Saturday, February 27, 2016

"Go Out the Door You Came In"

My father-in-law is famously known within our family for his wise old sayings.  One of our favorite wise old saying is based on an old superstition--"You gotta go out the door you came in".  Usually he makes this statement as he's trying to figure out which door we entered.

This particular saying has had new meaning for me as I think about my  exit strategy, transitioning from one principalship to another.   In my post last week I wrote about the lack of writing about exit plans in contrast to the large amounts of writing about entry plans for leaders.

When I entered my principalship, four years ago, I started my entry plan four months before I even started the position with a focus on listening to students, teachers and parents as I learn about the culture of my new school.   This strategy paid major dividends as I learned about the culture, connected with many people in my new community and learned about the strengths and needs of the school.  My entry plan was a great strategy to help us connect as a school and help me integrate into the community and move forward.

Now as I think about exiting my principalship and setting the school in a place to continue to move forward, my father-in-law's saying has helped me to prioritize my focus for the exit plan--"You gotta go out the door you came in".   The most important thing that I can do as I transition is to exit the same way that I entered, to listen to the needs of students, teachers and parents.  Here are some ways that I can listen...

1.  Listen to the fears, uncertainty and concerns of folks about the transition of leadership
2.  Listen to what people and programs need in order to continue to be successful during the transition.
3.  Listen for the issues that people are worried will be forgotten during the transition.

My goals for exiting are to make sure people feel supported and to make sure the school is ready for a successful transition.  In order to accomplish these goals, I think I have to "go out the door I came in".

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Exit Strategy

Last week I accepted the offer to become principal at Newton North High School beginning in July.   While I am excited for the opportunity transitioning into this new position, I will miss my students and colleagues in Bedford.  I owe it to my students and colleagues to first fmake sure that I leave Bedford in a great position for the next principal before I focus my attention on my new position. When I started to research effective strategies for leaders to transition out of their position, I found very little literature on the subject.  In comparison, there are some excellent resources about Entry Planning for new leaders, particularly by Barry Jentz.  Because of the lack of writing on Exit Plans, I feel like I am navigating this path blindly.  Surely, every leader leaves their position at some point, so are there particular issues that leaders must commonly worry about as they transition out of their school?   Based on this question, I have decided to blog my experience as I exit one school and transition to the next stage of my career.

The only quality resource that I found regarding leadership transition is described in   Andy Hargreaves and Dean Fink's Sustainable Leadership.  Hargreaves and Fink argue that leaders should plan for succession even at the beginning stages of their leadership.   Their general guidelines include identifying potential successors and managing changes to ensure that they are sustainable beyond your tenure.  Hargreaves and Fink provide an excellent resource to help leaders to create a school culture focused on sustainable improvement. While these general ideas are useful for leaders during their principalship, they still lack a clear guideline for the last few months before a principal exits in the same way that Jentz provides a framework for a principal's entry.

For exiting principals who care about the success of the future of their schools, it seems essential that the school culture remains strong when they transition into their new roles.  There are too many anecdotal stories of schools declining after the departure of a successful principal. I currently work in a fantastic school and I want to make sure that it remains fantastic as a new leader embarks on their own leadership journey.  Over the next few months I will use this blog to share the story of my exit.   Hopefully, this blog will create a forum for members of my Professional Learning Community to learn and share about the important steps of Exiting.

Generally here are the priority steps that I am currently thinking about regarding my exit.

1.  Take care of your people--People can find change unsettling and grow nervous with a change in leadership.   Therefore, whether they are sad, scared, angry or happy about my exit, my job is to make sure they feel supported and heard during my exit.

2.  Evaluate collaborative structures--This may be a personal endeavor since I spent my principalship developing and ensuring the sustainability of collaborative structures.  Hargreaves and Fink argue that collaborative structures help to ensure sustainable progress in schools.  As I transition out of Bedford, it seems pertinent to make sure that the foundations for these collaborative structures are healthy.  Surveying staff and interviewing a range of collaborative teams at BHS could be helpful strategies to assess these structures and provide helpful data for the next principal.

3.  Address potential pitfalls  for the next principal--Hargreaves and Fink argue that a principal does not work in a vacuum, but as a part of a continuum of their predecessor and successor.  In keeping with this perspective, there were difficult situations that were left over from the previous principal and there will be difficult situations that my successor will have to handle.  Nevertheless, I should try to minimize the immediate crises that my predecessor inherits.

4.  Help others develop their own transition plans--A common comment overheard about leadership change is "the devil you know is better than the devil you don't know".  One way to help to address the kind of anxiety within this statement is to help others develop a transition plan so that they are prepared for the next "devil" or principal.

I will write more about these ideas in the coming weeks.  I invite others to share their ideas of Exit strategies.