Having a conversation with an administrator, I was asked the question, “Do you really believe that you can make this change happen with such a large district?” My first thought was that this district wasn’t that large, yet it was relatively big for the area. 30,000 students might seem like a “large district” in some places, but when you are in provinces like Ontario, where some school boards have over 100,000 students, and the Toronto District School Board has approximately 250,000. In comparison to those numbers, 30,000 students isn’t so big after all. Size is relative.
No matter if you are a large or small school board, leadership needs to always act small. I worked in one board for over five years and I had never met the superintendent as a teacher. I then worked in another school district and I met the superintendent on day one because they welcomed and learned with all new teachers in an opening day session. People reading this right now might have a superintendent that knows their name no matter what they do, but I have also been in districts where they have never even seen their superintendent. It is like they are unintentionally playing “undercover boss” (maybe intentionally sometimes!). This is not about the size of the district, but the mentality of the leadership.
Now I am not saying that “larger” districts do not have their challenges both with population and geography, but there are so many ways that this can be dealt with. Does your leadership go into schools? When they do, does anyone know? Do they show up with their “entourage” and pop in and out? Do they hang out in classrooms, sometimes bring their laptop, and sit in classrooms to understand the impact of their decisions on classrooms? You should never make decisions for classrooms, students, and teachers unless you are present in those classrooms.
I remember having a discussion with an IT department lead on the login time of computers in the school. They said with all of the network settings it only took three minutes. I then shared that three minutes with 20 grade one students, can seem like an eternity, and eventually many teachers will not want to use the technology that you are here to support. Until we went into a classroom and saw the process, nothing was about to change. Watching it though, changed everything for that person who made important decisions that affected classrooms (they went to Chromebooks which take approximately 10 seconds to get onto the network).
Your district or school might be gigantic, but if you are in a leadership position, your job is the same; you serve students and educators.
Use things like Twitter video, hashtags, Facebook Live, to create visibility during times that you can’t physically get into classrooms. But get into classrooms. One superintendent I worked with recently in what would be considered a large district in their state, ensures that he spends one day a week in a school each week. Some superintendents haven’t spent an entire day in a school this school year. The difference here is the mindset and understanding the value of relationships to move organizations forward. If you do not have a focus on relationships, everything slows down or never happens. Trust, as Stephen Covey states, is imperative to moving things forward:
There is one thing that is common to every individual, relationship, team, family, organization, nation, economy, and civilization throughout the world—one thing which, if removed, will destroy the most powerful government, the most successful business, the most thriving economy, the most influential leadership, the greatest friendship, the strongest character, the deepest love. On the other hand, if developed and leveraged, that one thing has the potential to create unparalleled success and prosperity in every dimension of life. Yet, it is the least understood, most neglected, and most underestimated possibility of our time. That one thing is trust.” ― Stephen M.R. Covey
Trust is not created if people are not present.
If you want great ideas to go viral within your school(s), remove barriers, become visible, be approachable, and remember to do as much to connect with the people that you serve.
The higher you go up in any organization, the more people you serve, not the other way around. The number might fluctuate, but the job and who you serve remains the same.