A principal planning for the summer break
Leadership Insights

Principal as Instructional Coach: Pre-Vacation Reflection and Planning

By Terry Wilhelm June 2, 2015

When I was a principal, the June days following the exodus of the students and staff were especially fruitful for me. In the several weeks before the end of the site administrators’ work year, I had a suddenly quiet, calm, and uninterrupted period for concrete, long-delayed tasks like going through the piles of paper that had accumulated in my office as well as more important projects, such as considering and planning for the changes I wanted to make in the fall.

In spite of being tired and ready for your own R&R, I hope you do this, too.

Here’s what principals can accomplish before leaving for a well-deserved summer vacation

These days provide a special opportunity to work with key staff, such as your office manager or assistant principal, who may also have a few extra days or even a week left before they leave for the summer. Think about operational issues and logjams for which you and your office manager can brainstorm solutions. Then make plans together for these new routines and procedures, as well as how you will effectively communicate them to staff, parents, and students in August – September.

Share planning duties with your assistant principal

This is an especially opportune time to work with your AP, a key partner in leadership, who is probably ready for next steps in assuming more responsibilities in the coming year. This doesn’t necessarily mean piling on additional duties. If she or he is chiefly in charge of discipline and operational responsibilities, what are some other areas — especially in curriculum, instruction, and classroom assessment — in which you can begin to help her or him develop expertise, and to share significant leadership?

APs are the future principals of your district and others, and an important legacy of your leadership is your development of them. At the same time, be sensitive to his or her own needs for time to clean out files and reorganize office space, since APs typically have fewer workdays than principals after school ends.

Review maintenance needs and troubleshoot issues with the custodial department

Your custodial staff will probably be on hand for most of the summer, and this is also a good time to meet with your head custodian to talk about needs, problem areas, and troubleshooting, much the same as with your office manager.

Reflect on the past year and identify improvement initiatives

Finally, in the days after everyone has departed but you and the custodians, be sure to take time for personal reflection. What are some areas that need a different kind of energy and attention in the coming year?

Your district probably has or will set a new achievement bar based on results of the recently completed annual student assessments. Whether you have the results yet or not, what are some areas that you already know will need attention? How will you go about leading those improvement initiatives?

An especially important consideration is how you will involve teacher leaders. As teachers begin to arrive in the fall, how will you go about working with your grade level or course-alike team leaders to move your school to the next level of excellence for all students — not simply in test scores, but in other important outcomes, such as grades and attendance? How are you measuring student engagement and connectedness to school?

Explore different resources

This is a good time to dig into helpful resources, such as The Twelve Touchstones of Good Teaching: A Checklist for Staying Focused Every Day, which has larger implications for school-wide systems beyond the classroom. Expand your thinking by reading Ted Dintersmith’s What School Could Be.

Principals: Make your downtime count

Finally, when you lock your office door for the last time this academic year, be ready for a true mental getaway. Take time for yourself and family, free from the cares of school for the short weeks of the principal’s summer. Whether you are at the beach, the lake, or simply relaxing on your own patio, make it a real vacation. The back-to-school season comes soon enough!

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