As many schools in the northern hemisphere are busy preparing for the forthcoming new academic year, goals will be set in terms of where school leaders and teachers wish to take the school forward in terms of improvement. These goals may be set well before the previous school year finished, or they may be established when teaching staff return from the summer break. There can often be a lot of enthusiasm given to the goals that are set, with individuals and teams refreshed from a summer vacation begin to tear into the new work.

When everyone begins pouring there energy into these new goals, we can forget to pause and re-assess the landscape before we carry on. Is the situation the same now as when we first declared these goals?

The start of a school year is extremely demanding, so much so that school’s that do not get started on the right foot from day one of the school year can take weeks, months, or even the whole school year to recover. Given this, we need to stop before we begin, or in some instances re-commence, in order to re-assess whether our goal(s) is actually realistic and achievable. Most importantly, right now do we have the capacity to make the changes we want to see?

When considering the capacity to make change happen, it is vital to consider the human resources available. If we are not working with a full team, then an urgent re-assessment is needed. Having the whole team not just present but also able to play is the biggest priority to having a highly functional school team capable of achieving its goals. This means having the full team available from Head of School right down to the janitor, as some of a school’s goals are so complex, they require the efforts of everybody in order to be fulfilled.

Having a full team at our disposal also gives its members the belief the goals can be achieved. If the team is missing parts, team members notice and they begin to ask questions as to whether particular tasks can be completed.

Our job as school leaders, therefore, is to stop first, check and make sure that our team(s) have everything they need to begin performing their tasks in order to achieve the goals that have been set. If the team is one or a few players short, then the goals need to be put on ice, or scaled back. The team leader’s efforts must go into ensuring that the gaps are filled first before going back to the goals that we can be so eager to achieve. Often, when team members are missing, we spend time covering for each other, which reduces our overall capacity to perform our own job functions.

Having the full complement of team members helps a a school move forward in achieving its goals but if team members do not yet have the knowledge, or skills, to perform what is being asked of them, then the team is not yet highly functioning. This is especially the case with new staff. It is the job of leaders to support new staff in getting to know their roles before throwing goals at them, or their team for that matter.

The above does not just apply at the beginning of a school year, there is a need to be mindful of the team and its status throughout the year, as people can leave, or be temporarily out of action, which can have a strong influence on the team’s overall performance.

As school leaders before we start ploughing-on with achieving our goals for the school year, as wonderful as they may be for our respective school communities, we should check first whether we have a full team on deck and ensure that that team has what it needs first before you commence work on the new goals that have been set. There is no point starting work on new things when our team may already be exhausted because it did not have all the parts it needed before it started, or it has already spent its’ energy covering for those who are missing.