Year 2: Highlights & Lessons Learned

This week brings my second year in administration to an end.  I started 2015-2016 off remarking how different the start of Year 2 felt from the start of Year 1, and as the end of Year 2 approaches, I feel like the year is slowly and (more or less) gently coasting to a stop, as opposed to the “careening toward a brick wall” feel of Year 1.

This was a good year.  Much like my second year of teaching and my second year as a school psychologist, I was able to put much of the newness and uncertainty of Year 1 behind me and make what I feel was a substantial contribution to the district via my position.  In addition to the expected job responsibilities, I focused a great deal of energy during my first year establishing relationships, both with the folks under my supervision and with the building and district administrators with whom I work.  I have long believed – and this bore out in my dissertation research – that trust and open communication are bedrock elements of good leadership (and ultimately, good for the health and growth of the organization), and I would like to believe that my efforts in that area – along with the tireless efforts of my staff – helped bring about some positive growth in our district.

Some of these highlights include:

  • The Quartweet Project: I wrote about this extensively here and here; a neat postscript to this event is that months later, the performance of one of our student compositions was aired on German television!
  • Arts Advisory Council: This definitely warrants its own post, but briefly: I envisioned a ’roundtable’ of sorts made up of art & music teachers from across the K-12 grade span, the goal of which is improving and building the arts program in our district.  We met four times throughout the year, and typically had about 8-10 teachers participating at a given time.  We got quite a few interesting results from this collaborative time, and a major goal for next year is to develop a formal mission and vision for the arts program in the district that aligns with our district strategic plan (like I said, more on that over the summer).
  • Northfield Community Middle School site visits: Tons have been written about the work Kevin Jarrett, Glenn Robbins, and the crew at NCMS in southern New Jersey are doing w/r/t school culture (I know Kevin’s Digital Shop is kick-ass, but it’s really about so much more than that).  I coordinated two site visits for a variety of teachers, librarians, and administrators in my district to see what was going on and how – if at all – some of that might be applicable to our district.  I have since seen tangible evidence of the influence of those visits in our district in the development of makerspaces, reconsidering student voice and learning spaces, and the planned renovation of our intermediate school computer lab.  None of these are close to the final products, nor are they the be-all, end-all of education, but the conversations and consideration happening around them are crucial.  I’m happy to have played a small role in instigating them.
  • Curricular Expansion at the High School: I supervise an eclectic group of disciplines: Technology, Art, Music, Business, and Family & Consumer Science, as well as our libraries across the district.  It’s no secret that many districts are making cuts in the arts or outright eliminating difficult-to-staff positions like FCS once teachers retire.  This year, I asked my high school teachers to identify gaps in our curriculum with the intent of developing new courses to bolster our offerings in these disciplines.  We ran a new course this year in our Business department, Introduction to Social Media.  While enrollment was on the low side this year (understandable for a course that didn’t hit the Course of Study til after most of the enrollment was completed for 15-16), it has proven to be such a popular and timely course that enrollment has doubled for 16-17!  That course is being revamped with the benefit of the past year’s experience and will be even better next year.  Additionally, I am proud that our high school will be offering new courses in both Family & Consumer Sciences (Nutrition for Healthy Living) and Music (Theory & Composition courses with a focus on either guitar or piano).

Of course, this is an incomplete list, but this post is already nearing 1,000 words.  So my lessons learned?

  • Decisions can’t always be made by committee (but we should do it as often as possible!).  It’s not a sign of poor leadership to consult your teachers on decisions; it says that you value their input as professionals and the perspective they have which we, by the nature of our non-instructional positions, lack.  This is the underlying philosophy behind my desire to create the Arts Advisory Council, but nowhere is this more crucial than in the hiring process.  I am grateful to the staff members who volunteered to serve on interview committees with me and my admin colleagues; I believe their input is a major reason why we have been as successful with our hires as we have been.
  • Organization can be hard, even for the super-organized.  Without exaggeration or hubris, I am one of the most organized people I know.  I have many weaknesses (just ask my wife), but disorganization is not one of them.  That said, I had a few administrative tasks that slipped through the cracks this year that should not have.  In reflecting on how I can do better with that, I decided to put together a Year-At-A-Glance list, in which I note some of the BIG picture tasks that need to happen each month (e.g., budget submissions, curriculum revisions, etc.).  I also put some recurring items on there (e.g., reminders to staff about spending down budget) that are important but can easily get swept aside in the daily madness.  Putting it down in writing now, after staff and students have left for the year, allows me to give it the time and thought required, and it’s an organizational investment that will pay off during the school year.

I head into my second summer as an administrator happy with the year that passed, excited about the opportunities and challenges coming in the 16-17, and ready for a little downtime before we start it all over again.  August 18th doesn’t seem that far away.

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