• Peggy Downs

Eight Questions School Leaders Can Use to Improve Your School Year

Updated: Sep 9

Every year, I talk with school leaders who start the year with fresh ideas and renewed energy, only to feel depleted or even defeated by the end of the first term. There is so much to do!

What can you do right now to improve your school year and reduce your chances of facing burn-out?

Setting goals for your organization is an important step. But it’s not the only thing you can do. Many people talk about self-care and how important it is to find balance in your life, but that can be hard to do. What can you do right now to improve your school year and reduce your chances of facing burn-out?


Ask yourself these eight questions to ensure YOU can stay motivated and focused to achieve your goals.



(Questions borrowed from Confident Giving by Kris Putnam-Walkerly and adapted for school leaders)

  1. What can I learn in the next 3 months? 90 days is a magic number. It gives you enough time to make real progress but it’s short enough to allow you to see the finish line. Choose to learn something that inspires you. Find a mentor, read a book, take a class, or start listening to a new podcast series. There are so many options! What do you want to learn next?

  2. What holds me back? Identify roadblocks and obstacles. Are you overwhelmed with emails? Invest some time in organizing your in-box and make sure your filters are working for you. Unsubscribe to anything you don’t absolutely need to see. Are you expected to attend unnecessary meetings or stuck doing repetitive tasks? Is there a better way? Whatever is blocking you from achieving your goals, identify it, make a plan to overcome it. and then move past it.

  3. How can I empower my staff? Your teachers could be having greater impact if they felt they had authority to make some decisions. Consider your situation and look for opportunities to give them more choice. The changes could be big or small, but the best source of ideas will be from your staff themselves. Ask them.

  4. What can I share? You have most likely benefitted from the wisdom and experience of other leaders. Have you paid it forward? How can you share your ideas to encourage and support others? Consider submitting a presentation proposal to your state association or other education group. Offer to mentor a new school leader. Create a leadership team at your school to develop your own future leaders. Write an article to put your thoughts down on a topic you care deeply about. You might find yourself inspired to do even more.

  5. If I could accomplish only one thing this year, what would it be? This question really gets to the heart of the matter. At the end of the year when you look back, what would make you feel proud? Be bold. Be creative. What makes your heart sing?

  6. What are my top three priorities for this year? You can probably make a list of five or more “priorities,” but try to focus on the three most critical for your school. When you know your highest priorities, you can set goals and make progress toward achieving them. It’s only when you are not clear on your priorities that you feel scattered and unproductive. Clarity will help you do more.

  7. What is the one thing I can do now that will make everything else easier or unnecessary? This may be related to empowering your staff; if they are allowed to make more decisions, it may free up some of your time. It can also be related to delegating. How well do you delegate tasks that you don’t absolutely need to be doing? But it could also mean firing someone, reorganizing your team, or investing in leadership coaching.

  8. What activity consistently takes a ridiculous amount of time and drains energy from me and my team? Think about that task you dread. The one you force yourself to do but feel exhausted afterwards. Listen to yourself as you talk about it to others. Set aside your frustration and think about the task with an open mind. How can you make it better, easier, quicker? Is it even necessary? Maybe you are doing it simply because it’s always been done. If it doesn’t add value, end it. If it is time-consuming and harder than it should be, find ways to make it easier. If you can’t end it, can you delegate it?

The answers to these eight questions should help you achieve more this year.

Check out these resources to improve your productivity.

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My Mission: to help 100 school leaders write successful grants in the next 5 years, empowering you to create and lead the schools you envision.


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