Selecting and Implementing Themes for the Year in Folio

Abstract: 

Aspects of the professional growth process are driven by your school’s strategic priorities, which we call Themes. Once established, Themes serve as the guiding focus for your school’s work in Folio, whether to influence the selection of posts for the Community Feed, the focus of the observation cycle, or the generation of Goals. Schools have the latitude to select and develop themes that are relevant to their mission and the work that is most important to their community.

Data/Research:

Why are Themes important? Research shows us that employees are more effective when they can see how their individual goals fit into the big picture (McKinsey, 2017). Faculty and staff who believe that they are working toward something meaningful and larger than themselves will be more productive and engaged than those who do not understand or connect with the “bigger picture.” Daniel Pink has termed this purpose, the sense that what we do as individuals produces something transcendent or serves something meaningful beyond ourselves (see Daniel Pink’s Drive or watch his TED talk for a more in-depth analysis of intrinsic motivation). Themes connect faculty and staff to your school’s strategic priorities, thereby tapping into this need for a larger purpose while also moving everyone in your community in a common direction. 

As your Folio Supervisory Team considers selecting your myFolio Themes for the upcoming school year, it can be helpful to consider Themes as a way to lean into the work of a particular category of focus for your school. Here are some examples of Themes by category:

  • Administrative
    • Creating a model of financial sustainability
  • Assessment
    • Measuring what matters
  • Collaboration
    • Developing practices of collegial coaching for administrators, department heads, and colleagues
  • Community
    • Building connections with students and parents
  • Curriculum
    • Exploring curricular integration of DEI work
    • Living into our Academic Philosophy
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
    • Creating a more anti-racist and equitable community
    • Fostering a diverse/equitable/inclusive learning environment for every student
  • Instruction
    • Creating a culture of student-centered learning
    • Engaging students in learning environment
  • Professional Growth
    • Leaning into innovation within the context of the pandemic
    • Developing new feedback and assessment models
  • Technology
    • Striving to make our online work creative, responsive, and sustainable
  • Wellness
    • Focusing on faculty self-care
    • Cultivating student well-being

There are other categories of Themes that might be more relevant to your school community. These might include: Communication, Leadership, Miscellaneous, Personal Growth, Relationships, and Subject-Specific work. 

What is most important is that your Folio Supervisory Team looks to adopt Themes that are relevant to the work that is central to your identity as a school and to your growth as a community. Looking across the Folio Collaborative of member schools, certain categories for Themes stand out as more resonant in a particular year. In 20-21, the “Top 5” categories for themes were: 

  1. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
  2. Professional Growth
  3. Distance Learning
  4. Curriculum
  5. Wellness

Step by Step Instructions:

Step 1: Identify your school’s strategic priorities for this school year

Through conversation and reflection within your Leadership Team, consider your school’s mission and vision. 

Consider asking these questions:

  • What priorities seem “top of mind” in our community right now?
  • How does our growth in combination with these priorities reflect our mission as a school?
  • How do these priorities align with our work with faculty and staff around professional growth?

Step 2: Identify any additional priorities for Folio work 

Once you have identified strategic priorities in broad categories, it is important to consider what other goals you have for your work with Folio. 

Consider asking these questions:

  • When you look at the strategic priorities stated in Step 1, what is missing?
  • Does someone in your Leadership Team have a particular initiative (toward collaboration, etc) that is not reflected yet?
  • What other goals do you have, as a school, for your work with Folio? How will you share these with your faculty?

Step 3: Combine your strategic priorities and anything else that arose in Step 2 to develop your school’s Themes for the year.

Consider asking these questions:

  • What 2-3 specific focus areas emerge from our conversations at Step 1 and Step 2?
  • How do these specific focus areas connect directly to our school’s mission?
  • Can you articulate these 2-3 specific focus areas into concise “Themes” for your year?

Step 4: Once you have developed your Theme/s, you can begin to create the connective tissue that will connect the theme to your school year. 

Consider asking these questions:

  • What is your summer reading for faculty? How does it connect to your Theme/s?
  • How will you reflect the learning from the summer reading at the beginning of the school year? What is the structure and plan for these meetings?
  • What Professional Development days have already been set aside in your calendar for the year? What is the plan for these days? How does it connect to your Theme/s?
  • How will you communicate the Theme/s from the Leadership Team to the faculty? Where will the Theme/s be made clear in division or department meetings?
  • How will you communicate the Theme/s to students and Families? What will your school wide communication look like to reflect your work and growth on this Theme/s?
  • How will you share the link between your Theme/s and your mission and vision?

Step 5: Once articulated as a Theme (Themes), you can align your myFolio platform in explicit ways to develop and further the work on the Theme/s.

Consider the following:

  • Within the Profile, consider using the Narrative or Additional Information to ask faculty to reflect on the Theme/s. Ask specific and guiding questions for response.
  • Consider a “Spot-light-a-palooza” specific to your Theme: Invite faculty to spend time during a faculty meeting shining spotlights on colleagues who have done something specifically connected to growth on your selected Theme/s.
  • Can you design your End of Year Reflection to consider individual growth related to your Theme? What question might you ask?
  • Will each member of the community have a Goal connected to each Theme/s? 
  • What are some sample goals to share for the Theme/s? 
  • How will the Head of School share individual Goals connected to the Theme/s?
  • What are the school-wide “Look Fors” in the observation cycle connected to your Theme/s?
  • How will you use the Community Feed to share reflections, articles, and other information connected to your Theme/s?

Case Study/Example:

Listen to John Bracker of the Polytechnic School (CA) discuss his school’s use of Folio in 20-21. Bracker notes that faculty were asked to develop three goals, connected to Polytechnic’s Themes for the year: one goal connected to successful implementation of distance learning, one goal to respond to “calls for greater diversity, equity and inclusion” in the program, and one goal of their own. The unifying location of these Themes and goals helped Polytechnic keep their focus on what truly mattered in this school year. These Themes focused conversations within the Leadership Team and within division faculty meetings all year.

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