Navigating the Whitewater & Transitioning Smoothly

How can it be March? We just returned from the mid-year break at New Years didn’t we? Wait, it was just October and I was looking for a job? Now we are barreling towards May which is always a blur of events, evenings, transition meetings, and detailed tasks. I’m constantly being asked if I’m excited about my next role but I’m too busy trying to stay present with some degree of effectiveness that I’m not too focused on my next position.

I’m a fan of white water canoeing – at least I was when I was

Navigate with Care!

Navigate with Care!

younger and more of a risk taker. I loved the feeling of dropping into the quick moving chutes of water with standing waves creating dips and dives! It was an adrenalin rush! You have to navigate carefully and with tact. Anyway, each week of the last quarter of a school year feels a bit like being dropped into another chute of fast moving water….standing waves, rocks, dips, drops, turns, and eddies of time that provide a bit of a respite but, if too big, can suck you into some sort of vortex!….it’s all exciting stuff right until the end of the run.   This year, the chute is especially narrow, fast moving, with high water as I try to wrap up my five years as the High School Principal at Lincoln Community School. Today I mapped out my weekends left here in Ghana. There are two weekends remaining that are not already booked with commitments. It promises to be a fast paced journey for the final 10 weeks – as long as I don’t end up in one of those energy zapping eddies!!!

My chute of whitewater includes an important period of transition out of my current role, onto the flat and calm water of July, and ultimately into my next role as a High School Principal at the American International School of Johannesburg where the pace, I’m certain, will be fast moving!

The challenge of transitions in international schools are often under appreciated. Transitions are part of the fabric of international schools.



As soon as I resigned at the outset of this year and began looking for a job, I was in a transition zone of some sort. Similarly teachers who resign in October and find jobs in the weeks and months after their resignations also enter some form of transition once they resign. In fact, with recruiting essentially a year round phenomenon, “people in transition” is the norm in international schools. As soon as you make a decision to move on, you begin a transition. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t fully committed or engulfed in your current role but you do begin making shifts. Faculty and staff who are not moving on experience transition through the departure of colleagues in June and the arrival of new colleagues in August. Leading schools with people hovering around transitions is challenging.

As I enter my final quarter of my last year at Lincoln Community School, I know how one exits is important. How will I manage this last whitewater chute at LCS?

I will stay present on a daily basis. As a school leader, I want to maintain my sense of optimism, positive energy, and presence for my colleagues. This has always been important to me and it is especially important to be as the inevitable stressors of the end of a school year rush towards us.

I will avoid the “I’m glad to be leaving” trap. I’ve seen too many people over the years be drawn into a negative state of mind as they approach departure.   There is a natural desire to avoid the pain of severed relationships sometimes this comes in the form of a dismissive attitude.

I will be intentional about my RAFT. Pollock and Van Reken (2009) identify four important concepts tied to the acronym RAFT: Reconciliation; Affirmation; Farewells; and Think destination.

Reconciling relationships and ensuring that any unfinished business is brought to closure as I don’t want unresolved issues to cause future baggage. Frankly, this has happened in my past with certain memories unresolved.   Affirming the importance of various people and moments from my time here is important. I know the importance of notes, messages, and communication with people as you are leaving. It’s important. Saying farewells to people is essential. Finding the right time is critical. Being intentional and present about my relationships will help support my departure and allow me to focus on the important elements of the remaining work.

I recognize many students and families are in transition. Students (and adults) in transition can experience stress, anxiety, and depression. I need to manage my transition so that I can support the transition of others. Similarly, teachers who are transitioning must keep in mind the fragility of our students during the upcoming months. My role is to support teachers and students right up until the final day. I must be at my best, so I must navigate the tricky rapids of my own transition and my own closure. A mantra over the coming weeks for me will be “Leaving right is essential for entering right”.


Navigating the challenges of one’s whitewater over the final weeks requires alert, present, and mindful behavior. It’s a journey that all international educators experience at this time of year, whether you are transitioning out of a school or working alongside colleagues who are transitioning. Without question, it’s part of the fabric of our work in international schools.


2 thoughts on “Navigating the Whitewater & Transitioning Smoothly

  1. Great reflections on the status (and status-less-ness…) of leaving and starting again. The RAFT model works so well for most people as it helps to nudge you toward thinking about the steps in the transition and connect feelings. I have always been a fan.
    And, while it’s hard to have down time leading up to an international move, it is critical to have some lazy moments before moving – even if you have to block them out on your iCal. 🙂

  2. As an alumni who has brushed heads with you in the past more times than I can count, it is fair to say I often disregarded/underestimated your ability to do your job as a principle. Looking back with a wiser, calmer head, despite the many ways I challenged and potentially disrespected you; the leniency you afforded me as well as the chances you gave me, when many would not have, is what sets you apart from the other academic staff I have encountered in my time. This – despite the knowledge that we will probably never see eye to eye

    I hope for one, you say goodbye to the school as well as the students in a human way, forget the speeches, and good luck in Johannesburg,

    Lastly, remember that kids will be kids, and kids do stupid things. I hope you keep the same style I saw from you and that just as you allowed me a degree of freedom (banter as you referred to it as) which allowed me to succeed, you will continue to give those in the future.

    And.. lighten up – ClassOf2012

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