A reader asks:
I have an interview for a principalship next week. As part of the interview process, they have asked me to outline my plan for the first 90 days, if they hire me. Since I’m going to get this job, I don’t want this to be an empty exercise. Any ideas on what I should really do?”
Here is my 80% plan for any principal stepping into a new school. But the same plan is useful for a sitting principal. If you are a sitting principal, just start the plan the day after the last state assessment test is completed on your campus.
1. Benchmarking and Campus Assessment. First, collect the most recent short-term and long term relevant objective data available and post it where it is visible to those inside the system (such as a semi-private conference or war room). The purpose is not to cast blame or embarrass anyone. The purpose is to visibly post the new starting line. Then have an outside set of eyes come in and give you an objective picture of what you are dealing with. Unfortunately, in your first days, you can’t trust the reports that you get from those close to the situation. It is not that anyone will outright lie to you, but you won’t be able to distinguish from those trying to be helpful and those who are trying to further their agenda. It is also a good idea to have an annual outside assessment of your campus operations (even your district undergoes an annual external financial audit). It is a simple fact that the longer we are embedded in a setting, the larger our blind spot becomes. I always had an annual external assessment of my campus (and later, campuses). I wanted to know where my deficits were before my boss pointed them out to me.
2. Purposeful Communication and Alignment of Vision. You have to know what your want your campus to accomplish and why. Then edit that vision to its concrete core and repeat it like a broken record. Next, look at look at systems and practices of your campus. Any of those that aren’t in alignment with what you are attempting to accomplish, quit doing as soon as it is feasible. To paraphrase Jim Collins, for the great organization, the “do not do” list is easily more important than the “to do” list.
3. Make the “Science” Non-negotiable. There is both a science and art to campus improvement. The science is made up three components: A non-negotiable common scope and sequence; Short-term common assessments; and the frequent and objective monitoring of classroom instruction (PowerWalks). If these three components are not in place, you will be busy doing a lot of stuff and things but you won’t be making much progress.
4. Continuous Improvement and Knowledge Building. Use the science of improvement to impact the art of improvement. Quickly identify what works. Celebrate it and replicate it. Just as quickly identify what does not work and replace that with something different. Keep observing, coaching and adjusting. As a profession, we abhor change but we love it when our students improve.
Keep your eye focused on student performance and don’t slow down.
Think. Work. Achieve.