Working with an Assistant

Today’s Time Management for Leaders Series post is about how leaders can work collaboratively with an assistant*. This is something I work on with new leaders who have come from a classroom teacher position, having never had an assistant before. This is an important transition for new leaders and if it’s done well, it can save you significant time.

*For the sake of continuity, I’m going to use the word assistant throughout this post. I recognize that different organizations may use other terms such as clerical staff, secretary, office assistant, or other terms appropriate to positions.

Everything shared here is predicated on the fact that a leader begins his or her new job by building positive relationships with staff members, getting to know individuals, their strengths, and their job descriptions and responsibilities. Once that work has begun, here are some tips for working with your secretary/assistant/ support staff to better manage your time as a leader. I must thank my current assistant who contributed her ideas for this post as well. I took time to ask her what advice she would give a new administrator to build a successful working relationship with his/her assistant.

  • Communicate expectations clearly: The foundation of a positive working relationship between a leader and an assistant is clear expectations. This means that you need to sit down with your assistant and review how you will, as a team, handle the following:
    • Walk-in parents who want to speak to you
    • Scheduling of appointments
    • What constitutes an emergency, when to interrupt any meeting, call me on the radio/ phone immediately, etc.
    • Maintaining your calendar (see Calendar 911 for additional tips)
    • Work load – what tasks does your assistant do daily, weekly, monthly, annually? What is the protocol if he/she is overwhelmed? What is the protocol if he/she has time for additional tasks?
    • Your signature (I always ask my assistant to keep all documents that need my signature in a folder and hand it to me at the end of each day. I sign items once a day, not any time someone randomly needs a signature.)
    • Comp time and days off – different offices handle comp time differently, so you want to make sure you are on the same page with requirements. Many assistants like to request days off the same time as their leader; be clear about your expectations with regard to time off and planning leave ahead of time
  • Regular meetings: Be sure to schedule regular meetings between you and your assistant so that you can:
    • Continue to maintain open lines of communication
    • Check in on upcoming tasks
    • Review work load and ensure that deadlines will be met
    • Explain any new tasks you need his/her help with
    • Review the budgets you oversee
    • Provide feedback on previously completed tasks
    • Support his/her professional growth
  • Basic tasks: New administrators are often unsure of what tasks are appropriate to ask of an assistant. Here are a few examples that my assistant shared with me.
    • Mail correspondence – open and distribute mail as needed
    • Memos/ Bulletins/ Letters – an assistant can prepare a rough draft to review with you in a regular meeting and he/she can finalize a draft for your review based on your feedback
    • Evaluations – prepare necessary paperwork and schedule reminders for staff as needed
    • Payroll/ Attendance – many assistants handle this directly
    • Travel requests – assistants can support you with travel plans and reconciling your travel reimbursement/ receipt review as required
    • Meeting preparation – assistants can schedule your meetings in specific locations, prepare sign-in sheets, agendas, name plates, copies for
  • Customer Service: Your assistant is the first impression people will get of you, your office, and your work. You want to ensure that your assistant is professional and welcoming and competent to represent you when you are not present.

What other advice would you give a new leader learning to work with an assistant? 

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Time Management for Leaders Series

Calendar 911

No More Inbox Ailment

Making Time for Classroom Visits

Organizing Resources to Share

 

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Things I’m Loving Friday, Volume 20

On Fridays I like to share the things that help me as a leader and a learner. Please join in by sharing what you are loving lately!

This week I was inspired by a recent #LadiesWhoLead Twitter chat led by Margie from ACSA. The chat was all about self-care, and how leaders build in time and habits to care for themselves in addition to those around them. These are some of my favorite self-care tips!

  • Meditation and Mindfulness: Ever since mindfuless was my word of 2015, I have worked to build habits that help me be more present. That has expanded into a daily meditation habit, supported by an amazing app- Headspace. A good friend gave me a subscription to Headspace for Christmas this year and it’s been an incredible gift! Not only does the app provide daily guided meditations, but you can select from a wide range of topics to focus on, from sleep to stress to pain management to anxiety. Meditation and mindfulness are important elements in my self-care routine.
  • Essential Oils: I have been using essential oils as part of my holistic health care for about 3 years now. I love opening my medicine cabinet and seeing entire shelves of little bottles of joy instead of processed, chemical-filled medications. I have two diffusers in my home and one in my office, so I can diffuse various oils throughout the day and night for relaxation, energy, motivation, or a sense of calm. I create oil concoctions that I apply directly onto my body to support pain management, stress, or general wellbeing. I also use my happy (mostly citrus-based) oils as a perfume and a quick pick-me-up by putting a drop in my hands and inhaling deeply. I’ve recently started a private FaceBook group, Educationally Diffusing: Essential Oils, to share my love of these amazing life-improving oils. If you are interested to learn more about what I use and why I love them, let me know!
  • Healthy Competition: Another part of my self-care routine that I’m trying to work on is regular exercise. This week I challenged two of my friends to a “Work Week Hustle” on FitBit. I knew that if I challenged them, I would up my daily step game to be competitive. I’ve gotten more steps this week than in the last few months!

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These are a few of the ways that I build in self-care to my daily routines. What do you do for YOU?

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Organizing Resources to Share

I’m continuing my Time Management for Leaders Series with a post that connects to one of my strengths, Input. In my post Using Your Strengths at Work, I wrote about my Input strength:

“People strong in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information” (p.191, Rath & Conchie). I am a collector of words, ideas, books, articles, and information to be read and learned!

What does this have to do with time management, you might be wondering. I use my collector nature combined with my organization to save items I can share with staff at a later date.  Here are some examples.

  • Weekly Bulletin – As a principal, I always wrote a weekly bulletin that I emailed out to my staff. As a director who oversaw instructional coaches at all district sites, I also wrote a weekly update to them via a Google doc.  I think this ongoing communication is something important all site leaders should consider. This, however, can be time-consuming, especially if you want to include information beyond basic calendar reminders. Here is how I saved time in the long run.
    • I created a template for my bulletin that had all the basic categories I would include.
    • I would then use the template to create the next 2-3 weeks worth of bulletins, saved as the date of each week.
    • I would also create a Ideas draft of the bulletin to hold ideas that weren’t pertinent for the next few weeks, but that I didn’t want to lose.
    • My secretary would have access to these drafts and she would add the basic calendar and school reminders for the week. [The topic of how to work with clerical staff to manage your time more efficiently may come up later in this series!]
    • Throughout the week, as I was reading blogs, taking pictures around campus, or attending district workshops, I would add information to one of the bulletin drafts. Sometimes I would sit in a meeting and think, this is great information, but not something I need to share with my staff right away. These would go in the Ideas bulletin draft.
    • By the time Friday afternoon came around, my bulletin would usually only need me to finish writing my principal message or read it over for editing.
    • Creating 2-3 weeks at a time also saves time because you won’t have to spend time trying to find your notes from last week’s meeting to include.
  • Tags – I’ve written blogs before about how I flag emails or blogs for follow up, and then again when I discovered Pocket, a cool app that lets you tag and save items you’ve read online. Since then, I’ve continued to refine the way I archive information I think is worth sharing. I create tags that are meaningful to the people I would share information with. For instance, my tags might include: teachers, principals, coaches, math teachers, elementary teachers, etc. Other tags might include topics I want to search for later, such as: innovation, technology integration, authentic learning, personalized learning, coaching, etc. Because I am a voracious reader and I don’t want to forget what I’ve read, tags save me time when I am building a bulletin message, planning a professional development workshop, writing a blog or article, or sharing ideas with colleagues.

Are you a collector of information?

How do you organize and archive resources so they are useful to you? 

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Time Management for Leaders Series

Calendar 911

No More Inbox Ailment

Making Time for Classroom Visits

 

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Building teacher leadership capacity

When I was a new principal I was not good at building teacher leadership capacity. In fact, when I first became a principal, this idea wasn’t even on my radar. I did not have a clue that it was my responsibility to help develop teacher leadership in my staff.

Fast forward to my work as a district level administrators and I see the error of my ways. Teacher leaders are the backbone of any long-last initiative.

Yes, we need building principals to build trust, set the vision, and help people see the purpose of any new initiative. But after the initial cheer-leading and encouragement, the work falls to teachers. The people with boots on the ground, sleeves rolled up, doing the work every day with students.

Teachers will more often look to their peers when they are knee-deep in a stressful new learning situation. Teachers will call their department chair, their PLC leader, their site technology support (though I love George Couros’ blog about moving away from this!), and/or the colleague who teaches next door to them to seek advice and support.

Administrators often encourage strong teachers, those with natural leadership abilities, to become administrators. That is often the only leadership option for many teachers. But not all teachers want to leave their classroom full-time, and we shouldn’t want all strong teacher leaders to leave teaching positions.

So what are we doing, as leader, to build the capacity of the teacher leaders within our systems?

I’m currently leading a committee through the work of developing teacher leadership pathways. It’s exciting work because it’s never been done in a systematic way here, or anywhere else I’ve ever worked.  We are exploring a number of different options to provide more purposeful support that will develop the capacity of teacher leaders.

Our goals are to enhance the leadership skills of teachers currently serving in some teacher leadership capacity, and to develop leadership skills in teachers not yet serving in such a role.

I’d love to hear what your system does to build teacher leadership capacity.

 

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April ’17 Reading Update

In April I read 4 books, making my 2017 total 16 so far. I had a busy month with lots of travel and events, so I didn’t reach much at all.

  • Faceless by Alyssa Sheinmel – This was a very intriguing YA book. Maise, a high school junior who is an avid runner, goes out for her usual morning run that changes her life. Lightening strikes, creating a fire that burned most of her face and the left side of her body. Very soon into her recovery, she and her parents are given the opportunity for her to have a face transplant (a very rare surgery) that will impact the rest of her life. She has the surgery, and then struggles to figure out who Maise 2.0 is now. This was a great story about physical appearances, our obsession with our looks, teen angst, therapy, honesty, and relationships. I really enjoyed it!
  • Eternal on the Water by Joseph Monnigner – I read this book almost every year, in April, in memory of my mother. This is a beautiful novel about love, nature, crows, Thoreau, and the reality of an incurable disease. With each reading, I fall in love with the love story of Mary and Cobb. I cry for them, and I cry because I still my mom all the time (6 years later).

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  • Bionic by Suzanne Weyn – Interestingly, this YA book is very similar to Faceless, which I read at the beginning of this month. In this story, Mira, a teen athlete, is in a horrible car accident that leads to many surgeries and extremely advanced technology that brings her prosthetics and muscle ability far surpassing her former self. This was a unique story about recovery and strength, with a little teen drama for fun too!
  • Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah – I listened to this book read by the author, a comedian. Having just visited South Africa last summer, I really enjoyed hearing Trevor’s stories from growing up in South Africa. I had no idea what to expect from this story, so I was surprised to learn so much about his touching relationship with his mother, his tough childhood, and very little about his current career. I loved his accent and liked the book!
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Saying No To a Challenge

My word of 2017 is challenge. While I may not think about it every day, it does creep into my subconscious and reality fairly regularly.

This month I faced a number of small challenges that had me reflecting on my word (amongst many other things!). I was surprised when I had this thought:

Just because a challenge presents itself, doesn’t mean you need to take it.

This thought is not rocket science and it may not have surprised anyone else, but it was an important thought for me during a particular challenge. This idea gave me permission to say no.

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Saying no can often be a challenge. So while saying no alleviated my stress about not accepting a challenge before me, I was still mid-challenge as I made that decision. I guess challenges are really all around us every day. Part of the decision-making is when to say yes and when to say no. And for me, once I’ve said no, I want to be at peace with my decision and not have any lingering guilt or “What if…” thoughts.

These are my thoughts at the moment. I’m sure another challenge will present itself soon and I will be reflecting on that!

 

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March ’17 Reading Update

This month I read 5 books, bringing my 2017 total to 12.

  • The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison – I liked this mystery, though the ending came quickly and without enough detail for me. I really enjoy when an author chooses to tell a story through flashbacks and flashforwards, and when the chapters are from the perspective of different characters. In this book, every chapter was told by the wife or the husband, alternating. While I didn’t like the weak, fake character of Jodi, I really didn’t like how Todd, her philandering husband, treated her or any other woman.
  • All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda – This mystery really bothered me as I read it! The story was told backwards and I felt like I hadn’t paid enough attention in the beginning. However, the reality is that the narrator, Nicolette, only learned and revealed pieces of the truth slowly as she told the story, backwards. It was a very interesting plot choice, and I was desperate to get to the end to understand the entire story of how both Corinne and Annaleise disappeared.
  • Without Annette by Jane B. Mason – I started this YA book after having dinner with a friend who reads MANY YA books! It was an interesting story about two girls who leave their hometown to attend a private boarding school together, hoping it will positively impact their personal relationship and their lives. The school isn’t exactly what they thought it would be, and Annette gets caught up in being popular while Josie watches her fade away. I liked the authentic characters (Josie, Penn, Roxanne) mixed with the stereotypical high school cliques.
  • The Search for Baby Ruby by Susan Shreve – This was a pre-YA kind of book – a mystery for young readers. It was a cute, simple read for me while on spring break. Jess, the youngest sibling, is forced to stay behind to babysit her niece, Ruby, during her sister’s rehearsal dinner. Ruby is kidnapped and Jess is on a mission to find her and save the family from more drama. Whenever I read a mystery where kids are the main characters/ sleuths, I find myself rolling my eyes a lot! This was no different.
  • Best Friends for Life by Andrew Norriss – As you can guess, I have a large pile of YA books in my house that I decided to start plowing through while I had some time off! This was a really cute, sweet story, with a very serious lesson about teen suicide. The main character Francis, meets Jessica, and then learns that she is a ghost. Francis ends up befriending two other loner teens, Andi and Rolland, who can also see Jessica. As their friendship develops, they all work to help Jessica figure out how she died, why she is stuck as a ghost, and what her purpose is in their lives. There is no sex or drinking or swearing in this book. It’s a very sweet tale about friendship that also addresses self esteem, bullying, gender stereoytypes, weight issues, and teen suicide. I highly recommend this book to any educators who work with young teens, or to teens themselves, or to parents of teens.
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