New Beginnings

Once upon a time, I had the greatest summer job ever: working at Seven Ranges Scout Reservation in east central Ohio. We were a bunch of teenagers and 20-somethings who got to exercise almost total creative control for the camp and its programming. Before the campers or full staff arrived on the reservation, leadership would sit down in front of a whiteboard and simply list all the needs, wants, and dreams for the year—and then go make it happen.

It was always Ranger Bob (everyone needs a Ranger Bob, right?) who reminded me to be more strategic and pace myself: “Ned, remember that you have to get almost everything done before camp starts, because once it does, it always takes over.” Bob was right; it’s hard to build the airplane while you’re flying it, but the energy of a new camping season (or a new school year) is palpable.

As we launch another school year, how can we harness that undeniable burst of energy to create goals we actually stand a chance of meeting, not ones that get lost once school “takes over?”

 One Bite at a Time

I might want to create a teacher-student mentoring program, peer mediation protocols, a positive behavior intervention and supports (PBIS) initiative, and a meaningful professional development series for co-teachers—all in the three days before school starts—but I’ll be much more effective if I focus on one goal at a time and take the time to do them right. The old joke about how to eat an elephant applies: one bite at a time.

 Think Short- and Long-Term

Several years ago, I added a long-term planner to my school year preparation process, and it made a huge difference. I have always been a modified Seven Habits planner, but I have often found it difficult to remain focused on “Quadrant II”—important, but not necessarily urgent— items in the assistant principalship. Maintaining a separate long-term planner helped me budget time in advance for those items throughout the course of the year. Long-term projects and other Quadrant II items are now the first things that get put into my short-term weekly/daily planner.

An extremely organized superintendent in my previous district was a big believer in Gantt charts, which can be created on pencil and paper, in a spreadsheet program, or through the use of dedicated planning software. For him, it was an effective way to realistically plan major initiatives and ensure that goals were manageable throughout. It also provided defined checkpoints with which to celebrate the team’s progress.

 Plan Backward to Move Forward

Backward design is frequently underutilized in school leadership. As in the popular classroom instructional framework Understanding by Design (UbD), planning backward from a desired objective or end point can help bring laser focus to goals set at the outset of a new school year.

For example, I worked with a brilliant principal who was tasked with re-evaluating our continuum of services in special education. Instead of starting that conversation with goal-setting, we started by telling stories about individual students and white boarding where those students fit conceptually in an ideal continuum of services. We thus found an organic way to see where we needed to be and where the current gaps were. We could then work backward to specific goals to realize our end state by the conclusion of the school year.

All In

In 2003, a relatively small group of dedicated staff members conjured a low-ropes Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience course at Seven Ranges out of thin air. We did it with sketched-out designs, donated telephone poles and wood chips, a lot of digging in the middle of the night by the light of pickup trucks and utility vehicles, and a shared, deep, abiding love of the mission.

We did it because we harnessed the energy of a new beginning, developed a singular focus, and dedicated all resources toward realistic goals.

What one project will you take on this year that will have the single greatest impact for students in your school/district?

Ned W. Lauver is an assistant principal at Westlake High School, approximately 15 miles west of Cleveland, OH. In the words of William Butler Yeats, Ned believes that “Education is not filling a pail but the lighting of a fire.” He is the 2018 Ohio Assistant Principal of the Year. Follow him on Twitter @NedLauver and visit his website

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