Now, this is a bit of an apocryphal story, but it illustrates the danger of not doing your own on-site homework when entering a new situation. Perhaps the most telling declaration coming out of the Trump White House over the past month was the President's comments on healthcare after meeting with a group of insurance executives. After making years of pronouncements about quickly repealing and replacing Obamacare, he emerged from his meeting to declare: "Who knew that healthcare was so complicated?" Well, of course, everyone - except his inner circle - did know!
New Heads walk the same tightrope. They are buffeted by competing interests, all of whom want to have their own personal agendas adopted as school policy. Every school that I have entered, either as incoming Head, or as an accreditor, is rife with opinions about what is working well; what programmes or policies need to be replaced; and, who is not doing their jobs. The true challenge for any incoming leader is to take in all of this disparate information, mentally file it, and then take on the slow, and meticulous process of learning for themselves on the job. While you might think that a new Head has to establish her or himself by immediately taking dramatic action, the reality is most people would rather that you didn't.
A change in leadership is a time of angst and tumult. The best thing that a new Head coming in can do is to calm things down, assuage fears, and show themselves to be open to getting to know the culture and the people before moving forward. There are always a few "low hanging fruit" that you can deal with, administrative irritants whose removal will have everyone on-side, but any major changes should wait.
Conventional wisdom would tell you that you should probably wait six months before implementing any major changes - i would suggest, for schools, that the fall term is probably long enough. Begin floating ideas by Christmas, set up some new initiatives in January (when people are feeling fresh and relaxed after a holiday break), and begin the really heavy lifting after Spring Break. This will allow you time to gain the confidence of your faculty, staff and parents; to get to know the currents of school life (and the shoals you want to avoid); and, to field test a few ideas to see the reaction.
You will complete your first year with momentum and have plans in place to hit the road running in September. The alternative is to follow the lead of the Trump White House - take quick action only to have it slapped down; think that you are implementing change when, in reality you are sowing chaos; and be more focused on telling people what is wrong with the school, and with what your predecessor did, rather than focusing on how to make a good school even better.
Your tenure, hopefully, isn't a one year project. The real secret of success is to look at your long game and plan for it. Next post we will talk about how you build an effective team to move forward with your agenda.