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Mentoring Matters for Superintendents: March 2019

Leadership-life Fit—Meditative Moment 


Try this one-minute meditation to calm racing thoughts and return your focus to the present.




Survival Tips for the First Year in the Superintendency 


A recent AASA panel shares insights and strategies for guidance in navigating the first year—great scenarios for mentor-mentee discussion! 

  • The Board voted 6-1 to hire you. How do you connect with the one “no” vote? 

  • You’re communicating the vision for the district through a variety of methods (weekly message, lunch and learns, focus groups with students, staff, community members). Meanwhile, one board member opposes the strategic plan and is vocal about it. How do you approach this situation? 

  • How do you honor a previous superintendent while also moving the district forward and establishing your own identity? 

  • How long do you wait before making any changes?  

  • How do you enlist community partners? What role should the board play in this? 


Read the full article.


Leading for Safety—How to Protect Your Network from Student (and other) Hackers 


Several key technologies and strategies help district leaders maximize user and data protection with limited network and security resources.  

 magazine offers advice for securing your district’s network: 

  • Invest in a comprehensive (single solution) security system that protects against intrusion, viruses, malware, and ransomware (cloud-based protection) while filtering content, URLs, and spam.
  •  Ensure E-rate eligible technologies like firewalls, wireless and WAN acceleration products, are researched and proven effective.

  •  Use a robust web-filtering solution that is CIPA compliant.

  •  Ensure your security plan gives your tech team insight into bandwidth use and online activity.

  •  Be sure you’re protecting remote access with a next generation firewall.

  •  Update and patch your programs regularly.

  •  Set and communicate clear expectations for generation, storage, and use of passwords for staff and students alike.

  •  Maintain a relevant and current Acceptable Use Policy and ensure all stakeholders understand it.

  •  Ensure role-based access to information – set permissions levels.

  •  Address misuse immediately and teach digital ethics.

Read the full article.


Leading Teaming—How do the adults in your organization learn (or not)?  


Learn how you can cultivate psychological safety so that teaming in your district can move you toward the outcomes you want. Be a learning organization.


Amy Edmondson, researcher and teaming expert, shares what she has learned about key leadership behaviors that impact organizational learning in this interview transcript.


Edmondson’s work supports the contention that team learning is key to organizational learning. Foundational to team learning is the concept of psychological safety. Psychological safety is a shared belief that “I can bring my full self to work.” It means I know I won’t be humiliated, mocked, or in some way made to feel “less than” if I express disagreement, raise questions, or make mistakes. 


Too often we suffer groupthink—the appearance of agreement that disguises underlying dissent. One implication of groupthink is that people refrain from speaking up or dissenting for fear of retribution or loss of friends or status. 


The leader’s role is to improve the psychological safety in the organization. Edmondson notes that first leaders must frame the work—“clarify for people that we live in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world.” This clarity reinforces the need, the “why,” for speaking up. Amidst all of the uncertainty no one knows all the answers, but we all have something unique to contribute. The leader needs to continue to emphasize the importance of each person’s voice and perspective to understanding and learning. (In the context of the school shootings, this seems particularly fitting). 


Second, leaders can create psychological safety by inviting everyone to participate in the conversation. (I love the 2 cents strategy as a way to encourage all voices and to moderate discussion. Prior to starting a discussion, I distribute two pennies to everyone. Anytime someone speaks, s/he pays a penny by placing it in front of him/herself near the center of the table. Once everyone has offered their “2 cents worth” we pull our pennies back and begin the process again, each paying a penny each time we speak. No borrowing or loaning. If someone has nothing to add at any given point, I don’t require him/her to contribute before we pull our pennies back and start again. This rarely happens.)


Finally, leaders can develop psychological safety through social recognitions. Acknowledge and appreciate when people offer their thoughts, share a concern, or voice a question.


Read the full transcript.


For more information about creating effective teams, see this blog which describes Edmondson’s 4 pillars (behaviors) that drive teaming success.


Leading the Organization—Matching Your Leadership Style to the Needs of the District


Leadership guru Ken Blanchard explains four stages of organizational development and recommends the leadership style most impactful for each stage. Does your style match your district’s current development stage?


Begin by diagnosing your district’s current developmental level. To do this, look to the results. Ask:


1. Have we accomplished the goals we’ve set? Have we fulfilled our purpose while simultaneously honoring our people and relationships?

2. What is the quality of the relationships within and outside of our district? What is the quality of collaboration? (and how do we know?)


The answer to these questions determines your district’s developmental stage and the style your leadership should take:


Start-up – In this stage, the district may be implementing a new initiative, or people may be working together for the first time. Perhaps you have a new principal or new district-level leaders or new teacher leaders. As they rally around this new program, strategy, or approach, they share a common purpose and their relational energy is strong. What they need is a directional style of leadership—the superintendent’s role is to provide direction and clarity of vision to launch the work. 


Improving – The superintendent’s role in this stage is to coach. As the team encounters implementation challenges, people can become frustrated and relationships can be strained. The superintendent’s role is to continue to provide direction and keep things moving in a positive direction. S/he provides coaching to support principals (and teachers as fitting) in keeping the vision and purpose in sight.


Developing – At this level of development, the district is realizing short term wins—data indicate growth, and principals and teachers are developing and mastering the new skills and knowledge necessary to achieve continued success and attainment of the goal/s. The district is becoming more flexible and responsive to needs/challenges as they surface in the ongoing implementation cycle. The superintendent in this phase adopts a supportive leadership style. As principals and teachers develop their sense of self- and collective efficacy, they need encouragement from leadership. The superintendent’s confidence in them encourages additional risk-taking and sparks acquisition and refinement of new skills. By affirming the work of the team, the superintendent inspires continued commitment to the vision. 


High-performing – In this stage, relationships are strong. Those responsible for implementation have tapped into their strengths to contribute their best to the effort and they feel empowered and confident. The district is in flow with their work. Students are achieving at high levels and staff recognize their collective role in making this happen. The superintendent at this development level assumes a delegating leadership style. Direction and support now come from within the district—principals, teacher leaders, teachers identify what is needed and step up to name it and initiate the coordination of resources to address the need/s. The superintendent gets to focus on new strategic challenges and opportunities.


Being able to recognize the leadership style that is needed based upon the district’s developmental level will support you in moving your district to its highest levels of growth and achievement. 


Read the full article.


Monthly checklist

These lists are intended as a guide—we encourage you to process in your mentor-mentee team to identify other items that may need your attention!