Monthly Archives: May 2013

Faculty Departures Part 1

Recently, I’ve been poignently reminded of something I was never prepared for as a school leader.  This post will focus on retirements, as it’s a near-and-dear perspective at the moment.

In our preparation programs, we are good at helping future leaders understand the importance of hiring the best candidates (see one of the previous posts in this blog).  However, there is always a process that precedes the hiring, the first step of which is that another faculty member needs to vacate the position.  Long gone are the days when schools were able to ADD faculty positions.

One way in which a school gets the opportunity to hire is through the retirement of faculty members.  As a school leader, especially one who has built relationships with faculty members, students and the school community, one now has the task of “replacing” someone who is virually unreplaceable.

A school leader is often not prepared for one or two of these retirement announcements in a year.  They often come at the last minute with little time to prepare appropriate celebrations for the retiree(s) to honor their service, while also thinking about who will take that position the next year.

Everything I’ve mentioned really speaks to the logistical challenges the school leaders faces when beloved teachers retire.  The part I was least expecting was dealing with my OWN emotional reaction to those announcements.  Again, having built relationships with the retiree(s) and holding them in high esteem myself, I found myself also experiencing the emotions for which other employees were seeking assistance from me in handling.  That is a piece to this day continues to be a struggle, but at least knowing it’s a struggle can help a leader to continue to support his or her staff members in appropriately dealing with their emotions around one of their talented and well-liked peers retiring after a long time of service to students.

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End of the Year Celebrations

As I was preparing to be a school leader, I knew I would end up working in a middle school or high school.  I had experienced the “end of the school year” many times as a student and as a teacher.  In my classes when I taught English, the end of the year was often a dramatic time as struggling students were pressing me for extra credit or simply completing their regular assignments to have that hope of passing 12th grade English (which for some was the only thing standing between them and a diploma).  When they completed their assignments and I was able to experience the joy of seeing them and all the other students graduate, I felt a sense of accomplishment and joy.  I thought that as a school leader, I would feel that joy magnified exponentially, as I would have worked with so many more of the graduates.

Until one lives through the first “spring season of celebrations” as a high school administrator (and there are definitely comparable end-of-the-year events at the middle and elementary levels), one cannot really understand what happens behind the scenes so that students, families, and the teachers can enjoy events like graduation.  When I was learning and preparing to be a school leader, I had no conception that a simple high school graduation ceremony entailed such detailed planning, typically from an administrator or a team of school employees led by the administrator.  Here’s a short list of just a few of the countless details one needs to arrange:

1) venue (indoor vs. outdoor, on school property vs. outside venue, cost, seating, etc)

2) speakers (how many, whom, previewing the messages)

3) formation and practices

4) student and family issues (how many tickets does each student get, students on the brink of graduating or not and having those conversations when the student wouldn’t make it, accessibility for family members and guest with disabilities, controlling for undignified displays from students or family members, etc)

5) security

6) publicity of the event

As a school leader, graduation was always one of the most stressful times because of those issues above.  While no school leader wants “that picture” of the graduation ceremony in the newspaper the next day of students or family members with beach balls, silly string, air horns, etc, it was more than that.  As the teacher and school leader who always worked especially closely with struggling students, I wanted to event to be special for them, as I knew that this was a true milestone for them and their families, and I was fearful of anyone ruining that memory for those students, who would remember their high school graduation as at least one time when they achieved a major academic goal.

People who look to be school leaders grow in their understanding that end-of-the-year events at all school levels take on a whole new meaning for us.  Recognizing that my first few years might have helped to sleep a little more during this time of year, which is an insane but truly blessed opportunity for school leaders on all levels to honor accomplishments of each student to close out the year in a positive way.

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