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  • Writer's pictureMike Vachow

All Star Break

Updated: Jun 24, 2021

As a Head, the All Star Break always signaled the heart of summer for me, a time to look forward to the arrival of faculty and kids and to look back and reflect on summer successes and misses heretofore.

In that spirit, I called some head friends this week and asked them for the top two or three ways they organized projects, time and people during the summer. There were some clear common threads:

Hit the Showers

Many Heads spoke about how grateful they were to have assiduous colleagues but found themselves doing more over the last several years to coach admin team members to take time away, particularly admissions people at schools where "admissions season" is a fond memory and the rolling admissions cycle sprawls into the summer and beyond. Several veteran Heads also related how they had built a habit of taking time the second week after school was out, how this had seemed impossible to do in their early years of headship, but now was the most restorative time they took all year. All agreed that making sure that they and their team were rested and healthy was the most important strategic effort they could make during the summer.

The Summer Calendar

Almost everyone had some version of a summer admin team calendar, an at-a-glance, color-coded tool that outlined each admin team member's times away from school. Several heads had established a deadline earlier in the spring at which each team member was to have summer vacation time nailed down. This simple strategy allows team members to schedule projects with critical colleagues, whether typical summer activities like the drafting of the annual report, or larger strategic conversations like "what opportunities do we have to infuse content marketing efforts into our existing plans?" or "how do we begin planning for the school's 100th anniversary two years from now?"

Spring Summit

In an earlier post entitled All Hands on Deck, I wrote about how Heads can manage the end of the school year so that some measure of grace is evident in the zany final weeks and also so that the admin team is not left with an enervating contrail of unresolved (and often unresolvable) stuff spilling into summer. One additional late winter/spring activity that several Heads mentioned was a kind of summit for all the summer campus stakeholders: the Summer Session Director, the Director of Facilities, the Director of Business, the Advancement Director and Director of Admission, all of the folks whose activities could collide violently when the re-surfacing of the gym floor coincides with basketball camp or the jackhammers drown out the alumni event. The post facto solutions to these avoidable conflicts absorb time, money (almost invariably), and erode good will and credibility.

Offsite Retreat

Virtually everyone organized a retreat for the admin team, an opportunity to reflect on the year that had passed and plan for opportunities in the next year and beyond. Several Heads included outside facilitators in these moments, and most endeavored to have the activities offsite to minimize the distractions of school life. Many heads regularly included some kind of communal activity--scavenger hunts, cooking school, escape rooms, etc.--to provide everyone with an opportunity to get to know colleagues outside their day-to-day context. One head told me that he knows that some members of his team find these activities "cheesy," but he's "committed to the cheese" because they offer an opportunity for colleagues to learn about each other in low-stakes situations.

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