Wednesday, June 11, 2008

...Our Revels Are Ended

So I come to the close of my second year at my school. It feels strange to pack up my room "as if I were not returning."

Under the leadership of a new Head Master, there are many new things to become accustomed to: policies, procedures, and habits. Personally, I am not bothered as I started at the same time he did, but the veterans who have logged the years sure do get rankled. As we did not get our contracts promptly and there was a mysterious e-mail message from Buildings and Grounds (a major player in ALL schools) left not a few of us checking our sixes. B&G asked that we pack up our rooms "as if we were not returning" which could leave one wondering if the powers-that-be were sending a subtle message. which, of course, they were not. They just want to be able to paint rooms and do maintenance without disturbing anyone's stuff.

Here's the thing, folks: if you don't know what is going on in your school, then ask. Changes are hard, and leadership changes can be the hardest in a school: but they do not have to be. If your principal/headmaster says they have an open door, then take them up on it, walk in without a chip on your shoulder, and ASK FOR THE STRAIT STORY. You just might be surprised to find there is a logical explanation and you have given the other side an opportunity to put their money where their mouth is. If they shut you down, then you have valuable information and should probably reconsider your future in that school. Otherwise, if you do not take them up and associate with the grumblers, you should also reconsider your future at that school. You don't need to toady up to administration, but you do not need to purposefully get on their bad side.

Having experienced "regime" changes at various educational organizations (not just schools) I have always noticed three camps start to form. One camp is almost always the "old-timers" who tend to be the most resistant to change; another group is the newer folks who usually started with, or just prior to, the new administration; finally, a group that tends to stay outside the issues. Oddly, all three groups tend to be motivated by similar trends: fear and opportunity. Not so much fear of change, but fear of what that change will bring. And every time there is a space between one leader and another, there is opportunity to be had.

The first group tends to be led by faculty that have been with the institution for quite some time. They arm themselves with the shield of "tradition" and wield the sword of "experience." These are not just "old-timers" and "veterans," but anyone who believes heart and soul in the history of the institution. They seem to be afraid that the change will dramatically alter their place in the school. I think they are right. A new head of school will naturally be curious about how their new school works and if a teacher has had tremendous success, then their curiosity will lead in that direction. Very few of us who have established our methods enjoy having those methods questioned. Yet any teacher worth their salt should, in theory, be able to account for how they do their job. If the teacher in question has been coasting, then they do have a lot to fear as a good principal will see through any slight of hand. If, however, a teacher knows why and how they organize their lessons, a good head of school will see that as well. Another fear related to this is that a new principal also levels the playing the field for the veterans and their mentees. No longer does the "this is the way it has always been done" excuse hold any water. A new head of school brings closer scrutiny. Here is where "opportunity" comes into play. A teacher's ultimate role is to teach: it seems logical to me that a principal will want to replicate good pedagogy as much as possible. The old guard should take this chance to show what they can do to help the school move forward, rather than simply trying to justify their existence. Now comes an event that allows them to break out of their routine, step up to new responsibility, and assist the new head in their first transition year. Ideally, this would be done with the help of the second camp in the school.

Newer teachers to the school generally make up this group. they are the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed brats that show up to school early and leave late and bring with them the latest in what they learned in grad school. This group probably started as the out-going head was finishing, so they may not have as close a connection. The nature of their fear is very different. As they are always dancing on the edge of insecurity about their performance and their job, they are going to bust their tails anyway. However, they usually take take their cure from the veterans and seem to confuse their anxiety with that of their mentors. As they were probably getting used to the old principal, they can be anxious about trying to get in good with the new one. Again, there is opportunity here. It has been my experience, having moved between schools and seen heads come and go, that newer faculty are not as intimidating to the newer school head This second camp can help smooth over relations through adapting to the new policies and by giving the older gang some perspective. In many ways the new principal is very much like the new kid on the playground and usually the newer kids empathize with other new kids. In theory, a new head of school is the beginning of a new legacy; and who wouldn't want to be a part of that?

Finally, there is the third camp. This usually comprises of the support staff: administrative assistants, buildings and grounds, coordinators - in other words, the people that make the actual school run. I always believe this is the group to watch. Usually, they have seen it all, from parents concerns to what our rooms look like after we leave for the day. These people usually stay outside the fray and keep the school moving. I am always amazed at how calm they seem and their tenacity for getting the job done. This could very well be the group the other two need to watch and learn from: stay calm. keep doing your job, adapt.

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