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Back to School: A Time for Leaders to Reflect and Plan

02 Sep 2015 by Rebecca Berlin

School is back in session!

I grew up in Plymouth, Michigan, and the first day of school was always the Tuesday after Labor Day. As I moved south, I was surprised that the first day of school could range from August 1 to September 7. My children started eighth (gasp!) and fourth grade last week, and I must admit that I am struggling with the end of summer! I am sure many of you are going through a similar transition, but one thing I have learned about transitions is that they are a perfect time to reflect and plan for what is to come. Therefore, I am dedicating today’s blog to school administers—principals, center directors, Head Start directors—the leaders who pull everything together and make the buses run, the clocks tick, and the copy machines whirl.

As an administrator, I always preferred a year-beginning reflection than a year-ending reflection. At the end of the year, you are often too tired, too overwhelmed with paperwork, too tied to that year’s disappointments and struggles. At the beginning of the school year, you have been able to but a bit of space between the past year’s struggles and honestly reflect on what went wrong and what went right. These reflections are most often based in anecdotes and emotions, but this year I challenge you to base the reflections in data from your previous year. 

Everyone has a different process for reviewing data, but at the beginning of the year I recommend a slightly different process than the typical data review I suggest in my data presentations and webinars. Plan to take some quiet time before the children and teachers return to school (or hide in a quiet space during nap time if you are in a full-year program) and pull out any data that you have. I am a paper person, so I would recommend printing it out, grabbing a few different color highlighters, and just seeing what the data says to you.

On your first review, try not to go in with any preconceived ideas (i.e., I wanted our attendance rates at 80%, our expulsions at 0% and our Emotional Support scores at a 5). Instead, just see what jumps out at you. This could be at the student, teacher, or classroom level. When you go into data review without an initial goal or purpose (I know this is contrary to everything I usually say in my blogs and presentations), you have the freedom to see things that you might have otherwise missed. Use your highlighters to note things that surprised you, things that concerned you, things that you want to be sure to celebrate with teachers, and things you want to announce to your board. 

After you complete this first free form review, then go back and review the data based upon your goals for the previous school. As you do this review, think about these questions: 

  • Did we meet the goals we set for ourselves at the beginning of the past year?
  • If yes, how are we going to celebrate those accomplishments? 
  • How are we going to learn from how we made those accomplishments so we can continue the trend into the new school year?
  • Will we keep these goals for another year or should we add some additional goals?
  • If no, were the goals we set realistic?
  • Did we provide enough resources (people, time, money) to meeting the goal?
  • Did we have too many goals and as a result our efforts were too scattered?

After you complete this second review, think about how you will share out the results to teachers, parents, and your board. It is important to include the “a-ha” moments from the free form review, as well as the celebrations and areas of growth from the second review. One of the most overlooked points when sharing the data is your consideration of the format that the data will take. Decide if your audience would respond better to bar graphs, word clouds, venn diagrams, pie charts, or line charts. If you do not know how to move data into a visual form, use this free resource or ask a middle schooler. I ask mine all the time!

 For more information that will be helpful for your back to school meetings, download our e-book Is Your Organization Ready for Large-Scale Change?. I find chapters 3, 4, 7, 8, and 9 particularly helpful in thinking about how to frame conversations.

Good luck,

Rebecca

 

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