Yesterday at the last day of our Summer Institute at Tilton School, my co-facilitator Julie Wilson reminded us of the importance of endings. Some celebrate endings; one of our attendees used to work at a school that held a Viking funeral every spring so students and teachers could burn something that they did not want to take along any longer. But most schools let things fade away, or hope them gone…or not. It is an assumed privilege of the education system that if one digs in one’s heels or ignores pleas long enough, and if one has many years of tenure at the school, most leaders will not actually require an “ending”.
I told the story of instituting email (can you remember that far back??) when I was at Francis Parker School. No matter how many times we urged all faculty and staff to learn how to turn on a computer and use email, two or three senior members of the high school faculty pretty much just said “hell no, we are never going to turn on a damn computer”. Finally, after several years of this, a head of school summoned the courage to say we would no longer send any memos out on paper, so if teachers wanted to be informed of anything around the school, they at LEAST had to learn how to turn on a computer and use email. Paper was ending…finally. Those teachers learned how to use email in a week.
People and organizations need transitions. As Julie reminded us, change is relatively straight-forward; it is the transitions that can be messy and uncomfortable. Knowing about and talking about the difference between change (which can happen very quickly), and transitions (which can take much longer), is important. And setting out time lines and expectations for firm endings is important as well. If we never actually end things, we stack up to the breaking point, and most educators are already overloaded. If you decide to end something, decide a transition offramp…and stick to it, even when the senior faculty members whine and complain!