Six Important Actions K-12 Leaders Can Take Over the Summer, Part Two

As summer continues, we’re back with another set of six strategies to help principals and other K-12 leaders relax, refresh, and get ready for the school year ahead.
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6/25/24
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At this point in the summer, we hope you’re enjoying a bit of well-deserved downtime!

From our work with K-12 school and district leaders like you, we know that rest and relaxation are essential this time of year. We also find it’s nearly impossible to completely shut your mind off. There’s so much to do before you’re already welcoming your teachers, staff, students, and families back for another  year.

Truly enjoying your summer break as an educational leader means finding that happy medium between taking care of yourself and taking care of your school community. Similar to our list from earlier this summer, we’ve compiled a second set of strategies to help you strike that balance.

Ask yourself what you should “stop, start & continue”

Big goals often have long runways. When you’re focusing on things like improving curriculum, avoiding summer learning loss, or overhauling school systems and processes, it’s most likely a multi-year action plan.

Summer is a great opportunity to conduct a “start/stop/continue” retrospective to make sure you’re still focusing on the right next best steps. Here’s how this type of retrospective works:

  • First, ask yourself specific questions that can improve your current goal and tell you what you should start doing. Are there better communication styles or decision-making structures that need to be implemented, for example? A tool or accountability measure to implement? Now is the time to start including those pieces in your process.
  • Second, figure out what needs to go. As you were working on this particular goal this past school year, were there things that made the process more difficult, or wasted time? Are there errors that you keep repeating? Initiatives that aren’t serving larger goals? Now is the time to stop doing them, or make a plan to phase those actions out.
  • Third, think about the things you’re doing right. Which tactics and actions have made getting to your goals easier, and can those actions be implemented in other ways? What are the mini-goals you’re constantly achieving? What aspects of your communication or workflow are working well? You’ll want to continue them.

Checking in with your goals in this way can help the next phase of them run much more smoothly. 

Schedule your priorities for the summer and the next school year

You’ve probably heard the adage, “What gets measured, gets managed. We’d also add a similar maxim here: “What gets scheduled, gets accomplished.”

Summer is the ideal time to recalibrate and consider your own needs. Take some time throughout the summer and beyond to block time for what’s most important to you. 

As busy school and district leaders, you’re probably used to a calendar full of meetings and events—many of which you’ve had to schedule yourself. A full calendar is part of your role, but that doesn’t mean it needs to control you. 

Summer is the ideal time to recalibrate and consider your own needs. Take some an hour to block time on your calendar for what’s most important to you this summer (and beyond). Take that vacation. Register for that summer conference. Schedule that daily walk or time for your own online learning or professional development. Guard that time fiercely this summer—and next school year too—and remember that your own self-care is critical for being the best leader you can be. 

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Kick off the year with successful onboarding

Creating a successful onboarding experience not only helps new-to-the-profession (or new-to-the-district or new-to-the school) educators feel more solid and supported at the beginning of the school year, it also builds a strong foundation for future teacher and staff retention

Although we tend to think about onboarding as a series of how-to’s and instructions and making sure our teachers and staff understand expectations, it also means something bigger: building trust.

There are countless ways that you can cultivate trust in this beginning part of the journey for new teachers or staff members:

  • First, determine the information your new team members will need, as well as the hierarchy of those information categories. Make it easy for them to get their basic needs met (i.e., where do they get an ID badge? How do they sign up for health insurance? What’s the dress code?) while also thinking about what they need to know immediately about your district, school community, academic best practices, and professional learning.
  • Second, build in time for them to make meaningful connections with those they’ll be working with. Make sure there’s an up-to-date organizational chart and time for plenty of “get to know you” meetings. 
  • Third, make a plan for “whole-year” onboarding that helps those who are coming onboard at different times throughout the year. 

These actions not only help everyone get up to speed more quickly—it also helps to make them feel valued. And feeling valued creates trust. 

Start to put a consistent self-reflection practice into action

Self-reflection is a K-12 education leader’s superpower. When you take a moment for introspection, it provides new perspectives and allows you to observe patterns of behavior and thoughts that you might easily miss otherwise. It’s also a catalyst for leaders who want to focus on their own growth and continuous improvement. And, of course, it leads to better school and student outcomes too.

Self-reflection is a K-12 education leader’s superpower. When you take a moment for introspection, it provides new perspectives and allows you to observe patterns of behavior and thoughts that you might easily miss otherwise.

The challenges with self-reflection are two-fold: 1) knowing where to begin and 2) making time for it to happen consistently. To help with the first challenge, we’ve created a comprehensive list of 25 reflection questions to get you started, broken up into five categories to fuel the areas of professional development you most want to focus on.

To help make time for self-reflection, consider scheduling time in your calendar, as we mentioned above. This might look like taking an hour a week to work through a few of the questions during the summer break and keeping that time on your calendar for weekly reflection as the school year gets underway. 

Learn from your mistakes and leave them in the rear view

We often talk about the myth of K-12 school leaders being “superheroes.” And while it’s true that a school leader’s role includes many feats of heroic strength (including the wearing of MANY hats!), you are a human being. A human being who makes mistakes, no less!

Undoubtedly, there have been some moments over this past year where errors have been made. Words that have been said that didn’t exactly come out the way you wanted them to. Actions that were taken that didn’t have the expected outcome.

Here’s where we’ll give some tough love: it’s easy to dwell on all the things that could have happened or should have happened. But you also need to be honest with yourself: is the dwelling really helpful

Sure, it’s important to acknowledge missteps, apologize, and make it right. You’re also making what feels like a million decisions a week during the school year. Give yourself some grace when you make an error or two. 

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Rejoice in the difference you’ve made

Here’s where we’ll give some tough love: it’s easy to dwell on all the things that could have happened or should have happened. But you also need to be honest with yourself: is the dwelling really helpful? 

Educational consultant and coach Naphtali Hoff says it much better than we ever could: “As a leader, you have much to be proud of. Over the past year, you have guided, directed, cajoled, and encouraged others to grow and achieve. Teachers improved in their instruction because of your insight and mentorship. Students learned many new concepts and skills. Other personnel within your building benefited from your guidance, direction, and support.” 

Taking those moments to celebrate yourself makes it so much easier—and more automatic—to celebrate your team as well. Research tells us that when we celebrate our accomplishments—even the seemingly insignificant ones—we create the energy and motivation to reach our larger goals, especially around student achievement. 

Celebration doesn’t have to mean confetti or over-the-top recognition. It can be training yourself to see the small wins every day (or every week) and helping your team to do the same. It can be keeping an eye out for the unexpected and finding positive aspects you didn’t expect. And, it can be taking the time to share your celebrations with your broader school district or local community, so that they understand what’s important, too. 

Summer: a time to recharge while laying future groundwork

When you use this time to refine your goals, focus on building trust with your team, and prioritize your own well-being, you’re not just preparing for another school year—you’re cultivating a resilient and thriving educational environment. 

As you move forward into the rest of your summer, remember that each thoughtful action you take now sets the stage for a successful and impactful year ahead—not just for you, but for everyone in your care.

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