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October 1, 1992
Vol. 50
No. 2

Voices: The Principal / Changing Assignments—Pros and Cons

      “It's good to change grades every three to five years,” I tell my staff each winter when I survey teachers about their grade-level preferences for the coming year.
      I strongly believe that teachers need to change grades frequently, and I will move those who have not requested a change after six or seven consecutive years in the same assignment. Some gifted teachers can renew themselves year after year in the same assignment, but they are the exceptions. Like most of us, teachers can become too comfortable with established routines that call for little reflection.
      Teachers who do not voluntarily ask for a grade change initially react as most adults react to any change: a few with eager anticipation, but most with anxiety and apprehension. With very few exceptions, though, transferred teachers quickly find themselves quite pleased with their new assignments. Teachers who move to new assignments reflect upon their teaching skills, instructional materials, and classroom organization and management techniques. They put aside old lessons and materials to create and plan anew.
      This past year, my philosophy on the benefits of changing assignments was put to a different test. My district embarked on a reorganization plan, converting its two K–5 schools into a K–2, 3–5 configuration. As the senior principal, I received first choice, and I opted to start as principal of the 3–5 school this fall. Shortly thereafter, my superintendent suggested that elementary principals change schools in a couple of years.
      Change positions?
      After everything I had done to work with the staff to share my mission? After interviewing and handpicking so many staff members, devoting countless hours to nurture them through their formative probationary teaching years? After spending so much time and energy working with secretaries and custodians and establishing building policies and routines? After creating positive relationships with parents to foster solid home-school partnerships? After all this, my superintendent expected me to enthusiastically welcome an opportunity to start all over in a different school a few years down the line?
      Obviously, my first reaction was similar to what many teachers had felt when I suggested a grade level change to them! After a few days to reflect upon the idea, however, I found myself excited about the notion of changing schools, for many of the same reasons that I gave to my staff when trying to convince them that they should change grades.
      I had often wondered how I would remain at the same energy level for another 10 or 15 years until my anticipated retirement. Changing schools would certainly recharge my batteries. A move would force me to rethink my policies and routines. Leading new staff members in a new setting and supervising different programs at different grade levels would be an exciting challenge.
      Should all principals change assignments periodically, as I feel all teachers should? The answer is probably yes, but there are several compelling reasons why changes for principals need much careful consideration.
      Teachers start anew each September; principals shepherd long-range plans from initiation to fruition, well beyond the confines of one year. Principals also pick up many pieces of unfinished business from the preceding year or years. And while teachers start with a new constituency of 20 or 30 parents each new year, principals patiently build, and renew, relationships with hundreds of parents over many years.
      Teachers have responsibilities to help children learn in one year before promoting them to another grade. Principals spend several years with newly hired staff members to mentor and shape their development. Classroom teachers often can derive immense satisfaction by individually implementing innovations and seeing immediate effects. Principals, however, can patiently devote years to bring about meaningful schoolwide change. Consideration of these and other factors (including, perhaps, contractual concerns) cannot be dismissed lightly.
      Currently, I eagerly welcome the opportunity to work closely with colleagues during the next few years to create an intermediate grade school that will best meet the needs of our children. And once that school is well on its way, I'll enthusiastically look forward to a new assignment. The change will do me good.

      Allan S. Vann has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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