Finishing Strong

Guest post by Duane Kline

I’m writing on a cross-country flight from Kentucky to San Francisco with my wife and daughter. It turns out that my 22 years of parenting have brought us to the point where (a) my daughter has her own interests and a career and (b) she feels the need to “see the world.” So, she’s preparing to move to Northern California. It’s interesting that I’ve had similar conversations with parents every year that I have been a high school principal. As the school year winds down, we prepare to send our seniors on their journeys and face that set of emotions only teachers can know at the end of a year. Each year, I have reminded my students, parents, and faculty of the importance of finishing strong. Strong endings, I think, make for stronger new beginnings. (A conversation I’m having with my sweet daughter as we hurtle westward, somewhere over Nebraska, I suppose.)

And so, to you, my colleagues, I’ll offer the same advice. As we’ve spent another year teaching, guiding, mentoring, and even arguing, it’s important that we draw closer to the end of this edition of our journey in strength; we are laying the foundation for next year’s work. While we all have our own transition rituals (my year officially ends/begins when I erase my whiteboard master calendar and realign the days of the week for the next year), I want to encourage you to make sure these elements are part of your work.

Communicate what’s important in your school. 

What you communicate when you speak, write, and act for your school is enormously important. Every opportunity is one to nudge the culture of your school and community that much closer to the positive, growth-oriented ideal you have in your mind. Luckily, the end of the year is rife with opportunities to talk about the important things in your school—character, effort, persistence, grit, and excellence come to mind for my school. As you gather for graduations, moving-on ceremonies and award nights, be sure to remind everyone what your school is really about.

Evaluate the past year before everyone leaves for the summer. 

Get your teachers together—your building leadership team, your PLC’s—and take one more look at the year’s data. Where did growth surprise you? What areas didn’t perform to expectations? What will you, your teachers and your students need to do differently next year? Have these discussions before thoughts turn to camping trips, the pool, and naps. I know I always felt a little intruded upon when I was called in during the middle of the summer to have conversations that would have been better had in May. Give your team an opportunity to pour the year out before leaving, and they’ll appreciate the summer … and you … all the more.

Lay your plans for improvement. 

Now is the time to elicit commitments so everyone can prepare mentally and emotionally for next year’s journey. One of the things I try to do is to give teachers the big ideas for the next year to chew on before they leave for the summer. I do this for two reasons. First, we invariably get better thinking when teacher leaders have a chance to process ideas. Second, the beginning of the next school year is that much less stressful if I’m not springing additional ideas and plans on teachers that they could have been preparing for ahead of time. It’s amazing what a difference a few weeks of “think time” can make.

Clear the air, encourage and pat backs. 

Every year I go into the summer with one or two conversations I wish I’d had. These might be discussions about redirection with the superintendent, or thank yous to a teacher, or “attaboys” for some students. Take a few minutes to consider the conversations that you need to have that will improve the life of your school. Then have them. Tell people how much you enjoy them, what you expect from them, give people your sincere thanks as often as you can. These moments, these conversations are the foundation of the goodwill and teamwork that make all great schools.

The plane is about to land, literally and figuratively. Make sure to put as much effort into ending your school year as you did into the beginning; the next beginning will be that much smoother because you did. Every day, even the last one, is a chance to make your school a place where all of your students are proud to be!

What are your end-of-year rituals? How do they move your school forward? How do you encourage your faculty and students to look ahead, even as they wrap up the year?

Duane Kline is the proud principal of Owen County High School in Owenton, KY. He is the even prouder husband of Anne, and dad of (California-bound) Hannah and Aaron. Duane is the 2016 Kentucky Secondary Principal of the Year. 

1 Comment

  • Michael Thomas says:

    Wise words, especially about considering the conversations you need to have before the end of the school year. Thanks for sharing, Duane!

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