School Transitions : Leaving the place Prepared for the future, and better than you found it!

I can still remember in the summer of 1949, when Dad and I were driving to Montana from our place in Oakland, California, stopping at a gas station out on that long stretch of road running across the Club Foot of southern Idaho. It was hot as the Devil and we stopped for gas in the car, water for the water bag that hung out the window to cool, and a trip to the John. The John was about as filthy as you could find one in those days.

After using the facilities, Dad said, “Well I guess we better clean some of this up before we leave.”

My little brain clicked in and I blurted out something like, “Why would we want to clean it up? Somebody else made the mess.”

At that point, my Dad looked at me and said, “Ricky, when I was in the war, I saw an awful lot of stuff that was one big mess out in the Pacific. All the fellows in the unit, including myself vowed that after the war ended, we would always leave any place we went, better off than we found it.”

With that, he flushed the toilet about five times used the plunger and an old toilet brush to slop it out, cleaned and scrubbed the sink, and wiped everything down with the ragged greasy old towel that everyone must have wiped their hands on for the past week.

When he was finished, he stood back, looked at me and smiled.

“Now, that’s a lot better, isn’t it? You need to remember that no matter how bad a place is, we always leave it better for the next person than we found it.”

I had to agree. We left that old crapper a lot better than we had found it, gave the dirty towel to the attendant, and tooted the horn as we hauled our trailer with all the family belongings back out onto the road and headed on toward Montana.

We drove off both feeling happy that we had done a good turn. That one incident made a big impression on me!

As an adult school teacher and later a principal, I switched jobs a number of times during my 10+ different postings in some forty years of professional international work.

My Dad’s phrase has always come back to guide me when leaving one position and moving to another, “We always leave it better for the next person”.

Because of this one phrase, I have always prepared for any job transition by leaving behind good records of: materials, inventories, information, files, schedules and personnel records, so that everything is in the best possible condition for the next person to come in and take over smoothly.

Believe me, I have taken over schools in which it was obvious that the preceding person(s) didn’t give a rip about any Transition! No cares for what would happened to the place when they were gone: No files of records, No Student Handbooks, No Teacher or Curriculum Handbooks, No agreements and documents on how we do business or school discipline, No maintenance done to infrastructure, No positive working conditions with staff and co-workers etc., etc. etc.

Because of previous actions by the persons who should have been positive leaders in Transitioning schools to another leader, I’ve seen and had to clean up the virtual latrines left behind. I’ve followed my father’s advice and immediately gotten into it and cleaned up the graffiti, gangs and bad attitudes that can take over and control the running and education of an entire school.But it could have gone much more smoothly with some thought by the previous person about smooth Transitions.

Schools are Family. They are a small microcosm of a State, a Country or even the World. Leaving the place in the best possible shape means that when I depart, the new person coming in will be able to pick up and run with the ball instead of having to find and pick up the dropped baton in a race that never ends. I am leaving a blueprint of myself, my values, my personality and my hopes and desires for the future of that institution behind so that someone else can come in and make the Family even better.

Having good and excellent schools is the business of us all as communities, and GOOD TRANSITIONS are the Mark of Excellent Leaders and one of the keys to maintaining EXCELLENCE in any school!


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