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Les Potter received his doctorate from the University of South Carolina. Les has over 45 years in school administration and educational leadership including: Assistant to the Superintendent (...
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Principals New To Your School

I had the good fortunate of being a principal of seven schools in four states. Something I learned early in my career was unless the superintendent tells you to make these changes immediately or you are extremely familiar with the school, I would wait before I started to revamp what is already in place. If I had to guess a timeframe, perhaps a semester or a year might be a good rule of thumb. What I would consider minor changes could be implemented sooner of course.

I have seen too many new principals a week before school starts in the fall, trying to add more things to the teachers already crowded plates. New principals will sometimes come in thinking that they have to immediately put their stamp on the school and in my opinion worse is the new principal is the only one who can turn the school around and has all of the answers. Teachers are told too late for input or receive meaningful PD and usually teachers have little knowledge of the changes or time to learn about the intended changes.  

Years ago I was a college professor and I was asked by a high school principal to come to his school in late spring and at a faculty meeting explain the difference between the regular seven period schedule they were currently using to a block schedule they would be implementing in the fall. I learned that this was going to be their introduction and only PD for this massive curriculum change. The principal did not have a good reason for the change except many schools were converting to block scheduling and he wanted to be on that bandwagon. I reminded him that there are several types of block scheduling and which did he chose. He wasn’t sure yet but would think about it over the summer and introduce it to the faculty when they returned in the fall. I did my best in my one hour presentation but as usual many coaches and sponsors were not in attendance. Most of the rest paid little attention. Very surprisingly, the principal did not even show! So this conversion to block scheduling looked like it was my idea. It was a wasted hour for me and worse the teachers were left very confused of what was coming in August. 

Fortunately, situations similar to this do not happen very often but the example does show that careful thought, planning and input is important to make a successful change in a school. 

I would suggest that you get input from your different groups: district office, school administrators, faculty and staff, parents, students, etc. ask them what they see as being positive or negative at the school. You need time to experience the functioning of the school and how things can be improved.

Change is not always easy to implement and not always readily accepted. Most teachers understand that a new principal will bring some changes but these must be carefully planned. If not, and the change is not accepted then that might be your last chance to implement a successful change. 

Quick change and without input can hurt morale as well. If you have been at that school for ten years for instance, and doing something the same way, and a new principal comes in and turns everything upside down, it can be thought by teachers that what they were doing for years is wrong. 

Also I think this quick change is more difficult to put in place if your are a new to the profession principal. Credibility and trust is important. School improvement takes time and there are no quick fixes. 

Les Potter, Ed.D.

Retired educator