Saturday, August 25, 2012

Reflections on Year 1 as a Superintendent

When I started the superintendent position last year I found myself reading every article and finding every book that gave advice on how to be successful.  In thinking about what the last year has meant to me and my family I think putting something out there that newbies (because now I’m a weathered veteran superintendent of 1 year) can take with them is important to the field.  As I looked through blog posts and articles I always found common numbers for development…The 10 Must Have Attributes or the 15 Ways to Engage Your Staff or Top 100 Apps That Make You A Better Basket Weaver.  Clearly, I am not at that point in my career so I have 4.  Yep, 4.  That’s it, folks…4.  So…here we go…4 real ideas and 3 rambling thoughts…all helped shape the first year... 
1. Twitter is THE new professional development tool…don’t let anyone tell you it’s just for kids, athletes, and entertainers…it’s for you.  I think about all of the time we spent finding the right professional development program and the cost associated with it.  I have learned more on Twitter in 1 year than all of those other initiatives.  Get involved…I spent the majority of the year retweeting what everyone else writes…and that’s ok.  Find great local people to follow…in Wisconsin I would start with @Principalj and @WiscPrincipal. Look at the people they follow and see if they fit your need as well.  Nationally…@ToddWhitaker should be in everyone’s follow list.  No question about it.

2. Visibility trumps almost everything else…if you are seen by kids, staff, parents, and community members your board will start to hear good things.  We started a Facebook page and a Twitter feed that can be accessed through our website.  I try to post something from wherever I go to keep people up to date.  Some have told me they don’t have time to do those things.  My only answer is…find it.  If people don’t think you are invested, they will struggle with any initiative you want to move forward…and perception is reality to your community.  Get to games, performances, sit with a Kindergarten student (but bring your anit-bacterial wipes…you might think that’s funny, but “it snot”), find a middle school group of kids to sit with at lunch and count the number of odd facial expressions they give you, and your high school kids know more about your teachers than you do…listen to them.

3. Get a win early…last year our opening staff activity hit 3000 likes on Facebook and made it to for a day (short lived but I’ll take it!!).  It cost us nothing and just spoke to how we can value our teachers.  Here is the link to the story on WQOW

4. Find people who are going through the same thing…Wisconsin has a great program through WASDA for new superintendents.  We had a chance to connect with 40 other people who were feeling very similar as they started their new positions…connect and reach out.  Again, people will say they don’t have the time…find it.
Rambling Thoughts…
1. 5 hour Energy may actually be a food group. 

2. If you choose to speed and/or forget to renew your license plates…try to do it in the village/city that you do not call home.  Getting pulled over on the only main street in your village lends itself to discussion.  However, if it does happen, laugh.  The fine, points, embarrassment…embrace it…you’re not infallible and the community doesn’t need you to be…but they do need you to be real.

    3. Finally…and most importantly…if you choose to live in the district, which I would highly recommend, have a discussion with your family about always being watched.  You chose the job and everything that goes along with it.  You can’t say you want to be the leader and only count on the good things about the job.  When you sit down with your kids to discuss this please use the attached picture.  Your kids need to know that when your 5th grader thinks it would be a great idea to tie his 4 year old sister to a tree during an impromptu magic show, someone is watching and most likely has a camera on them.  When this happens and the picture is sent to you…go back to number 2 in the rambling thoughts and laugh…because if you want to lead you have to be real.
This is the best job I have ever had in my life…we have a trustworthy board, a staff that wants to learn and has NO IDEA how good they can and will be, and a community that supports education (last year’s referendum for school improvements passed at 70%-30%).  Focus on the great things about the job, and understand that there will always be things that you do not like.  If you do, there will always be those to influence…sometimes starting with hair styles…
Have a great year, everyone…

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