Making the End of School Year Effective

with Dr. Kathy Weigel

Making the End of School Year Effective

The school culture at this time of the year usually looks like a group of exhausted marathon runners staggering to the finish line. Teachers draw on the last bit of energy and look forward to an extended break at the end of the school year. However, these last few weeks of school are a critically important time to begin to put in place the steps for a successful school year beginning in the fall. Don’t hope for a great start; plan for it now!


Matching Resources and Needs

By this time of the year, most of the decisions should have been made regarding budget for the coming year, however, there still may remain individual staffing and teacher assignments. You should take this opportunity to match your resources with student learning needs to make sure that you are prepared to deliver the best quality education program. There is always a tendency to meet the needs of the adult staff in your school who may wish to maintain their current assignments and even keep their job. Negotiating new assignments and even dismissing staff are the difficult decisions of the school leader. This end of the school year is the time to make those critical decisions to match resources and instructional needs.


Planning for Professional Learning

You undoubtedly have some time and resources committed to professional learning during the summer and possibly at the beginning of the school year. This is an appropriate time to discuss the staff learning needs and a focus for professional learning. Ask your administrative team to reflect on the results of teacher evaluation to identify instructional weaknesses that may be evident among staff. Identifying such areas as relationship building, personalizing learning, use of technology or formative assessments, may be needs that would be ideal topics to plan professional learning around. A group of staff that may have unique professional learning needs are your newer staff. You might consider a focus group of these new teachers to do find some of their individual professional learning needs which might be different from the rest of the staff. You also should survey and discuss with your teacher leaders about the needs that they perceive.


Once the needs are identified for professional learning, you can discuss the appropriate timing and structure for professional learning. Do not be quick to assume that the professional learning needs to take the form of an outside speaker and a workshop. There are many different forms of professional learning. Here are some excellent materials on professional learning from Success at the Core <http://tinyurl.com/bpbgef3> The International Center for Leadership in Education resources <http://store.leadered.com> can be valuable for a wide range of professional learning topics. Also consider your staff with strong skills to work with others.


Staff Reflections

Meeting with various groups of staff is an ideal time to reflect on the successes during the school year and areas that are in need of improvement. Perhaps you have new initiatives that you want to reflect on how effective those initiatives were and if there needs to be revisions during the coming year. It’s important to hold these discussions in small groups rather than a large staff meeting. Many staff will not speak up or share honest opinions in the large groups. There may also be opportunities for teacher leaders to have these discussions with focus groups in addition to yourself.


In those discussions, be clear about areas that are nonnegotiable. The bottom line is improving student achievement and staff may very well have opinions as to what they would prefer to do that would make them happy. But the goal of innovations in schools is not primarily to make staff happy, but to improve student learning. So if there are aspects of programs or initiatives that must be maintained it should be made clear in those discussions with stakeholders.


While instruction is the primary function, an effective school depends on building maintenance, food service, transportation, and school safety. In your discussion with staff, make sure you include non-instructional staff that are responsible for many other functions within the school. Be sure to to see if there are issues or changes that need to occur in other aspects of the school operation.


In any of these discussions the primary purpose is gathering information. Listen carefully, but you may not be able to commit to action to address all of the concerns raised. However, if you do make commitments for any changes or actions, make sure you follow through on those commitments for these will be essential in maintaining a level of trust among the staff.


Recharging Learning Teams

You probably have several structures of learning teams in place for your school. These might be grade levels teams, data teams or an academy team. This time at the end of the year is ideal for reflecting on these teams. Is the membership of these teams appropriate? You may feel that some changes are necessary in the configuration of teams. Likewise, ask staff if they are satisfied with their assignments, there may be individual teachers that want to switch between grade levels or teaching responsibilities or to change their assignment on a teams. This would be an opportunity to solicit their input.


Think about the operation of the teams and what has worked and what needs to be improved. Are there clear protocols or norms under which these teams operate? Do these need to be revised for the coming year? Are there accountability and planning structures to make sure that the teams focus on their work and report their work consistently? It is also a time to reflect on instructional goals and the target for your instructional improvement in the school community. Are adjustments necessary in establishing the direction for these leadership teams?


Student Exit Interviews

There are many opportunities to reflect on a school’s strengths and areas of need by talking to staff, but students also can provide incredible insight into what’s most effective about school and what needs to be changed. You have a group of students that are aging out or graduating from your school this year. Use the opportunity to meet with small groups of the students in focus sessions to identify what they think the most effective strengths of schools are and areas that are in need of improvement. Students can give you great insight into what’s working and what needs to be changed.


Summary

There is always a lot of work to do in school at the end of the year. Following up with these suggestions will not add much to the burden of staff. There are great burdens on leadership at the end of school. This is not a time to relax; it is a time for reflection and planning, which can build toward an even more effective start of the school year in the coming year. Consider this preventative maintenance that will pay off with fewer problems in the coming year.