Transitions are natural. Systems evolve to meet changing needs and fill new purposes. Coworkers embrace new opportunities. Leaders move on to new career challenges and life chapters.
But transitions are hard. Even when they are handled best, changes come with uncertainties, lack of clarity and anxiety about the unknown.
The leadership change in the district where I work is not unexpected — we have known about it for more than a year, and we have actively worked toward the transition since a new superintendent was hired in January. But even this preparation doesn’t change the fact that the transition itself is just, well, awkward.
Several years ago, I told a former superintendent, in the final week or so before he headed out of state for his next gig, how odd it felt for those of us staying behind. He was excited about his new district, his new staff, his new community. In the meantime, we were left with the work that, at least to some extent, he had chosen to leave behind. His giddy excitement and urgency to share this and that detail? I told him I just couldn’t feign any more excitement. I compared it to having to pretend you enjoyed hanging out with your ex.
“It’s kind of like you’ve broken up,” he said, “and you’re still living together in the apartment because there’s a month left on the lease. But there’s no more romance.”
Yes, in so many ways, it’s almost exactly that.
It’s a roller coaster, packing up one leader and helping the next unpack. Ups and downs. Curves and loop-d-loops. Dread and exhilaration. Time and again, I’ve found that only way to get through it is to hold on tight, close your eyes and scream if you have to, and know that this emotionally volatile ride won’t last forever.
This week, our administrative team took a three-day retreat with the incoming superintendent, while the retiring superintendent hung back to pack up his office. We drove three hours away, staked out cabins and bunk beds, braved a high ropes course, roasted s’mores. We also had meeting after meeting, orienting ourselves to our work, to our new leader, and to a bright future ahead. We have connected (and reconnected) with each other, welcomed a couple of new faces, and firmed up the foundation of a team with much work to do.
As guests of an education service center, we also were treated to an hour in the science center building simple roller coasters — and it was only fitting, given the transitions we’re navigating right now. Broken into teams of three or four, we were given a long rubber track, three different balls, and a couple rolls of tape. From there, we imagined, built, tested and rebuilt our roller coaster tracks. Each had at least one hill, loop and curve. And each signified the teamwork, communication, creativity, resilience and collaboration needed to be successful.
Our roller coaster wasn’t fancy. But riding the roller coaster of change isn’t about looking good, any more than riding a real roller coaster is. It’s about soaking in the experience and the satisfaction of seeing it through.