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School Management Tips and Tools for New Incoming Day School Leadership (Part I)

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AN OPEN BLOG TO:

NEW INCOMING HEADS OF SCHOOL AND PRINCIPALS OF JEWISH DAY SCHOOLS/YESHIVOT (Part I)

Over the past several months, an increasing number of new incoming Heads of School and Yeshivot have contacted me in order to solicit my thoughts, suggestions and counsel regarding a wide range of pressing Jewish day school management, administrative and leadership issues, concerns and challenges.

As a former day school and yeshiva principal, head of school and current executive director and coach, I have been fielding these inquiries and brief consultations for years. This year however, these inquiries appear to be far more prevalent and frequent than in prior years; and with far greater levels of interest and at times urgency. This may be be due in large measure to the increased number of relatively new incoming senior administrators who are now assuming these positions, and a select number of administrators who were recently promoted out of the classroom into senior day school/yeshiva administrative posts, without any prior exposure to serious administrative, leadership or management training.

As a side, it is important to note that on a national level, the volume of Head of School and Principal vacancies are beyond overwhelming. To be sure, to date, there are currently select Jewish Day schools and Yeshivot that they still do not have permanent professional leadership at the helm of their respective institutions – a reality which can eventually have a profoundly adverse impact on these institutions.

When sharing these inquiries and concerns with close colleagues, many of them urged me to share these conversations and inquiries in writing. In doing so, they felt that many others would also benefit from a brief  school management “tips and tools” read. Ergo, this blog.

The following are select school management tips and tools resulting from these interactions. To the experienced Head of School or Principal, many if not most of these tools and tips are standard practice and obvious. But, reality indicates that for many new and novice incoming Heads of School or Principals, these school management procedures and protocols are not at all familiar. Remember, these are school leadership and management concerns, skill-sets and insights which are hardly ever taught in graduate school or by attending seminars, webinars or conferences, but rather through hands-on experience in the trenches. We also must be mindful that most new senior professionals were never exposed to leadership induction programs, nor did ever have the luxury or good fortune of being paired with an executive coach, shadow and/or were never exposed to a leadership succession plan or transition experience.

                                          Select School Management Tips, Tools and Protocols (Part I)

                                                                   (Based on Best Practices)

Administrative Staff and Faculty Meetings:

Administrative staff and faculty meetings should always begin with either a D’var Torah and/or with words of chizuk (inspiration). Try not to convene faculty meetings in order to solely address administrivia. Administrative policies, protocols and procedures are best communicated through email, unless they require extensive staff and faculty discussion or deliberation. Always be mindful of your faculty’s time – use time spent at these meetings wisely.

There is nothing more distracting or discourteous  than having staff and faculty receive calls, makes calls or check and read emails during these meetings. All participants at these meetings should be strongly encouraged to turn off or put away their cell phones. Of course, there are always emergencies and special circumstance which require cell phone access.

Send all staff and faculty the agenda for the meeting as well as any material for their review, in advance of the meeting. You may also want to invite your faculty and staff to suggest or recommend future agenda topics for consideration.

Notes and/or minutes of staff and faculty meetings must be committed to writing.  You may want to ask faculty and staff to volunteer for this assignment on a rotating basis.

Always determine and distribute dates for all future meetings in the beginning of the school year, so that everyone has the dates logged in their respective calendars. If any meetings are cancelled or postponed, notify your staff and faculty immediately. There is nothing more frustrating for teachers than to receive last minute scheduling changes. Continued cancellations, over time, erodes confidence in the administration’s ability to stay on course.

Throughout the year, maximize the value of these meetings by introducing and discussing best practices. Topics may include classroom management, differentiated instruction, lesson planning, student performance assessment, parent/teacher communications, the effective use of technology in the classroom, the negative impact of social media on the social and emotional health of children and student discipline, to name a few. These topics may or may not be in addition to regularly scheduled professional development (PD) offerings to faculty and staff.

Finally, it is important to identify those agenda items which are relevant and timely, and which require priority discussion and practice; and, keep all staff and faculty meetings focused on the faculty, staff and the school…….not on the administration.

Classroom Observations:

There are essentially two types of in-classroom observations –  spontaneous “drive-by”check-ins; and scheduled in-depth teacher observations.

“Check-ins” may occur sporadically and spontaneously. They do not necessarily require scheduling, although it’s always appropriate and respectful to inform your faculty in advance of the visit. These observations could take up to 15 minutes. It allows the Head of School or Principal to take the temperature of the classroom by briefly observing students, as well as the teacher/student interactions and dynamics. It also affords the Head of School and Principal the opportunity to be more visible and to have a presence.

“Formal Classroom Observations” have a far different and more deliberate purpose. They are more focused, structured and purposeful. They are also more evaluative in nature and provides the teacher’s direct supervisor and the teacher (being observed) with valuable feedback.

These observations, which are scheduled in advance (together with the teacher) are conducted in order for the supervisor to obtain a better understanding regarding the teacher’s pedagogic skills and performance, instructional effectiveness, strengths, weaknesses, classroom management as well as student attentiveness and interaction.

All of these observations must be recorded and committed to writing and shared with the teacher at an appropriate scheduled time. There are a variety of teacher observation forms templates which can be downloaded, purchased and tailored to the needs of the school.

These observations should take place 3-4 times a year (depending upon the size of the school), and they should be used as a vehicle and tool for teacher reflection, instructional feedback and professional growth and development of the teacher.

Individual Supervisory Teacher Meetings:

Depending upon the size of the school and structure, all teachers should meet one-on-one with the Principal or Head of School at least once every several weeks.

The purpose of these supervisory meetings, which usually lasts 30-45 minutes, is to provide the teacher with an opportunity to share with the supervisor the teacher’s successful accomplishments or any issues or concerns that need to be addressed or that require resolution. It also provides the supervisor with a far better in-depth perspective regarding the teacher’s accomplishments, challenges, opportunities and direction; and it provides both parties with the opportunity to brainstorm and problem-solve together regarding classroom and student related issues and concerns, in addition to curricular updates.

Professional Development (PD):

The professional growth and development of your faculty is paramount. It is therefore  absolutely essential that the school identify and/or create professional development programs for your faculty and staff that are responsive to their current and evolving needs.

There are several challenges and approaches for consideration.

The theme or topic for a school’s PD should be one which is relevant and of interest to the faculty and one which resonates with the entire faculty. Having said that, there are many schools which divide PD according to grade level and school Divisions (early childhood, elementary, middle and high school) and/or by subject matter (Judaic Studies and General Studies). Each Head of School or Principal must make a determination regarding the best PD fit for their particular school and faculty.

Critical to the success of a school-wide PD initiative is that it must be a mandatory teacher requirement, and respond to unmet faculty needs. In addition, it  must eventually become embedded into the culture of the school; and, to be effective and successful, it must be sustainable over an extended period of time.

A word of caution:  one-shot professional development initiatives are exciting and inspiring. But, “flashes in the pan” will not help you build or grow a faculty’s instructional capacity or effectiveness or provide your faculty and staff with desperately needed skills or skill-sets; or for that matter help create a community of  dedicated learners in you school.

Another PD opportunity for your school is one which is a bit more ambitious – the creation of individualized PD portfolios for teachers. These portfolios are designed together with the teacher in response to the teacher’s strengths and weaknesses. The portfolios may include conferences, workshops, seminars,  formal classes and webinars. The creation of a teacher’s individualized PD Action Plan will help ensure a sense of direction and a trajectory for the teacher and a series of professional milestones, benchmarks or goals the teacher is expected to achieve.

Developing PD portfolios for each faculty member in the school will be very labor intensive. Nevertheless, if the Head of School or Principal has the time and resources, these portfolios can be extremely empowering and most valuable for a teacher’s future professional growth and development.

Parent/School Communication:

One of the most important components of school effectiveness is the frequency and manner in which the school communicates with its parent body. To this end, in addition to timely report cards, teacher/parent conferences and individual teacher/parent communications, it is essential that the Head of School or Principal engage in ongoing communication with parents.

These communications may include weekly school updates, “meet and greet” programs, telephone check-ins, and accessibility when parents seek guidance or advice from the school’s professional  leadership.

In addition to these important interactions, the school must ensure that parents receive clear, concise and timely information regarding special school programs and events. Always check communications for typos, aesthetics and clarity. Do not overload parents with emails. Space them apart and try to strategically consolidate announcements as much as possible,

Finally, remember that parents are the school’s customers and consumers. As such, they must be treated and communicated with in a manner commensurate with this reality.

Given the wide array of subject areas to be covered in a BLOG, additional school managements tips, and tools will be presented in PART II of this Blog.

It will include the following topics:

  •  Parent/School Partnerships
  • Students with Exceptionalities
  • Budgeting and Financial Management
  • Effective Governance and School Board Relationships
  • Marketing
  • Fundraising and Financial Resource Development
  • Strategic Planning

Conclusion:

I am hopeful that these brief school management tips and tools will be helpful and valuable to incoming new school leadership as they begin their journey.

As incoming new Heads of School and Principal, they will be faced with a wide variety of competing challenges and management responsibilities which must be addressed simultaneous. To this end, Welcome to the World of Multitasking.

The number one rule for success is that if you are stuck on an perplexing  issue or face a significant dilemma, never get discouraged or frustrated. Seek professional advice and counsel. Sometimes it is best to just say “I don’t know” or I need to take this issue or concern under advisement. This approach is far more effective than procrastinating by kicking the can down the road.

Being a high quality and effective school leader is difficult, challenging, invigorating, frustrating  and empowering – all wrapped up in one. To be truly successful, you will require perseverance, resilience, grit, patience and determination. Your mission and shared vision for the school must be crystal clear and you must always have a sense of purpose, a moral compass and sense of direction.

Finally, your success will  be dependent in large measure upon how you follow, lead and implement best or model educational practice in your school. Surround yourself with great educational  thinkers and decision-makers as well as hands-on doers; and, empower your faculty and staff to join you in promoting and celebrating educational excellence.

                                                        To Be Continued in Part II of this BLOG 

About the Author
Dr. Chaim Botwinick is currently Principal of the Hebrew Academy Community Day School in Margate FL and Executive Coach and Consultant. He served as president and CEO of the central agency for Jewish education in Baltimore and in Miami. He has published and lectured extensively on topics relating to education, strategic planing and leadership development. Dr. Botwinick is Author of “Think Excellence: Harnessing Your Power to Succeed Beyond Greatness”, Brown Books, 2011