Sustainability is applied to education if we want to have long term effects of our work. Leaders need to think about what they can do today to ensure that students and schools will benefit even after they have left the school.
Unfortunately, as Hargreaves, Boyle, and Harris report, “Sustainability is often an afterthought of organizational change.” (p.97) So what can a leader do now to ensure that changes being put into place will remain for a long time? There are three simple things a leader can do.
First, tell the truth. Always follow through and do what you say you will do, and don’t do something you don’t believe in. It sends a strong message when leaders refuse to do things that run counter to their values. Second, always focus on top priorities. The goal is focus, not fragmentation. And third, deal honestly with people even when it is hard. When it is time for praise, don’t hold back. Praise from leaders is powerful and is felt deeply by staff. When every U.S. president has left office, he has written a letter to his successor. Consider writing your own letter to your successor, but don’t wait until you are leaving.
Many leaders make the mistake of thinking about issues of sustainability once they plan to leave. Take a moment to write a letter to your successor now. Consider addressing the six other elements as a way to structure your letter. What is the school’s purpose? What are the most successful ways you’ve found to develop trust? How do you help the school remain focused and which initiatives are the school’s top priorities? Which are the highest leverage approaches? How is feedback addressed at the school? What might the next leader do to help sustain the most important initiatives at the school? your fears). Such a letter can be useful in guiding both you and your successors for years to come.