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Is now a good time to reset?


This time of year, I hear a common refrain from the school leaders I know: 1) It’s hard work, 2) We have a plan for student success, and yet 3) We have a lot more to do to achieve our promise of high-quality, equitable education for each student. These leaders began the year with an inspiring vision of creating vibrant schools where all students are engaged in meaningful learning, feel loved and want to come to school every day. There may have been times when this vision came close to reality.

However, as we approach the middle of the year, there are often gaps. Student culture can become stressful, faculty and staff can feel tired and frustrated, lessons aren’t as strong as they’d hoped, and/or students with the highest needs aren’t getting the support they need. The question arises: what should I do now?

In my role as Vice President of Innovation and Impact at Relay of the Higher School of Education, the best part of my job is being able to find, learn and share what’s working in schools across the country. One of the steps we see our most effective leaders taking at this time of year is a strategic reboot of a key area of ​​the school that – if improved – will have a significant positive impact on learning and the student experience right now.

Invariably, these leaders doubled up on one direction: They identified a point in the school day that needed improvement, they clarified a vision for success, identified high-impact steps, and created a plan for how to do it.

In doing so, these leaders accomplished what we call a “Reset”. A reboot is a narrowly focused initiative, planned and executed to have a significant impact in a short period of time. This differs from long-term strategic planning, which may involve multiple areas of improvement, significant structural changes, and reallocation of resources. The Reset is a fact-based plan to address one key area now—and you’ll see results. Through our leadership programs, we’ve coached thousands of school, district, and network leaders in the reboot process. Here are the ideas and practices we got:

Prioritize. What capital shortage keeps you up at night the most? Many leaders believe that while it can be tempting to address the many areas for improvement, choosing to prioritize one major issue to make real progress toward your vision of equity is the most impactful. The Equity Gap is an opportunity to improve school efforts to provide all children with what they need to reach their full potential. Consider whether these gaps are related to student or staff culture, or learning gaps.

Clarify the vision. What specific success would you like to see by the end of the reset period? When plans fall apart, it’s often because the original vision of success wasn’t specific enough. You have a much better chance of success if you explain in vivid detail what your plan will look like. These details serve two functions: 1) they help you and your team understand shared expectations; and 2) They act as a forcing function when creating your implementation plan.

Identify the main activities. How can your Reset move the needle right now, starting tomorrow, in a way that has a significant impact? Your “Reset” plan is unlikely to involve significant adjustments in the allocation of your school’s resources; such changes fall within the scope of strategic planning. But you might want to think about steps you can take within your current structures that could lead to marked improvements in teaching and learning. What is within your reach – and locus of control – that could make a difference to students and staff in the near future?

Create a plan. Who will do what, when and with what tools? We have noticed two things about the plans of school leaders who are successful in achieving their goals for their schools: 1) their plans are very specific and 2) their plans address everything that needs to happen for the plan to be successful. Nothing is vague or left to chance. Team members should first brainstorm ideas together, but at some point one of the leaders should sit down and make a clean draft and then share it for additional team feedback before finalizing. Reset planning sessions emphasize the four components necessary for the success of any initiative: capacity building; investment construction; impact measurement; terms.

A key part of the reset process is approaching it with the right mindset: acknowledging the reality of the moment while maintaining faith in our ultimate success is central to the work of school leaders. Running schools is hard work at the best of times, and even more so lately. As long as our students are in our schools, we have the power – and the responsibility – to make positive changes. The reset process is designed to help you do this, so that you and your team can gain some clarity about what steps you will take tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, and the day after that to bring you closer to completing this very important marathon we are on.

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