Productive Planning for Back-to-School

If heading back into the school year is overwhelming, you are not alone.  Even veteran administrators often struggle to keep up with the myriad of tasks that must be done as teachers return for preplanning and as students walk through the doors on the first day of a new school year.  

The good thing is that (just like in other situations) a little planning and organization can help you feel prepared to conquer the never-ending “to do” list.  So, as you prepare to welcome teachers and students back to school, focus on how a few simple tools and tricks of the trade can help you to be more productive. 

Checking It Off with Checklists

It’s obvious when we say it, but we only go through the beginning of a school year one time each year. That means that some of the many items that must be accomplished are only done once a year.  We only have Open House or “Meet the Teacher” one time.  We only prepare beginning of the year information packets for parents one time.  That means that it is difficult for these items to become habits.  If we don’t have methods by which we remind ourselves of what needs to be done, we run the risk of overlooking something important.  

Checklists are essential for ensuring that we comply with all procedures, as well as ensuring that things just get done.  Sometimes, districts have Beginning of Year checklists.  Sometimes, state organizations will produce checklists that outline legal boxes to check, such as reviewing evaluation components or reviewing ethical standards for educators.  In addition to these checklists, principals and assistant principals can create their own checklists each year.  Do you want teachers to have their rooms ready for open house at a specific time?  Do you want them to create emergency substitute plans by a certain date?  Are there training modules or presentations that everyone should review?  All of these items can be put on a Back to School Checklist for faculty and staff to ensure that they know what is expected and that they check things off as they complete tasks.  

You can even go so far as to create checklists for parents as they come to your open house. Specifically, parents who are new to the school may not know everything that they need to accomplish at open house. Of course they want to meet the teachers, but what about getting car-rider or bus information?  What about any type of extracurricular or after-school information?   The idea is that checklists can be created for just about anything, and are especially useful for back to school because it only happens one time each year. 

Share Information in Shared Drives

Each year, we push out quite a bit of information to faculty and staff.  There are schedules for classes, lunch, and who has duty on which days and at which times.  There are handbooks that teachers should read.  We send out lesson plan templates, evaluation documents, and information that is to be given out on the first day.  We have procedures for behavior and for referring students for intervention. The eyes of veteran teachers glaze over, and new teachers feel as if they are drinking water from a fire hose. 

Technology can ben our friend when sharing back-to-school information with faculty and staff. Whether you have a common network drive that teachers can access or you use a cloud-based service like Google Drive, placing documents that teachers need on a shared drive for easy access can lead to a more productive start to the school year.  

While teachers will appreciate being able to access items on a common drive, there are a few tips to remember as you move in this direction.  Make sure that teachers understand how the drive is organized and which folders are available.  Appoint someone—either a member of the administrative staff, a teacher leader, or office staff—who will monitor the drive and “clean up” files as necessary from time to time.  Talk with teachers about any privacy issues and ensure that they are not placing confidential information on the drive.  It is important to consider the pitfalls that come with technology, but the benefits of sharing information on a common drive far outweigh the negatives. 

Plan for Monitoring Instruction from the Start

As you focus during preplanning and the first few days of school on checking off compliance boxes and making sure all teachers, parents, and students have the information that they need, don’t forget the importance of monitoring instruction.  It is tempting to put this off for the first couple of weeks, but if strong instruction and efficient use of classroom time are priorities, nothing sends that message like a plan to monitor classrooms from the beginning. 

You don’t have to start with formal evaluations.  Classroom walkthroughs are an excellent way to being the monitoring process. Administrators can visit classrooms informally from the very first day of school.  Visit to ensure that teachers have what they need.  Visit to ensure that teachers are reviewing behavioral expectations and setting up strong procedures and routines.  Visit to ensure that students (and teachers) become used to you being in the classroom so that it is not a novelty when you are doing more formal evaluations.  The point is to start visiting—don’t wait!  Early classroom walkthroughs can help you take the temperature or pulse of the building and know where any “hot spots” may be as you enter the year. 

While administrators often work year round, “back to school” means that teachers and students are returning and our responsibilities increase exponentially after the short summer break.  It can be overwhelming, but a strong plan for organizing the work can go a long way toward helping you to being the year on the right foot.  Using checklists, harnessing the power of technology to share information, and beginning informal classroom walkthroughs to monitor instruction are three ways to have quick wins in productivity as you start the year.