I am about to begin the final term at the NSW school where I have been Principal for eleven years. In January I take up the role of Principal at another school in Victoria.
I am changing places.
Leaving so much brings some personal sadness: leaving a city I have grown to love; leaving my house that is filled with light and warmth; leaving friends made; and of course the family life I have lived here in this place.
I described to one of my daughters the feeling, as I put the last of my (adult) children on the train to Melbourne, as an unravelling . “Think of it as a transfer, ” she replied practically. “A transfer , yes.”
For a Principal, such a “transfer” brings leadership challenges.
Principals may develop a proprietorial attitude toward their schools, making it difficult for them to accept the inevitability of a successor – who will do things in their own way. I have grown to love the school and have invested so much of myself in it. As I prepare to leave it I am conscious of a certain vulnerability. As leaders we listen, we dream, we talk, we create and we build visions for our schools and relationships with students, staff and their families. It is a little painful to contemplate the changes that will be wrought under new leadership. W B Yeats’ lines express this vulnerability well:
I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
Of course it is foolish to dwell on this. New leadership should bring change, just as our leadership did in our own time! The challenge for leaders is to remain positive about leaving and the prospect of change ahead. Change creates uncertainty for everyone in the school and if we really care for our communities we show leadership in managing the transition as carefully as we are able.
I know of a school where the retiring Principal, sensing keenly a diminution of influence as their final day approached, “resigned” from the leadership team and withdrew to the office to tidy up the files. Perhaps an extreme example, but a sense of feeling redundant to planning and decision making seems to be a common experience. From this perspective we show leadership by remaining committed, offering advice and supporting staff, particularly the leadership team, as they put in place the arrangements for a new school year in which we will not be present. We should lighten the touch, but not let go.
When leaving is about moving onto leadership of another school there are further considerations. There is no bigger bore than the person who makes constant reference to their past school, except perhaps the one who cannot stop talking about their next!
There is a time for everything. So I am making the most of enjoying every last day at “my” school and hope that I am providing the presence and support that the school requires for the smoothest of transitions. Quietly I am preparing for my next place, mindful of the huge pair of shoes I have to fill.