How can a school leader invite faculty and staff who want to align to the vision to stay, and “dis-invite” others to leave? This is one of the thorniest, least comfortable parts of transforming a school, and many leaders avoid the discomfort and potential disruption until retirements make it moot. But that is not what is needed. Let me share part of an email from one real leader to his entire faculty. Joe Erpelding is the new principal of Design 39 Campus in Poway, CA. This is a public K-8 in a union district. It is time to build the team for next year, so Joe crafted a very straight forward list of “what we believe”, and asked returning teachers for a non-binding signature. With this language he invited people to decide if this particular school, with its powerful ethos and commitment to design and evolution, is right for them:
Change is inevitable and required if we are going to be original and create our greatest work. Staying safe is risky. In order to embrace change, it is important to look back and see where we have come from and use it as a guide as we move to the future.
People are our greatest resource and our success or failure depends on us. We need the right people, doing the right work. It is ok if the work described below is not for you. D39C will be a place of continual change, invention, iteration, mistakes, failures, celebrations, highs, lows and ultimately, a place where we will never arrive. Is this for you?
His list of “who we are” is broad and inclusive, but it makes clear the non-negotiables. And Joe’s language makes it clear that not everyone needs to fit within those non-negotiables. Those who don’t feel the fit are still wonderful people and many are great teachers. Both parties just need to be open and honest about finding the best fit.
I urge all school leaders to take this approach. Nothing can transform a school culture, nothing can build innovation DNA more quickly, than assembling people who want to align to a common North Star vision, and who are comfortable with the inevitable discomfort of change.