If you’re wondering if your school has transitioned into the real world, watch for the tell-tale sign: the copier has gone down! I have reviewed 10 years’ worth of my weekly faculty newsletters to prepare this article. Without exception, the edition sent out during the first week of October always included a reminder about the care and feeding of the machine itself along with reminders of good copier etiquette. So, if you’ve fully transitioned into the second phase of the year: here are the big goals and associated “to-do” lists. Don’t forget: say a little “TA-DAH” to yourself as you check each item off your list!
GOAL: Responsive Problem Solving
For me, Responsive Problem Solving in October usually involved tools and items you can get at a hardware store. Yes…wrenches, caution tape, orange cones, and the like. All of the repairs and maintenance completed on the facility itself over the summer is now succumbing to life in the real world. Likewise, all of the new systems or standard operating procedures (SOPs) rolled out in September, are now experiencing some difficulty. People will immediately want to go back to the ‘old’ way… to throw away the proverbial baby with the bathwater. DO NOT succumb to the pressure, the reason you made a change in the first place was because there was a problem. Tweak the process. Provide more training. Make adjustments. Fix what is broken in the procedure. Remember…you’re making progress toward a solution! Here are a few other things for the list:
- Trouble-shoot “on-the-fly” and communicate the solution to those who ‘need-to-know.’ Same as you did in September, communicate to others that you are aware of the problem and ensure them that you’re ‘on’ it! Proactive Redundancy: Warn them that you might need to make more changes and reassure them that you’re making progress toward the solution. At risk of sounding a little crazy, walk around the building with a wrench (or some other noticeable tool relevant to the problem) or better yet, walk with the repair-man…for some reason it makes people feel better!
- Capitalize on Opportunities to Celebrate. Yes, there may be parts of a new SOP that aren’t quite working. YET. Chances are there are parts of it that are working. When you see something that is working…tell everyone and anyone.
- Troubleshoot with Faculty & Students: If you’re fortunate enough to have professional learning communities, standing committees, or a group of student leaders that meet regularly, use them to help trouble-shoot new SOPs or any other issue that has cropped up. Not only will your faculty, staff, and students better understand the problem, but they may take some ownership and implement the solution as designed!
- Talk upset or irate faculty members “off the ledge.” (There’s always someone who needs a little T.L.C.!)
- Take a deep breath, grab a hot cup of coffee, and plan your next tasks!
GOAL: Encourage Students!
Just like their adult counter-parts, student motivation and engagement may also be feeling the effects of the real world. Students are taking their first ‘big’ test or getting their grades back on the first project of the year. Reality is hitting. Students are asking themselves: Will this year be a flop like last year or will it be different? How come this isn’t as easy as it was last year? It is a time of high anxiety in an atmosphere of pure judgement. Their behavior, both in the classroom and around the building, is reflective of these feelings and we need to respond in ways that prevent them from disengaging or giving up.
- Remind the Faculty that students may be feeling anxious and judged which can result in them acting-out in the classroom. Watch for upcoming blogs on how to provide Psychological First Aid and structure lessons around the WIFM (What’s In It For Me? Why should I engage?)
- Capitalize on the Opportunities to Celebrate. If and when students are following new procedures, congratulate them. If a new technology acquisition seems to be working, celebrate it. Got new test results…share them with folks and celebrate the GROWTH as well as the SCORES.
- Homecoming: A Celebration of Athletic & Academic Success! If you’re working in a high school, its homecoming time! It doesn’t have to just be about fall athletics, homecoming can also be used to celebrate academic success! There may be some alumni who return for games who might be willing talk with students about a time they experienced and overcame stress along their road to success. Perhaps a student organization could prepare a booth at a homecoming game to recruit potential guest speakers?
- Reinforce & Ready your Support Systems When emotions run high in a school, our student support teams need to be ready to address the problems that will inevitably rear their ugly heads. At this point in the year, attendance issues will begin to emerge. Attendance is the “indicator species” in a school. Students and faculty who are distressed are more likely to be absent, come to school late, or leave early. Look for a blog later in the month for a meeting protocol utilizing Attendance Statistics to screen for potential students in need.
GOAL: Provide Feedback to Students & Parents through Academic Progress Reports
Grading & reporting systems vary greatly from district to district; school to school. However, what is consistent is, at some point in the fall, there is formal communication between teachers, students, and parents regarding a student’s academic progress. Yup…if your year is based on academic quarters, its progress report time! If your school or district uses a trimester model, don’t worry, it is coming. Here are some “to-do’s:”
- Remind Faculty that ‘grades’ are due. Follow the rule of proactive redundancy, you need to remind folks (again) that progress reports are around the corner and any associated due-dates. Even if you already did this, you need to do it again. (I guarantee you that someone doesn’t know or realize it!)
- Examine the Available Comments on your Student Information Software (SIS) and Identify the Meta-Message: Using an existing PLC or other faculty leadership team, take a look and ask the question: what is the message-behind-the-message being conveyed in this statement? Do they to provide REAL feedback to students about how they can improve or are they vague statements like ‘a pleasure to have in class?’ If you think about it, this comment can have many interpretations. It could mean “completes work when assigned and meets deadlines.” It could also mean: “frequently kind to other students and respectful of me?” Or, it could mean “doesn’t question my authority or treat me in a disrespectful way.” If the result of this line of questioning is found to be troubling, consider revising list of comments available on your SIS in preparation for the first report cards!
- Capitalize on the Opportunities to Celebrate. There is an area on most progress report forms or report cards to insert an up-to-date announcement or other message to parents and students. Use this opportunity to publicize a recent success story!
GOAL: Organize First Professional Development Session of the Year!
Based on the numerous memes and websites out there illustrating how professional development (PD) is viewed by faculty…I can assume that most teachers view PD as a colossal waste of time. I recently read an article on LinkedIn written by Annette Simmons entitled “4 Reasons Why Teachers Hate Professional Development” available at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/4-reasons-why-teachers-hate-professional-development-simmons-m-ed (2016). In it Ms. Simmons did a wonderful job in conveying the actual reasons behind this strong statement. I have to admit, as a provider of PD, I did find this to be a bit disconcerting. It is apparent that we, as leaders, face the same challenge our teachers do: How do we truly engage our faculty in learning the knowledge and skills essential to the success of our students and school? Here are a few ideas:
- Distribute the PD agenda ahead of time and craft it so it answers “why?” Just as our students are wondering: What’s In It For Me? Our teachers are too! Include in your agenda information about why you’re doing the PD in the first place, the body of research behind it, and any local data you may have to support the need. Give the answer to this question: Why should I engage? You could even go as far as distributing a brief research article or explain how you plan to help support the skills learned in PD throughout the year!
- Link the PD to your district’s evaluation system. Someone once told me: what gets measured gets done. The very mention of your district’s teacher evaluation system will pique people’s attention. Consider citing or making reference to a standard or indicator associated with your district’s evaluation criteria on a PD agenda, it will mean something, emotionally, to faculty and staff as well as create a cognitive context for their learning. According to brain research, when emotion is engaged, attention is more focused and information is more likely to be stored in long-term memory. (Andreatta, B. ).
- Find PD providers that model best instructional practice. I once sat through a full-day PD workshop on Differentiated Instruction. The presenter lectured for the whole day. Need I say more?
GOAL: Roll Out the Evaluation System
Here are some items for your “to-do” list as you lead your faculty and staff in setting goals as a part of your formal evaluation system.
- Re-visit your 3, simple yet over-arching improvement goals for the district or school. Encourage faculty to jump on the bandwagon and set a goal that is directly related to your school improvement goals!
- In a faculty meeting or PLC, require faculty and staff to engage in self-reflection and set goals accordingly. To start the goal setting process, its important to reflect on what’s working and what isn’t. To help, read my blog GOAL SETTING AROUND THE FIVE PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITIES available at www.WellSchoolsCenter.org/whats-new!
- Take advantage of indirect peer pressure. Although you can NEVER share what an individual teacher or staff member sets for their own professional goals for the year, you CAN share the types of goals that the group set…in a VERY broad sense. For example, you can congratulate faculty that 100% of them set a goal related to improving instruction. You can celebrate that 89% have set a goal to improve the learning environment in their classroom or that 60% of the faculty are taking graduate courses. Sharing of goals in this way increases the likelihood that they will be attained.
Andreatta, B. (2016). Neuroscience of Learning. LinkedIn Webinar available at: https://www.linkedin.com/learning/the-neuroscience-of-learning.