provide leaders with a deeper understanding of student needs and how best to support them. All of which is valuable insight as you plan for the next school year. 

Listen to your families

Spring is also the time to gather and evaluate data from families and community members about the quality of your engagement. What specific bits of feedback have emerged as a theme or trend? How do you plan on operationalizing around it for the next school year? Empathy interviews work well with families too. They yield key insights into what families value and prioritize in the school and district. From those trends, you can identify two or three strategies to support and enhance family and community engagement next year as well. 

If you don’t have a family engagement or community partnership plan, now is the time to think about creating a plan based on an analysis of your community’s needs.

Putting it all together

By developing a time management strategy that allows you to be productive and lead most effectively and being mindful of staff input, student voice, and community feedback, you will position yourself to not only end this school year from a place of strength, but begin next school year the same. 

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