As always, this year’s summer break flew by way too quickly—just ask your students.
As students and families soak up the last few days of summer—in the pool, at the beach, wherever—teachers and administrators are hard at work, preparing for the excitement, and challenges, of a new school year.
This is the time of year when things really start to heat up—and, no, we’re not talking about the weather.
“Then August comes,” writes Ohio-based School Principal Jen Schwanke in Ed Week. “Shattering the peace with all the necessary rapid-fire preparations leading to the first day of school. It brings the myriad needs of all sorts of people who seem to need something right now.”
A single request from a parent, student, or teacher might not seem like a big deal. But when school leaders field hundreds—even thousands—of questions, comments, and concerns, the sudden onslaught of requests can quickly become overwhelming. Schwanke likens the flood of late-summer communications to an annual storm school leaders have to weather.
To help, Schwanke compiled a list of survival tips for the August rush. Here are a few of her suggestions:
Acknowledge requests immediately and give them due diligence
When it comes to parent and community questions, don’t expect to have every answer right away. You won’t. The key is to acknowledge that you received that feedback, wherever it came from, and that you are looking into the issue, writes Schwanke. This will buy you time to prioritize and to issue helpful responses.
“Time will help you be more thoughtful and thorough in your response, of course, but you may also find that a viable solution has emerged on its own with the passage of a few hours or days,” she writes.
Make no mistake: Solutions won’t appear out of thin air. But, the quicker you engage your community and let them know you are working to solve an issue, the more leeway you’ll have to think through your options. Never dismiss—or worse, ignore—a request.
Make it about helping students
Writes Schwanke: “It’s our job to stay super-focused on our main role: Making sure our students have the best experience possible. Repeatedly asking yourself, ‘What is best for the students?’ will help you remain on point.”
If you’re having trouble prioritizing which requests to address, ask yourself if solving that problem will improve the overall student experience. That includes things like student safety, learning, engagement, and overall school climate.
Ask good questions
Sometimes the only way to solve a community issue or problem is to ask more questions. Is this time consuming? Sure. But by gathering all of the information you need to address a problem, you’ll end up making a more informed and, ultimately, more popular decision.
Added bonus: asking community members to elaborate on critical issues opens running dialogues that can inform your decisions throughout the entire school year.
Learn to triage
You can’t solve every issue by yourself. That’s why you’ve worked so hard to hire so many top-notch teachers and staff.
The best way to fight the August onslaught is to have a system for receiving, assigning, and resolving issues that includes different members of your team. Assign a staff member to field certain kinds of requests. Or, set up an online hotline or forum specifically designed to field questions in the months and weeks leading up to the new school year. Consider keeping that system up and running, so parents and others can contact you in the ensuing months.
No matter what system you eventually choose to field community feedback, make sure you’re able to track individual requests from the moment they come in all the way through to their resolution. You might not be personally involved in every issue, but you need a solution that holds your team accountable.
What steps are you taking as a school leader to navigate the August onslaught? Tell us in the comments.
Looking for a better way to solicit, effectively triage, and close the loop on community feedback this year? Set up your very own online listening station.