The Head’s Transition Playbook

The Head’s Transition Playbook

How to Navigate a Head of School Transition

“It takes time and effort to get to know the school. Any information that the outgoing head tried to give me, I didn’t have the context for, and it didn’t make sense. And, it didn’t make sense until about two years later when I fully understood the culture of the school.”

Head of School

Independent schools experience head of school transitions more often than ever before, but most haven’t had the opportunity to perfect the transition process. With that in mind, we have gathered the advice and experience of 25 independent school leaders into a playbook designed to help guide you through this challenging process.

In creating this playbook, we spoke with outgoing heads of school and new heads of school, as well as their board chairs, administrators, and executive search consultants. Based on those conversations and our research, we created a series of guidance and tools to help schools ensure a smooth transition from one head of school to the next. Because every transition is unique, and each school is operating on a timeline specific to their situation, each tool might not be applicable in every situation. The resources included in this playbook can be adapted and customized to suit your school’s specific context.

The playbook is divided into three parts, one for each stakeholder: incoming head of school, board chair, and outgoing head of school. Additional guidance and links to the tools and resources is below.

Resources for incoming heads of school

Incoming heads of school have one of the most challenging roles–learning the political climate and culture of the school, while leading it. This section covers how incoming heads can build a strong relationship with their board chair, develop a comprehensive set of sources to learn about the school, and ensure meetings have a clear purpose.

Resources for board chairs

Board chairs serve as the architects of the transition from one head of school to another. While the day-to-day tasks are the responsibility of the school staff, board chairs are responsible for ensuring that the community is kept informed and supported throughout the process. Board chairs should maintain their role in governance, thoughtfully build a transition committee, and guide the incoming and outgoing heads of school through difficult decisions.

Resources for outgoing heads of school

Outgoing heads of school are responsible for ensuring that the school continues to serve all stakeholders well during the transition. Outgoing heads of school can support the process by alerting the incoming head of school to any recent difficult decisions or potential future concerns, sharing their connections and school-specific knowledge, and taking time to celebrate their tenure at the school.