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Intentional Planning for Back to School: Principal Checklist

How do you prepare for the return to work after an amazing vacation? We know transitions can be tough on our students, but they can be tough on adults too. As a teacher I often started my transition back to work slowly before my official return to work date.

  • Day 1: Show up at the school. That’s it. Park the car. Go inside. Walk around. Spend 15-20 minutes chatting with whoever crossed my path. Go home.
  • Day 2: Spend a couple hours in my assigned classroom locating my resources, prepping bulletin boards, and making to-do lists.
  • Day 3: Stay at the school from the normal start time to lunch with a focus on planning the first week back, reflecting on my organizational systems and work flow.
  • Day 4: This was usually a full day and a scheduled PA Day for all teachers to attend.

Now that my responsibilities have expanded the transition plan is much more complicated but I still use many of the same strategies I used as a teacher. As a principal I need to prepare myself for a successful transition, but I also need to create conditions so my staff and students have a great start-up.


First, I get my house in order.

  • Organize my closets. Move the casual summer clothes aside. Take stock on my work clothes, deciding which pieces have seen better days and need replacing, and which items I’ll need to pick up. I don’t do much “Back to School” shopping anymore. I find September too hot to wear fall clothes so I usually wait until around Thanksgiving to buy my new stuff for the year.
  • Decide on an outfit for the first day of school. For some reason I always overthink my clothes for this one day of the year–every year.
  • Lunch container inventory and purchase a new lunch bag. Prep and freeze some lunch food so I have something to grab quickly when it gets busy.
  • Thorough house cleaning.
  • Reflect on upcoming year, reviewing calendar for personal events and needs. Write out my daily schedule with my preferred wake-up time, leave the house time, and leave work time.
  • Review list of summer house projects and determine when I can reschedule them–Christmas break? March break? Next summer?
  • Do anything else at home that needs attention because I might not get time to organize or reflect again until Christmas break. September to December is my busiest time of the year.

Then, I get my school in order.

  • Organize my office. Purge files and papers that are not needed. Review books to move from my office library to the staff professional learning library.
  • Organize my systems for workflow.
    • This year I’m using Insightly to organize my projects and tasks. The features for creating pipelines and activity sets will hopefully help me to juggle more and make better use of my time.
    • I also set up a Notebook in OneNote to hold everything: school operations, schedules, contact info, PD planning, SIP planning. It is an amazing program for organizing lots of important information. I also love how I can access it on all my devices.
    • Our board is starting to use Edsby this year. I’m excited to explore how I can use it to better communicate with our school community.
    • For daily note-taking I love the app Day One. My old VP partner shared this one with me and it is fantastic for taking notes on the fly and documenting the issues of the day.
    • I also love Google Apps. My favourite is Google Calendar. Google Docs make collaboration a breeze. Our board uses Office 365 so I tend to use a hybrid of both for different tasks.
    • Managing social media for me and the school can be overwhelming. In the past I’ve used Hootsuite to help manage multiple accounts. Particularly handy is its ability to schedule posts. This year I’ve added TweetDeck to my social media bookmarks to follow chats with other educators.
  • Back to School Operations To-Do Checklist. Every year we go back to school so I’ve tried to streamline my return to work by creating a standard checklist. I’ve attached my excel checklist of things I do (or delegate) prior to Labour Day weekend so you can download and edit it:

    Click here for Principal Start Up Tasks CHECKLIST

  • Consider School Climate Goals. I find it helpful to reflect on the four areas that connect student well-being and student achievement with the lens of: how can I attend to each quadrant within the first couple weeks of school?Student Well-Being and Student Achievement

I make notes on my intentions for the year.

This can be a fairly involved process for me. I think about the year in terms of three tiers of learning: Student learning, staff learning, and my learning. How can I best support the needs of some, few, and all?  I try to be as detailed as possible. (I hope to write more about this in a future blog post).

In terms of my learning, I set clear professional learning goals for the year by:

  • Looking at what problems I want to try and solve. If I could support movement/change in one area this year, what would it be?
  • Developing a theory of action. If I learn about “123”….then “xyz” will…
  • Listing my strategies. How will I engage in the learning? What resources/supports will I need?
  • Deciding on a timeline. When will the learning take place? What are my milestones?
  • Clarifying my metrics. How will I know I’ve learned what I need? How will I measure the impact on staff and student learning?

Finally, I engage in professional reading.

Here are some of my favourite resources going into the 2015/16 School Year:


I hope that this post will be of use to you. I’d love it if you shared your strategies for going back to school in the comment field below!

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