With the last bell of the year, school and district leaders from coast to coast begin thinking ahead and planning for what is to come. Although each district’s way of going about it is unique, all leadership teams come together to reflect on the past year and begin to envision the next. Having participated in a number of these meetings as principal, others while working at the district office, and now as a support to leadership teams as a facilitator, these types of meetings, sometimes deemed “retreats,” (ironic sometimes, right?) have a vast array of purposes, climates, and formats.
At Future Ready SchoolsⓇ, and in working with school and district leaders regularly, we recognize the importance that these reflection and planning times have, and the significance they can have when designed with intention. As such, here are four ideas to help your leadership retreat be effective this summer:
1. Be Intentional About Reflection.
It’s no secret that time is precious. Every moment is valuable and we must treat it is such. We also know that reflection is a vital component of growth. Allocating time to be intentional about reflection and growth is time well spent, yet something that’s overlooked during these types of meetings.
Consider using versions of the following reflection questions with your team:
- What success are you celebrating the most from this past year? Why?
- What’s an area that didn’t go as planned this year? What’s your plan to move it forward?
- What’s something from your teachers that surprised you this year? How will you build on it?
- What’s an area that you really feel needs to be in focus this coming year? What are you going to do about it?
Provide time for quiet reflection, and then pair colleagues up from different buildings and levels to share. Encourage them to be vulnerable and reflective, and model what that looks like.
2. Refocus on the WHY.
For the past two years at each Future Ready Institute, school and district leaders spent time reflecting on their personal why and what it is that drives his/her work. In referencing Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle, most people would agree that remaining focused on the “Why” helps to propel the “What” and the “How.” Yet, we know that school and district leaders run, and run, and run, due to the nature of the work they do each day, pouring their lives into other people’s children. In turn, losing sight of our why can happen easily. If we lose focus for long periods of time, it’s easy to feel burned out or lost in the work. Refocusing on the why, can help move what’s most important forward.
- Set aside 25 minutes, and begin by sharing with the team that you want them personally reflecting and not focused on their school or the district.
- As a team, watch the first five minutes of Simon Sinek’s TED Talk that highlights his “Golden Circle.”
- Spend the next five minutes having each team member independently write, answering the question, “What is your why?”
- Wrap up the writing reflection, ask some probing questions, and have them stand and share in groups of 2-3 why it is that they do what they do, reminding them that it’s not about their school or district.
- Once they’ve shared, show “KnowYour Why,” by the comedian, Michael Jr., and have leaders reflect on and discuss the final words from Michael Jr.
3. Model Leadership and Culture Building.
Every time we bring people together it’s an opportunity to build culture. Do your district-level administrative meetings model the way we’d want principals to run faculty meetings? Do the faculty meetings the principals lead model the way we’d want teachers to work with kids? Every time we bring the team together it’s an opportunity, and…
Modeling expectations builds trust.
Trust is the foundation of relationships.
Relationships are the foundation of culture.
So how will you model what it is that you ask from others? Each leadership retreat provides opportunities to do so.
- Ask 3-4 members of your team to each bring an “energizer” idea with them, with the only rules being that the activity has to help build the team and take less than five minutes.
- Interject these 3-4 activities throughout the day, having each of the different staff members lead their energizer.
- Take time during the day to discuss:
- What occurred this year that helped build our culture?
- What occurred this year that helped solidify the status quo?
- What occurred this year that created stumbling blocks or a mistrust that’s now a part of our current culture?
Then, as a team, outline, “So, what are we going to do about it?” and brainstorm intentional ways that you’ll work collaboratively to create (or maintain) a culture where people want to work and kids want to be.
4. Strategize and Solidify the Vision Forward.
Although the reflection is one main focus, the “So what – Now what?” notion comes into play. Many leaders talk. The best leaders do. So, what are you going to do now?
More than 1,500 school district teams have leveraged the FREE Future Ready Dashboard to vision and plan their steps forward, while grounding their whys in evidence-based practices. Built upon the Future Ready Framework, this action planning tool will guide your team in maintaining a laser-like focus on moving the work forward to create schools that today’s kids both need and deserve.
- Review the 5 Step Future Ready Planning Process.
- Utilize Step 2 and work through the free District Leadership Assessment. (Note: We recommend including teachers in this leadership team as well.)
- As a team, review the assessment results, partner resources, and begin the next steps of your action plan moving forward.
On behalf of Future Ready Schools, we’d like to congratulate you on another successful school year. As a final request, we encourage you to take time FOR YOU this summer. Take time to disconnect. Make uninterrupted time to invest in your families, and take the time you need to recharge. You’ve earned it.
The work is hard, but our kids are worth it.
All for the kids we serve,
Thomas C. Murray
Director of Innovation, Future Ready Schools