Challenges, Leaders, Schools (II)

Dec. 12, 2020

Andrew Watson

[This article was originally published by Andrew Watson on LinkedIn on 12/11/2020]


What a year in school leadership, particularly for those in new positions.


In the first of these two posts, I stressed the point that most school leaders are facing the same problems and, unfortunately, receiving similar upset and overly angry criticisms. My hope is that boards and leaders understand this and avoid the incorrect conclusion that their school is the only one under attack.

Leadership transitions continue, though, and  perhaps might increase as the stress of this challenging year takes its toll on boards and school leaders.

Predictions and patterns around schools and transitions during COVID?

  • Stable schools typically ask new leaders to first look around before enacting changes. But no one starting on July 1,2020 had any time to wait before making tough decisions about opening schools. The same could be true on July 1, 2021.
  • New families might initially seek the strength, thoughtfulness, and nimbleness of independent schools this year, faced with chaotic circumstances in their public-school settings. But patience for online learning and for paying a full tuition for less-than-full experiences is running short, even though many of the measures needed to operate during the pandemic are costly.
  • It will be harder to create typical levels of contact between communities and their potential new leaders during searches. And, once named, it will be harder for new leaders to get to know their communities.
  • Running a search for an administrative position calls for time and effort that is in short supply now.  If the budget allows, I suspect schools will broaden the range of searches for which they seek assistance from search firms.
  • The typical timeline and time commitment for a search might, when possible, be streamlined. This could help schools, but it might also provide even more help to potential candidates who, themselves, are running as fast as they can at their own schools.
  • Communities might place unreasonable expectations on new leaders to fix the current (and possibly “unfixable”) situation. The “honeymoon period” might be shorter than usual.


Building on this, here are more speculative thoughts that come to mind:

  • Boards and schools will earn strong future leadership by their actions amidst current difficulties and by how they treat their current leaders.
  • Strong leaders might be ready for a fresh start after the battering they have received in their current communities. Those who stay on need to work with their boards and communities to establish new norms of discourse if scars remain once the crisis subsides.
  • Candidates for school leadership positions with strong video, social, and digital communication skills might shine brighter.
  • Strong leaders, with the backing of their boards, should consider removing parents whose behavior has been unbearably disruptive from their school communities. Doing this strategically, in very limited cases, can move a community forward.
  • It might be a moment when DRG/Wickenden needs to build a larger pool of experienced interim heads since a pause before going for permanent leadership might serve some schools well.
  • Internal candidates often have been just as battered by events, and angry community members, as their departing head of school, especially if they serve as division heads. Will they be less likely to seek their school’s headship? Will communities be less likely to choose them?  Possibly, even though we all know of great leaders coming from within schools.


Back to the main theme of these two messages: it is the same almost everywhere and that, oddly, is somewhat reassuring. In addition, we are all in this together. If you haven’t already, see if you can create a group of colleagues from around the country to Zoom with on a regular basis. It is great to have good local colleagues, too, but distance is helpful when it comes to truly sharing ideas and concerns about our schools.

Here at DRG/Wickenden, we will care for communities and candidates, and departing leaders, deeply informed by today’s realities. Our work will reflect a high regard and a deep level of care for those who want to make a difference in the lives of children and families. In doing so, we hope to help see mission-based schools and nonprofits through this sad and disruptive time, for their benefit and the benefit to society.


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Read my previous article ‘Challenges, Leaders, Schools (I)



[This article was originally published by Andrew Watson on LinkedIn on 12/11/2020]