How school leaders spend their time is the single clearest indicator of what they believe is important.
So when school leaders are asked what is most important, what are common responses?
Relationships. Student Achievement. School Culture.
But when school leaders analyze their time, what takes up much of their day?
Email. Staff Issues. Student Discipline.
While email, staff issues, and student discipline are critical parts of the job, notice the lack of alignment between what leaders say is important and how they actually spend their time.
In our district, we call this getting caught in the whirlwind. The whirlwind is all of the "busy work" that comes up throughout the day in any school setting.
While these managerial tasks can't be ignored, if leaders aren't careful the whirlwind will rob them of the focus needed to move their organization forward.
Leaders who operate solely from within the whirlwind will spend all their energy trying to stay upright. The challenge for leaders is to create systems for executing their most important goals in the midst of the urgent.
One method for creating this system is for leaders to identify specific times of the week when they will address their top priorities. When leaders block off this time on their calendar, not only will they escape the whirlwind, they will also have a better chance of meeting their goals.
Beyond simply designating time, leaders must train secretaries and other staff that this time is sacred. Only emergencies should pull the leader away when they are completing their most important work.
For the last several years I have implemented this habit to focus on my important goals and avoid the daily whirlwind. As a school principal, my top priority was to get into classrooms. My secretary knew when I was scheduled to be in classrooms most other duties would need to wait.
Now, as a superintendent my goal is to build strong relationships with all my direct reports (administrators and directors). Therefore, my calendar is blocked off to have 1:1 hour-long meetings with all 13 of our leadership team members throughout the week.
While my system isn't perfect and I still get caught up in the whirlwind, I would encourage leaders to start getting intentional about committing time to their most important work.
Looking for a great book discussing the importance of staying out of the "whirlwind?" Consider reading The 4 Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, and Jim Huling.