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familydinner-1

This is an updated version of a previous post and is published in the May 2013 Issue of School Administrator.

The struggle to find balance between home life and the superintendency — the focus of School Administrator’s November 2012 issue — resonated with me and I am sure with many others who have very public positions in education. Just a few days earlier, I had come across on CNN’s website Michael Takiff’s column “Why Doesn’t Obama Like to Schmooze?” which addressed the challenges a U.S. president faces in balancing his highly public life with his more private family life.

Though on vastly different levels, the parallels are astounding.

In sharp contrast to former President Bill Clinton, who often spent evenings relentlessly connecting with financiers and lawmakers, Takiff points out that Obama works equally hard at being president but at the same time makes every effort to have a balanced family life. To quote from Takiff’s column: “[W]hile he is America’s only president, he is also his daughters’ only father; his duty to them demands that he take time out from his duty to his country. And so he makes sure that at 6:30 each evening he’s seated at the family dinner table. After the meal, he helps his daughters with their homework.”

Changing Rules

Takiff’s profile of Obama struck a chord because I am questioning if parenting is generation-oriented. Does parenthood differ today from that of previous generations? And how is technology affecting the paradigms of traditional work ethics?

Today, it is no longer a point of honour to be the first car in the office parking lot in the morning or the last one to leave at night. That was for many (and still is for some) an expression of hard work, but technology has made it possible to log work hours from a location of our choosing. Certainly, some aspects of my job require that I be present at my office and that I spend face time with others. But I can carry out other duties on my own, in the office, at home, in the evening or at first light of morning.

Since becoming a parent more than a decade ago (and now as the father of four), the first question I always ask when considering a job opportunity — before salary, before potential prospects, before anything else — is this: “What do the evening commitments look like?” Because, like President Obama, I am not interested in being an absentee parent. I am happy doing the work online late into the night and picking it up early the next day. But I want to reserve a window of time between 6 and 9 o’clock at night to engage with my kids on a regular basis.

Now in my third year as a superintendent, I do find the position is what one makes of it, and there are so many ways to do it right. Some superintendents are masters of the community, attending every community function. While this is important, one still needs to pick and choose how to spend one’s time. My focus tends to be about “getting the learning right” in the classrooms, and classrooms sometimes have been a priority over community. I realize what I attend speaks to what I say is important, so these decisions always are made carefully.

Family Friendly

If the president of the United States has figured out a way to be home most evenings by 6:30 to join his family, surely I (and those who work with me and have jobs like mine) can find new ways to be home for dinner a couple of nights a week. It is about choices and priorities.

To the credit of those I am working with in West Vancouver, British Columbia, from staff member to trustees, we are experimenting with more online meetings and looking at doing more of the face-to-face meetings during daytime hours. The six members of our district leadership team all have children in the K-12 system now, so this issue is relevant for all of us. We also have a governing board that is committed to modeling family-friendly values in the workplace.

So if the president can dine with his family most nights, that’s certainly good enough for me to aspire to.

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A long-held tradition in the West Vancouver District, the Growth Plan is one of the most powerful components of our learning culture. Every year, district teachers and administrators review their professional growth plan with opportunities to share their progress with others in their school, as well as across schools. The plan cycle is based on reflection, collaboration, data analysis and evidence.

West Vancouver Superintendents also participate in the same process.

Our Board of Education employs the BCSTA Performance Planning and Review for School Superintendents model, which is connected to my duties and to our Board’s Strategic Plan. We meet three times a year as part of the cycle of reviewing, renewing and updating the plan.

Based on the Board’s key objectives in the Strategic Plan, an initial performance plan with specific goals and a series of strategies is agreed to at the beginning of the year (outlined in the presentation below):

In a recent update to the Board, I shared evidence of my progress in each goal area under the individual strategies:

We will meet again in the fall, likely, in advance of the Board adopting a new Strategic Plan following the November elections.  This next session will both refine and guide my work.

There is a lot of discussion about accountability and improvement in education. This process of working with the Board to set clear goals, collecting and sharing evidence and being held accountable, is very effective.  The process itself supports the short and long-term development of my own goals and performance. And, it is a process that also fosters and strengthens relations with the Board through open communication, trust and clarity of role expectations.

We all want to be better at what we do, and it is great to work in a district where continuous improvement for all is part of the culture.

I am looking forward to extending this plan further in the fall.

IF YOU ARE RECEIVING THIS VIA EMAIL YOU MAY NEED TO GO TO THE BLOG TO SEE THE EMBEDDED SLIDES.

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The title of this post is borrowed from a quote I recently saw from Brian Kuhn, the technology leader with the Coquitlam School District.  This quote struck me because 1)  he is right and 2) this is a dramatic change in thinking in just a couple years.

When I spoke at Opening Day for our district in early September, I described how technology, sustainability, and transparency are three themes that are underlying the work we do, and will continue to be very influential for all operations in our district.  Gary Kern, our Principal of Technology and Innovation, in speaking with our Board of Education last week, also emphasized the role of sustainability in his work as he described our district’s technology strategy for this year.  While we don’t want to limit a discussion on sustainability to printing and paper consumption, it is clearly part of our commitment in this area.

Until the past couple of years, our efforts in school districts have been to make printing more convenient.  What started as photocopiers in the office, spread to multiple copiers in schools, then to printers in computer labs to, in some places, printers in most rooms and at many work stations.  The cost of printers came down, and the need for convenience drove changes.  Until coming to West Vancouver three years ago, I had spent the previous decade with a printer on my desk.

The paper tide has been shifting.  While printers have come down in price, we have become increasingly aware of the ink and paper costs that eat-up supply budgets in school districts, and sustainability has moved to the forefront of discussions.  At the same time, technology has allowed us to digitally replicate activities which previously had been limited to being done on paper.

Today our school newsletters have moved to being almost exclusively digital.  Even with a conservative estimate of 30 pages of newsletters sent home with each child in a given year, this savings is over 200,000 sheets of paper.  This year we have also begun to move permission forms to the digital environment.  In addition to the savings in staff time, just at school start-up alone, we are photocopying 30,000 fewer sheets of paper because of this one change.  These changes in our business practices will only continue as our websites continue to evolve as our primary communication tool with our students, parents and community.

As teachers experiment with virtual classrooms, we are seeing more teachers taking advantage of “hand in” boxes that allow students to submit assignments and teachers to assess work without a paper copy ever having to be made.

So, back to the quote that led off this post, “printing will continue to become more inconvenient”.  Over the next few years we will have fewer copiers and fewer printers.  Resources that have been spent on ink and paper can be redirected in schools to other needs.  I suggested on Opening Day that we could reduce our paper consumption by 20% this year.  When we look to hit print on our computer, or use the Xerox, we should be always asking ourselves if we are doing this because we need to do it, or because we have always done it this way.

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