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Three Retrospectives We Love for Reflecting on Return Planning

By: Courtney Flanders on September 30th, 2020

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Three Retrospectives We Love for Reflecting on Return Planning

Strategic Planning  |  District Leadership  |  School Leadership

Across the country, students have returned to school, whether it’s in-person, virtually, or in a hybrid model. The work districts and teams did over the summer is now in action: you’re following new protocols for safety, implementing curriculum changes, and leveraging new systems for instruction and communication. Whether it feels like things are going smoothly or you’re barely keeping your head above water, now is the time to pause and reflect. 

What assumptions did you make about returning to school while planning? What hypotheses was your plan based on? And most importantly, how is it going for students, teachers, teams, and families? No matter where you are in the process, we’re confident there are wins to celebrate, areas to adjust, and lessons to learn. Here are three tools we love for reflecting on return planning that you can do with your school district, campus, or team (or give us a call and we’ll be happy to facilitate)!

Before we jump in, a few ground rules:

  • Create a psychologically safe space: Be sure your team (or students and families) know they can share their honest experiences without fear of humiliation or repercussions
    • Tip: Allow everyone to check-in before starting so that folks get used to having equal talk time and sharing their voice
  • Disconnect from the day-to-day: At Education Elements, we love connections before content as a way to shake off whatever was top-of-mind before our meeting started and refocus on the task at hand. Try a one-minute doodle, a moment of meditation, or a quick stretch before starting
  • Get visual: If you’re meeting face-to-face, use sticky notes, chart paper, and whiteboards to make sure you capture ideas. Meeting virtually? Leverage a tool like Padlet to capture everyone’s ideas in a visual way


Retrospective #1: The Three Little Pigs

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With your team, categorize items based on what is a “House of Straw” (just hanging together, but about to topple over at any moment), a “House of Sticks” (something that is working but could be adjusted, strengthened, or expanded), or a “House of Bricks” (something rock solid to celebrate). What is it about the elements in your “House of Bricks” category that have led to success? How can these be applied to your “House of Sticks” to continue to bolster them? For your “House of Straw,” dig deeper into the root causes and consider how you might get creative to address the things that aren’t working. 


Retrospective #2: Start/Stop/Continue/Tweak

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If you’re connecting with lots of stakeholders, consider making the process as simple and straightforward as possible. Ask people to reflect on different aspects of your return planning, focusing on the area where they’ve had the greatest involvement. You might start with safety procedures, virtual instruction, face-to-face instruction, communication, and professional development. Ask participants what practices you hope the school or district would start, what isn’t working that you should stop, what’s going well that you hope to continue, and what you might adjust/tweak. Brainstorm ways you can tweak the things that aren’t working yet. Spend time outlining owners and manageable deadlines for those things you hope to start. Because this process is pretty self-explanatory, it can be used with lots of groups—try asking your students to give feedback in this way!

Retrospective #3: Hypothesis + Habits

In your planning process, you inevitably made some hypotheses about the things you didn’t quite know yet. One common hypothesis we’ve seen across our work with schools in Texas has been that more virtual instructional minutes will lead to higher academic results, with many districts choosing to offer twice the minimum required by the Texas Education Agency. Now that you’ve had students for a few weeks, check in on these assumptions. Does more time yield better results? Or are students getting burnt out in the virtual setting? If you used a process like charting Knowns/Known Unknowns/Unknown Unknowns, go back to your list and consider what you can update now. Consider what assumptions you created the plan based on and where you might adjust, then spend time digging into how to make the change manageable.


Below is an example from one district of how small habits across different stakeholders can effectively address trends in instruction. 

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As you take time to reflect, be sure to celebrate how far you’ve come and all the things you, your team, and your students have already accomplished. With small adjustments and shifts in your habits, you can work through the challenges you’re currently facing and continue to improve your process. We’d love to see your reflections — share artifacts or key ideas with us via Twitter at @EdElements and with me @court_flanders

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About Courtney Flanders

Courtney Flanders is an Associate Partner, working with districts and their school teams to implement meaningful changes in sustainable ways. She taught high school English in both traditional and projects-based-learning classrooms before moving into school leadership where she co-founded a personalized learning high school. She earned a B.A. in Magazine Journalism and Political Science from Syracuse University and an M.Ed in Urban Leadership from Southern Methodist University. Courtney is a native New Yorker and currently lives in Texas with her husband, son, and their two dogs.

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