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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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Now how is that for a title?

As a political junkie, it was just a matter of time before I found a way to weave a blog post together linking US Presidential politics to our work (or more specifically, my work).  Recently, a particular column about President Obama spoke to me; it was Michael Takiff’s “Why Doesn’t Obama Like to Schmooze?

This piece, contrasts the current president’s nights at home with his family, and former President Clinton’s, which were often spent meeting with lawmakers and engaging in the “work” of being president, connecting continuously and relentlessly.  In fairness to Clinton, the article also points to his efforts in living a balanced life at home with his daughter.  But, Takiff says about Obama:

While 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.

So, why I am I writing about this?  It struck a chord, because I am questioning if parenting is generation-oriented; has parenthood become different from previous generations, and I am also wonder about the role technology is playing, well actually, more how it can play in changing the “rules” of our work.

Now, on becoming a parent, over a decade ago, when the opportunity of a new job came up, before salary, before potential prospects, before anything, in fact, the first question I asked (and still ask) is, “What do the evening commitments look like?”  For, like Obama, I am not interested in being an absentee parent. I’m not suggesting anyone does,or that previous generations did — I do think the game has changed. For me, I am happy doing “the work” online late into the night, and picking it up early the next day. BUT, I want to make a window of time, on a semi-regular basis — somewhere between six and nine at night, when I engage with my kids.

There is no longer a prize for being the first car in the parking lot in the morning, or the last car to leave at night.  For many, that was (for some, it still is) the sign of ‘hard’ work.  However, where work happens is changing.  No question, there are parts of my job that require being “present” and having face time.  There are other parts that simply need to get done, and they can be done in the office, at home, at 6:00 p.m. or the next morning.

On being superintendent — having been appointed to this position three years ago, and now just completing my second full year in the role, I do find the position is a bit what one makes of it, and there are so many ways to “do it right”. I have seen others in the role who are masters of the community, attending events at arts clubs, chambers of commerce, community centres and many other community events. And, this is important work, because it raises the profile and interests of a school district. One still needs to pick and choose how they will spend their time.

My focus is really getting the learning right in classrooms, so classrooms over community has sometimes been the priority. And, to be honest, I have had no problem with working hard, I do want to be sure that my own family sees me some evenings. Yes, I nod my head knowingly at  presentations to parents where we discuss the importance of family dinners and other similar connections, knowing full well, that at that moment, I’m doing the very opposite this.  I have had to make choices to forgo evening opportunities, and redefining the role of superintendent, aligned with those values.  I also do realize what I attend speaks to what I say is important – so these decisions are always taken carefully.

Now, if the President of the United States has figured out a way to be home most nights by 6:30 for dinner, 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 (I am reminded of a previous story blogged about in YOUR CHOICE).  That said, to the credit of those I am working with in West Vancouver, from staff to Trustees, we are experimenting with more online meetings, and looking at doing more of the face-to-face meetings during daytime hours. Our  District Leadership Team of six, all have children in the K-12 system right now, so this issue is very relevent for all of us.

So, if  the President of the United States can have dinner with his family “most nights”,  that’s certainly good enough for me to aspire to!

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