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Adaptive Leadership

Transition Plan ~ Adaptive Leadership

Change is difficult for all school districts. Few have been more negatively impacted than Taholah School District who has had 17 school leaders since the year 2000. Taholah School District needs to create a school culture that builds upon their leader’s skills. A toxic school culture will eat strategies for breakfast, you can’t move forward when there aren’t clear expectations. Taholah School District has had ample turnover and plenty of opportunity to improve; yet Taholah School District has produced a low performing school system for generations. The teaching staff in Taholah believes it is because of the constant change in leadership. Recognizing this has enabled staff to become stagnant. I began to change their mindset from accepting mediocre instruction to empowering them through finessing their instruction. While changes may come from administration, nobody can take away their quality practices in the classroom. In January of 2016, our current superintendent announced his retirement and the building principal accepted a position at a High School in Olympia. The cycle continues! “The long-term challenge of leadership is to develop people’s adaptive capacity for tackling an ongoing of difficult problems.” (p .247 Heifetz, 1994) However, this time it is different. Our leadership team felt empowered to create a transition plan. The plan is a culmination of the great work the staff has done and a plan for communicating what they see as needs.


Change is hard on staff and students. Our leadership team knew questions had to be answered. The leadership team created a list of questions for current administration to answer.

  • How do we inform the new administrators in “How we do school?”
  • How do we prove academic progress?
  • How can we adjust or reset our behavior expectations?
  • What happens when the expectations are not met?

Cultural Impacts

 When working in Taholah, many outside factors affect the climate and school culture. A few of those factors are:

  • The Quinault Indian Nation (the Tribe)
  • Environment & Isolated location
  • Trust of entities within the school (ESD, OSPI)
  • Community dynamics

While the staff went about creating the transition plan, these factors have to be addressed. How much of a role will the tribe play in running the day-to-day operations of the school? How much of fiscal resource can the tribe play? How can new leadership develop trust with the board of directors and politically powerful families within the community? Again, the teaching staff needed to answer these questions for the district and proactively create their answers rather than reacting negatively and complaining about the direction of the newly hired leadership.


Due to the location of Taholah and the community dynamics, a high turnover in educators is unavoidable. Nearly all of the certified employees live off the reservation and drive between 40-60 miles daily. The student populace is difficult and we are at the midst of the largest teaching shortage in Washington State history and recruiting to Taholah is very difficult. These factors forecast certain turnover. How can the staff that remains not feel betrayed when certain staff come and go? How can we get buy in from ALL stakeholders when this change is inevitable? The teaching of Heifetz maintains leadership is an action and not a position. The action of the staff typically has been to sit back follow and complain about the new direction. The teaching staff must use leadership without authority and create the plan and pressure the new administration to follow their lead.


We decided to set up an exit/entry plan where we include input and feedback from identified stakeholders within the school. We assigned roles and responsibilities to individuals that will provide clear expectations in regards to the tasks and positions that are needed to keep things running smoothly. If those who remain aren’t vocal and confident in their direction, it lends way for others to step in and create new paths where much effort was already given. The staff has gathered and generated a list of 5 non-negotiable that they have and will continue to commit to and show evidence of its benefit in our school. They also generated a list of 5 “hopes for change” that they request of new administration to focus their attention on.


The following documents were shared with staff to build their plan. Leading without authority.

SWOT Analysis


  • What are our strengths?
  • What are systems that we would like to remain or enhance?

  • What are our challenges and areas needing improvement for our strengths?

  • What areas for improvement remain unaddressed?

  • What are our barriers to progress?
  • What challenges do we foresee in the future?

TSD’s Key Communicators – people of influence

The people who are community leaders, who have strong opinions (positive OR negative) about our school/education, who are “always in the know”, who possess resources or means to provide information to others, whose opinion is respected and repeated, who may be your harshest critic or “most difficult” naysayer, who are seen as leaders or who can sway others.

Internal (within our school) External (in our community)

Communications Plan

Trust has been an ongoing issue for Taholah. Trust among staff, administration, the board, and the community/Tribe. To build a shared vision for our school, it is important to proactively implement a plan for communication and collaboration. After the first 90 days, touch base again at the end of the year to springboard for next.



Stakeholder Group (WHO?) Method





”Building Community” meeting with every staff member



School faculty and staff


Small groups of no more than 10


Within the first 90 days of the school year


”Building Community” meeting with at least 10% of parents



At least 10% of parents from a cross-section of the student body



Small groups of no more than 10


Within the first 90 days of the school year


“Building Community”

Meeting with at least 10% of the students (representing a cross-section of the student body)



At least 10% of the students (representing a cross-section of the student body)



Small groups of no more than 10


Within the first 90 days of the school year


Plus/Delta Report Conduct a plus/delta of the meetings and summarize a report to the community.



Entire school community


School B Board, newsletter, web site


Within the first 90 days of the school year.

Building Community

Use the following as guiding questions for Building Community:

  1. At our school, I am especially proud of: _________________
  2. I wish more people knew the following about our school:________________
  3. The most misunderstood items about our school are:___________________
  4. What do you perceive as barriers to improving communication at our school?
  5. How can these be overcome?

Next steps:

  1. Conduct a Plus/Delta
  2. Share the results with students, teachers, staff, and parents.
  3. Follow up on “brag” items by highlighting in newsletters, websites, media, other tools.
  4. Follow up on misunderstood items with communications plans to address
  5. Follow up on improvement suggestions with communications plans and take action.




Plus (+)



Delta ( )

Key Timeline Activities

Use the following table to document the key activities of your overall transition plan based on feedback from “Building Community”.

Key Activity






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