When Change Comes
Fear. Panic. Overwhelming sadness. Those were some of the emotions I felt upon hearing that our beloved principal of 12 years was being transferred to a new school. What would happen to our school? What would happen to all that has been built to support students and their success? Who would lead the charge to continue the successful practices established here?
Once I got a handle on the raw emotions that came with the announcement, I took time to think about our school, our staff, the hard work, the dedication, and all that had been established over the years to make our school a place where ALL students are accepted, loved, and given the support they need to learn and be successful. That was just it! Although the vision of a school where all students were supported, provided with opportunities for success, and expected to learn started many years ago with our principal, the reality is fully in practice today with a school-wide community that believes and practices those very basic principles daily. What an opportunity we now have to share those principles and belief system with a new administrator and new colleagues!
I know that our school and its success with students will survive this change. However, it’s not enough to “just survive.” We need to “thrive!” But how will that happen? By continuing the practices we know are effective with students and families, and living the philosophy that the success of each student is non-negotiable.
Staff members already model for each other and function as teacher experts in a variety of areas—technology, curriculum, best practices, accommodations, supports, and lesson planning. It will be especially important for existing staff members to model and encourage the basic tenants of successful practices for new staff members. Sharing our successes with students, families, and with each other will help those practices ripple throughout the school community. Sharing our ideas and successes with elements of the curriculum—as well as best practices and accommodations that work for and with students—will help those same positive ideas and successes spread to other teachers and classrooms. Engaging in and sharing those elements of our positive practices will encourage new staff members—as well as the new principal—to want to become part of the success and support its continuation.
Continuing an atmosphere of ongoing problem solving will also be especially important. When a community is focused on problem solving, it leaves little room for negativity, defeating comments, and emotions. A problem solving attitude and expectation gives staff members a positive outlet and direction upon which to focus when things occur that are not exactly what would like to be seen or experienced. It also ensures that meeting student needs and making adjustments to meet those needs remains the focus. This is particularly important since each year is different and student needs are ever changing.
New school-based leaders will step up to work with already established leaders to influence the continued positive student-centered decision making. Consequently, it will be imperative that effective communication continues to occur among staff members, students, families, school, and the community. Established staff must be willing to speak up, share philosophies, ask questions, and continue to problem solve to determine successful strategies and practices. Those of us who have been part of this school community cannot expect new staff members to automatically know what to do, why things are in place, and why we do what we do unless we tell them. We have to be willing and committed to talking to and with one another, as well as respectfully speaking up when we have questions or concerns. We also have to be committed to listening to one another, even if we may not agree with the other’s perspective. With the willingness and determination to keep the lines of communication open and functioning, it will ensure that, although every decision and situation may, and probably will, not be easy, it will be possible for our school to continue on a positive trajectory.
Yes, there will be differences this school year. Differences are inevitable with a change in leadership. However, it does not mean that those differences will, necessarily, fundamentally change the established positive practices of our school. It is the responsibility of those staff members who remain at our school, the families of the children we serve, and the community to look for the philosophy and practices that have, over time, proven successful and beneficial for all our students to be continued and improved upon. The bar is definitely set high.
Through the challenges and successes of the new elements of this school year—as well as in coming years—it will be imperative that we all support and encourage one another. We will repeatedly need to remind each other why we are here, why we do what we do, and why it is important that we continue on this path. It’s about the kids. ALL kids. When we focus on the kids and what is important for them—no matter who the other players are at the school—everything falls into place. It can and will continue to be a place where ALL students thrive.
- Teri Jones