Over the years, one of my most consistent readers has been my father (thanks, Pop!). He was a very successful public school Principal, Assistant Superintendent, and, in later years, Mentor to new Administrators.
He often comments on the connection between project leadership and school administration. But the vocabulary of project management is not something he’s familiar with. He’ll wonder if my readers understand what a “Launch” or “process owner” is without a vocabulary list.
Even though language may differ, the principles of project management cross industry boundaries. Most anything can be thought of as a project if you swap out the wording. So with that in mind, here’s my take on how the school year can be seen as a project, with clear project stages.
- Check your Charter: What’s the vision for the year? Do you have clear goals and an idea of how to reach them, from planting a third-grade flower garden to the annual school musical? And is this reviewed by anyone outside the staff (the team) like the School Committee or the Superintendent?
- Just like all projects, receive your budget and start planning and tracking against it.
- Gather dates of important milestones, such as first day, last day, vacation weeks, and holidays.
- Nail down resource requirements and make adjustments (teachers, custodians, office staff). If they’re not already on board, hiring personnel and setting up contracts may be in order.
- Schools don’t shut down when kids aren’t there. During the summer months it’s busy preparing for the students’ return with facility upkeep, supply orders, curriculum planning meetings, and special program proposals.
- Lists of children are matched with classes, bus routes are worked through, and adjustments are made in all areas.
- Communication planning is important here to let parents know the important calendar dates, their child’s teacher, class schedule, supply needs, bus pick up time, etc.
- Risks are assessed, small and large. If the school is located somewhere cold, the risk is mitigated by adding snow days into the schedule. Teachers have sick days, just like the kids, and need to stay home from school. Both a substitute list and a way to contact them need to be in place before the beginning of the year.
- Kickoff, of course, means the first day of school! Sometimes there’s even an assembly with everyone there, including the Principal and all the teachers, with presentations, instructions, special activities, and a building anticipation of the year to come.
- The “work gets done” during the school year—classes, testing, grading, gym class, music lessons, lunchtime, recess for the little ones, and those special programs you planned during the summer (like the third-grade garden and school musical)!
- Risks are mitigated as they occur (such as unexpected maintenance issues), and additional risks are identified and handled accordingly.
- Communication is constant—notices about Parents’ Night, homework, upcoming standardized testing, etc. Status updates are given to the School Committee or Central Administration, and individual meetings are held with parents.
- Team meetings and workshops are held within the school for teachers and administrators to level up their skills or learn how to handle a new issue that’s come up.
- Documentation is completed throughout the year, such as annual reporting to the state or updates to a grant that’s been given.
- Launch is the last day of school. The staff has prepared the kids as much as possible but now it’s time for them to move on to the next level, whether that’s Third Grade, College, or a trade. There’s usually anticipation, a flurry of activity as the date approaches, and excitement when it finally arrives.
- After the frenzy of the last day of school, things start to slow back down and everyone has time to take a deep breath as they bring everything to a close.
- There is always a period of clean up—physical (someone forgot their backpack), putting to bed documentation (recording the final records), and follow-on training (some students will attend summer school).
- Schools will hold teacher meetings and talk through ways to improve for next year, a literal “lessons learned.”
- Finally, resources are released and hopefully take some well-deserved time off…before it all starts again with next year’s Initiate and Planning stages.
This was only a glance through the lens to the school year as a project. So much more could be said, and I’m sure there are even greater parallels and examples.
For those of you outside the education system, I hope this helps you see how to adapt the principles of project management outside of the corporate world. No matter what we run, a project mindset can help us plan and execute with greater confidence. And it provides an simple but effective framework to communicate with our stakeholders.