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Part 7a – Creating a Freshman Transition Program – The Role of the Administrator

A 4 ½ month old makes it hard to find time to do much of anything, let alone post to a blog! It has taken me a long time to post this latest installment of Creating a Freshman Transition Program, but I think it’s a very important one. Hopefully, my brain has had enough sleep to write coherently. If not, then I’ll blame little Matthew!

So what is the role of an administrator in a Freshman Transition Program? In some ways, each post in this series has been about the role of an administrator in that they cover decisions that often only an administrator has the authority to make. The answer, though, will vary depending on the status of the program. If it is brand new, then the role might look quite different than if the program is well-established. However, there are some basic principles to keep in mind. I hope you’ll find these helpful.

1. NO ROOM FOR EGO: In general, I think the administrator’s goal is to help create a program that will last well beyond his or her time at the school. Too often academic programs are too much a reflection of a specific leader’s goals and objectives. Then when the leader takes a new job or moves into a new role the program ends. I’ll share some reasons for this, but first I want to again point out (as I did in Part 6) that readers might benefit from checking out Jim Collins’ book Good to Great. In it he discusses the “Level 5” leader. This is the leader who uses a combination of talent and humility to equip others to do amazing things. The Freshman Transition Program cannot be viewed as the brainchild of a specific administrator. Teachers and schools have a great ability to simply outwait an administrator, knowing full well that this “new fad” will leave when he or she does. The “Level 5” leader enacts long-term change because the change is not about him or her.

2. GETTING A SCHOOL ON BOARD: It is not uncommon for members of a faculty to be cynical or skeptical about new initiatives. It seems that some schools or systems start new initiatives all the time. Along comes a new idea. It’s tried out and then discarded. Each new idea causes great upheaval and then is gone before it has a chance to settle in and have an impact. People get used to things not lasting. Specifically with Freshman Transition, faculty members might be afraid that their school is heading toward social promotion. (i.e. turning the Freshman Problem into the Sophomore Problem) It is imperative that the school administrator help the entire faculty understand that solving the Freshman Problem is worthy of the school’s best efforts. How does this happen?

a. Share with the faculty the data that will allow them to come to the conclusion that the school has a Freshman Problem that must be addressed. Getting folks to complain about 9th graders is easy, but you want the faculty to realize that if the school is truly going to improve, meet AYP, and be the place it should be something must be done about solving the Freshman Problem.

b. Encourage a faculty to understand that only the school’s faculty members can solve the school’s problems. We, as a school, do not want someone else coming in and telling us what we are going to do. We need to solve our own problems before someone “solves” them for us. We know ourselves best, and we have the talent and personnel to solve our own problems.

c. DO NOT COME IN AND TELL YOUR FACULTY THAT YOU HAVE DISCOVERED A PROBLEM AND THAT YOU HAVE COME UP WITH THE ANSWER. DO NOT TELL THE FACULTY THAT YOU WENT TO A CONFERENCE AND HAVE FIGURED OUT HOW TO SOLVE THE FRESHMAN PROBLEM. YOU WANT BUY-IN AND YOU WANT IDEAS BEYOND YOUR OWN IF THIS EFFORT WILL LAST. THE SOLUTION WILL NOT COME FROM YOU – IT WILL COME FROM YOUR TEACHERS WHO ARE ON THE FRONT LINE WORKING WITH THE STUDENTS. THEY WILL BE LED AND GUIDED BY YOU, BUT THEY ALSO MUST PARTICIPATE IN THE PROCESS.

3. GET THE RIGHT PEOPLE TOGETHER TO START PLANNING: (Refer to Part 6 – Which Teachers?) Don’t assume that this problem will necessarily be solved by your current 9th grade teachers. Ask your faculty for volunteers. Find out if anyone is interested in being a part of this new initiative. Also, have some teachers in mind that you can approach directly and recruit to help look into your school’s Freshman Problem.

4. FACILITATE A DISCOVERY PROCESS: Once you have a group of interested faculty members together, help them explore the Freshman Problem. Continue to provide them with data. Help them find opportunities to meet together. Look for conferences, trips, workshops to attend. While it is probably appropriate for you to attend some of these meetings and discussions, be careful not to dominate them. The goal is for your faculty members to have ownership of the process. (Do help them keep in mind many of the ideas and pitfalls expressed in the previous blogs posted on The Freshman Transition Network.)

5. PUT THE IDEAS INTO ACTION: Once your faculty has created a plan for a Freshman Transition Program, they will need your help to make it happen. For example, more than likely you will need to take an active or leadership role in making sure that the plan fits into the school’s Master Schedule. The administrator will have to take a leadership role in selling the idea or program to the appropriate administrators within the school or the division. If funding is necessary, this is your job. If staffing decisions have to be made, this is where you come in. Without your leadership in these areas, the ideas will remain in the idea stage.

This post has begun to turn into a book. It looks like Part 7 will have to be Part 7a with a Part 7b and a Part 7c coming soon. If you’ll notice, 7a has dealt primarily with the role of the administrator in getting the Freshman Transition Program started. 7b will deal with the role of the administrator during the school year once the program is up and running. 7c will deal with some strategies for keeping a Freshman Transition Program running long-term.

Let me know if you have any thoughts!

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