Planning a Successful School Year

Set the Stage with Back-to-School PD
Organizing back-to-school meetings and professional development can be a daunting task. From the mundane to the motivational, these meetings make the first mark on the clean slate of a new year. We’ve developed a list of suggestions to help you make the most of back-to-school time--from strengthening bonds to shaking up your schedule, we hope the next few weeks will be a success in your schools!

Setting goals
School year goals are a big part of back-to-school meetings, and an important catalyst for fostering collaboration and focus in your school community. As you plan for the year ahead, aim for SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound) goals, and encourage your peers to do the same. Instead of focusing solely on academic achievement milestones, think outside of the box. Is there a project you’ve always wanted to pursue that would improve the atmosphere in your school? Now’s the time to share it and make it happen, and think of ways you can support your fellow educators (perhaps you can provide information about relevant grants, or connect teachers who are interested in tackling similar issues).

Avoid information overload
Consider sharing “housekeeping” information in an e-mail or memo. Things like new policies and changes to the schedule are important, but they are not necessarily the stuff of engaging and productive meetings. (Just think of the “wah wah” voice of the loudspeaker teacher in Charlie Brown!) Consider passing out the memo at the beginning of the meeting, briefly mentioning it, and setting aside time at the end to address any concerns related to it’s content.

Set aside time to socialize
Back-to-school PD doesn’t have to be simply ticking items off of the agenda. Consider looking for some time in the schedule for teachers to reconnect after their summer. Whether it’s a quick round-robin about summer memories, or an hour-long luncheon with icebreaker activities, any opportunity to foster relationships will have a positive impact on your educational community.

Shake up the schedule
Does your back-to-school calendar look the same year after year? While consistency may be helpful for smooth planning, there’s something to be said about throwing expectations out the window, and starting the year with a shake-up. Consider reframing your back-to-school orientation as an ongoing process, breaking up information sessions into smaller focus groups. Have teachers sign up for brainstorming sessions that pique their interest--perhaps you could host meetings about student engagement, interdisciplinary planning, or professional development--or have teachers suggest topics of their own. Regardless of what you choose to do, breaking up the monotony of orientation may inspire more creative problem-solving!

Listen up
Give teachers and administrators time to provide constructive feedback about changes they’d like to see this school year. (Caveat: read-on to make sure feedback is objective and goal-oriented.) Take notes on what is being said, and be sure to respond to each suggestion. If you don’t have time to engage in a discussion, be sure to follow-up after the meeting so each contributor feels heard. If you can’t build time into the meeting for feedback, try parking lot questions. And if you don’t already have a system in place, consider ways to expand this practice by giving teachers an opportunity to provide feedback and share concerns throughout the school year.

Positive messaging
While back-to-school is a great time to address new solutions to problems that came up in the previous year, it’s important to frame suggestions and policies in a positive way. Instead of saying “we had a lot of issues with teachers not turning in their grades on time, so this year we’ll be trying an online approach,” you could think of the new online system as a way to implement educational technology to give teachers more time for lesson planning or other important tasks. Reframing your approach is sometimes all it takes to build new relationships and opportunities.

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Reflect Promote and embody the principles of reflective practice by sending a follow-up e-mail or newsletter addressing what was covered in your back-to-school meetings and workshops. You could include your personal insights, respond to questions that went unanswered during the meeting, share how you’re planning to implement suggestions, and send reminders about upcoming meetings. Creating a newsletter or follow-up memo allows you to synthesize what was shared, tie up any loose ends and demonstrate that your team was heard and appreciated!

What have you tried at back-to-school meetings that has been successful? What are you planning for this year? Let us know in the comments below.

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