It is so true. But sometimes it sure does not feel true in our business.
This challenge is one I see with my school and district administrator colleagues. Administrators are invited to an incredible number of events. It is easy to be a school principal and be out each night, and at least one day on the weekend at school and community events. And all the events are good and worthwhile events, but given all the professional demands, and the importance of balancing these with a life outside of work, it is a challenge.
I know, particularly when I was new into roles, as vice-principal, principal, district staff or superintendent I would often treat invitations as subpoenas. If someone took the time to invite me to attend an event, I had to figure out how to make it work. If I was asked to speak out-of-province, I would fly on a red-eye flight and fly back immediately to be home for an evening event the next day. I have also sat at a meeting, or a dinner and wondered, why am I here? Is my presence adding to the event or am I getting something of value personally or professionally for our organization by attending. It is hard to swallow the response – it is just one of those things it is important to show-your-face at.
Figuring out which invitations to accept is one of the tricky jobs of a school or district administrator. One piece of advice I would give to new people to their roles, is to think about your priorities and drivers when it comes to attending events. Do you prioritize school events in your district? What about community events? Or professional development events? I too often have said yes to events well into the future, because a particular date was free on my calendar, only for that date to get closer and me to be wishing I had not agreed to attend.
I know one strategy I have is keeping track of which schools I have visited for special events. So if I go to some schools for Remembrance Day Ceremonies, I will try to visit other ones for Christmas Concerts. And as an executive team, we try to always talk about which events we will attend. It is often not necessary for all of us to be at the same events. I also do try to prioritize my own professional growth – with a few opportunities that I block into the calendar and work other events around them. It is hard, and I sometimes regret committing to conferences as the time approaches, but it is important for all of us in the system to be taking time to focus on our growth.
And with the numerous community events, I try to place priority on those organizations we work most closely with in the School District, asking the question, Does me attending this event add value to our district? It is interesting – roles like school principal or superintendent are a bit what you make of them. You can do the jobs very differently and be successful, and community expectations around accepting invitations can vary widely.
It is exceptionally hard when you get an email that says, “we would be honoured if you could find time to attend our event”, and then say no. Initially you want to attend absolutely EVERYTHING. It is easier now, having worked in the community for almost 11 years, and entering my seventh year as Superintendent, but the push and pull between thinking of an invitation as just that and not as a subpoena is still a challenge that I do think about almost every day.
I have written before that I think how superintendents (or principals) spend their time is key. It sends a message of what they value and what they think is important. Something to consider the next time you get an invitation.