In preparation for my new position as the Principal of Lakeside Middle School, I re-read The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins. Even though I had read the book before and was a Principal for the past 5 years, I wanted to ensure I wasn’t under estimating this transition.
The President gets 100 days to prove himself; you get 90 ~Michael Watkins
In the book, Watkins emphasizes a period of planning prior to the transition. This time spent planning is invaluable as you must develop a transition plan. For my transition, I researched as much as I could about the school. Fortunately, I already worked in the district, but I had no idea about the most important aspect of the school: the culture. It didn’t matter how much data I could collect on the website, I knew I had to develop a transition plan to understand the culture. This is why I set out to interview every person who works in the building. Obviously, this can not happen over night but over the first 13 days I was able to meet with 27% of the staff.
In addition to the individual meetings, I hosted 6 group meetings. In each of these meetings I asked the same questions:
- What are three things going well at Lakeside?
- What are three things we need to improve?
The meetings and informal data collection have helped me tremendously to understand, as Watkins suggests, “The norms and patterns of behavior.” These meetings require me to listen, listen and listen. There have been times when people want to know what I stand for or to discuss my vision for the school. When I articulate my vision, I say the following:
- I want to create a culture of learning
- I want to promote the awesome things going on in the school for the world to see
- I want to increase student achievement, decrease discipline, and increase student attendance
At my first staff meeting as the new Principal, I reported out on my first 13 days. Part of promoting a culture of learning is modeling transparency. Here is the presentation I shared with the staff. It includes the highs and lows of the first 13 days as well as outline the next 18 days until the next staff meeting:
Change can be tough. I will not underestimate the impact of change on the staff. In my last position, I had a teacher tell me that it took her 2 years to trust me. I never realized that but knowing it puts things in perspective. It is crucial to prove yourself every day. Never take people for granted!
I know that I will spend the majority of the rest of the school year learning about the culture and climate of the building. Of course there will be some decisions that will need to be made, observations to complete, and a whole host of end of the year activities. For me, I am building relationships (which is paramount) with people who I will be working with for a long time. I committed to building a strong foundation!
Hello Dr. Cook!
My name is Nina Lanza. I am special education teacher and a graduate student outside Philadelphia seeking out my administration degree. Currently, I am doing research for a technology leadership course, and your name came across my book, titled “Digital Leadership”, by Eric Sheninger. After reading about you, I was amazed by your progress with technology in your school.
After reading your post, I was happy to read that in your new school as principal, you were still open to learning. You truly reveal yourself to be a humble, thoughtful, and innovative leader, and I appreciate the honesty you give through your reflections. As a prospective leader, I am inspired and encouraged by you and what you have accomplished for your school.
Best of luck!
Nina A. Lanza