Mentoring Matters for Superintendents: March 2015

Leadership-life Fit:

Transform your habits. Learn how to reverse those behaviors that inhibit your ideal leadership-life fit and stick to those habits that benefit you both personally and professionally.

Entrepreneur, weightlifter, author, and travel photographer James Clear offers a brief, easy-to-access guide that teaches us 10 transformative tools:

  1. How to reverse your bad habits and stick to good ones.
  2. The science of how your brain processes habits.
  3. Common mistakes we make and how to avoid them.
  4. How to overcome lack of motivation and will power.
  5. How to grow in your belief in yourself.
  6. How to make time for new habits (even amidst crazy schedules).
  7. How to shape your environment to make success easier.
  8. How to make big changes without overwhelming yourself.
  9. How to get back on track when you go off-course with your goals.
  10. How to put these ideas into practice in real-life.

Get the guide here.

Overcome Obstacles and Stay Focused on Improving Teaching and Learning:

Four barriers impede successful leadership. Recognize these obstacles, practice the skills to help overcome them, and transform your leadership!

John D’Auria’s article in February’s Kappan magazine sheds light on four leadership hurdles that can be readily avoided by cultivating and practicing specific skill sets.

Obstacles and Corresponding Skills that Can Help Overcome:

1. Undervaluing the importance of culture.

By learning and practicing the skill sets associated with building trust, strengthening a growth mindset*, and cultivating the art of feedback, school leaders can most positively shape school culture.

2. Being distracted from improvement strategies by day-to-day demands/problems.

When administrators communicate a clear, shared vision; adhere to a set of core values; align resources to that vision; and hold members of the organization accountable, they keep the focus of their leadership grounded in a cycle of improvement.

3. Balancing our focus on what we are doing with the effect of what we are doing.

Administrators need to develop habits and routines for assessing their effectiveness and assist their teachers in doing the same. They need to learn what works and for whom and then to adjust their practice accordingly. A number of protocols can be learned and practiced to support administrators in this endeavor.

4. Underestimating the importance of skillful practice.

D’Auria notes that three competencies comprise skillful practice:

  • Understanding of rigorous and relevant content
  • A wide repertoire of effective teaching strategies
  • Skill in developing and supporting high-functioning teams

By recognizing these obstacles and practicing the skills that can help avoid them, school leaders can improve the learning for all members of the organization.

Access the full article here.

D’Auria, J. (2015). Learn to avoid or overcome leadership obstacles. Kappan, 96(5): 52-54.

*You can read more about a growth mindset by accessing Carol Dweck’s article here.

What You Want Covered by Your Contract:

Looking for tips for negotiating your contract? Take a look at the advice offered in Achieving Success for New and Aspiring Superintendents: A Practical Guide and in an article from School Administrator.

From Callan, M.F., & Levinson, W. (2010). Achieving Success for New and Aspiring Superintendents: A Practical Guide: Corwin.

For a new or first-year superintendent, negotiating a contract may seem awkward. The new superintendent may feel uncomfortable asking for things. Don’t be afraid to get the opinion of an attorney who can provide you with clarification regarding what compensation will and will not apply to IPERS or have tax implications, for example.

Basic contract provisions generally include the following:

  • Superintendent’s role and responsibilities
  • Annual evaluation process
  • Term
  • Vacation days
  • Sick days
  • Salary
  • Benefits
  • Expense reimbursement
  • Professional development
  • Contract renewal procedures
  • Termination

Callan and Levinson suggest having a formula for yearly salary increases built into your contract. They note you should know what you would like for an increase as well as what you are willing to accept.

From Sneed, M. (2012). What you want covered by your contract. School Administrator, 8(69): 10.

Sneed offers the following insights regarding superintendent contract negotiations—you can access the full article here.

Duties and Responsibilities. Be sure your contract clearly defines your role as the CEO of the district and that it provides for you to lead, oversee, and direct all operations of the organization.

Board/Superintendent Relations. Your agreement should articulate how you and the board will work together. Consider how criticisms, complaints, and recommendations/suggestions will be handled, for example, and how you will revisit the procedures you establish to determine their effectiveness.

Salary. Typically, increases are tied to increases in district collective bargaining agreements or cost-of-living increases. You may want to use comparative data to provide rationale for an increase beyond the typical. You can find Iowa superintendent salary and benefit information here.

Term and Extension of Contract. Iowa law provides for “a term not to exceed three years.” See Iowa Code 279.23.

Deferred Compensation. This would include a tax-sheltered annuity.

Health, Retirement and Insurance Benefits. Provisions covering health, insurance and retirement should match benefits provided to other administrators (Iowa superintendent benefit information can be found via the link above under ‘Salary’. Request the board pay the full premiums for a health insurance plan of the superintendent’s choice for family coverage and for additional life and disability insurance. Also request the board pay the employer and employee portions into the state retirement system.

Termination. The contract should provide for termination by mutual agreement, unilateral termination by the superintendent, unilateral termination by the board and termination by the board for cause. The unilateral termination by the board should include severance and benefits for at least a year after termination. You want to agree on how the contract will end in the beginning of the relationship.

Other contract provisions identified in the article include most of those excerpted above from Callan and Levinson’s book.

Balancing Performance Goals:

February’s School Administrator offers another reminder about the importance of focusing on achievement first when establishing and revisiting (frequently) your superintendent goals.

Nicholas Caruso’s article (accessible in its entirety here) reminds us to be clear about performance goals and to revisit them often. Caruso encourages focusing the superintendent’s evaluation on how well the school is doing as measured by not only test scores, but also by student growth and improvement. Other possible goals mentioned by Caruso include those related to developing a more transparent budget process or restructuring professional development—goals that have relevance to student learning and in some way connect to it.

Caruso advocates for two-four district goals targeting student expectations for performance that the board should own. He then recommends the superintendent develop his/her own goals to support the district performance expectations.

In conclusion, Caruso notes that the superintendent and the board should mutually agree upon what success looks like so there are no surprises when the evaluation process begins. As we have noted throughout this year of mentoring, continuous review of these goals makes for a smoother evaluation process and helps to keep the superintendent’s leadership focused on what matters most.

Monthly Checklist: 

These lists are intended as a guide and are likely not all-inclusive! Process in your mentor-mentee team to identify other items that need to be addressed.