Brian Nicol
Donovan Group

Award-winning sports journalist Vince Cellini famously signaled the end of each episode of his mid-90s primetime CNN Sports Tonight show with the exclamation, “Finish up strong!” 

The nightly remark was directed as much at himself and his co-anchor Van Earl Wright as it was at the audience. It is good and important to remind ourselves that finishing strong sets the stage for a solid start to the next school year.

As educational leaders, the fourth quarter brings with it opportunities and barriers to achieving that strong finish. Commencement and the celebration of an important academic milestone are at hand, and the Midwest weather is improving. At times, a school year’s worth of issues to manage, decisions to make, and progress to lead have begun to take their toll.

What can school leaders do to ensure a strong finish and lay the foundation for a high-impact start to the next school year?

Before considering strategies and tactics, it is critical to note that finishing strong is an intentional act of will. There will be circumstances that inevitably entice us to compromise values and beliefs and perhaps choose an easier path. Finishing strong requires us to recommit to our vision—serving all children—and our goals. It requires reflection…and action!

Below are some strategies that can help your school or district achieve a strong finish to the 2022-23 school year.

Recognize your staff and celebrate success

It has been an incredible year of creating opportunities for students to reach their full potential. You and your staff have done extraordinary work! Be visible in your buildings to develop relationships and reinforce the commitment to your common cause.

Maintain focus on high-quality instruction

Defining instructional expectations with your leadership team and promoting time on task with your staff can improve student achievement and prevent behavior issues. That said, it is prudent to review security protocols for end-of-year class pranks or similar potential disruptions.

Attend to social and emotional wellbeing

Look for warning signs among students and staff for mental health concerns. Staff especially need a reserve of mental fortitude to finish strong. This includes yourself and your leadership team.

Compile a list of your team’s accomplishments

Report progress toward goals in a detailed and structured way, including goals, indicators, action steps, and the measurables you use as evidence. Share the report up and down your organization, with your leadership team, your staff, and your direct supervisor. 

Support vulnerable students and families

Create and implement a process for personal outreach to families of students for whom the school year-to-summer-to-school-year transition can be especially challenging. Engage your student services and social work resources to assist in identifying where your time would make an impact.

Prepare for your annual evaluation

Bring and discuss your accomplishments and those of your team when you meet with your supervisor. Be prepared to discuss things you should keep doing, stop doing, and start doing to align your work with the district’s strategic framework. Ensure that a written documentation of your review is created and finalized.

Deal with tension now

If tension exists among your leadership team or staff, deal with it now. All staff are heading toward a season of renewal in preparation for the next school year. Now is the time to diagnose and begin to treat moments of tension and conflict within your area of oversight that might otherwise hinder your future efforts if left unchecked. 

Just like with a parent-teacher conference, it is better to initially address potential issues outside of the formal evaluation process. Give time for your colleagues to understand concerns and demonstrate a willingness to learn, grow, and improve.

Grow your network and connect

As leaders in educational organizations, we are at our best when we are reflective, learning, and growing ourselves. One of the best ways to make progress on this front is to seek and develop new relationships outside of your organization. 

Develop a sounding board relationship with a community member or business leader invested in the positive outcomes of your district’s vision. Connect with a mentor to monitor your own progress. Model a growth mindset for your leadership team and encourage them to connect with those who support their leadership journey.

Consider these strategies as you prepare for these final days of the school year, and you will position yourself and your school or district in a strong position for summer planning and fall 2023.

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