Nothing stays the same. All things must change. This is true in life, and it’s certainly true in the life of schools. In a perfect world we can predict and plan for it, manage it, and negotiate the bumps in the road that change will bring. But the world is not perfect and curveballs and side-doors and unexpected hurdles are inevitable.
Of course, the ideal transition for a change in school leadership would look as follows: beloved leader announces a year out that she’s moving on. Word goes forth, applications are accepted, hiring committee convenes and from a great stock of candidates a leader is selected who fits this school and its culture like a glove. The incoming principal shadows the outgoing, with conversations that lay the groundwork for a seamless transition. One. Smooth. Turnover. Everyone’s happy.
But again, the world is not always ideal. And sometimes, just sometimes, a principal, for a whole host of reasons, jumps ship in the middle of the year. I’ve seen it myself. I’ve served as an interim principal because at the time it was easier to find a replacement for me, a classroom teacher. Given the circumstances, it may well be the best path forward. Sometimes we fish. Sometimes we cut bait.
Such is the case I’m witnessing now: a principal who departed at the end of September. At a time when schools should be settling in and hitting stride, this one lurched and lunged into October. But I’m watching two seasoned educators step up and pilot this school, providing welcome stability. The first is a brand new Dean of Students, moving up this year from the classroom where her practice was exceptional. Talk about a trial by fire. The second is the new Acting Principal, coming to this from his role as the Assistant Superintendent of Schools. These two are picking up the pieces and forging ahead, fixing the plane, as they say, while it’s in flight.
I am watching extraordinary collaboration. Both carry constant teamwork and equitable perspectives to this journey. In all but title, these two view themselves as equal team players, each doing all that’s necessary to heal this school, run it well, and make it a place that’s safe, loving and filled with grace. Both are committed to doing all that it takes to create a school where everyone is welcome, a place of civility and joy.
Several strategies are being employed to rebuild trust and improve communication. I recently witnessed a student led assembly, where the kids welcomed the student body, teachers and parents. Boxes for kindness comments and a newly established teacher-to-teacher recognition are helping this along too. “We want the students to see us having fun and feel the renewed joy in the building,” they said.
Listening is proving to be an important part of this turnaround as well. Sometimes it’s not making decisions that’s a decision unto itself. Simply allowing the educators in the building to talk, about anything, without pretense or even the promise of solutions, can be a revolutionary act in a school where this was scarce. Listening is also crucial to regaining the trust of parents, an essential group who are justifiably skeptical about their concerns being heard. Sunday night updates prepare everyone for the week ahead, the repairs that need to be made, all informed by the voices heard. Increased validation of the self-selected Building Leadership Team, with newfound autonomy, is another tool in this toolkit. As they said to me in our conversation about their work, both educators agree that this plane will find calm air “one conversation at a time.”
To be sure, there are lots of books on leadership. There is lots of inspiration out there to be gleaned from blogs and webpages. But waking each morning and being faced with new challenges doesn’t leave a lot of time for quiet study and reflection. Today’s challenges need to be solved now. Students need help negotiating the world now. Teachers need critical supports now. None of this can wait while new leaders engage in quiet, pensive and intellectual conversation. As a favorite band once sang, the time to rise has been engaged.
It’s this attitude and these actions that are worth celebrating. Many of you have seen the same: devoted education professionals stepping up their game, jumping into the fray when so many others would not or did not. The difficulty in this endeavour cannot be overstated. The emotional and intellectual demands placed upon those who choose these paths are large. So it’s with this message that I hope to lift my colleagues, supporting them in a critical time of transition as they work to support others, carrying burdens whose weight is, at times, difficult to bear. Thank you. On behalf of all members of the school community, I say thank you.
Colin McKaig, Rowland Fellow, 2013
I was an English teacher at Black River High School for 25 amazing years. I now serve as the first Technology Integration Coach for the Springfield School District. Go Cosmos