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.  


  1. I think it's great that you're thinking of the challenges that you and your colleagues will experience during this transition. Often transitions happen over the summer with little chance to prepare things in the thoughtful manner you are working toward. I changed jobs early this past August and felt awful about the way that things were left for the new band director and the fact that I didn't get to say goodbye to students and friends.

    1. Thanks Amy...Summer transitions are very hard empty. We always honor and celebrate teachers who announce their transition during the year, which helps to provide closure. With summer transitions it is hard to find closure.

      I am currently thinking about how to make sure students transition well. Your post is an important reminder for me regarding the kinds of support they need when adults leave.

  2. What a great way for you to transition. As a teacher who witnessed the decline of her tremendous school with the departure of a beloved principal, I think you are doing a great service to the school you are leaving. Make sure the new principal understands the school climate and will strive to keep that at the forefront of al he/she does. Our school went from feeling like a family to a place of high stress in a matter of years. I wish you all the best of luck and look forward to reading more about your transition. Makes me think there could be a need for this writer to pen a book on this subject!!!!
    Christina Greer

    1. Thanks Christina. You just described my nightmare! When I entered as principal my focus was to make sure that we kept the collaborative culture of the faculty. I agree that it is important that the next leader understands our culture. I hope your school was able to recover. I'm hoping this blog will help me and others think about this complex tightrope.

  3. Congrats Henry, best of luck in your transition.

  4. This is great. I just accepted a position as a director in another district. I leave in two weeks. That does not give me much time for a transition but I am working hard at leaving a continuity folder for the new Assistant Principal. I also met with the teachers to thank them for their hard work, without them I would not have been given this great new opportunity, I also asked them to keep moving forward with their hard work.

  5. Thanks for sharing...Two weeks is not a lot of time, but it looks like you are focusing on the most important components. Saying good bye is hard for all, but saying good bye and leaving the place a mess feels really bad. Congrats on the new job and great work on exiting successfully.