7 Steps to a Successful Start to the School Year

Me with Hamish Brewer and Andy Jacks talking school leadership at a party I hosted in Chicago, 2017.

I know, I know …

The school year *just* ended.

Okay, permission to breathe and take a vacation. And once your energy has been replenished, now it’s time to get to work on next year.

One thing I love to teach is a concept I call an “ideal week.”

Earlier in the year, I worked with 50+ principals on a half-day workshop on a variety of topics.

When I asked how many used their calendar to plan successful days, you know how many people raised their hands?

Maybe half???

Surely 25 principals planned their week out intentionally and used their calendar to identify their most important work of the day.


Maybe 10%???

It should be easy to find *just* 5 principals who used their calendar with intention …

Wrong again.

The correct answer: 2.

2 principals of 50+ used their calendars to plan the week ahead and guide their work with intention.

And that just had to do with the next week of work. How much more important is it to plan your school year with intention?

Lucky for you, I want to reveal 7 steps that will guarantee you have a successful start to the school year.


“Joining a new company is akin to an organ transplant — and you’re the new organ. If you’re not thoughtful in adapting to the new situation, you could end up being attacked by the organizational immune system and rejected.”

— Michael D. Watkins

When I landed my first principal job I read (and reread) Michael D. Watkins’ The First 90 Days.

There were many key takeaways, but the BIGGEST was this: What did I want to accomplish by the end of my . . .

  • First day?
  • First week?
  • First month?
  • End of 60 days?
  • End of 90 days?

The reason this was so impactful is that it helped me design a successful path forward with intention. It broke down what felt like a herculean task into something that a mere mortal like myself could accomplish.

If you want to have a successful start to this year, I encourage you to answer those questions.

Divide your 90 days into smaller chunks and identify what success looks like at the end of each time period.


One person sees rain and gets sad because of their story about rain . . . Another person sees rain and gets happy because of their story about the rain . . . It’s the same rain in both cases. Rain has no meaning until we add it.

— Steve Chandler

Time is just like rain. It is just time until we add our story to it.

One thing leaders perceive as a challenge is time, but the truth is that you have an abundance of time. The problem is how you are using it.

Think about it …

We all have the same amount of time on a given day. The top-performing principal in the world and the one that was fired today for ineffectiveness have at least two things in common:

  • They’re both educators
  • They both have the same amount of time in a given day

What sets an effective principal apart from an ineffective one is the use of time.

I call this time mastery.

In The Big Leap, Gay Hendricks describes two types of time (Newtonian and Einstein).

Newtonian time is linear and finite.

Einstein time is abstract and abundant.

I have been studying this concept for years now. The first time I read it, my mind exploded and I rejected the idea …

But I kept going back because I knew something was there …

A secret of time mastery ninjas …

And then it finally clicked.

I’ll probably make a helpful video on this topic in the future (or maybe my future self already has), but for now, I will gift you this truth:



[N]either mastery nor satisfaction can be found in the playing of any game without giving some attention to the relatively neglected skills of the inner game

— W. Timothy Gallwey

I lovingly call leaders I coach and mentor Ruckus Makers — innovative leaders making change happen in education.

Since 2015, I have had the privilege of coaching 100s of leaders from around the world. I’ve been studying their actions and what makes them effective.

And since our thoughts are what guide our actions, I then turned my focus to studying their mindsets.

Ruckus Makers excel in the following twelve mindset categories:

  • Generous
  • Hunger
  • Welcomes feedback
  • Candid
  • Open-minded
  • Collaborative
  • Excellence
  • Antiracist
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Ownership
  • Goals
  • Compassion

If you want to have a powerful school year, then master these categories of your mindset. I created a scorecard where you can measure where you currently are and where you’d like to be in the future.

The mastermind mindset scorecard™ is available for free on my website. Alternatively, you can reflect on each category and write down 3 bullet points of how you’d like to grow in each area this year.

I recommend focusing on four categories per quarter. That way you would grow across each mindset by the end of the school year.


Nothing affects the learning culture of an organization more than the skill with which its executive team receives feedback.

— Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen

If you haven’t read these books yet, make sure you order them now. We read Thanks for the Feedback and Radical Candor last year in the mastermind.

Teaching these concepts would be two masterclasses in themselves, but I’ll share three high-level ideas that will help.

1 — feedback comes in three forms: evaluation, coaching, and appreciation. Often we fail at giving great feedback because we confuse what we want to give with what the person on the other end wants to receive.

I’m sure you’ve experienced this before …

You just finished your school improvement plan and you are excited to get some coaching from your supervisor on how to improve it. But instead, you just hear everything that’s wrong (evaluation) or how impressed your supervisor is with your thorough plan (appreciation). Both kinds of feedback in this case fall short.

2 — in order to give better feedback, you need to receive feedback better.

3 — if you demonstrate you care personally and challenge directly, you are in the top 1% of feedback givers.


“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”

— James Clear

I find that creating aspirational goals to be super motivating, but the reason I experience so much success is that I have systems that help me make great progress each day.

Here are a few ideas to include in a system to help you achieve more this year …

  • Identify only a few goals. 3–5 is the sweet spot. The fewer the better. Schools and districts often get this WRONG. They have too many initiatives and cram too much into their strategic plan. And then they go out and tread water because of this lack of focus.
  • Make your goals public.
  • Keep score of your progress.
  • Do your most important work when you are most creative. That’s the morning for me.

If you take action on the bullets above, you are setting yourself up for success.


Being a great place to work is the difference between being a good company and a great company.

— Brian Kristofek

I’ve already addressed that school leaders need to stop complaining about time.

They also need to stop complaining about PEOPLE.

What if you couldn’t hire any more teachers, counselors, and auxiliary staff?

What if you were “stuck” with the staff you had and were still expected to drive dramatic results?

If that were the case then I bet two things would CHANGE in your leadership. You would start focusing more on CULTURE and start BUILDING your people up.

The secret to world-class cultures:

  • they are built on the foundation of gratitude, appreciation, and celebration
  • they relentlessly build capacity
  • they are clear on who they are and how they live out what I call, “Sticky core values.”

You have all the parts you need, right now, to build the school of your dreams.


Daniel’s mastermind is powered by the belief in teamwork: a cohort of like-minded school leaders who come together to improve their leadership. Through a foundation built on authenticity, belonging, and challenge, mastermind members push each other to become the leaders their school communities need.

— Paul Bambrick-Santoyo

The last step that will guarantee you have a successful start to the school year is a powerful community.


It boggles my mind. I really have no idea why leaders CHOOSE to lead in ISOLATION.

And community can only happen in relationship with other individuals.

I’m sure you’ve heard “If you want to go fast. Go alone. If you want to go far. Go together.”

Now I have my opinion on the BEST kind of community available to school leaders, but the truth doesn’t change.

Find some kind of community that you can plug into so you can truly soar as a school administrator this year.

I created a concept I call the ABCs of powerful professional development™ and you can use this concept as a filter when choosing a community to join.

What I’ve found is that professional development that includes authenticity, belonging, and challenge, promotes life and leadership transformation.

I am here to serve, if I can help in any way.

Keep Making a Ruckus,


Ready to level up?

Avoid the chaos of a typical workday, and learn how to plan your week with intention, and immediately create more value for your organization.

Get your free “ideal week” course here!




Host of the Better Leaders Better Schools podcast with over one million downloads 🚀

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Daniel Bauer

Daniel Bauer

Host of the Better Leaders Better Schools podcast with over one million downloads 🚀

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