What to Do When School Leadership Changes

Josh Young
Josh Young
High school principal; Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, Carson-Newman University, TN
Pyramid of blocks with stick figures on them with the top block being removed.

Change seems to be one of life’s mysteries and contradictions. Change is inevitable but feared. It happens everyday, yet at times not wanted. Schools are not exempt from the winds of change. School leadership changes, although sometimes unwanted, take place. I have experienced school leadership as a teacher and as an administrator. I have been a teacher when my school had a principal change. I have also been a new principal. Being in either position is not easy, but change is what you make out of it.

Change either makes a positive or negative impact that reciprocates within a school building. “Positive school climate can yield positive educational outcomes for students and teachers, similarly a negative climate can prevent optimal learning and growth in the institution” (Osman, 2012). A few ways that teachers can allow the positives to outweigh the negatives in school leadership changes are embracing the clean slate, learning the new administration’s leadership style, showing of their skills/value, understand changes are likely, and embracing positivity/be kind.

Embrace the Clean Slate

With any school leadership change, a clean slate is given because there is new. As a teacher, a new person is at the helm. The days of yesterday are gone. By embracing the clean slate that is given, a good teacher may become great. A bad teacher may become good. A great teacher may become a classroom superstar. It is all how one perceives the change. If one embraces his or her own clean slate during a change, good will always transition to great. One of the greatest teachers of the clean slate embrace is time. There will always be twenty-four hours in a day, but no date is the same. Every day is different, fresh, new, and a clean slate. If people want to stay in their minds in the year 1995, time keeps ticking and embracing each new day. The new school leadership clean slate is for every teacher in a building if each teacher allows it.

Learn Their Leadership Style 

Todd Whitaker (2002) writes, “When the principal sneezes, the whole school catches a cold. This is neither good nor bad, it is just the truth.” All eyes are on new school leadership during a change. The comparisons to former administrators begin. One teacher tells another that the new principal does not like her because he did not say anything during a classroom walkthrough. Another teacher says he does not care as he only provided the staff breakfast and not lunch during a staff development day.

People tend to fill in the blanks especially when there is new. I encourage all that experience school leadership change, ranging from a principal to a director of schools, to give the new person an opportunity and be intentional on learning his or her leadership style. It is easy expect people, especially leaders, to fit the molds that we expect individually and get upset when they do not. By being intentional to learn a school administrator’s leadership style, it prevents filling in the blanks of the mind with negativity and assumptions.

Show Off Your Skills, Knowledge, and Value

As new leaders have their own leadership styles, every teacher in a building has his or her own skills and worth. Change does not mean giving up one’s core beliefs. So show off the core of who you are! If you are great with classroom management, share it. If your wheelhouse is history, do not volunteer to teach four English classes. If you love your students, it will always show. Showing the core of you is not arrogance or having to tell everyone that you are great. It is living out the “why” you got into education. It will always show positively even if you do not say a word to the new leaders.

Understand Changes are Likely 

Every human being that has ever and will ever walk this planet differs by having his or her own unique fingerprint. Fingerprints are individualized, never be replicated/duplicated. Every person is different and so is every school leader. A new school principal may want to go from a traditional schedule to a block schedule, or change how PD is ran. By grasping the reality that changes will happen, you’ll be better prepared to take them in stride when they do. Teachers that do not expect change are not willing to change. “If a teacher has approached students ineffectively for 28 consecutive years, he or she has been allowed to do so by principals for 28 consecutive years,” (Whitaker, 2002, p. 5). If a school leader is not willing to make changes, good will never change to great and bad will always stay bad.

Embrace Positivity and Be Kind

A mighty revelation is about to occur: educators are real people. Teachers go to Wal-Mart. Principals wear t-shirts. Teachers like breaks not because they do not love their students, but rather who does not like a day off periodically? Teachers are real people with feelings, lives, homes, kids, spouses, and families. As teachers are real people, so are school leaders. Be kind and be a beacon of light throughout the school building. Work with new leaders to show them that your school is a great place to be. By embracing positivity and being kind, we teach the whole child without the need of a curriculum map.

Bottom Line

I am not a guru at what to do during change by any means. As shared previously, change is inevitable. So let’s roll with it! Share your core, be a beacon of light, and embrace your clean slate/positivity! Those are great things to do when school leadership changes.


Osman, A. (2012). School climate the key to excellence. Journal of Emerging Trends in Educational Research & Policy Study, Vol. 3 Issue 6, p. 950.
Whitaker, T. (2002). Dealing with Difficult Teachers: Second Edition. Eye on Education, Inc.: Larchmont, NY.
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