The Notebook & The Passing of the Torch

Below is an excerpt from my upcoming book Superintendent 3.0, which is scheduled to be released in 2016.

When you first transcend to the Dark Side of school administration, you go through that cycle of “I know everything”, just like when you were fresh out of the gate with your teaching degree.  As an assistant principal, I knew the phone calls and conversations would be much more than a teacher, but I had no idea just how many.  It was getting to the point where I just couldn’t remember whom I spoke with, when, and why.

I asked my boss about it, and he chuckled. He asked me, “you ever hear one of these, mr. technology?” and tossed me a daily planner.

Chuckling back, I simply nodded.  It’s a daily planner, with every day listed as well as times. Sure, I could keep it all on a google doc or google calendar, but there was something nice about keeping a book right in front of you.

It was so simple, yet so effective.  Every conversation, with brief details.  If I had a “please call” slip, I’d staple it into the book. It came in handier and handier by the day.

Since my AP days, I have brought it with me everywhere. I use the freebie that the photo company gives out; nothing fancy.

I noticed something interesting last year; when staff would come in to have a chat with me, they noticed me going right to my book and writing it down.  It freaked some folks out.  Some thought I was keeping a tally; others thought it was some bizarre “gotcha” system.  Truth be told, it was none of those, but most recently, it has been used for something very useful; transitioning.

I was lucky enough to land a new gig right down the road from where I live.  I was even luckier that my previous Board allowed me to break my contract one year early.  That does not happen too often.  One of the key pieces for making all of this happen was my willingness to make a smooth transition happen.

I left with everything in “autopilot” for the next person to come in and change whatever and move in any direction they choose, but having those face-to-face conversations, and sharing ‘the notebook’ was critical.  Why?

  • Knowledge of the issues at hand. Every school has something going on; incoming leaders deserve to know the good, the bad, and the ugly. I love sharing the good stuff; it’s great talking points and shows everyone that you are interested in the school itself.
  • Know the chess pieces before you start playing. Every school has a certain group of people in that influence the culture. We all know the secretaries and custodians really run the building, but what about the others? The legends? The underappreciated? The space cadet who somehow got tenure? The go-getters? The one buried in a job because they are out every other day or because they screwed something else up? The superstars? The firestarters and pot stirrers? The useless? Etc…  
  • Know the external forces. Each school has stakeholders who do your legwork of how the school should be interpreted. From the police department, to the PTA, to the local clergy.  Know folks on the outside who love you and loathe you.
  • Know the landmines. If you’re in education, you know there’s a landmine waiting for you. Some taboo topic; some unspoken given; something off of the table.  Had I known certain landmines, I would have NEVER gone near them. Passing this off is by far one of the most important things a leader can do.

Some will argue that this is only a ‘glorified gotcha’ where this is only setting up other for failure and will crush any chance or morale building.  Nonsense.  It’s glorified gotcha if you have someone who is not doing their job or isn’t playing by the rules.

The past is the past; the past isn’t the past when it interferes with the students of the present.

When my next transition happens, be assured that I’ll be sharing ‘the notebook’ with the incoming. I recommend you do the same.

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