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School & District Management Opinion

How to Lead a New Team: Advice for Principals and Administrators

The first thing I learned was that I had a lot to learn
By Lisa Meade — October 18, 2022 3 min read
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As this new school year moves forward, many administrators have turned a new page, leaving one position for another and even one district for another. This can require a certain amount of bravery. If we are honest with ourselves, starting over can be scary. New faces, new procedures, new buildings, and new communities can be overwhelming.

On my first day starting in a new district this summer, I fell face first, flat down in the office hallway, in front of everyone. It felt like it was happening in slow motion. One of the first people I texted about this mishap was a former colleague. She helped me move past the sheer humiliation with just one simple text reply.

In the days that followed, we kept in touch with quick texts checking in on each other. I tried to help fill in any gaps left by my departure in the district where we worked together. Luckily, I haven’t had any more embarrassing gaffes to tell her about.

About This Series

In this biweekly column, principals and other authorities on school leadership—including researchers, education professors, district administrators, and assistant principals—offer timely and timeless advice for their peers.

As I acclimate to this new position, I have been using time after the school day has ended to check in with former colleagues and share experiences. It is not required to abandon former working relationships (if they were positive for you) when you join a new district.

Starting over as an administrator requires listening. Loads of it. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received came years ago from another former colleague as he headed into retirement and I took over his position as principal. Aware of my impulse to move fast and get right into things, he counseled me instead to go “low and slow.”

Since moving into this new position, I’ve gone back to that original advice and tried to pace myself. This has meant deliberately taking time to listen, listen, and listen. I have turned off the part of my brain that jumps to any sudden conclusions. On my commute every morning, I have been reminding myself that these first few weeks (and beyond) are for learning. I have been coaching myself to stay in the learner lane.

And, boy, did I have so much to learn jumping from a small district in upstate New York to an urban school district. I may have 28 years of experience in education, but this is my first year in a city school system with more than 9,000 students. In many ways, I still don’t even know what I don’t know—yet.

When I reached out to another dear principal friend for advice on starting a new position, he had this to say: “My best advice for anyone moving into a new position is to try to maintain your confidence but make sure you completely let go of the ‘I got this’ mindset.”

Starting over requires leaning into the team you are joining. Each member of the team has their work history, skill set, and story to share. Don’t avoid asking questions or asking for help if you need it. Iron sharpens iron, and if you want to be at your best, learn from your new colleagues.

At the beginning of the school year, an inspiring assistant superintendent led my fellow administrators and me through a professional development activity around leadership consultant Stephen M. R. Covey’s book The Speed of Trust. Through that activity, we were reminded that trust is both something within you (shown by competence, character, and collaboration) and something you extend (through positive contributions to a team).

The actions I am taking now at the beginning of this new role will be the building blocks for all relationships as a team member.

It’s only been a few months in this new role, but I am thankful for the learning, kindness, and guidance I have already received in my new position. I am grateful to all my new colleagues who have already stopped by and checked in on me.

We can’t do this work alone. It turns out, we were never meant to.

Here’s to new beginnings.

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