6 mistakes to avoid when leaving or joining a school

Saying goodbye to one school and hello to another? Follow these tips for a smooth transition

Sam Brown

Teacher jobs: The mistakes to avoid for teachers leaving a school or joining a new one

As we head towards the end of the academic year, some of us will be getting ready to move on to a new school.

Here’s how to avoid leaving or starting badly:

Leaving your teacher job: Bad ways to exit a school

1. Downing tools

It’s easy for a part of your mind, mentally and emotionally, to be on your new job; you may even have begun planning or started getting emails. But you need to remember that your primary allegiance is to your current school. Not only are you paid by them but you also have a duty to do your job well for the sake of the pupils and your colleagues. 

Act professionally until the moment you hand in your pass. Write good reports, plan effective lessons and be at your duties on time.

2. Causing issues for the next person

Lots of us care too much about what others think of us, so instead of downing tools, we overwork in an effort to imprint in people’s memories how good we really were. We might even create new initiatives without properly thinking them through. Or we’re worried that the person taking over will do a better job than us, so we sabotage their start by not putting things in place.

Remember, it’s about the good of the students, not how good we look. Make it your aim to set things up as well as possible for your successor, so that they can thrive in the first few months.

3. Complaining

Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed the school and will be sad to leave. But there are always things to complain about and in those final days it’s tempting to offload the years of stored-up grumbles on anyone that will listen, unrestrained by possible consequences. In the staffroom, at lunch and, most precarious of all, at the end-of-year social.

Resist this temptation. If you’ve had genuine concerns, you’ll have had a chance to raise them, and even now there are appropriate channels to air legitimate points. Don’t put the boot in as you’re leaving. 

Bad ways to join a school

1. Going on about your previous school

Your previous school may have been exceptional – its behaviour system was brilliant, its marking policy worked so well, even its staff socials were great, and so on – but talking about it all the time is not the way to go. 

The implication is that your new school is a bit of a step down, and this can come across as patronising and frustrating. We should draw from our experiences, and you may even introduce that amazing marking policy, but be aware of how, and how often, you refer to your previous school.

2. Talking down your predecessor 

You may feel the need to impress because you haven’t built up any kind of credit or reputation. One tempting way to do this is by exposing the weaknesses of your predecessor, by subtly pointing out that the curriculum doesn’t effectively prepare students for GCSEs, for example, or that you’re surprised how little the students grasp mathematical concepts, or that the mental health policy doesn’t take into account the latest guidance. 

Don’t do this. Definitely make changes that are needed, but don’t do it to win points in a comparison game. And if your predecessor was actually good at their job and was respected, your sniping efforts won’t reflect well on you.

3. Setting expectations that you can't sustain

In trying to prove ourselves, it’s easy to fall into the trap of presenteeism, where we’re on site early and late to show our commitment.

We mark more than is needed, every book gloriously covered in annotations and highlighters (in the hope that the head will randomly find the stack and flick through). This can transfer into how we manage people: we place huge demands on them. 

Ask yourself: is how you’re starting in this new role effective and sustainable? Once you’ve painted this picture of yourself, will you be locked in until you burn out?

If you’re in transition between schools this summer, make sure you leave well and start well. 

Sam Brown is a teacher, chaplain and senior leader at the Fulham Boys School in London

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