A new semester can bring new challenges, but it can also drag the obstacles from the first semester – kicking and screaming – into another marathon of instructional practices, professional development, and paralyzing data sets. As leaders, if we aren’t careful, we get caught in the year’s flow and miss an opportunity to take what could be learned from the first semester and shift it to a powerful leveraging tool for the second semester.
One of the best processes for launching a strong second semester comes from “Smokey the Bear” and our elementary fire safety training. Following the simple stop, drop, and roll process will allow any leader to successfully pivot for second-semester gains.
A new semester means that things are moving quickly, and the year as a whole is in overdrive towards state summative assessments and accountability measures. This can often cause leaders to put their foot on the gas pedal. But we need to apply the break. Stop and take a moment to review semester one and ask some important questions:
- Where does our data show that we were successful?
- Where does our data show that we failed?
- Do we know what we think we know? How do we know it?
Walking through the questions above allows a leader to stop the automaticity of a second semester start. They force reflection of our assumptions at the surface-level look to generate specific points of emphasis. Far too often, we do not verify what we think and that causes us to lose time as we are focused on the wrong priorities.
Upfront, we need to state a hard truth about leadership – one of our greatest difficulties in analysis is the identification of what needs to be let go.
As leaders, we quickly identify what can be added for student success. However, pruning the vine of programs, instructional models, and techniques has become more challenging. After the effort to survey the success and failure of semester one, success lies just around the corner by dropping what isn’t working. That release allows a leader and team to place full focus into the practices that yield the highest results. Making a change mid-year can be frightening, but growth and success for students in the second semester hangs in that balance.
Leaders must be brave and bold enough to say “no” to ineffective things, and therefore a distraction from potential gains. As I said to close the first section, if this decision is not made, then time is lost. That time, that could have made a difference for teachers and students, cannot be regained. It is imperative that leaders know what to keep and what to release.
Once a leader has analyzed the success and failure of semester one and pruned the various efforts and initiatives involved, it is time to let a quality, focused area roll. Identify the ways that best efforts can be encouraged and better motivated. Ensure that the rolling out of this fresh perspective and honed-in focus runs deep into each staff member and classroom. Clarity is key here so define language and expectations, teach them to leaders and teachers, reinforce them with common language, and explain how you will verify fidelity.
One fundamental way that leaders can do this is to run interference for their teams. Protect your team’s drive and energy at all costs so that they can push through the finish line. If a new program is being pushed down to the school, you can and should say “no” (and then back up that no with the data you have to stop, drop, and roll).
In conclusion, “Smokey the Bear” would also tell us to make sure our fire is out – if it is too warm to touch, then it is too warm to leave. For our application, that translates to inspecting our outputs. We can have the best people, the best intentions, and even some data that seems to support our goals. But we can still miss the target. Leaders must continuously dig in to conversations, data, curriculum and student outcomes to ensure second semester success. The mid-year pivot can make all the difference!