I originally published this in my blog on June 28, 2010.
In my first year as a principal, I was given some advice that I am now going to share with you all.
The set up to this advice giving goes something like this (apologies to Lyle for getting most of the facts wrong and not attributing him as my source): the CEO of Putnum or Fidelity Investments walks in each morning to a stack of charts and graphs about the previous day's business. This data covers all of the essential areas of the company. The CEO can spend a short amount of time each day and get a good sense of what is going on. He takes the pulse of the company each morning. If there is something that catches his attention among the piles of charts, his focus for the day will be in that area.
The advice I got was to find the way to get the pulse of my school. What about the heart rate and respiration? Pupils dilated (or just learning – pun intended)?
So, I set out to gather the vital signs of my school. I took a two prong approach (apologies to all of those judges who include prongs in their decisions): first hand vital signs and information reported to me.
First hand vital signs come mostly through increasing the number of walkthroughs I do. I came up with a system that really started to work to get me out of my office and into classes (see a future post about walkthroughs). I listen to the teaching, talk to th
e students, and read the walls. Fantastic (and usually rather vital) signs gathered. I also check the pupils by stepping outside during recess or wandering through the cafeteria during lunch.
I learn an amazing amount about the health of the school from a series of regular meetings that I have scheduled. First (and most often trumped) is a weekly meeting with the office staff. We found an assistant that we could pull for 45 minutes to cover the phones and door buzzer. Just listening to the secretaries tell me what they know is worth twenty investment charts.
I also meet with the leadership team consisting of the Special Education Coordinator, ELA Curriculum Specialist, and Math Curriculum Specialist. We talk about kids and whole school issues.
Other regular meetings include the Technology Coordinator, the head Custodian, the Director of Curriculum, the Director of Special Eduction, the Nurse, the Facilities Director, and the Counselors. My weekly counseling session my be one of my most favorite. I sit every Friday with the Guidance Counselor and School Psychologist. We review issues, look at issues that students or staff have brought up, and, most important, talk about how the staff is dealing with the latest “issue.” While not explicit, I am certain that with two mental health professionals in the room, I must be benefiting in other, more personal ways.
Of course there is some hard data that helps to round out the vital signs of the school: daily attendance, discipline referrals, assessment results, monthly health office stats, and more.
Unlike the Fidelity CEO, I need to gather the vital signs myself. After all, I don't have a staff of hundreds and multi-million dollar budget solely for the purpose of informing the leader.
As principal, I don't like surprises. Working each day to gather my school's vital signs helps reduce the surprises. I like vital signs.
What are the Vital Signs of your school?