The school year is a well defined cycle consisting of phases: planning, startup, maintenance and close out. One of the very interesting characteristics of life as a K-12 professional is the way our work needs to mesh with this cycle.
First of all, we need to understand what these phases are like for school staff:
The planning phase is that time when school district employees are able to think strategically about the coming school year. We address changes, study trends, solve problems, advance goals and plan for a better school year than the one just completed. As a note, if you find that your district has a “not much changes from year to year” mentality during this phase, this is a sign of an operation that is not improving.
The startup phase, which takes place during the first month of the school year, is always the most intense time of the entire cycle. Stability, which will be provided by familiarity and routine later in the year, has not yet arrived. New relationships, connections and movements all must mesh seamlessly. Adding to this intensity is the fact that there is no gradual ramp-up to opening school. Opening day arrives and it is full speed ahead for all phases of K-12 operations.
There will inevitably be problems during startup, even in the best run operations. It is critical to document these problems as they occur so their contribution to the “lessons learned” for the upcoming school year — discussed during the planning phase — is available and understood.
The maintenance phase is, of course, the longest phase of the school year cycle, essentially covering all of months 2-9. We have survived the opening phase and spend the rest of the year providing high quality services day after day with the greatest possible efficiency. A critical focus during this phase should be the regular capture of data. Without accurate and timely data, we cannot manage and plan throughout the school year with the degree of excellence demanded by our stakeholders.
The close out phase of a school year, say the last month or so, unfortunately might find us on autopilot, looking forward to a well deserved break after the full year of activities. We need to be on our guard against this kind of professional exhaustion. Hopefully at least part of this time is spent in a careful assessment of the year as it concludes, so that we can enter thoughtfully into the planning phase, beginning the cycle over again.
Recognizing that this cycle is a systemic part of being a K-12 professional, it is important that we align our work activities with this pattern. When we consciously prepare ourselves for this cycle, we can recognize and experience its many exciting benefits:
- The cycle gives us a built-in chance to start afresh with a new approach, attitude or process for the coming school year.
- Similarly, it gives us the chance to reset our operations, to conclude some activity or characteristic that is less than effective.
- There is a definite start and end to a school year. This definition gives us the opportunity to easily assess finite periods of time, contributing to successful longitudinal analysis.
- By its very nature, the cycle means that our work is never routine. We enjoy duties and responsibilities that constantly change with the phase of the school year.
Recognizing this cycle and the impact it has on our work as school business professionals is a critical tool to include in our toolbox. When we approach our profession with thoughtful plans for improvement we all benefit: staff, students and stakeholders alike.
Do you take advantage of the many benefits of the school year cycle, aligning your work and goals to its rhythms, or do you just let it wash over you? How can you use the close out period of this school year to your advantage?