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Being Brian: Smooth Transitions

Posted Date: 05/18/2022

Being Brian: Smooth Transitions

Every year we can see a multitude of transitions, from graduations and the seasons to the starting of new jobs. What has led to success when you think about those personal transitions that you have endured over the years? Was it a great relationship, good communication, and clear steps for transitioning? What and how do we encompass these in a successful transition process? In education, spring and summer are the ideal time to set the stage for successful transitions with new staff before starting school in the fall. 

There will be many board members and school leaders dealing with transitions at each level, new teachers, building leaders, and superintendents.  KASB believes in the following key elements to a successful transition regardless of the level. 

  1. Establish consistent channels for feedback 
  2. Prioritize areas of focus in the beginning 
  3. Intentionally reflect on successes 

Establishing consistent channels for feedback 

The formal establishment of channels for feedback force both parties experiencing the transition to engage in conversation and reflection.  Acknowledging that not every transition goes flawlessly is another reason for formalizing the feedback process.  These formal opportunities for feedback force all parties to revisit commitments made at the beginning of the transition and then troubleshoot or preemptively address problems that have arisen.   

In working with many school boards over the years, as they go through the transition process with a new superintendent, they intentionally schedule a time to discuss how the transition is going.  Scheduling time sounds simple, but it is challenging to do when school boards are inundated with school bus specs, student handbooks, construction conversations, budgets, etc.   School boards that have successful transitions have built-in time regularly to discuss the superintendent's performance and the school board's support of that performance.  These built-in opportunities also help in an accurate evaluation of the superintendent’s performance.  When a school board shifts the superintendent evaluation process to a pattern of year-round conversation versus a single event conducted sometime in December or January, they can quickly have these discussions.  These do not have to be drawn-out conversations if consistently focused on a simple set of questions:   

  1. What is going well? 
  2. How is progress coming on the agreed-upon priorities?  
  3. How can we support you in your work? 

In this situation, the key for the board is to listen authentically and engage with open, honest feedback when and where appropriate.  Establishing these opportunities with the superintendent leads to a well-informed evaluation process in sync with the board's priorities.   

As district leaders support transitions for other staff members, the same feedback process must be in place.  These transitions should include formally defined mentors for new staff, with clearly defined topics to address with the new staff person.  One of the top reasons that educators leave the profession is a lack of support in the formative years of their professional careers.  For educators new to the profession, opportunities to observe other teachers and be observed by peers are great ways for them to build confidence or address areas of their work that are causing strife.  However, these mentoring and feedback opportunities should not be limited to just new to the profession staff members.  New district staff need to have an opportunity to receive feedback and ask questions related to your district’s policies, processes, and procedures. 

Establishing these channels is crucial for making a successful transition and will also drive improvements in future transition efforts. 

Prioritize areas of focus in the beginning 

Being on the same page about what matters most is fundamental for a successful transition.  Think about all the times you have experienced differing priorities for a coworker, partner, or teammate; it rarely ends well.  When all parties define what is important and discuss what success looks like in 6, 12, and 18 months, the likelihood of achieving the priorities increases. 

Transitioning a new superintendent into a school district is an exciting time for the board.  They have likely identified some skills or characteristics that the superintendent possessed through the hiring process.  The school board selected these skills and attributes to help move the district forward, but does the new superintendent know the critical areas of focus the school board desires?  The school board taking time in the first months with the new superintendent to articulate the desired improvements and focus areas allows the superintendent to allocate their time and attention to what matters most to the school board.  The school board should communicate the focus areas publicly in the form of district-level goals or priorities or even a strategic plan.  Once a school board and superintendent are on the same page, the formal feedback process described above keeps the two parties on the same page. 

Administrators and teachers transitioning into the district need to be on the same page around classroom performance expectations and curriculum standards.  Making staff aware of their evaluation is an essential part of the transition process.  Some districts have gone as far as to define foundational components that every teacher new to their school district must focus on and display consistently in the first couple of years within the school district.   Agreement on these foundational components ensures consistency across classrooms and from building to building.  Developing foundational components is another argument for a formalized feedback and support process outlined above. 

To replicate success, you must identify the steps taken to experience success.  Over the years of working with leaders and teachers, I have seen that some people have a knack for teaching and leading yet struggle to identify the steps taken to be successful.  Large bodies of research cite what constitutes a great teacher or leader, and some individuals intuitively display many of those characteristics.  However, at some point, every teacher or leader will face a situation where what they have always done will not get them through what they are facing.  Finding ways for those individuals to reflect on recent success in teaching or leading leads to a discussion about the components that led to that success.  These conversations create an environment where exemplary teaching and leading qualities are identified and areas for growth or improvement emerge.   

Reflection discussions about success should happen at every level within your systems.  Leaders and teachers need to have these conversations, but the system also must find ways to gather feedback around successes.  Individuals in your school district should be sitting with their mentor and supervisor for these conversations.   As outlined above, the superintendent should be having these conversations with the board in an ongoing structure.  As for identifying successes across the system, the leaders should pull a small group of individuals together that are experiencing transitions within the school district and listen to their perceptions of successful aspects of the process and areas for improvement.  Taking these steps allows the leaders within the system to identify the steps taken that led to a successful transition and replicate them in the future. 

In the climate that we have in public education, successful transitions are critical to keeping our professionals in public education.  It is always cheaper and more effective to coach up the people you have than to continually rehire and reset.  How will you intentionally set up the transition process for success with your new team members?