Sunday, May 27, 2018

What I Do All Summer

Today’s post is for every principal who spends summer hearing others ask, eyebrow lifted:  “You… have to work through the summer?”  Surprise.  Disbelief.  

Yes.  I do. 

Many principals have a contract that provides about twenty vacation days over the course of a year, which, coupled with a few holidays and some careful planning, can amount to a summer break of three weeks or so.  The rest of the time, we’re on duty.

So, yes:  I work through the summer.

What’s next, then, is always:

“Wellll….. What do you do?”

Believe it or not, a principal-working-in-the-summer is pretty busy.  Here are some things on my list for the next ten weeks:

Complete hiring.  I’ve done a lot of interviewing this spring, but there are still a few positions I need to fill.  This means sifting through applicable candidates, setting up interviews, bringing in a team of teachers to help with the interview process, checking references, and recommending a candidate to the Board of Education.  No quick thing, there.

Facilities.  We have about fifteen teachers who have to move to a new classroom next year, for various reasons—but suffice it to say there are a lot of boxes being schlepped from one place to another.   Other things happen with (and to) the building over the summer:  Alarms are tested, floors are scrubbed, furniture is ordered and replaced, and the whole place is cleaned from top to bottom.  It’s not me waxing the floors, of course—but I check in with the custodians often so I can support them they take proverbial Q-tips to every nook and cranny of our school.

Summer school.  Students who need some extra oomph with their reading in my district have qualified to attend summer school, it takes place at my building.  Buses will come, teachers will teach, kids will learn.  So that’s happening.  I'm not in charge, but I'll help out if needed.

Finalizing student schedules.  To place students in classrooms for the upcoming school year, I spend a gazillion hours in a state of angst.

We do. 

By “we,” I mean classroom teachers, as well as all the staff who work with special education, gifted, English Language students, and related arts.  In the weeks before school ends, we think about how to best group kids on an RTI plan, with behavior challenges, with health issues.  We try to balance classes with girl/boy ratios as well as cultural and language and economic diversity.   And then—when that is done, I dig into the input from parents, which is currently living is a folder, thicker than my wrist, chock-full of notes from parents (“Please separate my child from….”  “It’s important that my child not be in a class environment that…”)

And it’s tough work, too, because it matters.  I want to get it right.  But all the while, there is a speech bubble hovering above my head reminding me that it won’t be perfect; there will be missteps and errors and many complaints.  

The whole thing—the work, the worry—takes hours.  Hours that add up to days. 

Professional Development.  For me.  I’m super-lucky to work in a district that provides principals PD all summer, and I take full advantage, attending trainings from Human Resources, Operations, Student Services, Public Relations, and everything in between.  Next week starts it off with training for the new program we’ll use for the writing and management of IEPs.  All this PD happens in a small group setting, with time to think and ask questions.  Bam.

I also dig into some good books and blog posts from people who are super-smart about teaching, learning, and instruction.  I plan ways to PD into the coming year, too—I consider conferences that might help me grow as a professional and a principal, find new resources, and study the latest thinking and research about teaching and learning.

Cleaning my office and reflecting on what I find. This summer I will tackle file folders, books, papers, and the stacks of things I’ve shoved willy-nilly into baskets and piles.  I use this time to review the past year, too—what those papers say about what we did, what we didn’t need to do, what we could do better next year. 

Re-connect with colleagues.  I’ll have phone conversations that don’t start with, “Whatcha need?”  Nor will they end in less than a minute with “Thankstalksoonbye.”

Planning.  School doors don’t open mid-August to hundreds of kids without massive amounts of planning. I plan a staff retreat, opening Leadership Team meetings, Staff meetings, parent walkthrough and curriculum night, staff photo and video sessions.  I organize a building schedule and assign staff duties.  I make a staff professional development plan for the year.  Evaluate staff input from previous surveys.  I adjust, adjust, adjust and plan, plan, plan.

Express gratitude.  I write a lot of thank you notes over the summer, and even then, I don’t get to all the people to whom I owe my appreciation.  Summer is a great time to stop and be grateful. 

Eat lunch.  Using a whole half hour.  Or more, even, if I’m feeling zany.  Sometimes, I’ll even go out to lunch, with a friend and a server and everything.

So that’s a snippet of summer. 

I love summer work.  Compared to the rest of the year, the pace is gentle; decisions are not weighty.  It’s busy, but not the kind of busy that makes my mind spin.  It's hope-full, too, because I find myself looking forward with a clear mind, fresh ideas, and renewed inspiration.

This blog post has been a luxury—to use lots of words to answer the “What do you do all summer” question.   I usually can’t go into this much detail.  Usually, when I’m asked, in the line at the deli counter or on a Saturday afternoon at the pool, I just smile and demur, “Oh… a variety of different tasks…” and leave it at that.  Because it would take too long to explain how summer will fill up and fly by.

But now you know. 

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