Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Meet Your New Boss!

One of the more challenging, yet rewarding years of my administrative career occurred with the departure of a beloved principal and the arrival of a new one. This transition was also coupled with my own promotion from Dean of Students to Assistant Principal. I spent my first two years as part of an incredibly strong administrative team. However, it was in my third year, in which I served as the Assistant Principal and lone administrative returnee, that I experienced the most growth as an educator. This growth was largely due to being a returning administrator while serving under a new principal. The year was not without its challenges and some valuable reflections upon year's end.

1) Be prepared to do everything

As a sole returning administrator, you overnight become the go-to resource for every school rule, every assembly schedule, every parent contact, and more. You will instantly be relied on for your historical knowledge by the new members of your administrative team. You will find yourself working longer as your daily routines will expand. Expectations by your staff and parent community will grow as well; you're going to be seen as the "go-to" administrator throughout the year. It's not going to be easy. Having a strong administrative assistant team is a huge bonus. You'll need to rely on all of your key department leaders as well. You'll find yourself utilizing your district office significantly more as well. It's quite a year.

2) Be prepared to see a different side to certain staff members

While you've already built relationships with your staff, adding a new principal into the mix will change things. It's actually not that different than a new middle school student joining a group of established friendships at your school -- new relationships are made and old friendships sometimes fade. If the previous principal was beloved, the transition is going to be hard for some of your staff. They may confide in you their hesitation in accepting the new principal as a member of the school. Adding a new administrative to the team won't just be difficult for you -- it will be hard for the entire staff. From here, new allegiances will occur as your new principal bonds with staff members, some of whom may surprise you. Things will be different and it will take some adjustment for everyone.

3) Expect your new principal to want to change things

The general rule for a new principal is to observe how the school works during their first year, learning the ins and outs of every procedure and policy at the school. However, not every principal will follow this practice. At the very minimum, they'll at least confide in you their plans for the following year and all of the changes they'll want to make. For me, the new principal began to make some changes during the second semester, most of which I agreed with. I was fortunate to have a new team member with a similar educational vision to mine. This won't always be the case. The administrative team's priorities may change and your new principal will want to count on you to support the new protocols, even if you internally disagree.

4) Opportunity to learn from someone new

The opportunity to work closely with a new principal, someone who has what hopefully is a wealth of knowledge and experiences from their previous school sites, is one of the most beneficial aspects of administrative change. You will gain a close colleague who you can rely on in your current and hopefully your future assignments within administration. As any administrator will share, the world of education is a very, very small one. You never know when your former new principal will end up working with the individual you replaced for your very own first principalship - yes, that's a true story; it's a very small, connected administrative world. For some experiences with a new principal, you'll also learn a lot from their decision, but sometimes it's learning what not to do as an administrator. Principals, new and old, are human and, given the thousands of decisions made daily in our role as the site administrator, we make many mistakes throughout the school year. As a returning administrator, you may feel you know better (and you might) but the decision will be sometimes be made by the principal themselves. Do your best to support your students, staff, and school - sometimes that's all you can do.

5) Don't be afraid to move on

I've heard the that the average administrator stays at a school for 2-3 years. At my current site, I'm the fifth principal in nine years. I replaced a principal who had been the fourth principal in four years. According to my late night recollecting, I believe our current assistant principal is sixth in eight years. Sometimes it's time to move on... and that's ok. Regardless of your relationship with the new principal, this is a good time to explore what other opportunities exist within and outside of your district. Refreshing your administrative lens at a new school site can be an extremely positive experience. If you're struggling with the new principal, run through the finish line and move on at the end of the year. If you're working cohesively within your new administrative team, you may still want to consider a change. Don't feel stuck or obligated to spend a second year -- find a new home where you can continue to grow as an administrator.

In the end, being the sole returning administrator at a school will be one of the more unique and challenging years of your educational career. There are many positive takeaways from the experience. Personally, I still regularly connect with my former colleagues despite my moving on to another school site. I really enjoyed this year with a new principal. It was a year of new challenges and many successes. Whatever your own situation, be prepared for what the school year will bring. You'll have the opportunity to experience true professional and personal growth during this year. Enjoy it!

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