I am a lifelong midwesterner and love living in a place with four distinct seasons. Besides the obvious changes in the weather, each season has its own traditions and routines; bulky sweaters and football games in the fall, sledding in the winter, planting flowers in the spring and of course heading out to the pool in the summer. The season of the year dictates a lot of our actions. Variability in weather conditions, temperatures, and length of day impact which activities will be more satisfying than others. Certain activities just make more sense at specific times during the calendar year.

As school leaders work through a school year, this same concept holds true. The seasons of a school year require leaders to engage in specific behaviors at critical points in the year. Summer marks the season for reflection and planning. During these months leaders are busy making sure they have the right infrastructure in place, both in terms of schedules and human resources, to do the work. The fall is when the planting begins. Leaders work with teams to make sure they have school improvement and professional development plans that align with a strong mission and vision. During the winter/spring schools focus on making sure that they are getting the right results with an ongoing focus on implementation. 

Knowing what must be done when, increases the impact of your actions. Just as the harvest in the fall is a result of the planting in the spring and the weather conditions in the summer, leaders’ actions at certain points in the year determine success (Mausbach & Morrison, 2016). So what are the leadership actions that matter most in each season of the school year? We will address all actions in the next few months, but for obvious reasons we will start with the fall. Before we get into those we have to back up and address commitments that drive actions.

The job of the leader is to develop supports and structures that help everyone in the system grow and develop. Like the well intentioned gardener who fails to water and weed on a regular basis school leaders can also get sidetracked from their main job of leading teaching and learning. Committing to the work requires a high degree of persistence. A dedicated gardener sticks with it even when the plants don’t sprout up right away, or the rabbits eat their lettuce. Leadership is a practice that requires a high degree of commitment in order to get results. The purpose of schooling is student learning so school leaders need to value the people and processes that make this happen. School leaders need to commit to:

  • Implementation of school improvement processes at high levels 
  • Development of a school culture that promotes learning 
  • Use of a growth mindset to develop and enhance professionals 

There are three “have to dos” in the fall that align with and uphold these important commitments. The impetus for these actions is clarity. Clarity necessities a laser-like focus on creating a culture rich in inquiry, dialogue, and action around commonly defined practices. A leader has to pay attention to clarity in both communication and practice. The following have to do’s enhance clarity and coherence.

Have to Do Actions that Make it Happen Why it Matters 
Engage staff in developing/ revision a plan for school improvement 1: Create an organizational structure that lets all staff have input. 

2: Utilize data to develop/revise plan

3: Revisit your why (mission, vision, values and beliefs)

Nobody likes having things being done to them without a voice. If we want teachers to own improvement efforts they simply have to be a part of the process from the get go.
Create shared understanding/ meaning 4: Collaboratively develop look fors that outline what the school initiatives will look and sound like when implemented Students achieve at higher rates in schools with coherent instructional programs, but this requires a clear understanding of what those practices are. Understanding occurs when the practices are clearly defined and there is a continuous loop of dialogue around the impact from implementation efforts. 
Differentiate supervision  5: Provide feedback using look fors

6: Aling individual growth plans to school improvement efforts

7: Monitor feedback efforts

Utilizing collaboratively developed looks fors and providing ample doses of feedback that promote dialogue and reflection help teachers see how their actions impact overall improvement efforts.

While there is no time in a school year that isn’t busy, fall tends to be one of the busiest.  The beginning of the school year is a fertile time when the seeds of improvement must be planted. The myriad of details that accompany a new year can divert a leaders’ attention if they aren’t committed and vigilant. Engaging in the have to dos can help school leaders help everyone in their school grow and may just give you  some time to enjoy that pumpkin spiced latte!

Mausbach A., & Morrison, K. (2016).  School Leadership through the Seasons: A guide to staying focused and getting results all year.  Eye on Education.