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Why Should I Stay at My School?

By Michael Iannini
Why Should I Stay at My School?

We have now entered the Year of the Tiger and for this monthly missive I want to convince you to embrace what the tiger symbolizes. The tiger embodies courage and bravery, so this new year should symbolize resilience and strength. The purpose of this post is to help you find your inner tiger and help position you for a better year ahead.

I know many teachers that are tired, disheartened, and missing loved ones. There are several teachers that have turned in their notice, partly because of the emotional toll this pandemic has taken, but also partly to seek new opportunities that the pandemic has created. Regardless of why they are leaving, there are several of us that are remaining. The most common reason for staying is contractual. For those that feel obligated by their contract, as opposed to feeling endeared to their school, next year may be tougher than this year, as we won’t have several of our friends to lean on. But it doesn’t have to be. If we embrace our inner tiger, we have an opportunity to constructively address grievances and take control of our professional development. Hopefully, an additional outcome will be your school retaining passionate and skilled leaders.

Challenge Assumptions

For Senior Administrators reading this, I appreciate that many believe that teachers are leaving because of the pandemic. But I want you to challenge that assumption and begin speaking with teachers that haven’t submitted their notice. This Harvard Business Review article has great advice for facilitating a conversation to help you retain teachers. Quitting is contagious and you may have several very talented staff still preparing to leave this year, if not next year for sure. So, start engaging with staff in meaningful conversation and give them an opportunity to share what specifically about the pandemic may influence their decision to stay or not.

One of the main reasons I want Senior Leaders to challenge their assumptions about staff departures is because of what I have learned over the past year coaching dozens of teachers to pursue new roles in their current schools. Many of these teachers had very negative self-narratives about their school and more specifically, the school’s leadership. In every case, I asked each teacher to challenge their self-narrative, to make explicit and challenge the assumptions underlying that narrative. For example, if you truly believe your senior leadership will only promote “yes” people, then set a meeting with them to understand the challenges they anticipate someone will experience in the desired role and what they need someone in that role to do to support them. Then close by asking what skills or dispositions you need to develop to be appointed to that role. The result of many of the middle leaders challenging their self-narrative was that they got the role they sought and renewed their contract with the school.

These meetings, where teachers challenge their assumptions, with the intent of improving their working environment and prospects for promotion, are known as Stay-interviews. Stay-interviews are very rare in schools, and this is largely what I coach middle leaders to facilitate when they perceive an insurmountable barrier to their career aspirations. So, if you have a negative self-narrative about your school, instead of letting your own assumptions cast a dark cloud over the time you have remaining there, take a proactive step to find some common ground with school leadership to shape a role for yourself that addresses both your and their needs. The easiest way to start this conversation is by approaching a senior leader and saying, “I want to improve my experience at our school and would like to meet with you to explore what I need to know and do to accomplish this. I also want to explore ideas for what I can do that will contribute to the development of both the school and myself.”

Four Essential Questions for a Stay-Interview: 

In a previous article, adapted from my book, I outlined a three-dimensional inquiry model senior leadership need to consider when selecting middle leaders. This inquiry model is also helpful for aspiring middle and senior leaders to assess if they are appropriate for a desired role. But before you have a conversation about a desired role, you need to first challenge your own assumptions about senior leaderships’ beliefs on your suitability for that role.

For example, you may be interested in a Head of Department role that has opened up, but don’t believe you will be selected because of certain untested assumptions. Some assumptions may be valid, largely because of a lack of transparency or clarity about what is expected for that role. This lack of transparency and clarity, though, will often reinforce negative self-serving biases about the school, which can discourage high potential candidates.

To determine if you are suitable for a desired role, or any leadership role in your school, you will need a more nuanced understanding of the (1) behaviors, (2) dispositions, and (3) experience that senior leadership expect from candidates.

To identify the behaviors, dispositions, and experience that senior leadership desire from qualified candidates, you need to ask these four questions: 

  • To be a successful leader in our school culture, what challenges should I be aware of and prepared to overcome?
  • What do I need to know to successfully lead a team in our school?
  • What leadership behaviors do I need to demonstrate to lead effectively?
  • What personal behaviors do I need to exhibit to work collaboratively with leadership across the school?

Answers to these four questions will not only help to assess your suitability for the role you want, but will also send a strong signal to senior leadership about your desire for that role. Based on what you learn, you will most likely identify some gaps. These gaps can serve as the basis for a professional growth plan that you can than ask senior leadership to support. Taken all together, this is a Stay-Interview, where you will have:

  1. Assessed what you need to be professionally fulfilled at the school;
  2. Communicated to senior leadership your desired career path;
  3. Proposed support you require from the school to realize that career path at the school; and
  4. Dispelled false assumptions and hopefully begun developing a more positive self-narrative.

Originally published Middle Leader

Michael Iannini is a Council of International Schools affiliated consultant with the following areas of expertise: appraisal and professional development, school governance, leadership training, and strategic planning. Michael also serves as the contracted PD Coordinator for the Association of China and Mongolia International Schools (ACAMIS)

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