Let me tell you about my boat.
Yes, this is an open letter. I hope it’s read, and understood with the best of intentions. It comes from a place of love.
Dear 7th Administration Team Coming to My Building in 13 Years:
You won’t know me, except maybe by reputation. I’ll be in a new building with a new team next year, the first time in my current twelve-year career. However, three of the four administration team is not only leaving the building, but leaving the district, as of today. Some teachers cried today, uncertain of their own professional futures, and being one of the veterans of the building, like some scrappy old sea captain, assured them they would weather this, too. And they will.
Nonetheless, it is quite a talent drain, caused by upheaval and uncertainly of the district and school board’s plans. (Whatever those may be. We, the staff, parents, and community members speculate daily.)
So: you’ll be the next crew. The seventh generation of administration in thirteen years.
But if the truth was known I may not have left. I work with some of the best educators in the world. There is a major upheaval in my district, and I am grateful beyond measure for my new opportunity in a new building. I am going to work in a building, by all accounts, that is a supportive, welcoming and healthy atmosphere. So when you come to my current building, never doubt for one minute that I was not an excellent teacher and my students over the twelve years thrived. And they thrived in spite of the leadership changes.
And I know others who’ve left my building experience ‘survivors’ guilt’ because not all schools are as challenging as this one, and students may not have the layers of trauma and effects of poverty, I will not have that same experience. There is no guilt for me: I don’t believe I am abandoning my students, for the simple and purest of reasons: my colleagues make that school amazing. There is nothing to run away from.
If there is one thing –one important, critical thing–I can advise any new admin team is my school is not broken.
It does not need to be fixed.
The staff isn’t there because they’re second-rate or floundering.
I know in last goodbye emails the staff is recognized as one of the most dedicated staff there is, but they’re not just that.
They’re world-class educators: they are global. They are larger than life. They are intelligent and please:
do not get in their way.
Let them show you the way.
Your instincts might be to come in and get the lay of the land, and then slowly, build your empire. You’ll hire people you know. It may even borderline on cronyism. You may hire people in your own image, or your ideas of what the perfect teacher is. You may institute new rules and protocols, which is your right, but please consider what institutional knowledge comes with the staff already.
It is vast and deep.
So please: when you’re about to put down that first brick of your empire, stop.
Allow the tribe of my school to embrace you, and share the culture of the school with you. You are not there to change the culture. You are there to embrace and bask in the climate.
Allow the teams to continue.
Trust in their professionalism.
These are adults. They are not assets to be managed.
Allow for open collaboration and dialogue.
Admit your strengths, and what you bring to the table. Weaknesses don’t matter. Truly. Nor do the staffs’ minor weaknesses or foibles.
This is such a great staff you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. To lead this group of educators you need only to listen and share your expertise when asked. Be interested in what they’re doing. Support the nooks and crannies, not just the big fields or the big rooms. The joys of working here is in a thousand tiny moments. Let the staff share these, and marvel at their enthusiasm.
They are not the walking wounded or victims of some prior poor leadership. They move with their own volition and purpose. They are educated, curious, and did I mention intelligent? Intelligent with a fervor and ferocity that may be unmatched by many other staffs.
Remember, you are joining their crew. They will welcome you with open arms and perhaps a dash of healthy skepticism. Show them you understand the true definition of a leader is someone whose strength comes from humility.
The staff is going to love you. This will be the best gig you’ve ever had.
PS If you appreciate my love of Wes Anderson films, you’ll also appreciate many of my colleagues, too.