Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Flavor of the Month?

In many educational jurisdictions, it is the time of the year when administrators move schools.  Some move by choice because an opportunity presents itself and they are looking for a change.  Others are promoted. Some retire or move districts. And others are asked to move because they have been in a school for a period of time that has been deemed to be too long. Whatever the reason might be, the net result is that the movement of an administrator has an impact on schools.

Let me start by saying that I am not moving schools, so this is not a post to address my own personal situation.  Furthermore, I will temporarily refrain from injecting my own opinions on whether the impact that an administrative shuffle has is positive or negative.  But I would like to generate some discussion on this topic that I feel merits some examination.  So, I would be curious to see responses from our PLN on the following:
  • Should Principals move?  What are the reasons they should stay in their current situation? What are the reasons they should go?
  • If so, is there an optimum number of years that a Principal should be at a school?
  • Does the movement of Principals promote a "Flavor of the Month" culture, or is it important to have some cross pollination of administration?
I look forward to a few comments--I have my own thoughts about this, but I would like to learn what other educators (teachers, admin, parents, students) feel about this and why they feel the way that they do.

Look forward to your comments.


  1. My dad was an administrator in Vancouver for over 20 years and he often talked about this. He'd finally feel like he had a school where he wanted it, then they'd want to move him somewhere else. I think it was frustrating for him in a way, but an accepted part of the job at that time and in that district. He moved schools every four-five years.

    One thing it did teach him was how to join a staff, find the strengths in a school community, and, in a short time, move that school along in a positive direction. If you had a succession of people like that, think of the amazing school that could develop over time, each person taking it forward in their own positive direction.

  2. Hi there,
    In Ontario (I'm not sure if it's only certain counties or not), principles must rotate every 2 years. I know this is true of Elgin County. I understand the reasoning behind moving, but to me it seems too frequent.

  3. I truly believe the Administration is the backbone of a school. They help provide direction and support for the excellence around them.

    As someone who teaches in a school with a revolving door for administrators, I don't feel that moving just because is the right thing.

    It takes time to create and test new strategies. The success of things cannot be measured in the first few years, is it measurable and reproducible. Can we apply a method in other situations and get the same results. You can't see that in 2-3 years.

    The evolution of a school takes time.

    That being said there needs to be continued change and "progress". Once a goal has been achieved a new goal has to be set. If administration is just sitting back on previous success then it is time to move on.

    So I don't think that there is an optimal max or min amount of time as long as positive change is happening.

  4. Cale,

    I don't think it's possible to determine a suggested length of time for a principal/vice-principal to remain in a specific school. I believe that it's crucial for an administrator to remain at a school long enough that he/she can develop mutual trust with staff. If the staff knows that their administration is going to constantly change, there is little incentive for them to embark on any innovative changes. Staff must have confidence that their administration will be in place long enough to see through any projects/changes that they have initiated. That said, I would hope that any positive progress made by a staff is not tied to a specific administrator. Hopefully, progressive changes become part of the culture of a school so that they continue forward even once the administrator who initiated the change moves on.

    The trouble with any admin 'shuffle' is that while it might be the right time for some administrators to change schools, it isn't going to be the right time for others to move. There is never going to be a perfect time for everyone!

    This points to the importance of administrators within a district communicating openly with each other to facilitate as smooth a transition as possible whenever an administrative change occurs.


  5. I do not think there is the "right" amount of time for a principal to stay in a school community (I can think of good and bad examples that fit any situation). I do, however, recall a BCPVPA conference some years ago that Fullan and Hargreaves spoke at where they addressed this very issue. In their presentation they cited some research that contradicted the popular practice in many jurisdictions of rotating principals every 3-5 years. Instead, the research indicated that, for a variety of reasons (mainly school improvement and climate related) principals should remain in a school for no less than 7 years. (Unfortunately I do not know the study that was cited)

    My personal feeling and experience suggests that there is a window of time that a principal has to be most effective in a school. It might be difficult to implement deep change in a school in less than 5 years. Regardless, I do think this topic requires some intense (maybe guided by a superintendent?) reflection by the principal to determine if the "sweet spot" of time has come and gone.

  6. Wow, tremendous comments so far! I am going to wait for a bit longer to respond in hopes that we might get a few more points of view. Would love to get a few more teachers and senior administrators.

    Thanks for your comments so far!

  7. Many good comments have been made. Here is another perspective.

    When the time comes to assign administrators, district staff sit down with a big chart of names. Some names come off the chart due to retirement or promotion. Others are added. The holes that are created on the chart are random.

    Now we start to fill the holes, while also thinking about how admin teams complement each other, the unique needs of schools and the particular strengths of individual administrators, how long administrators have been in particular schools, various personal needs and health situations and so on.

    At first its all very logical, but as you proceed the parts stop fitting together so well and you have to go back and undue previous plans in order to make the best fit in new situations. It all gets pretty complicated and some less than ideal compromises have to be made in order for the big picture to be completed.

    When all is said and done, some schools think "that's great" and some think "what idiot came up with this." So, when you look at this from the perspective on an individual school, you also need to remember the whole district puzzle that someone is solving with an imperfect set of parts and a lot of confidential variables.

  8. I don't want to introduce a red herring into this important conversation, but I think there is another aspect to mobility that should be considered. Some jurisdictions (Edmonton Public comes to mind) have incorporated out of education exchanges to help school administrators participate in different organizational models and practices. Researchers often refer to the contribution other ways of seeing and doing things has to innovative practice and change management.

    Martin Goldberg (Pearson Canada)

    PS I could not use any of the "Comment as" drop down choices and hence the "Anonymous" designation.

  9. Here is another consideration with these moves - Soon at my school we will have an all-male administration. This will be the second time I am in this situation. I can honestly say (and some of the female teachers at the school have also said this), it's nice to have both male and female on the admin team. It does make a difference.

    I agree that the administration does make the school and and in many ways it creates ownership because they build it with the teachers but sometimes the fit is not right, and there needs to be a move. I could also go the other way and in some ways say there should be a move for teachers as well to get experiences in different styles of school as well. To expand their horizons, as it were.

  10. Should Principals move?

    Moving from one school to another can give one a variety of experiences in different schools/communities.

    What are the reasons they should stay in their current situation?

    If the principal feels a real "bond" with the school/community and the school is moving forward, then they should have a right to stay. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

    What are the reasons they should go?

    The above reason is not happening. If the administrator feels they are getting complacent, a change might be good. I feel the administrator has a lot of say in this.

    If so, is there an optimum number of years that a Principal should be at a school?

    I don't believe there is a cookie cutter approach to this. Sometimes an admin. may need more time to implement philosophies/practices, etc.

    Does the movement of Principals promote a "Flavor of the Month" culture, or is it important to have some cross pollination of administration?

    This is tough. I believe you are correct with your analogy. Teachers who resist change can just wait as the admin. will eventually move on. When divisions move admins. after one or two years initiatives may not have had enough time to be implemented. Then a new principal can change a philosophy. Teachers typically feel uncomfortable and wonder what is coming next.

    I am not a fan of mandatory transfers every few years But if one has been in a school for 8 to 10 years, a change may be OK. I believe the qualities and traits a person brings to a particular school are important too.

    Good Post


  11. I agree with the previous post-er (Dave) and I think this can apply to teachers as well as administrators. One never wants to get into the "this is how we always do it" mode if someone has been in a school for years - it can make them resistant to positive change. On the flip side, you need time to learn the culture of a school before the leader comes in with grand plans and huge reformations - I've heard that new parish priests are even given this type of advice > watch and observe for a bit first. This would be hard to do if you only had 2 years to "do what you can". I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the matter, Cale!

  12. This "movement" has been the source of much speculation in our northern BC school district -- currently at our 8 high schools, 5 of the principals are in their first year, 1 has been in place for 2, and 2 have 3 or more years at their school. Most VPs are shuffled every 3 years, some not, for unknown reasons (even to them). It would seem frmo the teacher POV (possibly wrong) that there are 4 reasons for moving admin: 1) perceived promotion -- bigger school, bigger responsibility, 2) punishment -- staff ready to revolt and the easy fix is to switch it up, 3) divided loyalty -- admin too embedded in the school culture thus onside with staff/students/parents can mean that they are not onside with board office directives, 4) the fresh experience/better fit (covered by other comments on your post). Good questions, but tough -- 1 year is too much for a lousy principal but 5 or more is awesome when you're working with a supportive, intelligent, creative, and diligent one. Ideally, longer is better -- a commitment to a learning community and real community, a real relationship instead of just a job. The idea of shaking things up by moving someone is lame... it can work, but it is the easy way out. Cross-pollination doesn't require rotating leadership -- the implication is that everyone should share the good and bad ones... better to look at causes.... Part of the problem is that admin is built as a one-way job pursuit. Teachers should be encouraged to pursue leadership roles like a tour of duty -- be engaged as a VP or other staff roles for 2-4 years and then be given the option to return (with dignity) to teaching. The pool of ideas and talent would be amazing and admin who had made a big mistake going into admin could have a respectful way out. I've got so much more to say on this topic but that might drift too far from your questions.


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