Getting a New Head? Here’s Where to Start.


The arrival of a new head of school is an exciting moment for a community, and as the school’s communications and marketing leader, you’ll want to position your school to best leverage that moment’s energy and enthusiasm.

And while you probably have already made the big announcement through an email, on social media and your website, there’s still more to be done to ensure your new head is properly introduced to your community.

Here are a few considerations.

Start Close In

Find out for how much time, and when, your new head has availability for introductory conversations.

Your new head is essentially starting their listening tour, which needs to extend outward in concentric circles from the board.  Other priority groups:

  • Senior administration team
  • Faculty/Staff
  • Parents, starting with members of your leading parent groups
  • Donors 
  • Partner/Affiliate organizations
  • Alumni
  • Students
  • Prospective families
  • Community leaders

Direct-reports need one-on-one time with your new head; others can meet your head in small groups. Immediacy is important, so don’t wait for the pandemic to end to schedule in-person time. Use an online platform with video. While video is not ideal, it is better than postponing these vital conversations.

For very large groups, such as families and alumni, your head may want to use teleconferencing without video.

Some conversations need to start before your board arrives; others can wait until the academic year begins.

Messaging

If your new head has articulated priorities, those likely will be front and center of what they will want to share. Once you learn about those priorities, think through how they might connect with your school’s brand.

For example, let’s say your school — as part of its mission or positioning statement — says that education in your institution takes place within a “vibrant and diverse community of learners.” If your head sees sustainability as a priority, find ways to link “sustainability” to the school’s mission. Careful messaging can tie those ideas together by using words or phrases from your mission to extend to the concept of sustainability.

Thus the priority becomes “sustainability to ensure we support our vibrant and diverse community of learners for many years to come.”

Let’s Talk, You First

Many incoming heads will specifically not articulate priorities for the school, and instead will spend the first months or year listening to what the school community sees as priorities. They may want to sift through all the ideas, suggestions, and visions for the school before creating their own agenda.

The board may decide that a head transition is a good time to create or revisit an existing strategic plan. Strategic planning, while sometimes a lengthy and involved process, can result in a clear roadmap for how the school will develop (usually over five years).

Schools can use their strategic plan as a tool for informing the community about their school’s direction and vision for the future. Done with this purpose in mind, a shortened, highly visual strategic plan can lay the groundwork for fundraising solicitations that may follow as part of a campaign to support the strategy.

Plan Now

Don’t wait for their official start date; start thinking now how to make the most of their arrival. Develop a plan — even one full of assumptions and placeholders — to introduce your new head to the community in a strategic way that pushes your school’s brand forward.

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