Tag Archives: planning

Scheduling , Why Wait?

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

If your phone battery is not at 100%, would you still use it? Or, would you sit and wait for it to charge?

If your water bottle is 50% empty, would you continue to use it, or would you immediately go refill it?

If a schedule is 70% ready to be built, would you start building it, or wait until you have 100% of the information?

Here are the correct answers: Use It; Drink It; Make It Now

Start Now, it is Never too Early

I have built many schedules. For new schools, new programs, residential life, and events. In my experience the most important rule about academic scheduling, PK-12, is to start now, because it is never too early. Literally, after the first week of the academic year, most schedule issues arise. Issues need solutions. Solutions need a process. Processes take time. Time is always the main currency of any PK-12 organization, and currency should not be wasted.

Scheduling is All About Percentages

Imagine  planning a very  traditional elementary school schedule. The homeroom kind of schedule found in many American Schools.

There are 50 teachers. In August the school is getting 10 new teachers. Do I wait for those teachers to arrive to plan the schedule?

Let’s state that another way. I have 83% of my team. Can I make a plan with 83% of my team? Yes.

Observable data and experience would easily indicate that very few people in a school want to be responsible for scheduling. This data would also indicate, that more senior staff are more likely to have the desire to be involved, as they are aware of the issues.

And, do not forget, these 10 new people probably have email or other methods to communicate their goals for scheduling well in advance of the start date. There is no need to wait for their arrival, to incorporate their ideas.

More than 50% of any team can get a tremendous amount of work done. The Pareto Principle is a further reminder that only 20% of the total team is needed to produce 80% of the required output. That is 2 out of 10 people, assuming they have the skills to do the work

Many times the motivation to wait is not related to waiting on data. It is the inverse. The person believes they have enough information. Therefore, they can simply wait to finish the work at an ebb in the their annual workflow. I know have done this many times, and it would be the misjudgment that haunts me the most frequently.

Percentages work both ways. Scheduling is deceptive. People often seem to look at all the information and conclude, “I can wait. I have 90% of the work done.”

In my experience, that last 10% takes just as long, or longer, than the first 90%. The last 10% often involves meeting niche requirements for students, negotiating time sharing with another division, a pending change to a curriculum that will add (or subtract) required hours, etc.

This is another reason to start scheduling for the next year, as early as possible. The time to complete the work is deceptive and often inconsistent.

Waiting for 100% of everything is a waste of scheduling time, and waiting to complete 10% is also a waste of scheduling time. Both strategies can have the same result: an incomplete schedule on opening-day.

The Reality of the Flexibility

There is something I like to call, The Reality of the Flexibility.

Often new scheduling ideas come from a sense of concern: Our children need more…or Our Children need less. Legitimate, and exactly what a school loves to hear from their staff.

However, most schools follow a curriculum, and have to meet requirements outside of their control. For example, a governing body may require every student have four, forty-minute Spanish classes every week. A curriculum connected to a third-party organization might insist that every high school student complete 120 minutes of mathematics every week. This list is endless and often complex.

Having discussions about making changes is important, but most suggestions can be quickly sorted into the “possible” and “impossible” categories.

The day has a finite amount of time, and the year has a finite amount of days. The number of changes possible in any schedule is usually a very small percentage of the total. The reality is, the schedule is usually not that flexible.

The Ideal Timeline

If you want to see some dramatic improvements in scheduling, and have a more pleasant summer vacation, I recommend the following:

  • After the first month of school, create a schedule planning document. Send it to anyone who is involved in scheduling. If you need to see a planning document, email me directly. tony.deprato@gmail.com
  • Have new ideas for schedules submitted by the end of the third month of school.
  • At the top of the second semester, top of the third quarter, or bottom of the second trimester (hopefully you see the pattern) have the first version of all the new schedules ready.
  • Gather feedback. Adjust. Repeat.
  • Do course requests if required.
  • After spring break plan a new schedule walkthrough for every division. Find the problems before they are real problems.
  • Gather feedback. Adjust. Repeat.
  • Have all final schedules in the hands of teachers, students, and parents by the last week of school. Include the following line: “Schedules may change slightly without notice.”

Understanding The End of Year Process: Tech in the Spring Determines Tech in the Fall

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

In August or September, the first week of a new school year, do you find that your campus seems to have problems that are unexpected and out of line with the status quo from the spring term? If so, then there is probably one or many problems embedded in the execution of the school’s End of Year Process (EOY). Although this post is going to focus on technology EOY, the fact is all systems and departments have (or should have) an EOY.

Any system, department, etc., that is not practicing a well thought out EOY will not only struggle, but create a cascade of problems that will spread through out the community. This cascade will feel like a sudden and unseen wave of chaos, or a series of seemingly small disconnected problems.

An Example of a Technology EOY

Here is a list of EOY processes/jobs that must be completed before the end of the first week of July. I have simplified some of them as most have multiple steps to complete.

Active Directory access for all non-returning staff needs to be removed.
Active Directory accounts and groupings for all new staff needs to be created
Active Directory Student Accounts Need to Be Moved to the Next Year Group
New School Student Enrollment Complete/Check/Verify
Leaving Grade 5 Students in PowerSchool
All other Primary School Leaving Students Transfer After RollOver and Remove AD Accounts
Destiny needs to be updated
Powerschool Roll Over and Back to School Update (If Required)
Powerschool Records must be Cleaned- teachers/students/etc/ use PowerTools to Check Data Issues
PS Database Backup to Test Server
Make Primary School School Teams
Primary School Backup Report PDFs Generated
Secondary School Backup Report PDFs Generated
New Courses for Primary School Imported/ Old Courses Off
New Courses for Secondary School Imported/ Old Courses Off
PowerSchool- Plugins Update
Office 365 users and groups need to be adjusted to match the schools AD
Turn-It-In, and Naviance Updates/Staff/Students/Etc
ATLAS- Add new Hires and Remove All Old Accounts
Prepare all laptops, printers, and other necessary equipment that have been damaged sent for repair
Prepare all laptops, printers, and other necessary equipment to be recycled
Year 17-18 Orders – All Paperwork completed so items arrive in August
New Constructions/ Building – Checked and Tested
Websense Sync and Configure
Filewave Sync and Configure
Secondary School School Server Room Cleaned and Placed in Correct Working Order
Secondary School Switch Rooms Cleaned and Checked
Primary School School Server Room Cleaned and Placed in Correct Working Order
Primary School School Switch Rooms Cleaned and Checked

This list does not include the procurement process, as that connects to other EOYs in other departments. 

This list is share as an online dashboard. Jobs are assigned to team members. Each job has a status, due date, and comment box.

Many of the systems on the list above have embedded EOY processes as well. For example, PowerSchool and Atlas Rubicon have steps to follow every year to close out the school year.

If any of these jobs is not completed, or not completed with enough time to repair problems or make some adjustments to the fall planning, the start of school will be rough.

The Myth of the Summer Staff

Many schools assume that EOY processes can be done slowly during the summer because they have summer staff. This is a myth, and it usually does not work well because the logic is flawed.

First off, summer staff are always fewer in number than the staff during the normal year. So unless the school is completely closed down, then they will actually have less time to focus on meaningful work. For example, unless the schools avoids summer camps, conferences, admissions tours, etc., the summer staff will become distracted. Their jobs many seem less demanding, but EOY processes take hours to complete, and require large blocks of time. Large blocks of time require more human resources than are available during the summer.

Secondly, summer staff tend to work a different work schedule. The hours are reduced, and oversight is lacking. Knowing it takes 4-6 weeks at 40 hours a week to complete the EOY, how is it possible for fewer people working fewer hours to complete the same job in 4-6 weeks? The math simply does not work. Departments trying to fulfill EOY with limited summer staff will be setting the stage for an anxiety and problem ridden start of the year.

Finally, unless summer staff have 100% full signature authority and empowerment to make decisions, many jobs will be partially done and awaiting a manager to return. Not only will this cause delays, but it will also cause project fragmentation. Think of a multiple puzzles missing multiple pieces in order to visualize this problem.

EOY is End of Year not The Beginning of Next Year

EOY processes are designed to allow the time needed to make upgrades, backups, repairs, etc. These processes need to finish no more than a few weeks after the last day with students (and many need to be completed on or before the last day with students).

Do the EOY on time, prevent the cascade of problems, and start the year on a forward moving pace that exceed the status quo. I firmly believe a good start leads to a good year.

Further Recommended Reading:

The Systems Lifecycle

https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Systems_development_life_cycle

 

Software in a Suitcase vs The Learner Profile

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By Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

The Problem

Curriculum in a Suitcase, this is a common term and point of discussion in international schools. For anyone not familiar with the reference, it addresses the common practice of teachers arriving at a new school and bringing with them a curriculum they are comfortable delivering.

The current practice around curriculum planning and mapping is to avoid this practice. A school should have a curriculum that students and families can depend on, regardless of the staffing.

In Educational Technology there is similar practice known as Software in a Suitcase. Using the word software is being simplistic. Software, subscriptions, services, and even computer brands and operating systems are included.When teachers move from one school to another, they often try to avoid the new school’s technology plan, and attempt to implement an ad-hoc technology plan they are familiar with.

Technology plans can be flexible, but if a school is a Windows 10 Tablet school, or if they are using PowerSchool, those core structural pieces are not flexible. In fact, they are required from the first day. Usage is not negotiable.

Unfortunately, publishing a list of resources before new teachers arrive is not very helpful. They are counting on a miracle, because the motivating force is being comfortable and confident in what they are using. I cannot fault anyone for wanting to use tools that work or tools they have mastered. Nor can I blame a teacher for making a persuasive argument for trying to acquire a resource that has proven track record improving learning for their students.

The fact remains, limitations are limitations. Long term multi-year technology plans create a structure, but they also form boundaries and budgets. Creating niche technology projects around a large campus, without a planned budget, is impossible to support and sustain.

The Solution

The IB Learner Profile and ISTE Teacher Standards hold the solution to the problem of software in a suitcase. If schools want students to embody the ideals of the IB Learner Profile, then teachers and administrators need to model those ideals. Technology is the perfect medium to demonstrate communication, risk-taking, inquiry, and subject knowledge.

Being dependent on a set method and set of resources does not achieve the outcomes expected of IB students, nor does it meet the ISTE criteria for teachers to Model digital age work and learning and Engage in professional growth and leadership. 

Every year when new teachers are completing orientation, these core concepts should be part of every discussion around curriculum, assessment, and technology. Pushing people to see themselves in the light of the IB and/or the ITSE standards actually creates the middle ground needed to move beyond the problem. The challenge to be an adaptable problem solver, as a model to students, is one every teacher should accept. Adapting to a new technology structure should be seamlessly integrated into adapting to a new curriculum structure.

The trap with technology is discussing brands. People will often say, “I need XYZ software.” Replying, “Well we have WTY software.”, is not going to resolve the situation. This dialogue only creates a partisan debate.

The best way to approach issues related to technology is simply to ask, “What are you trying to accomplish?” The focus should always be on the why first, or the outcome. From there, people can brainstorm the how.  Sometimes, the why is not even inline or aligned to the curriculum. Reiterating the technology plan is also not very useful. The core problem stems from an emotional reaction to change not a misunderstanding of a written plan.

Here is a common dialogue I have with new teachers coming to China:
Teacher: I just came from a Google School, and I need to use Google Drive even though I know it is not accessible in China.
Me: Ok. What do you use it for? (Avoiding the name immediately)
Teacher: I use it to store files and share files with students.
Me: Ok. So you need to have a solution to store files and collaborate with students.
Teacher: Yes.
Me: We have that. Can I show you? I can even help you move your resources quickly.

In most cases, there is a solution. Often, the solution is just time. Time to adjust. Time to privately realise the influence a brand is having on decisions. Time to see other options.
Support cannot be forced. People have to be ready to change. Creating the middle ground and bringing a person back to the core ideals they are working towards with students is definitely the best path to positive outcomes. In an IB school, that is The Learner Profile. The ISTE Standards, those are just for an extra shot of professionalism.

The Importance of Being ‘Urgent’

As I travel to dozens of international schools each year, I am always struck by the earnestness of everyone – the teachers, the leaders, the kids, the parents. EVERYONE is positively earnest and passionate – wanting to do the right thing, willing to put in hours and hours of thought and planning and attention to whatever are perceived to be the current RIGHT goals. So A+ on the EARNEST scale.
But I am UNSTRUCK by the plodding pace, that nothing is terribly urgent, that the PROCESS seems always to be as important – sometimes MORE important – than the actual outcome on student learning.

This is in part driven by two pervasive leadership myths that seem to permeate our international schools – and can cause serious learning damage or at least missed opportunities on the part of the school, to influence student learning.
Myth one: In your first year in your headship or principalship, don’t DO anything – just try and understand the culture of the school, the way things operate, get to know people. Just ‘gather data’, build relationships and perhaps by the second year you can actually begin to do your job.
While leadership gurus may come back at me and argue that this approach does work – my practical experience in international schools is that it is a major contributor to our often being ‘behind the curve’ rather than leading the way. When the typical leader is in a school for 4-5 years, one year is a significant loss.

Myth two: Once you DO begin to act, don’t do too much too fast. After all people can only handle so much change….we would not want to overwhelm the paid professionals whose one and only job is to get the kids in their charge to learn. Well that’s just perfect. So we have 20% of kids in grade 6 who cannot write to standard (or worse yet we don’t even KNOW what they can do)…but that’s ok, we’ll go at the pace of the teachers or at least the leaders’ perception of that pace. We’ll just tell those kids parents that next year, grade six will be great – too bad your kid will be in grade 7. Great strategy.

And by the way, what qualifies as ‘change’ that we must carefully plan for is just about anything that is even minimally different than the way we did it last year. So remarkable that we sit around in curriculum sessions discussing how important it is to teach kids that they will need to be adaptable and flexible if they are going to make it as productive adults, yet we have to make a two year plan to get to the notion of something as obvious as differentiated homework into routine practice. I’m guessing there is maybe a double standard somewhere in there?

‘Urgent’ is not the opposite of earnest- but they do seem to be in a less than productive competition. I vote for at least TRYING urgent wherever learning might be the loser.

Building a Striving Scaffold

While helping an elementary grade level order classroom library books recently, I came across sets of books labeled: “Books for Striving Readers”.  Reading the fine print, these were books for students who needed a bit of scaffolding to reach for the on-grade-level texts. These particular books were high-interest, but written at a slightly lower level, which allowed students to build their skills toward fluently reading grade level texts.  This idea of a “striving scaffold” got me thinking about the work we are doing in schools around the world.

Why?

Because, schools who strive, thrive.

While schools where striving turns to struggling end up not only not reaching the level they’d hoped, they might find there is the dreaded “summer slide” in buy-in, skill development, and momentum. (Worst case- you are further behind where you started.)

As the end of the year push begins, it isn’t hard to feel people wobble. Whether it is exhaustion from a long first year, a sense that a particular class or grade level is ready to move forward, or simply the need to close up and celebrate the end of this year’s initiatives and goals, people are in many ways done.

As administrators though, we have to keep looking forward. We must continue to plan and to build for next steps; but not blindly and not without real consideration for the path we are on, always asking: Is this the right thing to do, right now?

This is the first step in building a striving scaffold, assessing where we are against where we need to go and analyzing whether or not the path/plan initially created is the right one to take now. (Now that we know more, now that things have changed, now– right now- at this particular point in the year.)

From there, we need to plan for steps in the process which take us from here to there, and lay it out in enough detail that we can really see what it is we need to do. Just like striving readers, striving schools will sweat the small stuff.

A striving reader, has a planned pace, has clearly identified needs, is assessed frequently to make sure he is still in the right text and is guided and monitored. His scaffold is manageable. Do this, then this- first one step than the other. We don’t hand over The Old Man and the Sea and say… “You can do it, good luck!”

Striving schools too will reach for what they don’t currently have, by making sure to push, pull, train, support, communicate and direct toward that same goal: that sweet-spot between something new and challenging to do which is a success, and something doable enough to allow the wheels on the bus (day-to-day teaching and learning) to keep turning.

However when does striving become struggling?

For the reader (like the school), it is when there is too much to do and the path can’t be clearly seen. (Sure steps can be taken two-by-two, but then there might be another scaffold in place like a handrail to help guide and support the climb.)

Striving schools:

  • Plan for and show teachers what the path is – this is where we are we going and why. 
  • What the terrain looks like – this part is going to be bumpy, this part will be smooth.
  • What scaffolds will be there to support the journey – here is where there will be training; here is where there will be help.

Striving is working toward an attainable goal, which is clear enough to stretch out toward. It feels good, like that perfect run or set of laps in the pool.

Struggling is being buried in and feeling bad about the efforts you are making. You can’t see how to get there and therefore, how you could possibly be successful. Struggling is lifting weighs, which are too heavy and hurt your back or running sprint after sprint and getting that stich in your side.

Striving makes you want to do more. Struggling makes you want to quit.

We aim to help every reader strive and thrive with scaffolds to assist. Can we do the same for our schools?