School's Out For The Summer

Ahhhhh ... the last day of work for teachers.


Kids have been gone for a few days, and summer break is only a handful of hours away.


On this last day of work, school leaders have a decision: Do I keep teachers until the end of the contract day? Or do I let them go early? Some administrators force teachers to stay, while others allow them to leave.


At first blush, a few extra hours of work seems trivial. But in reality, this decision speaks volumes about the way teachers are treated.

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As a high school principal, one teacher tradition was to organize a golf outing on the last day of work. Given that the teacher contract went until 3:30pm, it would have been a mad scramble out the door to make it to the clubhouse for a 4:00pm tee time.


Rather than force staff to hurry on the last day of work, we allowed staff to leave after lunch. "Our teachers have busted their butts all year long," I thought to myself. "The least we can do is let them leave a few hours early on their last day."


Understanding the importance of staff camaraderie, I helped our social committee publicize this event. In our final all-staff meeting, I reminded employees about the outing. Even if staff didn't play (I am a terrible golfer), they were encouraged to ride in a cart or hang out in the clubhouse. Our administrative team even covered a $300 "19th Hole" tab.


As a superintendent, we have taken the same approach. A couple weeks before the last day of work, I met with building administration to ensure we followed the same protocol by allowing teachers to leave early on the last day of work. Despite fairly strict rules in years past, we agreed staff could leave after lunch.


This year we organized an "all-staff tailgate" on the last day of work. This lunch event was an opportunity for staff to come to a central location to grab a catered lunch and enjoy one last meal together. To make the event extra festive, we blasted summertime music (cue School's Out by Alice Cooper and All Summer Long by Kid Rock) and organized a cornhole ("bags" for you non-midwesterners) tournament.


As they finished lunch, I reminded staff there was no need to return to work. Furthermore, I shared plans of an informal gathering at a local "restaurant" and encouraged employees to attend. Our staff appreciated that district leadership understood the challenges of the year, and thought it was cool that we promoted social gatherings on - and off - campus.


Keep in mind that in both scenarios, no one was forced to go anywhere. If staff wanted to get a head start on a family vacation, go home and take a long nap, or return to their room to finish packing, we could care less. The point is, school leaders must look for opportunities to show staff "you are appreciated."


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We constantly search for special occasions to let staff leave early throughout the year. In addition to the last day of work, the days before Thanksgiving, Winter Break, and Spring Break are obvious opportunities. But each time this topic comes up, questions arise. Let's address five of those concerns:


“But the contract says ... !” Some people will say by letting staff go early, they aren’t following the contract ... and not "earning their pay." You realize that 99 percent of teachers work far more hours than is indicated on their contract, right? If anything, consider this to be "trade time" staff have accumulated over the course of the year.


“But the community will complain!” There are worries that if teaching staff are seen at the golf course or local "restaurant" before 4:00pm, community members will grumble. I have supported these activities for 13 years and have yet to field one complaint. "Happy Hour" is part of the modern work culture and is readily accepted in most professions. And if people want to complain ... they are welcome to spend a day in our schools to find out how challenging teaching really is.


“But they have work to do!” If you think the last day of work is when staff should complete important work, you likely have bigger issues. Unfortunately, many school districts think they need to get every drip of sweat from employees before letting them go. While extensive end of the year professional learning and data reflection sounds wonderful, the reality is forcing work down the throats of already-checked-out teachers on the last day of work is a bad idea.


“But what about the other schools?” Depending on your district office philosophy, you could find yourself in trouble by allowing staff to leave early. But keep in mind that the larger the district, the more likely your school can fly under the radar. Having once worked in one of the 600-plus Chicago Public Schools, my belief is we could have told staff to stay home on the last day and no one would have noticed. Building leaders earn serious points when they have the courage to make staff-friendly decisions that contradict district protocols.


"But what about hourly staff?" When teachers are told they can leave early on the last day of work, it's easy to forget the support staff who are still working in buildings. What is difficult is that hourly employee pay is governed by the punch clock or time cards. While all situations are different, these staff should be encouraged to leave with the teachers and get paid for the hours they miss. Not only will this ensure support staff feel valued, any work lost during those afternoon hours will be made up the following day/week when those employees return well-rested and highly-motivated.


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Allowing teachers to leave early on the last day of work may seem insignificant. But in a profession with few perks, school leaders must look for every opportunity to show employees they are valued.

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