I tweeted an article last week from the publication Inc. titled "Steve Jobs Said 1 Powerful Habit Separates Successful People from Everyone Else (and Will Drastically Change Your Life)." You can read it here.
As you know from reading my Updates, I often write about taking care of self. In your first few years as either a new superintendent or a superintendent in a new school district, you probably find it very hard to find work-life balance. There is so much to do and so much to prove that you prioritize work over most other aspects of your life. In the above-mentioned article Jobs did the same when he started Apple, but he soon learned to hire smart people to do the work so they could tell him what to do.
This is a priority you need to consider as you mature in your new position. You need to make sure you hire smart people to do the work and to tell you what work needs to be done. In my career I was able to hire extraordinarily great employees in both the district office and as building level administrators. For example, during one of my superintendent positions, and as a veteran superintendent, we had a need to replace a Human Resources Director. Traditionally school districts promote building level administrators into this position. I decided that what I wanted was a person who had an advanced degree in Human Resources and also had successful experience in a large organization in this field. This is the way we advertised the position and we were able to hire an excellent employee for this position. This new employee totally took over the responsibilities in this busy position and I never even had to supervise her. This totally took this aspect of school business management totally off my desk so I could concentrate on other priorities.
Those of you who are working in small school districts with no administrative help at the district level may be thinking my advice only pertains to large districts. You would be wrong. You have even a greater role and responsibility in the district's hiring processes. Spend the time to hire smart, good people to assume all district roles. This might be the most important function for a superintendent, to make the recommendation to hire the best people. Take your time and do this part of your job right and it will pay great dividends in your future work load and work-life balance.
Coach, Mentor, Director: It Depends on the Situation
Recently I was coaching school administrators and we were doing instructional rounds and visiting several classrooms. Many of the classrooms had evidence of excellent teaching but in one particular first-year teacher's classroom the teacher was doing harm to students. What I mean about doing harm is not that the teacher was physically harming students, but the students were not learning anything because the classroom was chaotic. Upon discussing what we had observed in the classroom I mentioned to the administrators that what we had witnessed was an example of the "Telling Hat" administrators must use.
There are three kinds of "hats" administrators use when dealing with teachers. One hat is the "coaching hat." This is the hat we use the majority of time when working with teachers. Administrators coach an employee when the person exhibits the capacity and willingness to change. The second hat is the "mentoring hat." You would use this hat with employees who are new to teaching or maybe have been assigned a grade level or subject they have not taught before. These employees are open to learning but do not know how to change their own performance, so they need suggestions and directions. The third hat is the "telling hat" and this is for employees unwilling or unable to change and who are doing harm to students. Unfortunately, these are employees who resist change, who may be incompetent, or who are new to the profession and do not have the wisdom and/or knowledge to lead their own change.
For new teachers who do not have the wisdom and/or knowledge to lead their own change, evaluators need to mentor these individuals. In a coaching situation a veteran teacher can draw on past experiences or knowledge to help determine their own improvement goal and strategy. Many new teachers do not have the capacity to do this, so the evaluator becomes more of a mentor in these situations. The evaluator may suggest or even demand certain improvement practices. The danger in this type of approach is that the teacher does not internalize the improvement. This will require frequent follow-up by the evaluator to make sure the suggestions are implemented.
When dealing with a teacher who has been rated or will be rated "Needs Improvement" or "Unsatisfactory," the evaluator becomes more of a "teller." The evaluator becomes more assertive and prescriptive with these teachers. Specific teaching behaviors need to be evidenced by the evaluator during classroom observations. Conversations with the teacher need to be reduced to writing and shared with the teacher. Specific behaviors need specific remedial strategies and recommendations. The teacher must implement these or the employee will be placed on a legally approved plan for improvement and employment could be terminated.
In the case I referred to in the first paragraph, the teacher was a first-year teacher. In this case, the district needs to immediately attempt to remediate the teaching deficiencies to try to save the education of the students enrolled in the class this year. The district should also strongly consider non-renewal for this teacher unless the teaching can be improved to proficient.
Tip of the Week
Are you truly listening to your staff, students, board of education and community? Sometimes as leaders we think we have all the answers. Listen closely to those vested in your education community and really understand what they are saying.
I would like to relate a story from my career when I really listened, and it totally changed my recommendation on an important decision. As superintendent, I was leading a discussion with the education community concerning a recommendation around either building a new building or renovating and adding on to an old building. We were considering options for a building referendum to be proposed to the voters. I was strongly in favor of demolishing the old building and building a new building.
It just so happened that my wife and I were invited to a Christmas party hosted by a very influential member of the community. As we were talking about a variety of topics, I looked around at the individuals in the room and it contained just about every influential person in the community. I decided to ask the group which they would prefer, a new building or a renovation and addition to the old building. Every single person in the room was in favor of the renovation and addition. Many had attended this school and had great memories of their time in the school.
I decided to follow the lead given me by the Christmas party group and we put a referendum on the ballot to renovate and add on to the old school. The referendum passed, with 70% voting for the tax increase to do this work. Upon the completion of the work the renovation and addition were fantastic. We were able to retain the footprint and image of the old while making the entire inside new. This never would have happened if I had not posed the question and followed the guidance at the Christmas party.