Great school leaders aren’t measured by how much they accomplish from August to June, but rather, how their students grow and thrive year after year. In the summer months, it is vital for leaders to reflect, innovate, and strategize on making the next school year successful.
In my work at CT3, I see effective educators who make great use of the summer months. Here are some ideas:
1. Reset goals and practice no: Many principals think improving means adding to their to-do list, but it’s more about setting a laser-sharp focus on your primary goals. Rather than saying yes to everyone, discern which activities contribute to the mission and student achievement and give them higher priority. If presented with something lower on that list, consider saying no.
2. Take time to innovate: Innovation can be accomplished in different ways. Brand new and big (or transformational) ideas are wonderful, but these paradigm shifts can take time and require substantial energy. Think about new ways to combine existing strategies (what I call breakthrough innovation) or small, incremental shifts in practice that can help your school go from good to great. Strong principals understand the difference between transformational, breakthrough, and incremental innovations. Brainstorm with various teams of people, creating different ideas in each category. Weigh your efforts evenly between programs, events, and curricular offerings in the school.
3. Lead from the front: Most principals spend a considerable amount of time in the summer thinking about how to manage and “fix” low-performing teachers. Great principals spend more time pushing and supporting their best teachers, who then, in-turn, help others that struggle. This creates more of an asset-based culture and leverages the impact of your “rock stars.”
4. Seek out coaching for yourself: Model humility and a growth mindset by seeking out critical feedback from one key person on a weekly basis. This can be a mentor, key teacher on the staff, community leader, or even your student government president. Take the time to listen to their perceptions. (Don’t argue or debate—just listen.) Ask open-ended questions and identify specific ways that you can move from good to great.
5. Play the long game when it comes to student culture: We often start the year with great plans to increase school-wide expectations and push achievement, but then routine sets in and things return to normal. If you desire to change student behavior, you will need to engage in consistent practice, repetition, and modeling. Collaborate with teachers and staff to create an extensive plan for the first 25 days of the school year to achieve the desired culture. Create monthly checkpoints and use incentives to keep the priorities alive.
6. Connect with stakeholders: Take advantage of more flexible time over the summer to reach out to all staff, including maintenance workers, custodians, secretaries, and cafeteria workers. Spend time in their space and listen to their perspectives. Ask open-ended questions and affirm how each of them plays a role in achieving a high-performing culture.
7. Get out of the school: Each week, select a different coffee shop, restaurant, barber shop, etc. that your students and their families frequent outside of school. This establishes office hours in a different safe space for families to connect with you in their communities. Students will also have a new perspective on your willingness to relate to them on a personal level.
8. Collaborate with students and staff for fall kick-off: Great school leaders give a voice to teachers and students during the creation of activities and processes that will drive the first quarter of the school year. This may take some additional planning and collaboration during the summer, but will certainly pay off and might even be fun.
9. Prepare for balance: It’s so easy to lose focus on your mission and goals due to burnout. It’s critical to plan for a work-life balance; otherwise, it doesn’t happen. What key events and activities are critical for your own family? Write your non-negotiables on a calendar and plan accordingly with your leadership team. Encourage them to follow your example.
10. Build a strategic summer calendar: The leaders on your team want to understand where you are headed. Ensure that you are doing so together by creating a strategic calendar, using the nine items above as a starting place. Share this with your staff and spend time together getting realigned, inspired, and excited about what’s possible and attainable in the coming year.
Even though summers are full of mental work, make time to play, rest, and recharge. The work we do is challenging and constant, and we need to be emotionally and strategically ready for the fall.
Have a great summer!