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Sharing Your Legacy: Words of Advice and Encouragement to the Next Generation of School Principals

The knowledge of thousands of soon-to-retire principals will be lost forever unless we capture it in some way for the next generation of school principals. A new project is intent on capturing the knowledge with which you will retire.

If you are a school principal, chances are pretty good that you will be retiring within 10 years. A 2002 survey conducted by the National Association of Elementary School Principals seems to bear that out. According to that survey, 66 percent of principals planned to retire in the next 6 to 10 years.

"Over the next few years there is going to be a tremendous reduction in the average age of school principals as many of us 'baby boomers' stop thinking about what retirement might be like and actually experience it," Jim Thompson, principal at Wolcott Street School in LeRoy, New York, told Education World.

But what about the collective wisdom of all those principals? "As the baby boomers reach retirement there is going to be a tremendous loss of craft knowledge of the principalship," added George Manthey, professional learning executive with the Association of California School Administrators of California (ACSA).

That craft knowledge could be of great benefit to the next generation of school leaders -- if we could find a way to capture it, added Thompson. And he and Manthey think they have found a way to do that. The two school leaders are in the process of collecting principals' thoughts about their jobs and their contributions to their schools -- and they would love to hear from you!

Thompson and Manthey invite you to participate in their project, which "we hope will create a valuable tool for new principals." What they're asking you to do is to sit down and compose a letter to the principal who will fill your shoes after you retire. Imagine it is your last day on the job at the school you have led for a number of years, and share your thoughts. Your thoughts about your principalship might include your responses to one or more of these questions.

  • What did you cheerlead?
  • Who did you console?
  • What did you confront?
  • What did you learn?
  • What should your successor know about your school?
  • What did you celebrate ?

"We're asking you to write a letter that celebrates the new principal's appointment as you share your reflections about being this school's leader," said Thompson, cautioning, "Don't feel you need to answer all of the questions -- an answer to just one could be a treasure."

Thompson and Manthey are collecting letters now through June 1, 2005. Letters can be sent via email to one of the addresses below. If you do not have email access, a letter can be sent by snail mail.

Jim Thompson 9005 Asbury Rd. LeRoy, NY 14482 [email protected]

George Manthey Association of California School Administrators 1575 Bayshore Highway Burlingame, California 94010 [email protected]

"Our plan is to edit the letters we receive and create a book containing this collective wisdom," Manthey told Education World. "We can't promise every letter submitted will be included. But we do promise to do our best to both acknowledge your contribution and create a resource that will be a legacy to what you have achieved as a school leader and something that those who follow will turn to for assistance."

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 2006 Education World