Saturday, May 28, 2011


(Turn and face the strain)
     I read with great interest a recent post by Cale Birk ( that questioned if/how often school leaders should be moved. While his query was about Principals and Vice-Principals, the same question can be asked of anyone in a school district leadership role. One of the comments was posted by Johnny Bevacqua who referenced the research we heard at a previous BCPVPA conference where the optimum length of time was suggested to be five to seven years. This has generally been my experience but I think there are some exceptions to the research.

     I should also declare that part of my motivation for this post is my own upcoming move. Leaving the role of Assistant Superintendent after three and a half years to take on the challenge of being the Executive Director for the BCPVPA feels like the right move despite not meeting the optimal length of time to effect change. Part of my thought process on the topic is that sometimes a move occurs because of external factors. The time spent in my current district provided some great personal connections and insights that I felt would allow me to take the district to new heights. The final decision was not mine and this prompted a good period of reflection to determine next steps. The new Superintendent has great ideas of his own to also propel the district forward. I determined it was better to find another spot to carry forward my thoughts and continue to have a positive impact on education in my region. Although I didn't stay for five to seven years, I have been reminded often in recent weeks about the contributions I have made and the long term impact of some of the work. Change, in this case, didn't have a time constraint.

     I was also pleased to see a tweet from Justin Tarte about his new assignment as an Assistant Principal. This is another role that I feel departs from the requirement of five to seven years. I have always advocated for the role of AP (or VP) to be a learning role where having different mentors as Principal provides a rich learning environment. Generally speaking I would consider switching these folks to another school after two years unless a vacancy occurred that would allow them to become a Principal. The role of VP/AP should not be a career move but instead serve as training for future leadership challenges. Working under different leaders and at different sites provides insights that are not as readily available when familiarity settles in.

     As I start thinking about making my move to a new role (and thanks by the way to all who have sent their good wishes) I do so with the premise of being there for five to seven years and effecting the positive types of changes that will be necessary to keep the organization vibrant and forward thinking. I also know that time has a way of bringing forward new challenges, new decision makers, and new opportunities. Most importantly I want to embrace each day with the notion that today matters and positive impact doesn't have a shelf life. The last words (as did the introduction) go to David Bowie:

Time may change me
But I can't trace time


  1. I agree with the timing of moves. It is hard to implement changes in a school until you really understand the culture - I believe this takes at least 1-2 years. After this it takes time to pick targets and develop effective strategies to implement change. I also wonder about teacher effectiveness and the value of moves, but this opens a whole other discussion.

  2. Thanks Dave. Timing is the important piece in conjunction with the context. You do open up another blog possibility or two with the comment about teachers. This is another facet of any proposed moves. I have been to schools where the only person that moves is the Principal and that adds another layer of challenge to implement change.