About this time every year, I hold my future plan meetings with all of our system and school leaders. It is a practice that I initiated about five years ago. There is no doubt that it is time-consuming with almost 40 administrators and meetings lasting between 30-60 minutes but it continues to provide great dividends. I ask the same set of questions each year:
- What are your 1, 3, & 5 year plans and where would you like to be when you retire?
- What are three schools you would be like to work at if transferred?
- Who are three other administrators you would like to work with?
I want to tackle the last two questions to begin with. Although we are a small system (15 schools) of which 6 are rural, the transferring of school leaders is a common practice. In the perfect world, associate principals would move between the three and five year mark while principals would inherit a new school experience every seven years. Are there exceptions to this rule, absolutely! Retirements occur, vacancies happen and families change which all impact when and where to move particular administrators. Moving administrators for the sake of moving them is not all that helpful for morale or system and school improvement. That is why, the first question I ask regarding future plans is so vital to this exercise.
Growing more leaders has to be a main focus of any senior administrator. By listening closely to future plans and aspirations I’m better able to support the growth of each of our leaders. This is especially important when looking at their final position (what position they want to retire from) and working backwards. Part of my role has to be to facilitate getting the experiences and providing the background necessary to achieve their preferred position. Sometimes that is within the system but in other instances it requires them to take a position outside. I’ve had three very talented in-house leaders leave for promotions elsewhere and while many may argue that those are losses, I’m proud that those opportunities were taken because those same individuals may come back one day into my position.
But there is an important factor that needs to be addressed prior to having successful future plan meetings. Quite simply, a strong relationship has to be developed so that your administrators can trust you in the conversation and know that you are as equally concerned with their professional/personal growth as with system improvement. And that relationship has to be authentic enough to engage in tough conversations when needed. Future plans are not fluff!
The process I began five years ago provided some great insights. But today, with even a stronger culture of trust, the conversations are more telling. I’m blessed that my administrators “shoot from the hip” when we meet. I’m told potential retirement dates and impending baby plans which assists me in putting the ever changing jigsaw puzzle together. I will retire in the coming years and this process should assist in maintaining strength in our system and school leadership well beyond my departure.