School starts are like the start to a horse race--the bugle calls us to gather at the starting gate, and once the students arrive, we're off for another year's adventure.
Many teachers spend the summer months studying, preparing materials and rethinking the year ahead--they come to school ready for an invigorated year of new learning and student focus.
It can be problematic, however, when teachers begin the year ready to go only to be met with multiple, new initiatives and goals after they've prepped and planned for the year ahead. New initiatives and goals in September often suffocate since the teachers who have the most time-on-task with students have the least time to read, prep and plan for new goals once the year gets started. As roles and responsibilities stand now, classroom teachers' school year time is mainly spent on activating and evaluating learning with regular feedback, student-family-colleague communication, planning and prep.
Hence, what is the best goal setting time line for new initiatives, teacher planning and implementation? As I've noted before, I think it's best time for systems to stay about nine months to a year ahead of the action in the classroom when possible. That means that goal setting and initiatives are being discussed, surveyed and formalized publicly about nine months ahead of implementation lending plenty of time for teachers and others to read about the initiatives, discuss the changes with peers and get ready for change or even begin to try out the changes ahead of the formal initiative start.
Another way to look at this is to implement strategic initiative efforts that take on a beginning-to-end structure that can happen at any time of the year since the initiative steps are created to fit into the teachers' yearly responsibility and effort. For example, if our team were to strategize around the successful implementation of fraction standards related to the common core, we could start with this goal in September. I chose fractions because it is a content area often left to the end of the year thus getting less attention, and it's an area that represents change for our content work at fourth grade. Teachers could get released time in the early year to strengthen their own fraction skill and knowledge, as well as the direct knowledge related to the standards. Then later in the fall, teachers could meet to discuss and plan how they will combine the standards' goals, classroom efforts/resources, visible learning (strategies that promote optimal learning), assessment and RTI to meet and possibly exceed the standards. At the next leg of the initiative, teachers could strategically implement their plans and assessments, meet to review/revise, implement again and then evaluate the overall initiative and create next steps for the effort.
Keeping all educators abreast of initiatives in place, traditions embraced and new ideas on the horizon, can serve to invigorate a school system for best effect and professional endeavor. As I work to prep and plan for the school year ahead, I find myself secretly hoping that I won't be met with too many new initiatives at the start of September that diminish the good work and planning I've done all summer long, yet I'll embrace collaborative initiatives that are on the horizon or woven well into the yearly schedule and expectations so that we continue to develop our collective repertoire to teach children well. I'll let you know what happens.