Why Listening Is Key to Superintendent Success

Credit: ShutterstockIt’s early in 2015, and you know what that means: Across the country, the nation’s school district leaders are busy selling their vision and their plans for the New Year.

In Illinois, Sterling Springs School Superintendent Tad Everett recently met with board members to flesh out his plan for the Vision 2020 initiative. Everett is one of dozens of superintendents across the state who has signed on to support the sweeping reform movement, which would give individual districts more leeway in determining how funding is used to address specific challenges in the community.

Supporters say Vision 2020, which is set to go into effect in 2016, will provide much-needed structure to what is an otherwise scattershot process for many schools and school districts.

“When we started looking around the state, we realized there was no educational plan,” explains Everett in a story on SaukValley.com. “Legislators were reacting to situations. We got proactive and said let’s put together a plan we can give as a platform.”

In California, Cindy Marten, superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District, is promoting a different reform initiative — with the same name.

In an interview with local NBC 7 News, Marten describes the SDUSD version of Vision 2020 (unrelated to the Illinois program) as a means by which to help local students and their families “rediscover San Diego Unified.”

Don’t just talk…listen
Conducting interviews and speeches is an essential part of any superintendent’s communications strategy. It’s important to get the word out. But school leaders say the real work often happens in more intimate exchanges, by engaging directly with parents and families.

“The conversations about the performance of our school district are happening everywhere all the time,” explains Scot Graden, superintendent of Saline Area Schools in Michigan, in a recent interview. “We found that while we can take care of what is going on in the classroom, it’s understanding what’s going on in our community that’s key.”

Across the country, school superintendents are adjusting to a kind of new normal, where the ability to listen to and engage with parents and other stakeholders is as valuable to their careers — if not, more so — as their command of traditional education theory.

“Our job is changing,” says James Wilcox, who twice served as superintendent of the Longview Independent School District in Texas. “We used to be the lead educator or head educator — or were perceived to be in the community — and that’s just not the way it is anymore. Our main job, as I see it, is maintaining credibility and image and telling the district’s story.”

As a school system leader, how do you value listening in your communications strategy? Tell us in the Comments.

Author: Corey Murray

Education writer and editor

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