Joining a new organisation as a Principal - Paul Puthenveetil Variath

Image by Gino Crescoli from Pixabay

Joining a new organisation or welcoming someone into your existing institution entails many opportunities and challenges. When considering the prospect of joining a new space, one of the primary advantages lies in expanding networks. Such expansion broadens opportunities for collaboration and partnerships, potentially leading to fresh perspectives and ideas that can invigorate our endeavours. Moreover, engaging with a new space provides invaluable learning opportunities, facilitating acquiring new skills, knowledge, and insights. Additionally, access to resources, funding, or infrastructure may be granted upon joining, enhancing your capabilities and visibility within relevant communities. 

However, integration into a new space may present challenges, such as adapting to its unique culture, norms, and dynamics, which may require time and effort. Furthermore, aligning objectives with those of the new space and managing competing priorities can be daunting tasks, potentially resulting in conflicts or inefficiencies. There's also the possibility of relinquishing some degree of autonomy or decision-making authority, raising concerns about independence and the risk of uncertainty regarding outcomes. 

I experienced a similar situation when I joined as a principal at SOS Hermann Gmeiner School, Chaubeypur- a school owned and managed by the SOS Children's Village of India- the premier childcare NGO in the world. The first year was definitely the most challenging one. I had a few teachers (the old veterans, as I may call them) who constantly troubled me with opposing anything new I proposed, though I had the support of the majority. 

Another challenge was dealing with the unruly students who were least bothered about adhering to the school's rules and regulations. The third challenge was an Assistant director who was a thorn in the flesh. The fourth one was finances. The school needed more self-sustaining and depended on grants from the Central Office to meet various expenses, including salaries.

After reviewing the situation, I decided to deal with the problems of teachers first as I felt that they were the backbone of any school, or for that matter, of society. I spent several brainstorming sessions with them and agreed upon a plan - Working for good academic results and setting examples for acceptable behaviour and spoken language from the part of the teachers and from my end, representing their issue of low salary to the management. 

I fulfilled my commitment within a month as the SOS management hiked the salary by 15% (if my memory is correct), considering my recommendations based on convincing data. This boosted the morale of the teachers, and they stood by me for all good reforms that were to happen henceforth. To my surprise, the old veterans left the organisations one by one. At the end of the session, we received a reasonable result of 97% passing in the board examinations, and for a 100% passing result, we had to wait for another 2 years.

Managing the students was much easier once the teachers were guided on the right track and convinced of their role as nation-builders. I always emphasised character building as the main focus and creating good human beings and global citizens as the objective of education. We worked with students and parents as a team, counselling and mentoring them occasionally. My active intervention in classroom teaching, from the notebook cross-checking, calls to parents, etc., to class observations, sent a significant message to the parents that we are determined to make their child a good, responsible citizen. 

Soon, the news of academic reforms spread far and wide, and admissions poured in large numbers, resulting in higher income and zero deficit. Over 3 years, I could make the school self-sustaining with a minimum fee hike. From the consecutive years, we found substantial surpluses which we used for the infrastructural development of the school. 

The Assistant Director lost ground in the school and, on my request, was transferred to the Delhi office, giving me a free hand to manage the school's affairs. I completed 15 years of successful service and retired from the organisation in 2022. 

To navigate these opportunities and challenges effectively, it is crucial to prioritise effective communication, establish clear expectations, and embrace diversity and inclusion. Furthermore, cultivating adaptability, flexibility, and a commitment to continuous evaluation and feedback can lead to desired improvements and enhance overall effectiveness. By embracing these principles, joining a new space or welcoming another into your existing space can be a rewarding and enriching experience for all involved parties.


Paul is part of the Masterclass 2024 Cohort

REFLECTION - Food for thought! 

In your journey, have you been the 'different' student/teacher joining a new school? 
Have you also been on the other side of welcoming a 'different' person into your world? How did that go?
Based on the session, reflect a little on what could have been the pros and cons of your own experience joining a new space and welcoming another joining your space. 

What could have been better in both, if any? Or list any possible learnings from them.

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