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Begin, Well…

“If you fail to build momentum during your transition, you will face an uphill battle from that point forward.” Michael Watkins

After the excitement of being promoted to principal in June and the rush of the transition process over the last three weeks of school, I spent the past few weeks offline; a little golf, some couple time, lots of swimming and driving my teenagers to their various work, social and athletic commitments. And reading, lots of reading.

Among the pile of mysteries, spy thrillers and magazines is a book that arrived the last week of school just for me. The book, Michael Watkins The First 90 Days is a gift from the folks in our district’s leadership development team and outlines some current best practices for making effective transitions when promoted into a new leadership position. I’ll likely post a few reflections as I carry on through the book, one that I would recommend to anyone making a similar transition.

There are 5 propositions that Watkins makes in the opening of the book related to successful transitions:

  1. transitions often fail where the opportunities and pratfalls of the context intersect with the strengths and vulnerabilities of the new leader
  2. leaders can apply practices that can help them navigate their new context
  3. a key goal of any transition should be to generate positive momentum leading to the creation of a productive patterns
  4. transitions are essential in the development of an organization’s leadership capacity
  5. using a framework to ensure smooth transitions adds value at each layer of an organization

I took the opportunity to schedule conversations with as many of the staff and learned a lot about the school culture,the strengths and struggles, from this process. Being an introvert, these conversations were also extremely helpful to me; meeting people for the first time one to one is always my preferred route. As I set up for our first staff meeting I already felt a sense of belonging (and I am grateful to the staff for making me feel as such). Over the course of our first morning together the staff learned a few things about me that I hope, offered assurance that I’m not a tyrant. I also had allotted a lots of time for small group processes, taking the chance to observe the team in action, how they interact, how decisions are made and the ‘who-ness’ of the group.

My goal was to listen, to observe and to offer the team some sense of what they could expect from me, their new principal. The staff had already learned a few things about me; my interests in technology, creativity and innovation prompted some wondering and some worries. A worry that was tempered somewhat by the realization that these interests are grounded in a keen sense of focus. I’m not a big fan of clutter in any incarnation, so we spent a good part of the morning looking at ways we could as I said, “take the stray socks out of the drawer.” and try to synthesize tasks and roles we know we must keep.

My sense is the beginning went well. The framework, structures and resources I had been provided with by our district were a tremendous help, as was the fact that I was following a highly skilled and supportive colleague. I don’t think that the observable fact that I was just happy to be there hurt either. I hoe that you can discern the essence of Watkins’ 5 propositions through this recount.

Watkins makes some great points on ways to match the strategies and approaches to the actual situation that I’ve been thinking about this week and will take some time to explore in a future post.

  1. July 17, 2012 at 7:06 pm

    Many may understand that each school has a distinct culture, but few have the wisdom to realize that it’s the most important place to begin working with students and teacher-learners. I’m so looking forward to reading more about your new journey…

    • July 17, 2012 at 8:41 pm

      Thanks for the response Rodd 🙂 I think culture is like the air around us- we need it- but the longer we are in an environment we also become acclimatized to it- my challenge is to breathe it all in and hopefully, add some of my perspectives and ideas to the atmosphere.


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