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Management-Kits Moving Beyond Weekly Timetables Blog

In the fast-paced world of education, middle leaders such as heads of departments, grade-level or special education coordinators in international schools often find themselves caught up in the immediate demands of day-to-day operations, such as attending numerous meetings, managing administrative tasks or managing communication with teachers, staff or parents. As many of them are just starting their leadership journey after being trained as a teacher, most of them still rely heavily on the weekly timetable as their key reference of time.

Without doubt, the weekly timetable is one of the most central elements of an international school; and the development of it is a major source of discontent in almost any school community. If you walk through a school's staff room, we always find it striking to see how many faculty members have a printed timetable glued somewhere on their laptop. When becoming a leader, however, it is important to develop a different, more anticipatory approach to time by looking at the annual calendar of the school year. Why? Because of a simple fact of responsibilities: as a middle leader you ensure that day-to-day school life runs smoothly and, importantly, you are taking responsibility for school development initiatives. Ask yourself a reflection question: In how many, e.g., departmental meetings have you sat, where you ran out of time to get to the developmental questions? How often was time, next to all the day-to-day items, too short to really close up the discussion on the new assessment policy, or curriculum review? 

While the weekly timetable serves as a practical tool for organizing daily activities, it is inherently limited in its scope. By focusing solely on the short-term, middle leaders risk neglecting the broader vision and strategic objectives of the school. A myopic approach can prevent effective planning and impede the implementation of long-term initiatives. 

Stepping back and embracing an anticipatory approach to time management allows middle leaders to see beyond the immediate week and gain a holistic view of the future. By considering what lies ahead in the next four weeks, or even as an annual planning exercise, leaders can identify opportunities, anticipate challenges, and align the timing of their efforts with the school year cycle, enabling them to drive school development initiatives more effectively. 


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How many weeks per year do you have to do leadership work?  

Let's look how this could work as a school leader – it is a really simple but equally practical exercise comprising five easy steps:

  1. Take a 52-week view: take an annual calendar (or list 52 weeks as it best aligns with your school year).  
  2. Cross out holidays: Cross out all weeks, where the school is not in session and faculty is not present on campus (e.g., those weeks where you cannot hold meetings due to holidays). 
  3. Cross out event-busy school weeks: Cross out those weeks, where major exams or school events are happening, or when grade parent-teacher, or grade conferences are being held. Everyone will be focused on short-term needs around these dates. 
  4. Cross out term “starter” & term “ending” weeks: Cross out those weeks when school commences right after longer holidays and everyone is focused on getting routines back in place. Cross out the week before the Christmas break (if this applies to your school) and the two final weeks before the summer holidays. 
  5. Cross out weeks where your team is off or occupied (e.g., for PD reasons): You might not be able to meet with your team every week, as other PD or meeting cycles are planned on top of your meetings – let’s cross out those weeks, too. 


You probably have less than 20 weeks to get the work done, pal!

Now, how many weeks are left in your annual schedule? A guess would be less than 20, probably around 12 to 15 – out of 52 weeks in the year. So, these are the few moments in the school year when you can actually get development work done within your team.  


Knowing about this, you can now plan school development projects into the annual calendar. While you still need time to take care of daily business in your meetings, you can try to reserve a number of them solely for development purposes. Now, you need to think in stages of this: 


  • What step do you need to take at a specific time? 
  • What is the outcome of a meeting?
  • How much preparation is needed from the team? How much follow-up do team members need to reflect on discussions and get a step forward? 
  • How much time do you need to give in between steps in your discussions (can you continue it right next week, or do you want to rather give it 2-3 weeks for thinking to evolve and to work more individually with members of the team?
  • How do you make decisions to move forward?

Having this annual calendar in mind, you will find that you can prepare important meetings more in advance, and you can better ensure that the team prepares what is necessary to move your work stream forward. 


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The three key advantages of thinking beyond weekly planning

For you, your team, as well as your school, there are three key advantages in this approach (we used ChatGPT to spell them out): 

  • Aligning Initiatives with long-term goals
    To ensure the sustained growth and development of an international school, middle leaders must align their efforts with the institution's long-term goals. An anticipatory approach allows for comprehensive annual planning, enabling leaders to identify areas for improvement, devise strategic interventions, and allocate resources accordingly. By considering the bigger picture, middle leaders can make informed decisions that support the school's vision and drive positive change.
  • Proactive problem-solving
    The weekly timetable often leaves little room for proactive problem-solving. Middle leaders, consumed by the immediate demands of the week, become trapped in a reactive cycle of addressing issues as they arise. By adopting an anticipatory approach, leaders can anticipate potential challenges, allocate resources strategically, and take proactive measures to mitigate risks. This shift from a reactive to a proactive mindset empowers leaders to tackle problems before they escalate and allows for a more efficient and effective management of school operations.
  • Fostering collaboration and innovation
    An anticipatory approach to time management fosters collaboration and encourages innovation within the school community. By looking beyond the weekly timetable, middle leaders can better involve teachers, staff, and other stakeholders in long-term planning and decision-making processes. This inclusivity promotes a sense of ownership, encourages creativity, and allows for the exploration of new ideas. By fostering a culture of collaboration and innovation, schools can adapt to changing educational landscapes and stay ahead of the curve.

Expand the scope of your planning: Anticipation is key

Undoubtedly, the weekly timetable plays a crucial role in organizing day-to-day activities in international schools. However, middle leaders have to recognize the limits in their planning for key leadership responsibilities. Embracing a more anticipatory approach to time management, like looking ahead to the next four weeks and engaging in annual planning, is vital to drive school development initiatives effectively. It takes stepping back, considering the bigger picture, and adopting a proactive mindset for leaders to align their efforts with long-term goals, foster collaboration, and navigate the dynamic landscape of education successfully. 

And yes, plans can always change due to unforeseen circumstances; especially in schools. But without a plan, you will struggle to really use the few valuable moments you have with your team and move your school forward.


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