Saturday, February 18, 2006

Learning through confusion.

  Posted by Picasa The challenge of being a new principal.

Starting a new job as a school principal is an important event but it can also be a confusing time for all. All too often the new principal rides into town, like the Lone Ranger, to solve all problems.

The simple truth is that is all too easy to start off on the wrong foot due to a lack of appreciation of the reality of the situation added to by the often confusing agenda of those involved in the school.

New beginnings are difficult in any organization because of inflated expectations of the new leader and conflicting demands of those who made the appointment. A number of mixed messages can easily occur as new leaders are expected to act quickly while at the same time they are not quite sure who to trust; what to continue with and what to change. All too often new appointees pretend to look as of they know what they are doing while at the same time drowning on events.

This can easily lead to exhaustion, stress and a ‘fighting fires’ approach.

On good idea to avoid this situation and to use this confusion to your advantage is to create an Entry Plan so that rather than hitting the school running you can hit it learning. A well thought out Entry Plan gives the new leader time to build relationships with all the key people involved and signals the type of leadership you want to develop.

An Entry Plan is premised on utilizing the confusion of the transition period by using it as creative starting point for learning. It is a plan structured to enable joint inquiry prior to making any changes and allows the new leader to use the process to uncover current strengths and possible new directions.

The plan is designed to slow things down so the appointee can learn about the deeper culture of the school and to develop collective approach to developing new directions.

The first step is to draft ideas about an Entry Plan to share with the BOT and the staff; this draft plan outlines who the new leader will meet, about what, when, where, and why. The most important things is to define the most important questions and issues as you see them you want to explore with them and to indicate that no major changes will be made until all the information form the Entry Plan has been processed. This will let all involved know that they will all have a chance to have their say.

It would be a good idea to share the draft with key people before you make it public. They may have ideas that would be useful before you make your final plan.

The final Entry Plan should include a statement outlining the point and purpose of the plan – the process, and what it is hoped it will deliver.

Following the discussion with key people and meetings with the BOT and staff, which will possibly uncover new questions for you to consider, the leader draws up the findings and challenges ahead for the school.

The key issues and findings are then presented back to the BOT and staff to gain further input. At this stage there ought to be no expectation to gain consensus.

At the end of the process the principal draws up a future School Development Plan that lists the actions that will need to be taken or researched. A useful idea would be to set up a School Development Team to share responsibity for implementing the plan.

As a result of this process the BOT and staff make decisions to put into practices areas of agreement and to instigate ‘action research’ to explore other issues.

At this point, by taking ones time to work through the confusion, all involved will begin to appreciate the empowering leadership style implied in the approach and that the responsibly for action involves everyone.

The whole point of the Entry Plan is to develop a common understanding of the reality and challenges ahead but most of all to develop a ‘we are all in this together’ attitude.

The process begins with the acknowledgment of confusion of a new beginnings; it challenges current assumptions, and ends up with agreed action plans to ensure new ways of thinking are translated into new behaviors.

Such an Entry Plan has the potential to position new leaders for success right from the start by establishing a culture of self examination and it develops a leadership approach which is both ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’.

And through this process a new vision for the school can be forged.

Worth a try?

At the very least a good idea is to develop a ‘Position Paper’ outlining the new principal’s views on all issues because this at least will let the staff no where you are coming from!


Anonymous said...

Common sense - but it might not be so common?

Anonymous said...

What is a BOT? All makes sense to me not withstanding.

Bruce Hammonds said...

BOT stands for Board of Trustees - the elected parent group in NZ that governs the school.

Anonymous said...

The 'Entry Plan' idea outlined could be easily adapted to create a new vision for a school even without a new principal appointment?

Anonymous said...

Learning through confusion is more honest than learning through pre- determined objectives!

Anonymous said...

This is 'learn through doing' - which used to happen before the 'experts' designed academic courses with prescribed outcomes and measureable objectives for teachers to deliver and students to consume.

All process and no spirit!