The statistics aren’t encouraging – the average principal stays less than five years. The average superintendent lasts about six years, half that for urban districts. The constant change in administration causes regular stress for those working in schools and most people don’t recognize the effects of these revolving doors. With each new administrator, priorities shift. Frequently, projects in the works get scrapped. Long-term planning is difficult. And each of these new heads has a different view of school libraries and librarians. You have to start from scratch to build your reputation every time this happens.
Those who are in a district where they are experiencing these regular departures and arrivals need to have a strong plan in place that can be set into motion as soon as the new hire is announced. If you are fortunate enough to have a long-term administrator, it is wise to be aware of how to proceed should your principal or superintendent leaves. In addition to the initial steps, the sequence of the “settling-in” process applies to committees so it will help you show up (early and often!) as a leader even when things are running smoothly.
Hit the Ground Running – Once you have the name of the new administrator begin your research. Where did s/he come from? Google and social media usually can give you a fair amount of information. If there is a librarian in this person’s previous job, consider sending her/him an email to learn how the administrator regarded librarians. Where was support given? What was their preferred method of communication? Keep your findings to yourself. There will be plenty of gossip likely fueled by fear. Don’t add to it. Just listen and see how well it aligns with what you have learned.
Plan on an Early Meeting – Don’t wait for the new administrator to begin the usual “getting to know you” meetings. Schedule something as soon as possible and keep your meeting brief. Ask for no more than ten minutes and finish in less time. During your time, you don’t sell what you have done. I cannot stress this enough – make it about them! Your focus should be on what you can provide. Invite your new administrator to visit the library at any time. Ask how s/he sees the role of the library program. Let him/her know that the library program is flexible and will work to achieve his/her vision/goals for the school or district. When you finish, leave a thumb drive of your last annual report or provide one-sheet with strong data on what the program has achieved.
The Four-Step Sequence – (which is now five steps) Be prepared for the next phase. In 1965 Bruce Tuckman wrote an article describing the sequence to identify a process common to describe team formation. It is still relevant and comes into play with a new school or district leader. By being able to identify the process as explained in Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing, you will avoid pitfalls and demonstrate the leadership that will get you and your program recognized as vital to the new administrator.
- Forming– This is the settling-in stage. Most people in the school are likely watching and waiting. Although there are some who are criticizing already, making comparisons to the previous administrator, most will be quiet and uncertain. You need to identify your new principal’s/ superintendent‘s style. Congenial? Remote? High tech? No tech? You then adapt your communication to match it.
- Storming – Time to get down to business, but expect it to be messy. The new administrator wants to begin proving s/he is in charge and knows where to go. Conflicts emerge as not everyone agrees with the new direction. Some want to “get in good” with the new boss, (you are one of them,) but how they do it can be a problem. Brown-nosing is not the answer. Being a team player, which means knowing how to disagree effectively if necessary, is the way to proceed.
- Norming – Life settles into the new normal. It’s as though the new administrator has always been there. The Pareto Principle comes into play. It’s the 80/20 rule and in this case, it means 20% of the people do 80% of the work. You need to be among the 20%. By being of value to the new administrator, helping him/her achieve his/her goals, you and your program will be valued in turn.
- Performing – This is the make or break period. Everyone has settled into the role of their choice: an active part of the leadership team, a good worker-bee, or a complainer/critic. The fewer in this last category, the more effective the administrator will be during her/his tenure. This is your opportunity to propose larger projects and position your program in the forefront, making yourself invaluable to the administration, teachers, and, always, your students.
This four-stage sequence has been adapted to include a fifth stage – Adjourning. In the business world, it refers to when a committee’s work is complete. In our world, it’s when the administrator leaves and a new one is hired. Once again, you are back to Forming. Now that you have seen it in play, you will be even better at managing the steps as you prepare for yet another new leader. And you can lead the way.
There is no way to avoid changes in administrations but if you can create a plan and be prepared you will be the leader your program needs and show whoever is in the position that you and your library are invaluable.