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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

9 Strategies for Back to School Success

Aug 10, 2009 12:00AM

9 Leadership Strategies for Back to School Success

If you’re like many moms, you’re already singing the back-to-school blues. The rejuvenating summer break is almost over, and right around the corner lurks nightly homework struggles, head-spinning carpool schedules, and soul-draining shopping sprees. Once the school year gets underway it’s not so bad, but the transition is stressful indeed. But according to leadership expert Jamie Woolf and author of Mom-in-Chief: How Wisdom from the Workplace Can Save Your Family from Chaos , you—yes, you—may be doing things to make this harder on yourself and your family than it needs to be.

“Most parents, especially those who work outside the home, dread the start of the school year,” says Woolf “And that’s understandable. Juggling work, school, and after-school obligations can be tricky, to say the least. But kids look to you as their leader, and your attitude and actions will set the tone for the back-to-school transition.

Here are a few of her insights and suggestions:

  • Strategy 1: “Talk up” the new school year. Imagine what it would be like if your boss approached every assignment with sighs, eye-rolls, and a constant barrage of negativity. You wouldn’t feel very inspired to do your best work, would you? Of course not! Well, the same principle applies to school. If every other word out of your mouth conveys how much you dread getting up early, supervising homework, running to sports practices and music lessons, and so forth, your child is hardly going to be enthusiastic about it either.
  • Strategy 2: Make sure kids have the right tools for the job. No business leader would expect her employees to get the job done without phones, computers, Blackberries, and other tools of the trade. So make sure your kids are well equipped for the school year. Don’t just fly through the annual “school supply” shopping ritual—make it an event. Take the kids along and let them select the perfect book bag, the right notebook colors, and so forth. The same goes for back-to-school wardrobes.
  • Strategy 3: Enlist the whole family in setting big picture goals. Exemplary business leaders know that when we don’t set goals, we’re susceptible to enervating detours that take us away from where we want to go. Why is goal setting so important for business leaders and parents alike? Because, says Woolf, the very act of articulating a goal and committing to it focuses our attention on the bigger meaning and inspires us to not lose our motivation over those niggling details. The clearer your mental picture of your desired outcomes, the more likely you are to behave in a way that supports your goals.
  • Strategy 4: Chart out the specifics. If a business leader announces to his staff, “We’re going to have the best year ever,” that’s all well and good but how will this occur? The secret is to articulate specific, measurable action plans: Together with family members, come up with concrete plans for sharing chores, doing homework, and having fun throughout the school year.
  • Strategy 5: Rally the troops. Behind every successful business project, there is a team with the right abilities and a common goal. Raising a child takes more than a few stalwart villagers. Write down lists of people who can help with carpooling; this will lighten your driving load and your carbon footprint. Share household chores with your children; this will teach responsibility and alleviate some of your burden.
  • Strategy 6: Identify potential challenges and create your plan of attack. The best businesses are keenly aware of the obstacles they may encounter and have plans to address them. Instead of losing sleep, make a list of the challenges you anticipate facing this school year. Let’s say you have three kids at three different afterschool programs, each with the same pick-up time. Instead of wringing your hands over the impossibility of it all, go back to strategy four to convene your support team. And sometimes, the biggest obstacle you have to overcome is not one of logistics, but of attitude.
  • Strategy 7: Keep your own priorities straight. The best leaders spend most of their time on what matters most. It’s standard operating procedure for working moms to live out of alignment with their highest priorities. We’re just too busy, too tired, and too overwhelmed to take the time to go to the gym or to pursue a long lost dream. But remember, says Woolf, if you can’t stay focused on your own goals, you aren’t teaching your kids to do likewise by example.
  • Strategy 8: Get back on track. Just like in the corporate world, you will hit glitches that throw your good intentions into chaos. Go back to your picture of success and decide what you need to do to get back on track. Math battles are becoming a way of life? Convene your support team and consider hiring a tutor or scheduling a teacher conference. Instead of falling back into the nightly homework battles, take decisive action to break the cycle.
  • Strategy 9: Celebrate endings and beginnings. Business leaders create rituals at the end of a project before jumping into the next big endeavor. Before diving straight back to school, don’t leave the summer behind without sharing gratitude about the summer’s greatest hits. Allow family members to talk about what they enjoyed most about the summer and encourage them to express how they feel about going back to school. You might throw an “end of summer” party to give your kids a chance to mark the transition.

Ultimately, says Woolf, helping your family navigate the back-to-school transition doesn’t have to be an exercise in hand-wringing and hair-pulling. Rather, it can be an opportunity for everyone to get refocused and revved up—starting with you.

“There’s a natural slow-down in the summertime that helps everyone, not just kids, get rested and revitalized,” says Woolf. “For instance, most companies see business slow down in the summer as well. This rest period sets us up for the next part of the cycle, which is about new creativity and productivity. So rather than resenting the change, embrace it! Recommit to your big picture goals and let them guide your daily actions. Looked at in this way, the back-to-school transition will be less chaotic and more joyful, because it’s a path to the next exciting phase for you and your family.”