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  • Mike Vachow

Simple Gifts


As a Head, I enjoyed the quiet work days during winter break. Without the hubbub of daily school life, those days offer time for reflection and the chance to boost important initiatives in the semester and summer to come. I offer this list of simple gifts that you might give yourself during this time, little investments in the near future with large returns.

  • Check in with your professional network. Set up an informal, all-invited date for drinks or coffee with the other heads in your area. Spend a minute thinking about whom, among your out of town professional connections, you owe a call, and get three or four on the calendar. Keep the agenda no more detailed than "what are you seeing/hearing out there?"

  • Thank people. You've been doing this all year long, but as you reflect on the first semester, are there faculty, admin team members, staff, volunteers, students who've really stepped it up, made great progress, initiated something new and great? Write a handwritten note, make a quick call, or a stop by their space to offer thanks.This is a great time for the admin team to host the facilities crew for a lunch.

  • Meet with the Board Chair. I've written about this at greater length here, and offer this brief list. Is the Head/Board Chair meeting pattern still addressing the needs of the school and fitting into our other professional obligations? Are we prepared to put a carefully curated slate of new trustees before the Board in April? Who's on the rough list now, have committee chairs chimed in, and are there current trustees or non-trustee committee members who should be asked to step down? Do we want outside facilitation for new trustee orientation and our board retreat? If so, let's make some calls now.

  • Support struggling leaders, ramp up emerging leaders. Are there members of your leadership team who would profit from coaching, support that you realistically can't provide yourself? Line it up now so that it can go into motion in the new calendar year. An investment in coaching is a fraction of the real and cultural cost of a termination and new search or the slow attritive effects of a floundering leader. On the other end of the continuum, coaching for an emerging strong leader can flywheel growth.

  • Plan for faculty and families on the bubble (more here). Your retention plans should have already given you a strong sense of the families, faculty and staff who may not return. Meet with your leadership team to be certain they have a clear fourth quarter plan for winning these people over or for replacing them. Make certain that you know what role you will play in each of these efforts.

  • Write a mid-year reflection on your goals. Set a time after the break to share them with your Board Chair, and if you don't have a placeholder for sharing with the entire board, we strongly recommend that you make it your January Head's Report and lock it in as a part of the yearly board calendar.

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