It’s time to plan for the coming year with your Exchange Guide

Dr. Ann Skelcher

I know that going to the gym is important. I intend to go at least three times per week. And I also know that if it’s not in my calendar, it’s not going to happen. Similarly, school and district leaders know that unless something is scheduled and planned, emergent (and sometimes lower-priority) items will inevitably take over.

Engagement with parents, staff, students, and community is one of those high-priority endeavors that can often get left by the wayside. The file sits waiting for attention on the corner of your desk, while each day emergent issues demand your attention. Sometimes it takes a crisis to get engagement back to the top of the priority list, or it ends up being a rushed process as the school year closes.

These quieter summer months allow for some time to reflect and plan for the year ahead. Putting your engagements for the coming school year in the calendar can help ensure they not only happen, but give you the best possible results. Getting a strategy in place right now will set a clear path for success in executing during the school year and preparing for upcoming change.

That’s why we’ve created this convenient Exchange Guide; to provide you with examples of key opportunities throughout the school year to run exchanges with parents, students and staff.

We hope you find this to be a valuable resource. And if you can think of any great exchange opportunities we may have missed in this list, please share your thoughts with us and your peers across the country in this exchange.

We’ve seen many customers start the school year on the right foot with meaningful check-ins with students, parents and staff. Whether broad or specific, an exchange with each of your stakeholder groups sets the tone for the rest of the school year. It helps you understand their hopes and aspirations, while providing a framework for further conversations.

For example, even before school starts you could ask for everyone’s ideas on starting the year, so parents, students and teachers feel welcomed and supported. It’s also a great time of year to ask students what they need to feel safe in their schools. And you could also ask staff to share thoughts about their work environment with a question like: What are some important ways that together we can better ensure that our workplace culture is healthy?

In winter, we see district leaders digging deeper into their strategic plans or important issues they’ve set as priorities for the year. Curriculum and program reviews, learning and instruction changes, as well as emergent topics tend to be popular in early winter to ensure important changes happen during the rest of the school year. (If you’re curious about what questions you could ask on these topics and more, check out our questions help website.).

Smaller staff exchanges ahead of a broader discussions with parents, students, and/or the community can help build internal champions for the upcoming change process, while gathering important information from key stakeholders. This kind of staff and broad-based exchange combination could center around a question like: What are some important things we need to focus on as we continue to improve and integrate technology into our students’ learning environment?

Although you’re in the middle of the current school year, change is often already in the air in spring.  Undertaking a community exchange in the planning stage will bring a broader range of perspectives to decisions around change.

We’ve learned that successful change requires creating a fair process that lets all stakeholders participate and understand how their input has contributed to decisions. Running exchanges well ahead of change processes can garner support, and even enthusiasm from those affected.

In the spring, we commonly see districts running exchanges around topics like: boundary changes, grade configurations, school calendar changes, student assessment practices and leadership searches. A common question for an internal exchange on the latter topic is: What are some of the most important characteristics of a leader of our district/school?


With the new school year on the horizon, end-of-year is a great time to reflect on lessons-learned and gather insights from the current year. This helps assess the progress you’ve made and prepare for the year to come.

Year-end exchanges tend to focus on public relations, with a look at what went well over the current year and where there might be room for improvement. An example of a great year-end exchange question is: Reflecting on this school year, what are some important things we can consider to enhance the culture of our school?

It’s important to share the insights and comments you get from these year-end exchanges, but sometimes doing that can feel a bit challenging. Close the loop on the discussion by creating a brief summary on your website that shares some highlights and lets people know how you’ll use the results. It validates everyone’s participation and increases the chances they’ll join the conversation again in your next exchange.

Create some breathing room

The reminder just popped up in my calendar, so I’m off to the gym. Before I throw on my gear and head out the door, I wanted to let you know we’re here to help you plan and execute your annual engagement strategies.

Let’s discuss your needs and objectives, while thinking about questions and analytics choices up front to give you more room to breathe during the busy school year. You’ll know that planning is done, and those nagging files on the side of your desk won’t be related to a key priority like community engagement.  

Ready to plan your calendar for the year to come? Reach out to your ThoughtExchange Account Management team today at:

About the Author

Dr. Ann Skelcher

Ann is our Senior Engagement Consultant and comes to ThoughtExchange from a 34 year career in education, eight of which she spent serving as a classroom and special education teacher. She then moved into leadership roles as vice-principal and principal at both the elementary and secondary levels. Ann’s doctoral program in educational leadership centred on school crisis recovery and provided opportunity for her to look reflexively at the role of school leaders. As well, she has shared her work on school culture, parent engagement, and student assessment in BC, Alberta and Nunavut. Time with her supportive and loving partner, two grown children and four grandchildren as well as quiet time in the garden, yoga, and forest walks keep Ann energized and balanced.