Being a leader of a turnaround/transformation school is not an easy feat. It takes a strong leader, someone who is very determined to continue and persist in the face of all the challenges that come his or her way.
Around October/November of each school year, I would always say to myself, “I can’t do this anymore!” It seemed the weight was too much to bear, that I was constantly in the starting-over mode and making little progress. But in transformation schools, you are. Teachers change constantly, district mandates change, the curriculum changes, and the list goes on and on.
As a leader, I have experienced five investigations into my school within three months. Another principal colleague lost eight teachers within three months. Another principal was sued by one of her teachers. Another had to work with teachers who had the union fighting against them about a curriculum. When this happens, you immediately begin to question everything about yourself. You wonder if you are leading properly, if there is something different you could have done, if the culture of your school is as good as you think it is… The thoughts continue to come.
How do you do this? You make sure you have a circle of friends outside of school who you can be vulnerable with, who know your vision, and who will help you get refocused with a swift kick in the butt.
As the leader in the school, you have an entire staff of people looking up to you. You must remember you are their leader, and whatever comes your way, you are equipped to handle it. So, you dig deep and look for the positive in the situation and move forward. You look for the deeper reasons why things are happening, you share and solicit solutions, and you implement a plan of action. As a result, you come out better for it. What seemed like a giant mountain at the time was simply a speed bump, and because it happened, you experienced a valuable lesson.
As a leader of a school in the process of transformation, when you are doing the right things for the right reasons, others may see it as a threat and work against the very things you are trying to develop because of their lack of trust. Continue to charge on and show them what can be done when you are dedicated and you believe in the work you are doing and the students you serve.
Teachers in turnaround schools are some of the hardest-working individuals I’ve ever met. This is a good thing, yet it can present as a problem when it comes to retaining them. Because there is such a shortage of teachers, the grass does look greener on the other side and teachers move freely from one school to another. What can be done to let teachers know they matter and the implication and ripple effect that happens when they leave the school in the middle of the school year? I don’t have all the answers, but I know it begins with having grit and tenacity.