Admin Corner: 5 Steps to Prepare for Success in the Upcoming School Year

5 Apr
Katie Barr

Springtime means planning for the year ahead. It was a time I always enjoyed as principal. It was also usually around this time of year that I would receive data from student, parent, and teacher feedback surveys. I would look at attendance data, grade data, and my school’s benchmark data, noting our successes as well as our ongoing growth areas. 

When my district moved to using the Youth Truth Student Survey, the student data it produced was the most important to me. It helped me examine my school at a different level, giving me an idea of the reasons behind students’ successes and challenges. Knowing that students cannot thrive academically without support to feel safe and comfortable on campus, this data helped me set goals around how my school could better give students co-authorship of their learning and position our students as active agents in our community.

Looking at data from multiple sources though, I sometimes felt overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of information and struggled to know where to begin. Over years of practice though, I developed five actionable steps to take each spring to prepare my staff and myself for the upcoming year. 

  1. Block off time: I scheduled one hour per day on my calendar for data review every day for one week and told my office staff that this was non-negotiable, do-not-disturb time. During my time alone, I would examine the data and list my questions. By the end of the week, I would have a list of around 10 substantial inquiry questions to guide the rest of my planning.
  2. Pick One Area of Focus: Looking closer at my inquiry questions, I would begin to see patterns that led me to develop a single focus area for the upcoming year. I found that by picking one issue, department chairs and teachers could easily understand and adapt it to their contexts and content areas. When we returned to in-person learning, for example, our focus was “connection and engagement.”
  3. Create a Theme for the Year: Creating a theme made it easy for me to communicate goals with all stakeholders. From “connection and engagement,” we dubbed 2020-2021 the Year of Active Learning. I mentioned it in every communication I sent to students, staff, and families to keep the theme at the forefront of all our minds. 
  4. Connect the Dots: I then used my theme and focus area to develop the following year’s budget, accountability plan, and master schedule. If I knew everything needed to support the Year of Active Learning, then I maximized the budget to purchase materials, curriculum, release time, student clustering or looping, and other tools to promote connection and engagement. I would even massage our master schedule to communicate the value of connection and engagement: this included common preps for collaboration, cohorting students in certain programs and learning initiatives, and sequencing course offerings so all students had access to them.  
  5. Make the Focus + Theme “Ours” not “Mine”:  Before the staff left for the summer, I would present our focus and theme along with the budget, accountability plan, and master schedule so that my staff could reflect and plan thoughtfully. This was always appreciated. It helped staff with their planning and brought clarity even when we got deep into the school year and added new initiatives, changed up programs, and adjusted to meet emerging student needs.

I think what I always loved about this time of year was the feeling of possibility. There is a feeling of change, a sense of newness and rebirth, and a chance to plant the seeds of growth.

Katie Barr is the Director of Education + Innovation at Wayfinder. She has held a variety of roles throughout her 25 years in education, including classroom teacher, school administrator, county director, school board member, and educational non-profit leader. Her experience has led to a unique understanding and perspective on the educational system. Using Liberatory Design and Design Thinking models, Katie has reenvisioned educational systems at the middle and high school level in the North Bay of California.