Terminated! Oh no! Now What?

Lions, tigers and bears, oh my! Terminated, non-renewed, resigned, oh why! As with young Dorothy, three little words strike fear into the hearts of most superintendents. Terrified that their careers are over, that their families will suffer, that their legacy is tarnished, they are prone to panic, to depression, or to unhealthy alternatives. They perseverate on trying to understand what happened and may be filled with fury or wallow in sadness and likely feel terribly isolated. The fact is that if you have been terminated, non-renewed, or forced to resign, you are not alone, rather, part of an ever-growing community of leaders who have made a positive difference to many and still have much to contribute in a new district or a new role.

But what does one do? First, accept that you will go through the phases of grief:

  1. Being desperate for answers
  2. Denial
  3. Bargaining
  4. Relapse
  5. Anger
  6. Initial Acceptance
  7. Redirected Hope

You MUST give yourself the gift of time to move through these phases before seeking another job. Unless you do, you will not be presenting your best self, and your dismay and anger will seep out during interviews. Write down a list of your accomplishments and contributions. Review what steps you took to help students, staff, and community thrive, how you improved the quality of teaching and learning, and what you built to last. Next, secure letters of recommendations from a Board member, community leader, teacher leader, and a special interest or protected class advocate (e.g. special education parent). Make a daily routine of reading positive affirmations of your valued work

Grow your social media as part of your personal branding approach.  Firms charge several thousand dollars to try (often less than successfully) to move bad press off the front page of a Google Search.  Create a detailed LinkedIn Profile linked to your Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Next, you must take care of yourself.  We recommend you seek counseling, exercise, and eat healthy and reinvest in family and faith time.  Move your body every day and make a conscious effort to keep from overindulging in alcohol, sweets, or even binge television. We have personally found great comfort in travel, work outs, reading and writing.

Unless you have committed a crime, been terribly unethical, or engaged in discriminatory or harassing behavior, you will get another job after you have processed these stages.  Mojo matters and until you have it back you’re better off waiting to apply for that next opportunity.

When the time comes, apply your application using an asset base and growth mindset.  You are preparing a new legacy.  Prepare a BRIEF response consisting of two or three talking points to share regarding your early departure, and then focus on what you can do FOR and WITH their team.  One final word to the wise; if you know you have lost the majority support of the board, it is always better to negotiate a resignation versus a termination unless it’s your last job as a superintendent.  In either case, as Dorothy discovered, your recent journey may have been perilous, but now that you have taken time, found you can still stand tall, and are ready to act with courage, heart, and intellect, the wicked witch(es) will swiftly melt away.

Kristi Sandvik, Ph.D., has been superintendent of the Buckeye Elementary School District in Arizona since 2013, serving some 5,300 students across eight campuses. She is also an associate of Hazard, Young, Attea, and Associates. Glenn W. “Max” McGee is president of Hazard, Young, Attea, and Associates. Connect at www.hyasearch.com.