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Posts Tagged ‘time’

This is the eighth and final post in a series  sharing some of my findings and reflections from my recent doctoral dissertation – How BC School Superintendents Spend Their Time.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about time over the last three years – how I spend my time at work and how my superintendent colleagues spend theirs.  I was fortunate that 59 of the 60 school superintendents participated in the study that gave a comprehensive insight into answering the question – just what do BC school superintendents do?  And while the results are interesting, the obvious next question is, OK, now that you know what you and your colleagues do, so what?   Before wrapping up this summer series of eight blog posts, I will share what I see as some of the implications and thoughts on the shifting nature of the job. 

It is also worth considering the role that the learning transformation agenda is having and will have on the superintendency in British Columbia. Superintendents are being expected to lead major changes in curriculum and assessment that are intended to ensure British Columbia maintains its standing in global education. While all school jurisdictions in North America have ongoing reform efforts, those in British Columbia have been exceptionally broad and ambitious. British Columbia has built as Tim Hopper and Kathy Sandford describe as “a landscape of innovation, personalization, and inquiry in classrooms, schools, and districts.” These transformation expectations, which have increased over the last decade, could lead to differently skilled individuals aspiring to the superintendency and to boards making different selections in their hiring for this position. The Ministry of Education in British Columbia has been clear about its vision, “to truly transform education, the BC education system must empower innovation throughout the province.”. Being a passionate learning leader with a strong background in curriculum and assessment, with a vision around transformation, is now mandatory for the superintendent position. Tracking how this focus might impact who is hired into the superintendent position will be interesting to follow.

There are several implications from this study for various educational partners. For superintendents, this study allows them to put their work in the context of their colleagues. With the high participation of superintendents, the study gives a complete picture of the entire province. Particularly for newer superintendents, the ability to compare their experiences to others in the role is valuable. I would encourage current superintendents to look at their use of time in relation to their colleagues and use this as an opportunity to consider other approaches to their work. This study can act as a conversation starter for superintendents who often do not ask each other how they allocate their time.

For the British Columbia School Superintendents’ Association, this study makes a strong case for adding additional supports for newer superintendents and for differentiating support for superintendents based on the size of school districts. It does seem that being a superintendent of a district of fewer than 6000 students is far different from a superintendent of larger districts. Typically, support for superintendents has been similar, but if the jobs are different, small and large districts’ superintendents should be offered different types of support. There is also an opportunity for the superintendents’ association to support female leaders currently in other district positions who may aspire to the superintendency. It can be an uncomfortable question, but what can the superintendents’ association do to ensure greater diversity in its ranks. More generally, for aspiring superintendents, this study shows that if they have seen one model in their district of how a superintendent spends their time, it is not the only model. As these individuals move into the role, they should seek out others in the province to consider different approaches to how they allocate their time and areas that get their primary attention.

For boards, there is an opportunity to reflect on their interactions with their superintendent. The wide range of time commitments is worthy of follow-up. Numerous superintendents referenced the distraction some board behaviour can be to the organization, and this issue is worth additional study. Boards also have a role to play in supporting new superintendents and ensuring they have the professional development in place to be successful. Both boards and the BC Ministry of Education should be looking at how they could make fewer urgent requests and be more strategic in their asks of superintendents.

Finally, this study provides a useful look into the superintendency for those in the community. This study helps to humanize the position.  The leaders in these positions are experienced educators spending long hours both managing and leading the school system.

I recognize my bias, but I was impressed by the complete and unwavering commitment that my colleagues have to the important goals of our system.  BC superintendents are driven by purpose—to enhance learning opportunities and outcomes for their students in their districts.

Want to read more?  My full dissertation is available under the research tab.  And here is the full list of posts with links from this summer on the various topics.

Gender and the Superintendency

The Impact of Student Populations on the Work of the Superintendent

The Majority of BC School Superintendents are New to their Jobs

Learning Leader vs. Community Leader

The Impact of Boards on How Superintendents Spend Their Time

All Urgent All the Time!
Controlling Time is a Matter of Perspective

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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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I recently wrote about transparency, and in my comments, the discussion moved to finding balance, managing work, home, and finding strategies to being more accessible, but mindful that we need to be present in our non-work lives.  In looking at many of those using social media in education, the common denominator was — we have young families — making this issue/concern even more relevant.

The question: “How do you find the time?” is one I am asked, more than any other, from educators interested in social media. I also hear more from educators worried about expanding their accessibility online, “I just don’t have the time for it.”  To be clear and upfront, it takes time to build as well as participate in the community online. There are no promises that being accessible, modelling the use of social media, and engaging with others online, will reduce your work hours. Then again, we don’t need to sell everything in life with a promise it will allow us to work less.  There are many other motivators than the “promise of less work” in our lives.

I don’ t have the answers, but as with my blog on Transparency, I do have an emerging list of beliefs and strategies to make sense of my work/non-work relationships.

Building on a response to Chris Wejr on my blog, here are some principles/strategies which guide me:

1) I have no idea what it means to have a work/home balance, so I’ve given up on talking about this notion. More and more, work is not about a place — my office is very often my phone and it can just as easily be in my den at home, or my car (hands free) as it can be my business office.  I love the ability to jump in and out of work at home.  Technology no longer forces us to stay at the office late every night.  There are times we can go home early, spend time with our families, and go back to “work” later that night.

2) I block out time on my calendar that is virtually non-negotiable as private time.  It is not a lot of time, but it is consistent every week.

3) While I play, learn and engage in social media, I limit the tools I use.  I don’t know how some people participate in so many places.  In my non-work life I participate in Facebook, and in my work-life I engage in Twitter and through my blog (and others blogs).

4)  Every way I interact digitally (not face-to-face) can be done through my mobile device.  I encourage people to call my cell or text me, and I have access to my blog and Twitter through my mobile device.  I don’t need to be in any one particular place to be working.  I can’t imagine having to come into “work” on a Sunday to do work.

5)  Sunday is my writing day.  I often post one or two times a week, but the draft posts are written on Sundays.  I don’t have time during the week to write, but there is also value in not making postings too close together — so I try to be strategic about when I write and when I publish.  I tend not to write “news” posts (except on topics like PISA), so  the timing is often not crucial.

6)  I commit to commenting on five posts for every one I write. On Sundays, I also read what others are saying, and often, my thoughts.  I tend to prioritize local (BC) bloggers, and those in similar roles.  I see this as part of being engaged with the online community, so I set time aside for it.

7)  I organize Twitter.  I am often asked, “how do you follow 400 people?”  I use TweetDeck and have a series of columns.  Right now, I am following bced and cpchat, as well as several specific lists.  I also accept I will not see everything posted from everyone.  I will often drop in to Twitter at lunch, or when I have a few minutes before a meeting, but I don’t get excited about missing something.  And, while I know the research about multi-tasking, I will usually have it on as background noise at night when I work.

8)  I don’t do things other people do. For one, I don’t write newsletters.  It is about choices.  I find the learning from Twitter, and the reach and conversations through blogging, to be extremely powerful. Conversations in social media domains can help lead the narrative in our schools and community.

9)  I define my work day online.  Unless it is urgent, I will usually not e-mail members of the community outside of extended business hours (e.g. no e-mails at noon on Saturday from my son’s soccer game).  I might write the e-mail but will delay the sending of  it. Of course, if it is urgent, I respond immediately. I just don’t want to get into a back-and-forth e-mail conversation while standing on the soccer sidelines.

10) I really see technology as largely invisible.  I don’t think of being on-line or off-line.  I tend to always be connected and, very often, being habitually online saves a lot of time longterm – solving issues before they become problems.

Finally – I signed up for busy – when I applied for my job and had a family. Work keeps me out most Monday to Thursday nights – but I try to find ways to include my family (for example, I will take my kids with me to school plays).  Like so many of us, I don’t sleep a lot – but love it. As I said in a previous post, “Hey, my choice.”

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