Making Moves

Jeff Horner, EdD

New Location

This spring I had the opportunity to consider taking a new position at a new school in a new state. After interviewing, praying through the decision, and talking through all the process with my wife, we decided that this new opportunity was one to which God was calling our family. Delivering that message to our children, to our extended families, and to our soon-to-be former employers was also the matter of more prayer and some significant amount of tears on our part. Nevertheless, we set our wills and hearts to the task in front of us and began preparing to move.

We have moved to new states before, but never had we faced a completely changing housing market, interest rate hikes, and the stress of having to accommodate a growing family in the middle of a move. Moving residences is considered a fairly significant source of stress on the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory, and we definitely felt that stress. Our entire summer swept past us without the usual rhythm of travel, house projects, and relaxation. While we were making the move, I didn’t consider what we were missing out on until the summer was well past us.

I regret not better planning my time to give myself some clear outlets for relieving my mounting stress in the moving process. Had I done so, I could have been more emotionally and spiritually present for my family in a time of heightened need.

Recommendation number one for school leaders:  a) For those who leave – When changing locations, be sure to take time to grieve what is being left behind and plan to create oases of relaxation within all the stress of the move so that your family can still find time for togetherness and spiritually enriching growth.

The loss of connections to people and to places has meant a feeling of rootlessness that will likely subside once our family feels fully established in our new town.

b) For those who remain – Not everyone is called to change or even needs to change locations for a new role to come their way. Some will rise internally through their school’s ranks and take on positions of more influence. In the excitement of moving to a new role, be sure to acknowledge the losses that will accompany that new role. For me, an internal promotion at my previous school entailed me spending less time in the classroom and consequently knowing fewer students as the years have progressed. That loss of connection with the students meant I needed to work harder to know who people were and how God had made them.

New role

As I have stepped into my new role, I have been blessed to have a long runway for adjusting to the culture and expectations of my new school. While similar in size and in relative economic status to my previous school, a new state, a new city, and a new history (for me to learn) have meant a fairly steep learning curve. My Head of School and I agreed that the best thing that I could do during my first year is to learn about this place and to get to know all the people who work here. With that level of patience and willingness to see what I can uncover, I have been blessed to be able to spend focused time in meeting with a sizable number of our faculty and staff, learning about what has brought them to the place we all serve and the needs that they see from their vantage point. Much like the ideas Dr. Chris Hobbs shared in his blog CASA: A Framework for Making Your New Place of Work Feel Like Home, there is nothing better than knowing the people you will be serving.

As I have begun the process of meeting everyone, I’ve brought a notebook and a pen and asked two questions:

What brought you to the school?

From your current seat, what needs do you see?

These two questions have produced rich qualitative data. And as I review my notes, themes have risen to the surface for me to reflect on with my academic leadership team and use for the purpose of developing ideas for implementing our strategic action items through the lens of our accreditation recommendations. I have been able, through the patience and goodwill of my fellow administrators, to use my first four months at the school to conduct a reasonably thorough study of the entire school program through the eyes of those who are doing the daily work.

Recommendation number two for school leaders: a) For those who leave – When stepping into a new role, take the time as the “new kid” to learn all you can about the people and needs of the school. Integrating that new information with your experience. Seek ways to catalyze areas in which the school may grow the most from concerted attention. Learning about the people who make up the place will provide a more thoroughgoing understanding of the experience of being there.

b) For those who remain – Take the opportunity to join your accreditation group’s visiting teams, and, where possible, chair a visiting team. Those roles train your eyes to look beyond the pressing urgencies of the quotidian tasks we normally face. Instead, visiting other schools provides you with new perspectives on what your school does well, as well as new possibilities for your school to explore through the lens of your mission.

New growth

Part of my new role is to oversee the school’s work in preparing students for further educational opportunities. One purpose of my conversations with teachers has been to learn all I can about the programs we currently provide. The benefit of having fresh eyes in this role is that I am dumb with respect to the history and traditions of the school. Therefore, as I both learn and assimilate the things that I am learning with what I know about good practices in education, I work to empower and embolden people to step forward as leaders. I have begun to see target areas of improvement that will lead both teachers and students to a deeper sense of purpose and greater levels of collaboration. I have the benefit of an existing school improvement plan and recommendations from a recent accreditation visit. These documents are guiding my work for the next several years. Leading  growth in a school that is doing well is a somewhat tricky challenge. My new school has many excellent things going for it. Included in that category is our sense that we can still do better than we are currently doing. By investing in and listening to our people, by hearing their perspectives on the needs of the school, I am simultaneously working on earning trust and building momentum for some initiatives that should bring deep and lasting growth as an institution. My goal is to make my work about enabling the people who are on the front lines of the institution to hone their skills in the craft of teaching in order that our students receive the best possible education they can.

Recommendation number three for school leaders: a) For those who leave – Be prepared not to be the expert in the room, but instead to ask questions and listen. Also, be prepared to work alongside the people in your schools to develop solutions to the identified needs.

b) For those who remain – Talk to the people at your school. Between your gadflies and your supporters, you will be able to discern underlying issues that can be brought to the fore and solved. By listening to everyone discerningly, you can dig into the work to do together.


All moves bring both opportunity for grief and opportunity for growth. They bring a need for clear vision and patient discovery. Moves are a costly, but necessary, part of growth. As a school leader, consider:

What moves are you currently making?

What moves are you being called to make?

What moves have you made?

Have you grieved?

Have you grown?

Have you envisioned your process?

Have you patiently worked for the success of your vision?

Take time today to reflect on your journey, and see what moves are there for you, whether leaving or remaining. Making moves is part of the growth process.

One thought on “Making Moves

  1. Well said, Jeff.
    (For those who remain) – Keep remaining! The gift of an extended presence of a school leader or educator at their school can be invaluable. However, sometimes transitions are needed for both parties to grow.

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