What Do You Do All-Day?

When my kids were little, they used to ask me, “Daddy, what do you actually do all day?”  As the superintendent of a 10,000 student school district in Central Ohio, I would often just casually respond with, “I go to meetings.”  For a while, that seemed to satisfy them, and they moved on.  But, what is the role of the district superintendent? Officially, the superintendent is the top executive in the school district. It’s my job to implement the school board’s vision by making day-to-day decisions about educational programs, spending, staff, and facilities and by hiring, supervising, and managing the central office staff and principals.  


But, what do I really do….?


It’s my belief that my most important role, and the most important role of all leaders, is to positively impact and build the culture of our school district.  Focus 3 leadership consultant and Worthington City Schools graduate, Tim Kight, teaches that leaders create the culture, that drives the behavior, that produces the results.


Thus, I want to spend the majority of my time leading to impact the culture of our school district.


One of my core beliefs is that humans desire leadership and want to know what is expected of them.  When they are clear on their expectations, most people will rise to meet them.  With that in mind, I communicated ”My Six Expectations” for all staff members in our school district in my opening address to the entire staff.   In speaking to the entire certified and classified staff in one room, I shared my expectations that were designed to clarify the daily actions that we would value, which began and ended with the simple mantra – “Be Kind to Kids.”  


change-the-world-3Throughout my first year as the superintendent, I attended a large number of meetings; many of those meetings were set-up to create a new mission and vision for the school district.  We intentionally designed these meetings and brought a representative community group together, because we wanted a mission that would resonate with our staff and clarify our purpose as a school district.  My goal was to create vision statements that would specify how our team would work with our community to accomplish our mission.  These statements would create clarity and help prioritize every staff member’s daily actions.  After a solid six months of regular meetings, we developed our mission and vision statements.  Instead of solely creating posters and hanging them in buildings, we unveiled them at our February State of the Schools event.


After the evening of our State of the Schools event, I recognized that I had clearly articulated our daily expectations and our team had created new mission and vision statements.  The question that kept nagging at me was, “what am I supposed to do now?”  If we were really going to move the needle and impact behavior and results, what was needed next?  Immediately, we went to work with a graphic designer to create mission and vision visuals for all schools (which turned out to be pretty awesome!).  In addition, our communications team developed a video of our students talking about “Changing the World” (also, super awesome!).  Momentum was building, but I kept feeling like we were missing a large segment of our staff.  Without taking some sort of action, our statements would look good on paper and on the wall, but may make very little difference.  In Leading with Focus, Mike Schmoker points out that a leader needs to be “obsessively clear”.  That thought kept resonating in my mind.  Am I being obsessively clear with our team? How many of our 1,250 employees would really know the mission, vision and expectations?  And, since we all process things through our own perceptive lenses, how many would really know what these statements meant to their daily work in our district?  If we were going to impact the culture and change adult behavior, we had to do something more.


Processed with MOLDIV
Processed with MOLDIV

With that goal in mind, I worked to be bring clarity to our mission, vision and six expectations for all staff members.  This summer, working with Dynamix LLC, I created a book that each school will use throughout the school year to clarify our district’s core values.  At our opening staff convocation, I handed out to each staff member (including bus drives, cooks, and custodians) a copy of the book, “Worthington Schools Living our Mission, Vision and Shared Expectations“.  My plan is that every Worthington Schools employee will go through this book with their teammates this school year.  They’ll meet in staff meetings, department meetings, cafeteria manager meetings, maintenance staff meetings, etc…  The central office staff will also complete the study together.  


The idea is to touch all 1,250 of our employees in a tangible way.  And, I wanted something that would be sustained month after month throughout the school year.  The book was designed as a simple way to keep the mission, vision and expectations in front of our staff.  And, it’s also a way for each staff member to internalize our values and wrestle with how they personally fit into each area.  It’s designed to be done in collaboration with peers, because we recognize that all real learning is personal and, as a district, we want to learn in community with one another.  


Each section has a short reading, a process for dialogue with peers, and an area for personal reflection.  Our belief is that when all 1,250 Worthington Schools team members wrestle with this material, read about it, discuss it, and reflect on it, we’ll help make our written statements come alive with a unified focus for our students.

By focusing on our mission, vision and shared expectations everyday, I am working to create a “Focus 3” culture in Worthington Schools that drives the behavior that will produce results that enable our students to leave our school district prepared to change the world.  If everyone moves just one step forward, the organization takes a giant leap.


That’s really what I do all-day!

Dr. Trent Bowers is Superintendent of Worthington Schools, in Worthington, Ohio. In addition to being a passionate educator, Trent is a husband and dad of 3 kids.

Everyone Deserves a Thought Partner

In today’s educational landscape there are new pressures, unrelenting accountability, and polarizing scrutiny on our teachers, students, and administrators. Yet, the collective “we” are expected to implement, revise, and innovate.


While this may seem intimidating, we need trusted partners that can support, push, encourage, and reflect with us in order to cultivate this new frontier.  


We all deserve a Thought-Partner!


When I think back to becoming a Literacy Coach, I can remember worrying about so many parts of my new career. How do I develop my schedule? How do I get teachers to work with me? What can I do to stay current?


These questions were so crucial to my early success. However, there were two questions that I left out and, quite frankly, didn’t address until my 6th year as a Literacy Coach. Why am I in this role? And, what do I believe to be true of myself, education, and coaching? What came next is the most vital element to my life’s work and will forever be the blueprint to which I live by. It started with two words: Thought Partner.


Throughout my entire career, I’ve had talented people who’ve inspired me, fostered my growth, and pushed me to think and lead in ways that I wouldn’t dare dream of on my own. I thought about what having a coach meant for my development. Having a talented coach in my corner allowed me the space I needed to reflect in the most meaningful ways. I needed a partner that engaged me in dialogue as we explored the depths of teaching reading and writing. I relied on my coaches for support when I was pushing the boundaries of my craft. I was drawn to coaches that treated me as an equal and felt as though they were learning from me too. My craft was enhanced as a result of these partners and my current body of work is under the direct influence of these experiences.


As I think back on these most influential people, they all had one profound impact on my development. They allowed me to think and grow alongside them. They allowed me to be completely vulnerable, they allowed me to trust and be trusted, they gave me open and honest feedback, and most importantly, they provided time and space for me to think about the possibilities and opportunities of growing my craft.


Next, I was able to tease out the principles and values that made me feel successful when I was in a coaching/partnership relationship and begin developing my own Mission Statement. I turned to the resources from Jim Knight and those outlined by Elena Aguilar in The Art of Coaching. This basic template supported my thinking down a path of self-discovery and reflection that now guides my day-to-day reflections and growth.


I then began to expand my thinking around my belief and mantra of what having and being a Thought-Partner really means to me and my role as a coach. Here is what I came up with:


Partnership Learning Vision and Mission Statement


My core values are:

  • Equality: Coaches and teachers are equal partners
  • Choice: We should have choice regarding what and how we learn
  • Voice: Professional learning should empower and respect the voices of teachers
  • Dialogue: Professional learning should enable authentic dialogue
  • Reflection: Reflection is an integral part of professional learning
  • Praxis: We should apply new learning to our real-life practice as we are learning
  • Reciprocity: We should expect to learn alongside each other
  • Trust: Trust defines a partnership and creates space to chart new territories for growth
  • Compassion: Meeting people where they are requires compassion, an IC’s responsibility is to understand with compassion
  • Curiosity: Seek to discover what others see and understand that may be different from my own point of view

My definition of coaching is:

A coach partners with teachers for job-embedded professional learning that enhances teachers’ reflection on students, the curriculum, and pedagogy for the purpose of more effective decision making. (Toll, 2014, p. 10)


I partner with teachers because:

  • Everyone deserves someone that they can think with in order to grow their craft.
  • The collaboration between equals can increase learning outcomes for all stakeholders.
  • Coaching/Partnership Learning inspires people by helping them recognize the previously unseen possibilities that lay embedded in their existing circumstances



I partner with people to learn and explore the possibilities for reaching our fullest potential. I partner with teachers, students, and leaders to uncover the ways of learning and decision-making that reveal new territories for growth and development. I partner with people to support and think alongside them as they discover their own voice and comfort in this profession in order to transform teaching and learning for the benefit of all stakeholders. We all deserve someone to ‘think’ with in order to explore possibilities and develop new areas of our craft. We all deserve a Thought-Partner!


The connection to my vision and the principles that guide my way of being allow me to truly live out my WHY. So, this leaves me to time to consider ways to encourage others to develop their vision statement and supporting them in establishing their why. I keep a copy of my statement and principles, along with a few quotes I believe to be true of coaching, in my binder.  I refer to it often and share my beliefs with those around me. It keeps me focused, it keeps me grounded, it keeps me living out my work in the most meaningful ways possible.


As you develop your principles and vision, consider those who’ve partnered, coached, or mentored you either in or outside of our profession. What was it about the way that they interacted with you that supported your learning? How did these people challenge you to think differently about your craft? The people that influence us most have qualities and characteristics that we desire in a partner. It’s helpful to reflect on these elements as you craft your mission statement and core values.


So, how will you connect with your purpose and principles this year? Are you living out your WHY? Share your thoughts with me on Twitter @bsepe7


Brian Sepe is a passionate instructional/literacy coach in Buffalo, NY. When not being an amazing “coach” he is husband and a dad to two great boys!

Is This Your Stop?

Today’s post is by Ben Dickson, a forward thinking educator who currently serves as Dean for a STEM Elementary School in Reno, NV. 

I hear that train a comin’ it’s rollin’ round the bend………… +

Less than 24 hours ago the Universe conspired to punch me in the gut. Now in the grand scheme of the all that is going on in the world this was a trivial event, a speck of dust on the Universe’s cosmic karma train, but it still hurt like hell none the less.

I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die….. +

Over the last couple of weeks I’d been working towards a goal that I saw as the culmination of a lot of effort, the highest point on this particular mountain. There may have been a bit of hubris on my part, as I figured I’d dotted every eye and crossed every T, played the game and now it was going to pay off. The “do A and then B will happen” was something I put a lot of faith in.

Based on my opening sentences you can guess where this is going…

Friday 5:04 pm email

“we regret to inform you ……”

Really??? REALLY??

I hear the train a comin’ it’s rollin’ round the bend and I ain’t see the sunshine since I don’t know when…..+

We all know that train. that one full of pity, anger, self-doubt, jealousy. It’s carrying a full load of negativity and has some empty seats.

all aboard!”

Wow, that’s not what I thought was going to happen. It was like that final paper you get back after going to class everyday, sitting in front taking notes, studying until 5 am…You wonder if they even read the paper or did you forget to answer something, did you accidently hit delete before you sent it? Was it the wrong file?

“Welcome Sir, take a seat next to Mr. Second Guessing.”

Really?? REALLY??

And now here we are at 4:03 in the morning and it’s time to get off the train.

“Next stop Now What Station?”

This is not the “Now what?” of “How am I going to eat or pay my rent?” (Perspective people…first world speck of dust on the cosmic karma train)

No this is the “now what?” that we ask our students when they fail. The “now what?” of asking what are you going to learn from this? The “now what” we sometimes see in the eyes of students or staff after we deliver some bad news.

So in lieu of any actual feedback around my particular speck of dust. I realize I need to turn inward and think about what I’m going to learn from this. We often talk about resiliency and the need to build it in our students but we also need to think of ourselves. How are we dealing with professional or personal setbacks? Are we switching trains or riding the same one all the time?

Are you you on a road to nowhere?

Are you riding a train to Heaven of Hell?

Are you in search of somewhere?

Or something that rings true? *

All aboard!

Robyn Jackson talks about the need to create Master Teachers in her book Never Underestimate Your Teachers and I believe the same concepts can be applied to leadership. How can I learn to be a Master Leader? How am I making conscious decisions about what staff and students need? How am I dividing responsibility and developing the unique talents of those I work with? To me it starts with some introspection. This event has provided me with the opportunity to take a hard look at my beliefs about leadership and how I put those into practice. To think more about my interactions with staff, students and families and look for opportunities to improve, look for those chances to move from a practicing leader to a master leader. I have my own philosophy around teaching, learning and leadership but that doesn’t mean it can’t improve and evolve. How am I constantly growing?

You can get a taste of the glory

By the ingestion of a simple truth*

I think about choices I’ve made, answers to life’s questions and not just those recent ones. Would I do things different? Would I change my answers? No, those answers and choices are at the core of my beliefs about not just  teaching and learning but about being a human: build relationships, support each person with what they need at that time and have a clear shared vision. But could my answers sometimes be better? Sure. Could I take time to seek other’s answers, of course

But here’s the thing. now it’s not about whose answers are right but how they are put into practice. Once we make statements or answer a certain way they are free in the universe for everyone to agree with, change, argue about and laugh at. for me the key is not the answers or the questions but how they play out everyday in my interactions with others. How am I putting those beliefs into practice? Where are the opportunities to learn and am I taking advantage? How am I helping others find their trains? How am I switching trains?

So for now my train is headed in another direction. I might keep looking back at that other one once in awhile, wondering what could have been,  but the important thing for me is to remember that I get to pick my stops,I get to decide which way I’m going and I’m the only one to decide which seat I take and when I look out the window I’m going to see a lot more mountains.

+Folsom Prison Blues-Johnny Cash

*It Could Be Sunshine-Love and Rockets

For further reading by Ben

Behind the Leadership Curtain

Today’s guest post is by Dr. Neil Gupta, an extraordinary secondary director of education in Worthington, Ohio. 


I just transitioned to a new position in a new school district a little more than two months ago.  As I meet people asking me how I like my new position, I tell them this story:

Sometime in the second week of my new position, I set up a meeting with my direct report Chief Academic Officer, Jennifer Wene.  I walked in to her office stating that I had 10 questions.  With each question, she not only explained her question, but the reasoning and belief behind the decision or approach to look further.  After each question, her next answer was consistent with the same beliefs and approach as her previous answer.  She not only answered the question, but took the time to explain the premise behind each decision or thought.  After the fifth question, I looked at the last five questions.  After rereading each of the final five questions, I stood up to leave.  Mrs. Wene asked where I was going, as we did not get through all of the questions.  I responded, “Because you explained your answers with depth, you provided context in your reasoning, and stayed consistent in your approach and the value system, I can anticipate how you would address my other questions.”

wizard2In the movie Wizard of Oz, everyone was tricked by the Wizard.  No one knew that behind the smoke and mirrors was an ordinary person.  People trembled at the sight and words of the great and mysterious Wizard.  The Wizard set up a persona for not being approachable.  Not only did he hide, but he struck fear in the people who approached him.  And, his “wisdom” was shrouded in big words and hoops to jump to get answers.

My experience with the District Superintendent, Dr. Trent Bowers, has been the similar as with Mrs. Wene, as well as other leaders in the district.  A culture in the district has been built in having a clear sense of the organization and embedding the beliefs in decisions and vision for the future.

Real leaders do not create an environment like the Wizard that establishes a place of fear or confusion on expectations and ideas.  Leaders like Mrs. Wene and Dr. Bowers create a culture that is open and approachable.  Although it took them time to explain the rationale behind the first few questions at the beginning, their consistency and the evidence of values behind their recommendations and ideas create a place to understand and anticipate future questions and issues.

When leaders invest the time purposefully and in advance to communicate their beliefs and stay consistent in how they lead, it not only provides clarity for future decisions, but it builds confidence among the others.  It is stirs a confidence to anticipate and act in line with the values from the leadership.  And, in modeling this behavior, it fosters the same ability to explain the motives and vision with others throughout the organization.

As a leader, do you know what you believe and can share it?  Do you take the time to explain decisions clearly and thoughtfully?  Are you consistent in your motives or attitudes in order to allow others to anticipate and see the vision?  If so, thank you for pulling open the curtain!

To read more by Neil