Whether it be “Superintendent churn” or the challenges of change, transitions in leadership are never as simple as handing over a baton. Large urban districts, where school boards deal with substantial amounts of money, strong teachers’ unions and parents from diverse neighborhoods with differing needs are often prone to leadership churn. Small districts, where new leaders often go to gain experience, parents have a lot of power, and school boards are easily accessed by friends and neighbors also often face quick turnover of leadership. In fact, districts of all sizes often experience a lot of administrative flux as developing leaders look for new and different challenges.
No matter what scale you are on, recognizing and planning for the challenges of change can help ensure a smooth transition.
Challenge # 1 – The First Impression
The old adage “you never get a 2nd chance to make a first impression” rings true. New district leaders have often been charged to “hit the ground running.” Sometimes they are brought in the middle of unfinished business, initiatives, etc. and are expected to carry on and show results. Other times, they are brought in to take a district in another direction. How do you, as a new leader, hit the ground running, show respect for the current culture, and meet the demands of the board? Your first step should be to take the time to take the temperature. Meet with representatives of all stakeholders to determine what the current issues are and make sure they “see” that you are listening by taking notes, making charts, etc. Show respect for their time and input by closing the loop when things are considered or dealt with. New leaders that come in and hack away at staff, programs, etc. without collaborating with current staff will never have the trust and confidence of the people they are working with. Even if those “hacks” are necessary!
Challenge #2 – Developing Trust
No one likes change. Meeting challenge #1 can go a long way in developing the trust that you will need to move in a new and/or different direction. But trust and positive change do not happen overnight. Depending solely on your previous experience can only take you so far. Making sure that you include stakeholders and leaders in collaborative and transparent decision making using a visual and consistent process can go a long way in developing the trust and confidence of the education community you are leading.
Challenge #3- Having Patience
It can be problematic if board members or stakeholders are expecting immediate results. It can also be problematic if decisions are made behind closed doors and forced upon the masses. Demonstrating that you are carefully considering input following steps that provide support and documentation for decisions made, can help demonstrate that you are moving forward with thought and care – not just blindly implementing someone else’s agenda. It is always worthwhile to take the time to do things right and avoid quick failures that can take you back to Step 1- a poor first impression.
The bottom line is that using deliberate, collaborative critical thinking processes that are flexible enough to work in any situation, can help you experience a smooth transition in a new position and reach your goals with confidence and success.