When vacancies occur within our leadership teams, we hope to hire highly qualified and committed professionals, people we respect and with whom we will work well. We hope these leaders will share our values, hold a vision that is harmonious with our own, know their craft and also care deeply about it and about children and learning. If all this is true, they should be a “good fit” in the community. Yes, there are some who look to hire someone with the differing characteristics to round out the diversity of a team or to offer contrast to the person being replaced.
First, a district needs a clear and shared vision for its future. Looking for a leader or a teacher who will be a good “fit” includes delving into their thinking about how they will lead and contribute to that vision. In this century of perpetual and often white water change, it is important to assess the capacity for leading change and for the communication and support associated with change. Anyone who has been involved in education for as few as 5 years has most likely had the opportunity to sit on some sort of committee to either form questions for, describe attributes for, or actually interview candidates. In the best of situations, districts have gone through the process of developing a shared vision and a strategic plan that is well known and supported by the educational community. Then, the hiring process can be built upon that solid foundation. But if that doesn’t exist, then the filling of a position is based upon the thoughts of a few and sometimes it is a highly politicized event. Given that this is a possibility, what is the likelihood for hiring success? Here the path divides.
Superintendents sit in a lonely spot although their work is to energize, unite, envision, embolden, encourage, create and lead a community. Unless they have a found a coach they can depend upon, their work and personal and professional development happens as a single person. The wise among them seek sources of renewal and relationships with trusted others who are respected and completely confidential. Some are lucky enough to find it with colleagues from other districts. Others may have established coaching relationships with former professors or other professionals they have met along their career path. But compared to the type of support available to other district office level professionals, and principals, superintendents often are expected to have all the answers too often without support.
Principals and Teachers
Principals and teachers have more expansive opportunities for development. In the best of circumstances, there is a planned and supportive mentor or coaching system to provide an ever-so-important confidential ear, a guide for entry to the system or position and clarity dialogue for difficult decisions. But, leaders must be careful that these are refined and experienced “elders” who offer something other than a communication of rules and “this is how we do things”. It is in these sheltered, confidential places that new professionals can be encouraged to bring their best to any role and to become innovative, creative and remain perpetually energetic and passionate about our work.
Hiring Is Not The Last Step
In all cases, the recognition that professional development is a career long process is essential. But, informed examination of alternatives and selection of options is essential to determine what professional development is needed for each individual. Learning new ways of teaching and learning, or of leading a strategic planning process, or implementing the integration of technology or a shift into a STEM based learning environment, for example, is half the work. The other half is the ongoing development of one’s ability for personal growth to support the person who teaches and leads.
One challenge is the public’s perception of the second half. Investing in the growth of a professional is not a commonly held value, especially when considering it is funded by public dollars. There is understanding that leaders and teachers may need to learn new ways of doing things but not new ways of being to make the job easier and more fulfilling. This remains a challenge.
If we are to develop schools and the people who lead and teach within them, we cannot ignore the need for coaching and development, mentoring and support for all. According to author Gary Marx, in his book 21 Trends for the 21st Century, we have a bigger purpose in our work. Not only are we responsible for teaching curricular content in new ways, with new partners, and with new assessments, we must redefine our purpose to maximize relevance for our learners. That isn’t taught in pre-service teaching or leading programs.
Without seeing a direct connection between what they are asked to learn and how it will be useful to them in their lives, students are likely to tune out or even drop out. Most are already linked to a world of information and ideas. This persistently vexing problem takes its toll across the board, from K12 schools through colleges and universities...We simply must rethink the breadth, depth, and purpose of what we do (Marx. p. 329).
How to lead and teach in this environment demands we learn more about ourselves, as well as possibilities, skills, and information. What each educator needs to learn or in which moments that person needs support is individually defined. But the place for coaching in our systems is loud and clear. Hiring is simply the first step of gaining a consummate professional who will make the lives of students better. The superintendent, principals and teachers all benefit from confidential conversation where open questions can be asked and decisions can be made below the surface crisis. The manner of delivery is a local decision. And with technology, there are more opportunities for it to happen even in the most remote areas. But, without continuing support of personal and professional development, the possibilities for providing the type of education our students need diminish.
Quality hiring processes are certainly the first step, but they cannot be an end. The same interest, focus, research, and time devoted to the hiring process should follow as each newly hired professional joins the organization. Some may need more, some less. Some may value support, others may need to learn the value. But all engaged in the educational process in this century will benefit from continuing development, both personal and professional. How we think, feel, and act are as important as what we know. In fact, for those of us working with children, many times it makes all the difference about whether we open children to become engaged or allow them to close to us and to school itself. In life, as in work, this is a process of daily attention.
A recommended read regarding Superintendent searches: The Quest for Elusive Candidates: 10 Measures Raised by Search Consultants for Superintendent Succession Planning by Charles S. Dedrick, Ryan Sherman and Lynne Wells published in the June 2016 School Administrator, a publication of the American Association of School Administrators.
Marx, G. (2014). 21 Trends for the 21st Century. Bethesda, Md.: Education Week Press
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The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.