Setting the Table for a Successful New School Year

As the school year was winding down, John Wink had a blog post entitled The Principal’s Summer Excellence Checklist. Having served in this capacity in the past, I reviewed his list with interest. Eight categories of questions caught my attention and I am confident none of them will surprise you.

1. Culture: The idea of envisioning, establishing, transforming and maximizing a culture of learning has been on my mind a lot. Let me share some of my connections.

Envision. Establish. Transform. Maximize.

Envision a highly functioning classroom learning team. What are they doing? Establish that culture of learning and support it with processes, strategies and tools. Toss in opportunities for collaboration, challenge, and discussion of mindsets. Transform both your pedagogy and student learning. Maximize learning and achievement. Two of John’s questions were “What is your plan to build a culture that excites students and staff about learning? and How will that culture permeate throughout every classroom in your school?”

2. Instruction: Two of the questions that struck me here were “What professional development will you provide to help teachers develop the skills to meet those [instructional] expectations? and How will you leverage collaboration to allow teachers the time to work and learn together to develop the skills within your expectations for instruction?” Establishing time for teachers to learn together to support their learning goals is important in building their self-efficacy and in increasing student achievement. Helping teachers set learning goals for themselves to support the achievement goals for their students is critical. If your school doesn’t have a model for collaborative learning time you may want to do a little reading about teacher learning communities, where teachers meet regularly to share, reflect, give and get feedback, learn new things and develop action plans to implement before they meet again.

Setting the Table for a Successful New School Year3. Assessment: You knew this one would get my attention. Two of Wink’s questions allude to the importance of supporting teachers in setting and meeting professional learning goals (mentioned in 2) and explicitly monitoring student learning in every classroom. What isn’t called out in these questions is what does the classroom assessment system look like? Where is the focus – short-, medium-, or long-cycle assessments? How much support do teachers need to enhance their formative classroom assessment pedagogy?

4. Intervention: While some may perceive “intervention” to have a negative connotation, for me it goes to either extreme as well as places in-between. So I’ll combine Wink’s questions here. As you look at Wink’s questions: When students are failing to learn, how will the campus, individual staff members, and teams of teachers respond to students in a systematic way?, When students have mastered a particular skill, what extension opportunities should be offered to them?, What professional development is needed in the area of intervention, and how and when will you provide that?, consider your setting. How do your teachers look at interventions/extensions? What support – time or resources – do teachers need to better meet these kinds of student needs? What role does the use of formative classroom assessment play in assisting in monitoring student progress?

5. College and Career: In my district we created posters showing a kindergarten student in the foreground and a senior in the background, both in cap and gown, with the statement – college and career begins now. And again the question that I went to was about what professional learning and information do teachers need to be exposed to, so they can be equipped with the information to prepare students for college and career. For some this is a mind shift, to think about it as early as kindergarten that is. What is happening in your district to support teachers in getting the background they need to support students?

6. Leadership: You may have noticed that in more than one of the categories above support (time) for teachers have surfaced. That is one consideration for leadership. Two more to consider include: How will you elicit leadership from your teachers and support staff? and In what ways will you develop leadership capacity in your students? Empowering staff and students as learners is part of developing them as leaders. It is certainly not all that is necessary.

setting-the-table-tpd7. Communication: Like the realtor saying of ‘location, location, location,’ in every business and relationship we can say communicate, communicate, communicate. Having so many stakeholders (students, teachers, staff, leadership, parents, community) we need to identify who needs what information and for what purpose. When we begin to answer those questions, particularly as they relate to learning, growth and achievement, we can see the need for planning our communication and the necessity for clarity in that communication. We also have to keep in mind that communication is a two-way endeavor and have methods for parents and students to communicate and obtain the information they need.

8. Celebration: Have you ever seen a school or district improvement plan that did not have a space for celebration? What we celebrate and how is important as well. Those answers dovetail with communication. How do we celebrate growth in our students and staff?

As a new school year slowly (or perhaps not) approaches, these eight categories of questions can help school leaders put ideas to work for teachers, students, parents and community. It’s never too late to start thinking ahead. Share your thoughts on our Facebook page or send us a message via Twitter (@NWEA). We’d love to hear from you!