Accepting your first superintendent position is a simultaneously exciting and stressful time. As an experienced educator and administrator with a proven track record, you know the ins and outs about school management and student development, but the role of superintendent poses unique challenges.
Of course, you want to start your new role as successfully as possible, and we want that, too! Here are five common mistakes new superintendents make and how to avoid them.
Mistake #1: Not Building Enough Support
One challenge that every new superintendent faces is gaining buy-in from the community and employees. This is true regardless of the size of the school district.
You’ll need to build trust with community members, such as parents and local businesses, and school district employees so they will support you and the decisions you make. It would be a mistake to not develop these essential relationships from the get go.
Creating trust and support isn’t something that will happen overnight. Scholastic Administrator recommends that all new superintendents plan a kickoff tour that spans their first year.
This will allow you to share your vision and actively listen to your stakeholders’ concerns. It also creates transparency within your school district, something that all of your stakeholders will value.
Mistake #2: Moving Too Quickly
As humans, we are resistant to change. It can be nerve-wrecking to deal with one thing shifting, nevermind ten or twenty. Making too many changes too quickly is a common mistake that new superintendents make.
Of course, in your new role, you want to show your community that you are the right person for your job and prove you’re worthy of your title, but there will be time for that later.
Change management is a process that takes time and relies on relationships. While some changes may be urgent, now is not the time to be making major decisions that have a high impact for your stakeholders, at least not until you have their buy-in.
Build your support first and prove yourself in lower-stakes situations. Take the time to really understand the culture and different dynamics at play. By doing this before you make any big decisions, your employees and the community will be more likely to hear you out and support you.
Mistake #3: Not Asking the Right Questions
Active listening is an essential skill, and part of it requires asking the right questions. When many new superintendents are communicating with their stakeholders, they don’t always get the full picture of what is being said. Sometimes it’s because they don’t ask enough questions, other times they ask the wrong ones.
To ensure you understand what the real problem is, ask clarifying and probing questions. It’s okay to ask for an example if an issue still seems vague. This will help you better understand the issue at hand and give you the ability to think deeper about it and better decisions. It will also show your community that you genuinely care because you are taking the time to understand their concerns.
Mistake #4: Not Leading with Intention
Most first time superintendents have ambitious goals and are determined to prove themselves. It’s easy to take on too much because everything seems important, but to be effective in your leadership role, you’ll need to prioritize and create a plan of action.
Just because you won’t get to something right now doesn’t mean you are ignoring the issue. It means you are focusing on what matters most.
Every school district is different and will have different competing priorities. A strong relationship with your stakeholders will help you figure out what that is. Once you know what your community and employees care most about, you can use that knowledge to set goals and create an action plan.
The plan you set will help you show the progress you are making and demonstrate your commitment to your school district and its students.
Mistake #5: Sticking to the Status Quo
After you set your goals and you are ready to create an action plan, it can be tempting to stick to the way things have always been done. Continuity is important for every school district and education is notoriously slow to adopt changes.
As we mentioned, change can be scary, but it’s important to be innovative and have a willingness to take a new approach to solve a problem.
Your district might be overwhelmed with school paperwork, for example. A safe approach would be to create a plan to consolidate school forms and develop a better filing system. An innovative superintendent, on the other hand, might address the issue differently.
They likely would work with stakeholders to get to the root cause and seek creative solutions to solve the actual problem. This solution might involve workflow improvements, moving to electronic school forms, or a combination of both.
Each school district has unique challenges and factors to consider. Once you have built relationships with your stakeholders and set actionable goals, taking an innovative approach to problem solving can help you make real, lasting improvements in your school district.
What matters more than any other advice in this article is that you demonstrate a genuine willingness to do what is best for everyone in your district. That is what will make you a great superintendent.