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.”
Throughout 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.
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.
Tags: Culture, Kindness, Vision