Political campaigns, like Head entry plans, are much more easily conceived if they are about being against something. Donald Trump has defined himself, both during his campaign, and in office, as being against many things. He opposes free trade - so death to NAFTA and the TPP; he is against Muslim immigration and accepting refugees - so let's have a Muslim ban; he is a climate change denier - so let's de-regulate industry and ditch environmental protections. You see, it is much easier to condemn the work of your predecessor than to come up with concrete, positive ideas of your own. Tear down first, and figure out how to rebuild later.
I have seen many school heads begin their tenures the same way. It is usually quite easy to cherry pick and condemn some of the actions (and personnel favourites) of your predecessor. The challenge is to put those negatives into a positive narrative rather than just a slash and burn, negative rant.
You see, the real issue with change is not about what we want to do, but why we want to do it. Schools face this challenge all of the time. Every article that you read, speaker that you hear, or TED Talk that you watch tells you what you should be doing. They all tell you that education is changing and that you better hurry up and change with it. And, there is no-one more vulnerable to this call to arms than a new Head. She or he has usually been hired as a change agent, and as the new school year gets underway, they put incredible pressure on themselves to do something big, and to do it quickly! Often, if they have done a bit of homework, they have already set themselves up, by mistake, in their interview. The school wants to improve innovation - The have declared: "We need to build a Makerspace! The Board is concerned about academics - Their solution: "Let's go IB or AP!" The school is losing money - Easy! "We have to cut staff and raise fees!" Kids' shirts are untucked - Got it covered: "We are going to crack down on uniforms!" You see it is always easy to come up with sweeping (and often facile) solutions to complex problems. It is, however, far more difficult to deliver on those promises in a thoughtful and effective way.
Donald Trump is stumping this week to replace Obamacare. In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, his plurality of victory was 44,000 votes. The AHCA alternative to Obamacare that he is flogging will take insurance away from 670,000 Pennsylvanians. Do you think that he has thought this out? Guess what? The fall-out of tearing down the status-quo, and giving the loudest voices what they want, is often that you cause collateral damage that you never imagined.
In fact the best change agents are not the ones who out-race the bandwagon, instead, they are the ones who put the brakes on - not to stop change, but to engage it and to innovate in a disciplined way. And that, is where effective leadership comes in.
Next post we will look at how that can actually happen in a school.