“Just what is it that superintendents do?” is a question I am asked a lot by my kids as I try to explain to them what it is exactly I do. I have also written before the job looks quite different district-to-district, person-to-person, and like many professions, there are many ways of doing the job right. There are the very public parts of the job including running the daily operations and working with the elected Board of Education. Then there are the other tasks — we all have them in our jobs — items that aren’t bulleted points in a resume, but are often the very best part of the job even if they do take up a lot of time.
The superintendency is such a wonderful role and for many reasons. Here are just five of the things I get to do that, for me, make it such a great job:
Taxiing Guest Speakers – On a fairly regular basis we have speakers who present to staff, parents or students in our district. Quite often I get to pick them up or drop them off at the airport. While everyone can listen to the speaker and maybe have their questions answered, I get to have 30-60 minutes of one-on-one time with an amazing thinker. So, whether that is talking with cultural anthropologist, Jennifer James, about US politics or with self-regulation guru, Stuart Shanker, about the effects of video games on our kids, it is such a treat.
Greeter of Principals for a Day – Most of our elementary schools have a student who is”Principal for a Day” at some point during the year. It is an opportunity for a student to make some one-day rules in the school and get a sense of what it’s like to be “the boss”. Part of the culture in our district is that the Principal for a Day comes to the district board office to meet with the superintendent. I give them a small gift and a set of business cards. I also enjoy the 10-15 minutes I get to talk with them. While I spend a fair bit of time in classrooms, these interactions are some of the only sustained one-on-one time I have with younger students, and I hear some great insights about our schools, what students are learning and what they value. And, yes, they are each a sample size of one and they keep the work real.
Graduation Dinner Guest – Every year, I make an effort to go to each high school’s graduation dinner. I love graduation. I think it is great that I have gone to at least one high school graduation for the past 22 years; first as a Grade 12 student and then in a variety of roles leading up to and including the superintendency. I love the excitement of the students, the pride of the families and now, over time, the changes in what people do and say at the events, like how they dress and how the events are organized. I find graduations are the reflection of communities; ours are all different and all reflective of the communities in which the schools are located. For me, it is always special and a way to connect with all graduating students and families on their biggest night of the year.
School Traveller – There are very few people who spend time in all our schools — I am one of them. This Fall, I have been in just over half our schools and will be in the others soon. It is so great to see what is happening at one school and connect that work to another. There is amazing work and vibe in our classrooms, and I can help be the connector of this work between our teachers and schools. I get to see students of all ages — again a pretty special opportunity.
Receiver of Good News – Okay, sometimes I am the receiver of challenges, but I also receive a lot of amazing emails; emails from parents who want to be sure someone knows the difference a teacher has made for their child. I receive emails about principals who went above and beyond to help a student get the courses they wanted, and emails that celebrate the amazing learning culture created in our schools. In education, it is often not apparent to us if we are really making a difference, but I do get to hear many of the stories first hand — either with notes sent directly to me or very often cc’d in an email about just something that someone thought the superintendent should know.
It is easy to find the challenges in our jobs, but in mine, it is easy to find the many great joys. I am curious to know what unique tasks people have or do that bring them similar happiness.