"Wow...You Are the Superintendent?"
Have you ever told someone what you do for a living only to receive a rather surprised look and a comment that probably could have gone unsaid? “Wow… You are the Superintendent?” is a statement that I have heard dozens of times. Each time I hear those words, or some variation of the same, I pause and smile politely. Why yes person whom I have just met, who clearly has made a prior judgment regarding me based upon surface facts such as my gender, age, personality or the like, I am in fact the superintendent!
My story is one that follows a bit of a winding path complete with the roadblocks of being passed over for positions, the heartache of leaving babies in child care as I returned to the workforce, the all-out detours of a nonrenewal, and the excitement of finding my way to who I am today. There has been much to learn throughout my time in the field. My experiences are rooted in the following tenets and realizations which have been essential to my journey as an educational leader.
- Failure isn’t failing. It is just a tough love method of learning and a motivator to never give up.
- We are all a beautiful work in progress. Even on our worst day we are learning and growing into who we need to become for ourselves and those around us.
- The dream of success, with easy to reach mileposts and accolades from those around you, may be just a dream. The reality is that you are in for a tumultuous ride. The path may not be perfect or straight, but it will give you the opportunity to hone your craft as a leader and make you a more effective educator.
- You will never be less busy than you are today. You will never have less to do. Your career advancement will always add to your load. It must be managed day by day via prioritization and efficiency.
- Leadership is challenging for everyone for a variety of reasons; leading as a woman compounds those challenges. The teaching field is 80% female. The administration of the teaching field is 30% female. As female leaders, the conflicting forces are significant and impacting. Your wants, needs, hopes, desires, beliefs, and responsibilities will inherently cause friction in your life.
- There are extra roadblocks for women in leadership which include managing child care, attending evening events and meetings, taking maternity leaves, breaking the barriers of male only administrative groups, and dealing with harsh judgment by other women.
I entered administration with boundless energy and a desire to help each student reach their potential. My objective was to create an optimal learning environment for my students and staff. Early in my career I didn’t understand the nuances, soft impacts, and underlying systems that exist in schools. There was more to know than what could be read in a book. My learning took a failure path, or now as I look back, a path towards greater knowledge and understanding. Each experience has made me stronger as a leader. In hindsight it is clear that overcoming adversity and growing through failure was in fact the process to develop these skills and find the path towards success!
Everyone is writing their own story. Here are a few pages from mine that include 10 truths that I have come to know via the anguish of defeat and joy of triumph. These truths would have been quite helpful to understand at the beginning of my career. I offer them to you in hope that my stumbles can become your strengths.
Truth 1 – Everything Does Not Matter Equally
There will be times when the list of items to complete is unbearably long. You must lead from the knowledge that you have control over what you value. As you prioritize your day, week, and month, you must decide which roles and responsibilities are critical and let the other items slide to the background. The items that are put to the background are not forgotten but rather managed so that your attention can focus on the most pressing issues. It is critical to recognize that you will be judged on every element of who you are as a leader. You do not have to ask for permission to do your job. It is expected that you will move the items from the “To Do” list to the “Done” list with efficiency and ease.
Truth 2 – Relationships Over Rigor
Your most valuable resources are your people. You will rise and fall based upon the actual or perceived relationships with your people. No matter how busy you are, it is important to maintain an open door with your colleagues. When your colleagues come to see you regarding a matter that is important to them, invest in that moment, and add to your relationship by giving it your full attention. This is a sort of transactional leadership moment when your actions will either make a deposit or withdrawal against the relationships you have with your colleagues. Once your relationships are well defined, you will be able to address other critical areas such as increasing rigor.
Truth 3 – Friendly not Friendship
This is a particularly challenging concept for many leaders, especially females in the field. As a school leader, you must realize that no matter how humble you may feel others see you as the boss. This will likely create boundaries that you need to expect. There may be people within your system that were passed over when you were hired. These individuals should be respected but be wary of the fleeting friendship. You can and should be friendly but should not think of your job as the location to make new friends. It is considerably easier to manage the role of superintendent from a bit of a distance from your colleagues especially when evaluating and making impactful decisions regarding your colleagues’ employment.
Truth 4 – Take the Time You Need to Actually Lighten Your Load
Divert your energy to completion of tasks rather than the listing of the tasks. How many times have you written down your “To Do” list only to be interrupted before actually getting anything accomplished on the list? A well-placed hour of plowing through a task lightens your load ten-fold. As the school leader you will be expected to do the heavy lifting. Delegation is paramount of smaller tasks.
Truth 5 – Never Post Your “To Do” List
People are judgmental by nature. As a school leader, that awareness is important to recognize and leverage for your own success. You will be unofficially judged on your completion of posted items without regard for everything that competes with that list. It will be judged by people who have no idea what or who you really are. If your list moves too quickly or too slowly, it will draw a judgment. Determine the strategy that works for you to get your list completed and put your energy into productivity on your own terms.
Truth 6 – Never Wear Busy as a Badge
Have you asked someone how they are lately? Chances are that they will have responded with a statement regarding how busy they are. We live in what might be the busiest time in history. Our constant contact can be both a blessing and a curse. We are so interconnected and fixated on communicating our every move that there is limited down time. People are overextended and stressed. A great strategy to build support from your team is to work to lighten the load of others when possible. As a school leader, recognize that while you may be struggling with the requirements of your role, your staff and community will not have an appreciation about how involved your job is. It will be helpful to create a network of other like individuals outside of your district to commiserate with when necessary and remain positive and balanced in your role.
Truth 7 – Stop, Sit, and Survey the Scene
When you were hired you became the role on paper, but it will take a considerably longer amount of time to become that role in practice. When entering a new place be aware of the fact that this place existed well before your arrival. The mistake of many new leaders is to charge forward without taking the time to develop an understanding. Year 1 is rooted in building relationships and gaining an awareness of the system.
Truth 8 – Stop Taking Advice and Guidance from People Who Have Never Done It
There is no way for someone to understand your job unless they have done your job. People are quick to be “helpful” and share their “insights.” Have a game plan for when things turn south and be ready to respond by leveraging the wisdom and supports of people who have actual knowledge and past experiences to share.
Truth 9 – Perspective is a Gift… Work to Develop it Everyday
We all have blind spots that we just can’t see until something shifts making the blind spot abundantly clear. You will not always have the perspective necessary to fully comprehend or best handle a situation. A wonderful strategy is to lead with generosity, love, time, and kindness. Share your resources and pay it forward. Your worth is not proven by limiting someone else’s value. When you give freely of your time, support, and skill, you silently and selflessly promote the success of everyone around you. By lifting up your colleagues, you will rise together, and your awareness will broaden to make you stronger as a leader.
Truth 10 – Always Remain Focused on the Most Important Parts of Your Life
At the end of each day, make the decisions that make you happy. Time is the most precious resource as you can never get back time gone by. When you sign on to be a school leader, you are agreeing to be a part of an enormous spiderweb of influence, perceptions, challenges, and expectations. The point to remember is that your family, faith, friendships, and fitness matter to your overall well being and will directly impact your success as a school leader. There are times when your schedule will be so hectic that you have to make a judgment about what to attend or not attend. The close people in your life deserve the best moments with you so make them count!
All of the challenges aside, serving my community as a school leader has been a great joy. I am very blessed to have traveled the path that has led me to this moment. I am passionate about the power of education to propel out students forward and allow them to become productive citizens and members of the community and the world. Education is the essence of life and society. We are the front lines of empowering the next generations to reach for greatest. There is no other profession that impacts the world like that of education. It is an honor and privilege to be a part of this field!
Wishing everyone a safe and productive close of the school year!