Though I have nearly 15 years in the education world (most of those as a school librarian), I am currently in transition from one school to another. I have served three very different learning communities throughout my tenure, and have learned one important thing about transitions: your exit is just as important as your entrance.
I know it can be stressful, but joining the team at a new school or other type of library or organization is really exciting! While figuring out the innerworkings of the new staff – who to ask about what, timing, how to be helpful in this new place, and discovering annual or traditional events that are significant to the culture of the school – can be tricky, it can also be an exciting time that brings a fresh spark to your journey as a school librarian. People who undergo professional transitions do so for a variety of reasons, but most tend to focus mostly on how they enter their new school community and forget how important it is to exit their former school community well.
Ironically, making a great exit involves the same characteristics as making an impressive entrance.
From the moment you accept the offer for your new position, you begin to look forward. You begin to consider the reality of your new role, and you dream about ways to make a splash and impact the school community in a significant way. This is the nature of shifting to a new job! In all your looking forward, however, don’t underestimate the importance of looking backward to examine the time spent in that school you are leaving. Remember the ways you were successful in bringing positive change. Remember the times you struggled, and count those as milestones along the journey as well. Reflecting on our past professional experiences strengthens your future impact.
Though excited about the upcoming changes in your life, your departure may cause changes within the school that your (former) teachers, administrators, students, and parents may not like. One of the best ways to make a great exit is to offer to help make a plan for some or all of the responsibilities that you have undertaken while working in that school. If you are a coach or sponsor for a team/club/organization (and only if your administrator is open to this), attempt to find a replacement sponsor or coach for that group of kids so that their activities or services can go on uninterrupted. Create a folder or document with helpful information about the school library and its functions for your successor. Logins for generic accounts, contact numbers for vendors, and tips for managing some of the things you typically handle on behalf of the library and school as a whole are just a few suggestions for items to include.
It’s impossible to be effective without some semblance of positive relationships – with your administrators, colleagues, students, and parents. Just as you work to cultivate those when you arrive at a new school, it is equally as significant to respect the relationships you have made at your old school and honor them as you transition out. Though sometimes circumstances prevent this, when possible it is good to try to inform your closest colleagues about your impending departure on an individual basis. Give them time to process it and ask you the hard questions. Take time to thank them specifically for their kindness, their willingness to collaborate, or their leadership. Even when you are no longer an employee for them, it is essential to remember that by continuing to offer respect to your former administrators is important for leaving a school well. Honoring these relationships is about more than the avoidance of burning bridges…it’s about the peace of mind you’ll carry in finishing this leg of your journey well.
When you think through and work discretely to focus on reflection, provision, and relationships, you will have no trouble making a very successful and great exit.
Author: Michelle Wilson
With 16 year of experience as a school librarian, Michelle has served students and teachers at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. She is a past President of Alabama School Library Association, has served as Region V Director for AASL, and currently chairs the Alabama Virtual Library Executive Council. A National Board Certified Teacher, adjunct professor for the University of Alabama’s School of Library and Information Studies, and graduate student pursuing a PhD in Instructional Leadership/Technology, she is always eager to discover and share the latest trends in school librarianship. Michelle is very passionate about her work as a school librarian at Helena High School in the Birmingham, Alabama area.