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Posts Tagged ‘community vs. learning leader’

This is the fourth in a series of posts that will share some of my findings from my recent doctoral dissertation – How BC School Superintendents Spend Their Time.

BC school superintendents want the E in CEO to be Education and not just Executive. More than half of the province’s school superintendents report that they spent at least 11 hours a week on work that they would describe as educational leadership (supporting teachers, principals, working in classrooms, leading learning). Given that superintendents in British Columbia and across Canada were trained as teachers, this inclination should not be surprising.

Of course, there are competing demands.  BC school superintendents in my study, as well as those referenced in other research, report that they are often consumed by their board, administrative work, and community commitments. Being a learning leader and being a community leader compete for the time of the superintendent.

For my study, superintendents were asked to consider their level of involvement in 33 leadership and management tasks – everything from tasks within facilities, human resources and student services to financial management, curriculum and instruction and community relations.  Of the 33 tasks considered, 10 of the top 11 tasks in terms of the level of responsibility for superintendents were either in the curriculum and instruction category or community relations category. The top 5 (from 5 to 1) were:  Indigenous Relationships, Parent Organizations, Government Organizations, Strategic Planning and Board Relations.  Truly, a very unsurprising list of areas superintendents are most directly involved.  It likely would surprise few that the 2 areas at the bottom of the list for direct involvement are payroll and transportation.

In a similar, but slightly different task in my study, superintendents were asked to rank seven areas (facilities, human resources, business operations, student services, financial management, curriculum and instruction and community relations) based on the importance in their daily work.  Thirty-eight of the 59 superintendents surveyed ranked curriculum and instruction as either first or second, and 32 superintendents ranked community relations as either first or second.

Knowing that at some point, time is finite, these two areas do compete with each other for the attention of the superintendent. Superintendents seem torn, they want to spend their time on educational leadership, but they are taken away from this by administrative tasks and work with trustees. Superintendents often commented that they would extend their workday and week and are working more hours now than in the past to continue to be educational leaders in their district.

A Virginia study by Eric Armbruster of superintendents in that state over a decade ago had similar findings:

Superintendents today must be communicators, collaborators, consensus creators, community builders, child advocates, champions of curriculum and masters of teaching and learning. At the same time, they are expected to fall in with the bureaucrats, carry out mandates for the policymakers. School leaders today need to be versatile enough to respond effectively to these varied pressures while staying focused on the crucial mission of improving student learning. 

BC school superintendents in my study emphasized the key importance of relational capital in their work. Many of them noted their strong ties with various partner groups, their ability to move items forward because of relational trust, and how long-standing relationships were helpful. While superintendents felt the pull of community vs. educational leader, in the end, for most, it was not an either-or proposition. It needed to be both, and the tension of time was exacerbated by this conflict.

One BC superintendent when describing the pulls on her time nicely described it, “I do have control over how I spend my time. What I am not sure I have control over is the amount of time needing to be spent.” 

One of the great challenges for BC school superintendents, is one shared by others in various jurisdictions across North America – they were often high performing teachers who are committed to being leaders of learning for which they are accountable, and they also have the enormous set of commitments that come with  running a complex organization and being a community leader.

Want to read more?  My full dissertation is available under the research tab.  Next week I will look at the impacts of Boards on the work of BC School Superintendents. 

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