Monday, January 6, 2020

The perfect time to make changes

I spent time in my classroom over the holiday.

A  few hours over the break make things easier for weeks to come.  Sure, I'd prefer to be at home doing something with my family!  But the hours in my classroom will save me many more hours later on.  More importantly, I am getting ready for several changes that will initiate on Tuesday when my kids come back to school.

Yes, I am changing things up!  Why?  Because I believe the changes will improve student learning in my classroom.  Simple.

I waited until now to make several of the changes.  I needed a little time without the pressure of being ready for tomorrow/next week/the next meeting.  I waited so that I could make them happen with a better chance of success.  Teachers know this.  We wait for the right time to make a change.  We wait until we can adequately prepare for the change.  We also try to choose a time when the change will cause the least amount of disruption to our students.

Many years ago, I found myself stating, "I can't wait until next year to start ______!"  Fill in the blank with numerous improvements.  The idea of waiting until the next school year seemed silly.  If the improvement is worth doing, why wait?

Really... teachers make changes ALL THE TIME.  We constantly tweak/shift/add/drop/change stuff in our daily routine.  We also learn and get better throughout the year, so we do things better. 

One of my bedrock beliefs for school leaders is to clear paths for teachers.  How can you clear a path and ask teachers to start something new at the same time?  Every new thing deserves a little thought and a little talk with this question in mind.  If your new thing clears a path and makes things better, do it immediately!  If the new thing begins with a slightly fuller plate for teachers, but quickly lightens and makes things better, don't wait until next year.  If the new thing makes a significant improvement to learning and teaching, don't wait until next year.

A few years ago, I was the principal at a school with a master calendar that was built for 5th grade teachers in a manner that supposedly helped the kids have the best opportunity to pass the state test.  Unfortunately, the Kinder and 1st grade students had their large learning block in the afternoon and the 2nd graders had a schedule that required every subject to be broken by lunch, specials, and recess.

The master schedule needed to change.  It needed to be better.  Several teachers got together and created a master schedule that gave our youngest learners better blocks of learning throughout the day, and especially each morning.  The 5th graders still had a solid schedule that supported minimal interruptions to their learning.  We changed our master schedule in October. 

Some teachers were worried that their students wouldn't adapt easily.  They asked if we could wait until next year.  Kids adapt more easily than adults to almost any change.  There were concerns that the new schedule would mess with parents who already had plans for appointments and lunches.  We began communicating the changes three weeks early.  Parents knew!

There were a few bumps on the first day, then everything normalized.  Overall, the new schedule was better.  The survey showed that the majority of teachers agreed that it was significantly better for learning across the campus.  I'm glad we didn't wait until the next year.

Principals notice things that can be improved all the time.  When you see something, choose the best time to make it happen and remember that next year is a long time away!

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