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Posts Tagged ‘control of time’

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

Picking up on last week’s post on the rabbit hole of urgency many superintendents fall into in British Columbia, it was interesting to see how superintendents responded to the basic question of whether they felt they had control over their time.  

Different superintendents sometimes described two almost identical situations, and one would use it as an example of how they had no control over their time, while the other would use it to show how they were masters of their own time. The experience might be best summarized by one superintendent who argued, “In some ways no and others yes” when asked about the control of time.

Many superintendents acknowledged that they do have some choice on where they allocate their time. The views were often like those of this superintendent, “I feel I have control; however, there is limited time and those items that are deadline driven or urgent in nature get prioritized.” Another superintendent also took a reflective view of time: “Control is about juggling planned versus unplanned – and also find time for reflective practices and vision to sustain innovative practice.” Many of those who felt in control pointed to strong governance structures with their board, highly effective management teams, and their willingness to extend the workday to deal with the urgent during business hours but still make time for areas of passion in the evening and on weekends.

Those who did not feel in control felt their primary objectives around student learning were being hijacked by the demands of the Ministry, the board, and urgent emerging issues in the district. They would see themselves entering each day and week with a clear list of priorities, but this list would quickly shift to other items that would require their time and attention. Many described the superintendency as a “reactive” job that required continuous shifts.

It is important to note that the study of BC’s school superintendents was done in the midst of their dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.  There were numerous negative comments on how COVID-19 had impacted the work of the superintendent. As one superintendent said, “It has had a major negative impact, and it has taken priority over many other issues on my desk.” Others described COVID as all-consuming, and as another superintendent lamented, “I work seven days a week to support schools and our health authority responding to the pandemic.” It was definitely clear that many felt similar to this superintendent, “It really limited what we were doing and detracted from the momentum we had going.”

The pandemic has placed an increased role of the superintendent as the communicator-in-chief. Many reflected on the pandemic similarly to this district leader, “My attention has now become focused on communications: when, how and what. It requires considerable effort to continue to shape a narrative that allows staff, community and students to feel safe, supported and cared for.” Superintendents described new communication skills they built, often through video platforms, and there are opportunities to find ways to continue to use these communication skills and platforms in the post-pandemic world.

Most interesting is how superintendents describe the change in meetings and travel. The travel changes seem particularly helpful for superintendents from more remote districts, like one rural superintendent, who said, “It has actually reduced the amount of time I spend traveling and allowed me more time to focus on student learning.” A number of superintendents said it has adjusted the work week, with meetings that used to be at night now in the day because they are virtual and the work week now being a seven-day week.

While many positions in the school system lack the opportunity for flexible hours since they are currently governed by the traditional school day, the superintendent position has some greater flexibility, which has been utilized by some superintendents during COVID. Rather than shifting hours, many have simply added more hours to their day and week with the growth and ease of virtual meetings. Going forward, having some greater flexibility with remote meetings, they may be able to focus better on student learning during the traditional school day.

For future study, rather than simply looking at the impact, it would be useful to reframe the question and look at the changes made during COVID that had a positive impact on the work of the superintendent and the success of the district. Given that British Columbia has not had the lockdowns and a complete shift to remote learning as some other jurisdictions in North America, some of the changes that others have seen may be blunted in BC. It is challenging to see the forest for the trees, and still being in the midst of the pandemic at the time of this survey has definitely limited the ability to see silver linings that may emerge.  Some of the changes in time-use that emerged during the pandemic may disappear in a post-COVID era, while others may be permanent.  

Want to read more?  My full dissertation is available under the research tab.  Next week I will take a final look at implications for superintendents based on the findings around their use of time.

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