For many years now, one of the hallmarks of an Educators’ Collaborative search has been our commitment to work with search committees, boards and school communities on matters associated with the transition from one head to the next. We know that for some in the world of independent school searches, the prevailing perspective is that the search is essentially over once an appointment has been made. We feel this viewpoint is shortsighted and, in the end, not in the best interest of schools and the critically important roles they serve.
As my colleague John Mackenzie emphasized in his post on finding the right leader, heading a school today is a very complicated and increasingly demanding responsibility. Not that being a school head was ever “easy,” but it seems today that the skill sets of successful heads of school are expanding to include matters not necessarily part of a head’s job description years ago. Whether there is a correlation between this complexity and the relatively short tenures of school heads today is worth deeper exploration, but the reality is that turnover in the head’s office after a brief stint (less than five years) is hard on schools and damaging to many aspects of a school’s role.
While there is no simple solution to premature head turnover, many of the stumbling blocks for a new head can be at least partially mitigated by a carefully constructed and closely monitored transition plan that begins well before the new head arrives and continues at least until the end of the new head’s first year. Given the earlier and earlier start dates for head of school searches today, this is no small commitment and demands significant strategic thinking and planning and the involvement of a variety of people who are key to the new head’s success. And rather than just handing the new head the keys to the kingdom and wishing her/him good luck, the transition plan approach creates a sense of team and a collective commitment to making things work.
The details of a successful transition plan will, of course, vary from school to school and will take a number of factors into consideration, but in the end the plan will create for the new head an effective support system that will provide meaningful and constructive feedback, demystify the complexity and often baffling idiosyncrasies of a school culture, and create a broad-based sense of ownership in the new head’s success. Viewing a search as concluding at the moment of appointment makes the new head’s job just that much more difficult and more importantly, is not in the best interest of the school and the people it serves.