Endings and Beginnings

imgresSchools do a particularly bad job of ending things before we start others.

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!

2 thoughts on “Endings and Beginnings

  1. Betsy Hartge

    Grant, you are so correct. I learned many years ago that closure is very important for all of us. Whether it is leaving a home, a job, a school, or a family, closure is very critical to good mental health. When the end of the school year comes close, we all start thinking about the next year and the changes it brings. What we often forget is most children and adults need closure before they can move on. Some children leave a school at the end of the year not to return for reasons outside their control. Teachers leave as well and forget that closure is critical. We do it out of embarrassment, discomfort, anger, ignorance, or a long list of other reasons. I hope that schools will learn to develop closure plans so that all those who were at the school have a sense of closure and issues of abandonment are not triggered in later life.

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  2. Rob Bean

    People often leave preps because change does not equate with values& expectations. Need to know where the transitu on is headed.Schools ala New Hampton, Brewster, and Holderness have made productive change & kept faculty /alum goodwill.When prep alienates former staff& alums,the road is hazardous.Key is build bridges not walls.

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