Administration & Leadership

An Entry Plan for New Administrators

School leaders—new to the job or to a school—will find it useful to spend the first part of the year listening and immersing themselves in the school’s culture and values.

June 13, 2024
Rob Dobi / The iSpot

After long years preparing for a school leadership position—volunteering for faculty committees, juggling graduate school with your regular classroom job, envisioning yourself running your own school—you’ve just heard the words you’ve been waiting for: “We’d like you to be our next principal.” Immediately, a sense of accomplishment washes over you, soon followed by the question “Now what do I do?” Psychologists term this anxious feeling imposter syndrome, a sense of doubt that you really have the capabilities required for the job. 

For a new school leader, one cure for imposter syndrome is to create an entry plan: a road map for getting to know the school’s culture, the issues it faces, and its influential stakeholders over the critical first months on the job. An entry plan entails two leadership building blocks. One is to gather information about the school’s curriculum, instructional practices, history and culture, modus operandi, etc. The second is to foster relationships because, as Simon Sinek affirmed, “leadership is a team sport.” 

Drafting an entry plan

Divide your entry plan into four parts. For many new administrators, this will correspond with the hiring cycle of being offered a job in the spring and having the summer to adjust. Regardless, all principals can follow a four-stage sequence when entering a new position: Introduction, Conversation, Immersion, and Engagement.

Introduction: For many new leaders, the spring season offers an opportunity to observe your new school in session before your official start date, which will most likely be in July or August. With permission of the superintendent, reach out to the departing principal to arrange a visiting day. Devote the morning to a meandering tour of the building, exchanging introductions with staff and greeting students. To meet more students in a relaxed setting, hang out in the cafeteria during lunchtime. 

Ask the principal to arrange afternoon meetings with members of the school leadership team, the PTA president or parent coordinator, the head custodian, and the principal’s secretary. Conclude the day by conducting an exit interview with the outgoing principal and a meeting with the superintendent. Be sure to ask the superintendent for suggestions as you continue to compose your entry plan. Finally—and very important—don’t visit your new school empty-handed: Bring some delicious bakery treats with you! 

A few days later, send emails to staff and parents sharing impressions from your first visit, describing your summertime entry plan, and highlighting your twin goals for the summer and fall: to listen and learn. Encourage staff, if they’re available in the summer, to schedule an individual conference.

Some administrators begin to pore through important documents and data, including curriculum maps, the master schedule, school and district organization charts, disaggregated standardized test scores, social media, the teachers’ union contract, etc. If you know what your office will look like, make plans to design a welcoming space that will work for you

Conversation: Summer has arrived. You’ve settled into your office. The relative calm of summertime is an ideal chance to begin building relationships in earnest. Prepare a list of open-ended questions designed to help you get to know staff members as you launch your listening tour. It is vital to confer with support staff, too (e.g., custodians, secretaries, and cafeteria workers), demonstrating that you value their vital role. Your queries might include the following: 

  • Share your journey as a (job title) in our school since you were hired. 
  • What is important to know about our school? 
  • What programs, achievements, and characteristics of school culture deserve celebration? 
  • What are our school’s two to three top needs? 
  • What are your suggestions for professional development? 

Arrange a couple of evening parent coffees. Invite parents to tell their family’s story in connection with the school and to share information to help a new principal gain insight into how the school is perceived in the community. Additionally, schedule conferences with district staff, including IT, curriculum and instruction, special education, and the business office. 

A consistent objective during the first months is establishing expectations. As you engage the school community, continuously communicate your core beliefs. Why? Because leaders from day one foster school culture. In your entry plan, make a list of your ideals and values. Here are a few questions for reflection:

  • What do good teaching and learning look like? 
  • What relationship do you envision between students, staff, parents, and administrators?
  • What are some mottoes you would hang over the school’s main entrance? For example, “Children come first” and “Everybody in school—children and adults—is a learner.”
  • What metaphor or image represents your vision of a school of excellence?

Inevitably, some people will pressure a new leader to immediately commit to a policy or curriculum initiative or expend financial resources. The response must be “I’m on a listening tour for the first half year. I won’t consider any major changes until I am better acquainted with our school. Let’s continue the conversation, though.”

In the waning days of summer, send another email to staff and parents sharing impressions from your entry interviews and reminding them of your aim to gain a broad and deep understanding of the school community in the coming season. 

Immersion: After a quiet summer, the hallways, classrooms, playground, and lunchroom are brimming with activity as the fall semester begins. The fall entry plan begins with measures that will heighten your presence. Make a list of classes and check them off as you visit each one on a regular basis. Announce open-door office hours at a convenient time for staff and parents. To acquire a sense of a student’s daily experience, reserve a day to shadow a couple of students. Enumerate the groups you want to meet (e.g., grade-level teams, local community agencies), then systematically reach out to each one. 

As each first-time activity begins, clarify your expectations. For example, at the outset of your first faculty meeting, explain your purposes for faculty meetings and desired expectations for participation. (We suggest the ABCs: Ask questions. Be fully present. Conversation builds community.) Continue the practice of parent coffees in the daytime and evening. In a larger school, designate coffees for particular grades. 

Engagement: As the semester draws to a close, it’s now time to begin making decisions. During your first winter, start by picking the low-hanging fruit, or taking action where there is broad consensus. The strategy grows a new leader’s political capital and demonstrates that you listened during the myriad interviews.

Around Thanksgiving, it’s time to share your impressions once again, this time during faculty and PTA meetings, followed by an email to all parents. Share what you’ve learned from interviews and observations. 

  • What frequent themes did staff and parents express? 
  • What strengths are apparent in our school’s culture? 
  • What is it like to be a student in our school?
  • What are some probing questions we need to consider as a school community moving forward? 

Perhaps the most critical part of the presentation and follow-up email is subtle, yet powerful. Notice the pronouns embedded in the questions above: “our” school, questions “we” need to consider. An effective entry plan ultimately integrates the new leader into the school community and communicates that the future will be a collaborative journey.

Share This Story

  • email icon

Filed Under

  • Administration & Leadership

Follow Edutopia

  • facebook icon
  • twitter icon
  • instagram icon
  • youtube icon
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
George Lucas Educational Foundation
Edutopia is an initiative of the George Lucas Educational Foundation.
Edutopia®, the EDU Logo™ and Lucas Education Research Logo® are trademarks or registered trademarks of the George Lucas Educational Foundation in the U.S. and other countries.