When I was a fairly new primary teacher in the mid-90’s, I would write up plans during the summer months. Not a lot of detailed plans. Maybe just enough to get me through the first week or two of school. The school year always ended on such a positive note that I was inspired to begin writing these elaborate plans on what my new first graders would learn when they entered into the classroom. I liked keeping the connection to the school year while I was working another job during the summer.
After I finished the detailed plans I would create a larger overview of where I wanted us to be from month to month. It was always tied to the standards, which were fairly new when I began teaching. Nothing strict, but I wanted an outline...a goal.
Unfortunately, every year the school year would begin, and my new first graders would enter into the classroom, I soon realized that all of those plans I created during the summer months would have to be tossed out.
I created something based on who my last students were, and not based on the new group of students entering into the classroom. To make matters worse, by the time I got to the deep, dark winter, the fresh away of thinking from the summer was not always present. The goals of the summer before were not always what we needed 6 months later.
Additionally, and more importantly, I made the plans in isolation. There were no colleagues around me to be the critical friend telling me I was way off in my goals. Even more importantly, there were no students around to help me see I needed to bring my goal back down to earth.
And it is something school leaders are at risk of doing every summer while the teachers, students and parents are not involved in the day-to-day interactions like during the school year.
Leaders Work 12 Months
The summer is a great time to reflect on the past year and begin thinking about the year to come. Although many of us would like to see a shorter summer because there is such a lag in learning, we also understand we are all fortunate to have such a defined ending and inspired beginning to each school year...to each new group of students. It’s exciting to see students grow from one year to the next and move on.
What happens, however, is that it’s easy to begin making plans on the new year based on our perspective of what’s needed from the previous year we ended. As teachers go home (and come back occasionally to check on whether their classroom rooms have been cleaned or just stop in to say hi) leaders are often meeting with their K-12 administration teams focusing on the upcoming school year.
As a former school leader, it was great to get together with the K-12 admin team and create plans for the upcoming school year. It was nice to sit in a meeting and not have to worry about being called because of a crisis back at school.
From a professional learning and development standpoint, it was great to attend trainings with leadership colleagues and learn about what we could do better, and create plans for the next school year based on what we learned. The summer is truly a great time to reflect and learn.
Unfortunately, that is where the disconnect begins to happen.
Why is this a problem?
It is not a problem to reflect during the summer with evidence to help us understand what happened the year before. We need to look at our successes and areas of growth. The issue is that leaders sometimes begin making such grand plans due to summer district meetings or professional learning and development, and move so fast because the typical chaos of the day is not present.
Unfortunately, they are at risk of becoming the fast-moving train that teachers are supposed to run next to and jump on, as opposed to everyone meeting at the station to gain momentum together. The other risk is that leaders make decisions that sound really great during the summer, that they can never follow through with when they get to the deep dark winter.
And that creates the attitude that whatever is created in the summer will pass by when we get to winter (This too shall pass).
As a former school leader who runs professional learning during the summer, I want those plans to survive the winter. I want school leaders to be successful, because that will make all of our schools stronger. I want school leaders to ponder a few things before they move forward with any plans.
Although there are more than three, I would like to begin there, and those three are:
Don’t make plans in isolation - Plans are always better when they are created by a group. Leaders need to believe that their staff can help overcome any obstacle that comes their way...even the obstacle of the deep dark winter. It’s referred to as collective efficacy. Tschannen-Moran & Barr (2004) define collective teacher efficacy as, “the collective self-perception that teachers in a given school make an educational difference to their students over and above the educational impact of their homes and communities.” And this doesn’t mean that teachers were consulted after the decision was made, it means that they were a part of the decision-making process.
Summer planning should be all year long - There shouldn’t be surprises when it comes to new plans, because they should always be based on ongoing conversations that took place during faculty meetings, PLC’s and stakeholder meetings.
The Winter Test - I know this may sound odd, but will the plans created during the summer survive the winter? Will leaders and teachers be able to build on the momentum of the summer thinking, or will the plan meet its demise because people are dealing with the flu season, cold weather and long grey dark days that come with the winter?
In the End
When leaders make plans in isolation, they miss out on the nuances of the school year. They can’t, and often don’t, think of the teacher or student perspective in all of the decisions. We know that collective efficacy has an effect size of 1.57, which equates to a great deal of growth when it’s based on a problem of practice that meets the needs of the school community. Collaborative thinking can be the best thinking, especially when we challenge each other and get to the heart of the issue.
It’s easy to make a grand plan in July when things are relatively quiet, but it’s much harder to make those plans work when it’s in the middle of January.
Will your new summer plans meet the winter test?
Peter DeWitt, Ed.D. is the author of several books including Collaborative Leadership: 6 Influences That Matter Most (2016. Corwin Press/Learning Forward), and the forthcoming School Climate: Leading With Collective Efficacy (Corwin Press/Ontario Principals Council. August 2017). Connect with Peter on Twitter.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.