Fight or Flight: How to Respond to Educational Leadership Changes

educational leadership
(Image credit: Pixabay)

The adage ‘Change is inevitable’ is more accurate than ever in the pandemic afterburner. A 2021 survey revealed that 63% (opens in new tab) of school leaders are considering leaving the field due to extreme stress. Of the top 25 largest school districts in the country, more than 50% have experienced a leadership change since 2020. The tipping point of education transformation is now, and educational leadership will be an essential guiding force in the evolution of our schools. 

A recent T&L newsletter poll revealed readers' No. 1 fear in education was leadership changes. 

The fear of poor leadership means reconciling current practices and philosophies for teaching and learning with what a new leader may be bringing in to challenge norms. That combined with the uncertainties of social issues right now and any new leadership could very well elicit great discomfort and trepidation. 

With the fear of leadership guiding our emotional intelligence, how are schools and districts to react to such significant changes in leadership? Well, when we typically encounter fear, there is a fight or flight response. We are certainly seeing the flight response based on a survey that indicates persons working in education leading other industry personnel in the Great Resignation by 10% (opens in new tab), but where is the fight response? 

Shawn Bishop, the superintendent of Harbor Beach Community Schools in Michigan sheds some light on the current discomforts in a recent Forbes (opens in new tab) article, stating, “The pandemic was a catalyst that increased the rate and intensity of enormously important and often controversial issues in our communities because our schools are a direct reflection of the communities they serve, these topics were very literally brought into our offices, halls, school boardrooms and classrooms.” 

School classrooms are mirrors of the community so the issues necessary to solve for the challenges in education lie in the community not the classroom. Leaders are the intersection between school and community, thus making the fear threshold even more vulnerable. 

With this in mind, here are some key ways to navigate new educational leadership in your district. 

  • Listen to news broadcasts and announcements of a new leader. These will give cues on what they are interested in and focused on during a transition.
  • Look for community members, Chamber of Commerce leaders etc. who may be influencing or working with a new leader. Follow them on social media to gain insight into how they may be encouraging (or discouraging) leadership.
  • Read the proposed plan a new leader presents and search for data-driven action items.
  • Attend board meetings to hear and see firsthand the board and the new superintendent develop a working relationship.    

In addition to these action items – that could also be named coping mechanisms for staff receiving new leadership – there are also professional learning opportunities available online to aid in navigating new leadership. 

The challenge is real and the fear of the unknown is to be expected. Great leaders who come in will take the time to assess the district and learn what needs to be focused on and prioritized before communicating anything to the public. If a new leader isn’t presenting a 90- or 100-day plan of action, then there may be something to worry about. However, if they are following effective practices for transitioning, everyone should be duly informed and the transition to new leadership should be smooth sailing.

Dr. Ray's career includes designing technology within the Frist Center for the Visual Arts and directing technology research through Vanderbilt University School of Medicine Science Outreach programs. As a district administrator for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, she led the award-winning design, implementation, and evaluation of instructional technology programs, including instructional design for online and blended learning environments, redesigning physical learning environments, redefining school libraries, and establishing the first virtual high school to award the diploma. She leads K20Connect (opens in new tab) and other passion projects supporting K20 education around the world.