Passing the Torch
This issue of Educational Leadership examines the transitions of students who move from one stage of schooling to another. But these those searching for your replacement. Is there strong teacher leadership? What lies in wait from the teachers’ union or the parent association? You
aren’t the only significant transitions in schools.
may have little input into who your successor
Leadership transitions can have a tremendous
will be, but you can help the decision makers by
effect on the operation and culture of the school.
providing this kind of information, which will
Principals debate the wisdom of leading a
help them determine what sort of principal will
school for a long time and making a long-term
be most effective.
difference versus taking on new and exciting
n Prepare teachers. Being known as the
challenges in a new place. Some move on by
lame duck for an entire year is ineffective,
choice; some learn from others that it’s time for a but springing your decision on teachers late
change. Some retire. Others move in the year can engender a sense of betrayal,
to the central office. Leaders often abandonment—or celebration! Tell staff—all
grieve leaving a beloved school to
together—before the official announcement goes
which they have dedicated years of out to the community. They are the ones most
service. For a few, changing jobs is deeply affected.
a welcome relief.
Whatever the reason, the transition can be scary. Safety is in the
known, the familiar. Most principals love their schools and find
deep meaning in their work, and
they feel a sense of ownership and
commitment to “my school” and
the culture and the relationships
Despite strong feelings of
aren’t permanent fixtures
in their schools.
embedded within it. But despite
strong feelings of commitment, principals aren’t
n Keep working. Continue to take part in
permanent fixtures in their schools. For all prin-
planning, budgeting, and even hiring. Show you
cipals in all schools, there comes a time to leave.
care about the school’s future even if you will not
New leadership can bring new life to a school, share it.
but it also can have deleterious effects. How
n Supervise, coach, and evaluate with vigor. As
should principals leaving their positions prepare
you write final evaluations, be specific about
for a successful transition? Should they just pack teachers’ strengths. Your affirmation will reinforce
their stuff, take down pictures, and celebrate their their effective teaching. However, continue to
accomplishments? Is it acceptable for the new-
hold the difficult conversations. If teachers are
comer’s initiation to simply consist of receiving a in remediation, keep clear records of your inter-
map to the school and a key to the office?
I believe there are ways to foster a smooth
transition of leadership, one which benefits the
school, the leaving leader, and the newly arriving
principal. Here are a few strategies to consider:
n Communicate your intentions to leave to the
central office early on. It takes planning and time
to find good principals. It serves no one well to be
n Initiate a conversation about your school with
ventions. The new leadership will need to work
with those teachers, and your information will be
n Welcome the new principal. Walk the building
together. Introduce him or her to students, staff,
and community. Continuity is crucial. You are,
after all, on the same team!
n Plan ceremonies and rituals. These are
important for closure, for preserving memories
of your leadership, and for introducing the new