Comfortable Tension

Originally published as “Comfortable Tension” in the Winter 2023 edition of SchoolCEO Magazine.

A school board can make or break a district—or a superintendency. Tension between boards and their superintendents has caused too many highly adept leaders to exit the industry. The effects of the pandemic only amplified this reality. And unfortunately, educators who have what it takes to lead are actively choosing not to pursue superintendencies simply due to the pressure of working directly with—and for—a board.

But school boards aren’t always the problem. Sometimes, it’s the superintendent. A leader’s fear of failure or discomfort can widen divides in a community, preventing all parties from doing what they came to do: educate students and impact the next generation of world shapers.

We as school leaders can take initiative to make our boards healthier by establishing a baseline of boundaries and understanding around the roles we each play. Healthy boards serve by setting the direction for a school district, providing educational oversight, and exercising fiscal responsibility on behalf of our taxpayers. As a superintendent with two separate boards, each made up of seven members, I can confidently say that effective school boards can be the conduit to better serving students and staff.

So what about us? As school leaders, our role is to expertly structure a system whereby individual board members can serve in a complete and future-focused way. Tension is part of that work, and disagreement is inevitable—but it’s our job to build and maintain relationships strong enough to withstand any conflict. Before we can lead with resolve, we must first get comfortable with discomfort.

Invest in personal and professional relationships.

In my experience, the primary non-negotiable for fostering an effective and focused board is investing in relationships with each board member. As a superintendent with 14 of these relationships to maintain, I understand the time commitment this requires—but the return on investment is immeasurable.

The more time we invest in these relationships, the easier it will be to overcome the barriers we face in our work together. These barriers can range from disagreements on how to meet student needs, to debates over polarizing curriculum, to discussions about our hiring practices. No matter where those pain points lie, the closer our relationships are, the more likely we are to assume mutual goodwill and trust. The relationship between a superintendent and their board needs to be symbiotic, whether that means agreeing to disagree or—more ideally—finding mutually beneficial solutions.

When it comes to building healthy board relationships, authenticity is paramount. You should connect with board members and genuinely seek to understand who they are, why they are driven to serve their community in this capacity, and what they want to achieve. Discovering each board member’s niche area of expertise (finance, construction, law, etc.) and exploring connections to their work with schools can strengthen both the board and the district. Honing in on board members’ biggest strengths will only elevate their value in your school system.

In working with a school board, it’s safe to assume that disagreements will happen. And in today’s climate, we can be quick to lean away from contentious relationships, especially if there are political differences. But bowing out of these relationships is not an option—that will only widen the gap between you and a board member. Remember: Your understanding of each member is critical. It will help you foresee and mitigate issues both preemptively and in the moment. But both the superintendent and their board members will have to invest time and patience into these relationships—phone calls, standing meetings, and any other opportunities for further connection.

Photograph of Superintendent Montgomery with LFCHSD school board
Montgomery with LFCHSD 115 school board

Communicate with consistency and respect.

As with any productive professional relationship, there should also be a high level of trust between you and your board members. Openness can certainly cultivate trust, but so can consistency. Be sure your board members know when you will regularly connect. I meet quarterly with each of my members, for example, but you’ll have to find the rhythm that works best for you and your board. And when the rubber meets the road, this investment in trust can expedite solutions even where there’s tension. This foundation of mutual respect and understanding will allow for more authentic and fruitful conversations.

Practically speaking, the frequency and general flow of regular meetings, retreats, and other connections between board and leadership should be built on mutual respect for everyone’s time, energy, and input. More is not always better. Systems and structures are necessary to ensure that your time with your board is strategic and purposeful.

Being consistent with your school board members will help you build an even stronger culture of productivity and respect. It goes without saying that transparency matters—leaders and their boards must always remain respectful of their communities by conducting business in the sunshine. Legally speaking, most states require school board meetings to be public. You can, however, help prepare your board members for these meetings by consistently informing them of any relevant issues.

Consider sending weekly updates on the district, individual school buildings, and even department-level information that is pertinent to the board. Providing these updates also demonstrates respect for your board members’ time and efforts by requiring less heavy lifting of them on the front end. And when your board is better prepared, they are able to ask more productive questions and engage in more impactful decision making.

Another reason to systematize your board communications is member turnover. School boards are designed to shift regularly in order to best serve our communities. Change isn’t a flaw of school boards—it’s a feature. In my two districts, for example, the community has an unofficial rule that most members only serve two terms. And as a way to make sure that these positions are being filled by the best candidates, we have a caucus system that identifies, vets, and endorses new members.

But if you have systems in place and you consistently communicate your expectations and norms, turnover on your board won’t derail important work. In my districts, we provide board members with a list of “Board Commitments,” ranging from “Demonstrate mutual trust and respect for each other while accepting outcomes,” to “Assume positive intent,” to “Be solution-oriented.” These mutually agreed-upon norms help keep our board members on the same page and ensure our work together stays efficient and productive, even as members come and go.

Orientation sessions, regular board meetings, and communication provide new board members with the tools they need for progress, while also offering consistency for remaining members in the midst of change. Your board’s culture may shift slightly when old members leave and new ones start, but implementing strong systems of communication allows you to focus on fostering those important relationships.

Establish a shared vision.

Disagreements with and within your board will arise from time to time. That’s a given. But having a shared vision for your schools establishes common ground, giving you the ability to cut through tension, refocus conversations, and lead forward with an end goal in mind.

It’s not just about sharing a vision with your board, either.Along with an additional elementary district in the area, the two districts I lead brought together over 150 stakeholders—staff, administrators, community leaders, parents, and students—to create one unifying Portrait of a Learner. This work, completed over the course of half a school year, determined our community’s collective vision for what we want to provide our kids beyond academic excellence. Now, the Portrait serves as our North Star, guiding the work we do and the decisions we make. We align both the work of our school boards and our strategic plans to the Portrait’s six major competencies.

The Portrait we’ve created together not only leads our work internally with our boards, but also guides conversations with our wider community. This keeps students at the center of our work. While academic excellence is the foundation of everything we do, this shared vision allows us to interweave life skills, ensuring our students will be successful outside the classroom and achieve overall well-being regardless of their pathway.

Oftentimes, disagreements distract us from why we’re here in the first place and what we want to accomplish together.  It’s my duty as superintendent to re-center those conversations around this shared vision when necessary.

Photograph of Superintendent Montgomery with LFESD 67 school board
Montgomery with LFESD 67 school board and students 

Lean on your team.

Leading and supporting school board members takes a significant amount of your time, energy, and resources as a superintendent. That’s why learning to lean on an internal team of experts is essential to your district’s success. Working with internal teams—from your administrative cabinet to your principals and teachers—ensures that the work you and your board envision is actually carried out in your district’s buildings and classrooms.

It goes without saying that supporting your staff at all levels will multiply your impact in your district. This also works to strengthen the trust you’ve established with your board—they can be assured that you’re translating their work and vision into real-time results. If, for example, your board establishes a new districtwide attendance policy, they need to have faith in your principals and their staffs to implement the policy accordingly.

Having strong internal teams starts with generating a culture of respect and productivity. Just as you do with your school board, you can support this culture by investing in personal and professional relationships, communicating with your teams consistently, and establishing a shared vision to inspire and center your work. This will build the trust necessary to support your board and your entire staff. Without every team’s trust, I’m not going to meet the needs of my board. If my priority is to remove barriers so the board can do their best work, I need to be able to trust that my internal teams are also invested and engaged in this work. Without all our district staff being in sync, the whole system collapses.

You’ll also want to quickly lean into any tension that arises on your internal teams. Engaging with conflict is difficult, but it can also reveal blindspots and areas for growth that need to be addressed. Much like your board relations, the energy and time you’ve put into building relationships and trust with staff members will allow you to navigate sensitive issues and withstand internal conflicts. Your return on this investment is an increased ability to reach and actualize the mission and vision of your schools.

Get comfortable with tension.

At the end of the day, superintendents must find a way to get comfortable with the tension of board relations. Aversion to and fear of inevitable conflicts and disagreements will only hinder effective communication and derail your work together. By maintaining a respectful, inquisitive approach to disagreements, you can turn conflict into professional curiosity, which leads to progress instead of frustration and inaction. Tension, after all, is a necessary ingredient for transformation. Without it, a system cannot significantly change for the better.

Living in the tension all starts with respect—not just for your board members’ work and expertise, but for who they are as people. Fostering these connections can translate into our most important work as school leaders: serving our communities and preparing our students to be our next generation of leaders.



More Than a Feeling, an Indicator of Success

I recently had the opportunity to author a piece for Education Week magazine titled, “The Four Steps to Becoming a ‘Leadership Artist.’” I embarked on the journey at a time when  many in educational roles were feeling downtrodden and exhausted by the experiences of the last two years, yet I was observing the educational landscape  from a different perspective. Through that article, I sought to provide my colleagues with clear steps to move forward and offered a look inside what we have been doing in Lake Forest Schools over the past year. 

As I dug deeper into why I felt optimistic about the future amidst the many hurdles and contentious clashes while others were not, I struggled to put my finger on what made my outlook vastly different from my peers. While attending a conference with EdLeader21 and Battelle for Kids, a partner in the District 65, 67, and 115 Portrait of a Learner work, I found my ah-ha. My “why” was a deep, driving, and enduring sense of Hope. 

By definition, Hope is “the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best.” And to my core, I felt, and still feel, Hope for the future. I feel it for my own children; I feel it for the students in our districts; and, I feel it for the field of education as a whole. As Frank Sinatra warbles, “the best is yet to come.”

More than a Feeling

At the conference, I was reminded of the science behind Hope. There, Battelle for Kids and EdLeader21 reviewed research findings that indicate Hope is more than a feeling. There are dozens of scientific studies demonstrating why a driving sense of Hope can make all the difference — not only for adults but more importantly for our students. 

One study shows Hope is a more robust predictor of future success than the ACT, SAT, and a student’s GPA. Let that sink in — Hope is a better predictor of future success than today’s gold standard measurements of knowledge or academic performance in the collegiate environment. 

Going Beyond Success with Hope

We know that academic success is not the only predictor of the well-lived lives that we desire for our students and children. That is where the research shared in Hope Rising: How the Science of Hope Can Change Your Life, by Casey Gwinn, J.D. and Chan Hellman, Ph.D., caught my attention. 

In their book, the researchers write, “In every published study of hope, every single one, hope is the single best predictor of well-being compared to any other measures of trauma recovery.” 

Pre-pandemic schools saw about one-third of students living with trauma. Today, most in the field believe that number is likely far higher. Each community, including ours, finds itself in the race to ensure our students are and feel safe, secure, and mentally, emotionally, and physically well. That is why, to me, now is the time for us to dig deeper in our understanding of the role of There has never been a more important time for us to understand the role of Hope in student growth.

Nurturing Hope 

Hope is more than wishful thinking and, despite what some may believe, it is not a personality trait or genetic predisposition. According to C.R. Snyder’s Hope Theory, there are three components associated with having Hope: 1. Having goal-oriented thoughts, 2. Developing strategies to achieve goals, and 3. Being motivated to expend effort to achieve goals. 

Think back to a success you have had in your life. Did the achievement come by way of someone else’s hard work? I am guessing not. It was most likely the result of your goal setting. Your careful planning. And your ability to overcome obstacles — because you believed you could — or that the outcome you desired was still possible, despite the hardship. It’s only through having Hope and working hard for what we have that we can truly appreciate our successes.

Our challenge today is to provide those same opportunities for our students to nurture a sense of Hope in age-appropriate ways. I could (and likely will) write more on the topic of allowing our students to struggle without rescuing them — it is a critical piece of being able to feel, have and grow a driving sense of Hope. 

Becoming Cultivators of Hope in Lake Forest, Lake Bluff, and Knollwood Schools

In summary, Hope is a predictor of long- and short-term success for students. Moreover, a sense of Hope is directly linked to the ability to overcome difficulty or trauma, a necessity to continue moving onward and upward. Therefore, we must pursue how we nurture Hope in ourselves and our students — and that is precisely what we intend to do.

In the coming weeks, we will unveil our Portrait of a Learner, which comes after many hours of work and input from parents, staff, and students in Districts 65, 67, and 115. Hope is interwoven throughout. It will be an illustration of what we want and expect our students to learn in our public schools. It is predicated on a belief that our students will be able to overcome barriers and rise to new challenges with the Hope that the best is yet to come — and they can be the ones to lead us there. 

WIP Citations: 


Additional References:

Busteed, B. B. (2022, March 24). Make a Difference. Show Students You Care. Gallup.Com. https://news.gallup.com/businessjournal/178118/difference-show-students-care.aspx

Definition of hope. (n.d.). Www.Dictionary.Com. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/hope#:%7E:text=the%20feeling%20that%20what%20is,no%20hope%20of%20his%20recovery.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2022, April 22). Understanding Child Trauma. Retrieved May 1, 2022, from https://www.samhsa.gov/child-trauma/understanding-child-trauma.


The Four Steps to Becoming a ‘Leadership Artist’

After more than two years of leading our districts through the pandemic, many superintendents are faced with the reality that there is no “returning to normal.” Instead, we have a remarkable opportunity to pick up the pieces around us and build something new.

I am feeling optimistic about the future and what could come of rebuilding, but I empathize with how overwhelmed many leaders in education feel about the work ahead. The pieces around us right now can often feel more like sharp, broken shards than neat, stackable building blocks.

Superintendents are still navigating the effects of the pandemic, community division, staff burnout, and a growing talent gap. On top of that, the strategic plans, visions, and goals we once imagined for our schools, agencies, and educational institutions have shifted dramatically. So, now what?

I believe the answer is in an ancient Japanese art form, kintsugi, the art of purposefully reconstructing broken pieces of pottery with gold lacquer to create an even stronger, more beautiful piece of art.

One of the most significant impacts of pursuing the kintsugi art form is the personal journey of the artist. Through the process, artists realize that although cracks can be painful, they provide opportunity for reconstruction and a stronger and more beautiful result. I think the same is true for us; each leader who has served during the pandemic is stronger than when we began.

Each flaw is an opportunity in the art of kintsugi, and every imperfection is embraced for its possible potential to be reimagined. What I believe education needs now are leaders with the fortitude to make something beautiful out of the pieces we are currently holding.

Think of the pieces on your table: curriculum, DEI, remote learning, critical race theory, contentious board elections and meetings, innovation, LGBTQ+ students, COVID-19, social-emotional needs, widening achievement gaps, greater economic disparity.

Yes, many of us are tired beyond imagination, but we have made tough decisions and continued to show up day in and day out. Pandemic superintendents are defined by our resilience. And we must continue to tackle this next season as sage leaders who inspire trust and can proceed forward with clarity and bravery, guided by the keys to kintsugi.

How do we superintendents begin to become leadership artists of kintsugi?

1. Acknowledge it is time to reevaluate our vision and goals.

How, where, and when education happens has been challenged and changed over the past two years. We cannot simply go back to the plans we put on hold in March 2020. The world we are working desperately to prepare our students for has shifted tremendously, and we must respond accordingly.

We can value where we have come from, keep what is working, and look for ways to strengthen the parts of our education system that are broken. As we acknowledge the broken pieces, it is vitally important that we maintain connection to others, emulate a positive mindset, and stay resilient through the changes ahead.

2. Cultivate, connect, and care for internal staff and teams.

Our ability to reenvision the future of our schools relies on the health of our teams. Kintsugi teaches that every piece has value and that there is inherent worth in stopping or slowing a process to show care for others and display gratitude. We cannot afford to skip this step of the reconstruction process.

Building a pipeline of leadership artists within our organizations will also assist in the future stages of the rebuilding process because they will also be poised to ensure the reenvisioned future becomes a reality by taking the helm when it is time. As a profession, we cannot undervalue the expertise and the potential in our buildings today.

3. Engage the community in our reconstruction efforts.

Gone are the days of presenting a packaged visionary plan with a bow on top. Our communities want a seat at the table. Our parents have become partner educators throughout the pandemic. Our stakeholders have new insights to offer. They want, need, and expect us to take them seriously and value their opinions.

We will have to artfully facilitate difficult conversations in which people may have competing views and priorities while maintaining value, caring for others, and having a positive mindset. Our primary goal of this step is to assiduously ensure the best interest of students is at the core of the community discourse.

4. Seize the moment to begin constructing something new.

Teachers and superintendents today are facing the single most transformative time in modern-day educational history. Now is the time to lead truly transformational work in an institution that has long been resistant to change. It is time to make some changes that we know are needed for our students to succeed.

The students I speak to are begging the adults to listen—they want independence in their learning, flexibility to take their learning beyond the traditional classroom environments, and acknowledgement that they are capable thinkers.

As for me and my community, we have chosen not to miss this moment for innovation, working together and reimagining the future of our schools.

In the Lake Forest school district I lead, we have launched new community-engagement opportunities where open discussions focus on the future of our students. Our rebuilding process may take time, but as long as we maintain a positive mindset and remain resilient, we will build a version of K-12 education that is stronger than what existed before.

The last two years have shattered long-held traditions and beliefs in our industry, and education is now uniquely primed for reinvention. Innovation and the beauty of reconstruction will only be possible if you and I can step into our roles as leadership artists and rebuild our broken system into one that is stronger, more beautiful, and more resilient.

Winds in the East, Mist Coming In

July and August are often where the winds of school leadership are in a state of flux. The pandemic weather pattern has meant countless changes in school leadership across the country. There were planned and accelerated retirements, fresh starts, and even some departures for careers outside of education. I am one of the many “pandemic leaders” who is now beginning a new journey in new schools.   

Deciding to move was far from easy for me and my family. Some people wondered why we would leave a district when things were going so well on most fronts. As a family, we were “all-in” and cherished established friends and routines. The kids were in activities, clubs, and sports all of which enabled our family to truly be a part of the school community.   

This brings me to a viewpoint or philosophy on leadership that is rooted in the belief that each leader plays a role or serves a specific need within an organization. This role is time-sensitive and evolves during one’s tenure. If you are lucky enough, you can have the rare gift of serving your role to completion. Then, you must have the humility to realize another leadership style could better meet the needs of the organization.  

While this makes logical sense in my head, it is often far more challenging for my heart to comprehend. Being a leader requires giving your whole self to do it well. In other words, you must lead with your mind and heart. My family and I strive to become interwoven into the fabric of the school community. This makes the decision to seek new challenges exceptionally difficult for my family and can leave some community members wondering why or even feeling betrayed. I am reminded of one of the scenes from Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins (1964), where the children ask how long will their beloved nanny stay with the family. Mary Poppins lovingly responds, “I’ll stay until the wind changes.” I truly believe great leaders come into organizations and stay until they serve their purpose. Hopefully, we create lasting positive changes for the children of the community. When we leave it is often with a smile on our face, but sadness in our hearts. 

But remember the rest of Bert’s introduction to Mary Poppins:

Winds in the east, mist coming in,

Like somethin’ is brewin’ and about to begin.

Can’t put me finger on what lies in store,

But I fear what’s to happen all happened before.

While change can be painful for everyone, it also signals a beginning, filled with hope, possibility, and opportunity. I can’t wait to see where the next leader takes my former school and, with the wind in my sails, I’m looking forward to the new challenges in my new schools.  

Vision of a Minuteman

I was humbled to play a small part in this publication with Battelle for Kids regarding our work on the Portrait of a Graduate. The development of a shared vision has never been more important than now.


by Stephen Fujii, in partnership with Matthew Montgomery, Ph.D., Superintendent of Revere Local Schools

Revere Local School District (Revere) boasts a strong history of academic excellence. With four schools and one preschool, Revere serves approximately 2,800 students and attributes their success to their student-centered approach and strong relationship with community members. The district leadership team is working with the community to develop a Portrait of a Graduate and articulate the competencies necessary for all students to thrive. 

The Vision of a Minuteman will be the first step of Revere’s strategic planning process. This critical step called for close collaboration between the district and the broader community. As the previous strategic plan was sunsetting, the district wanted to ensure the new strategic plan would center on the 21st century learning experiences to prepare their students to become leaders in a rapidly changing and complex world. Both district and community stakeholders were poised to engage in purposeful conversations with stakeholders as they collectively designed the Vision of a Minuteman that would steer the district’s work moving forward. Throughout the process, students have provided a critical voice as they advocate for their education.  

Revere’s superintendent, Dr. Matthew Montgomery, understood the importance of engaging with the community in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and the social justice resurgence. The Vision of a Minuteman design process created a forum that catalyzed these critical and courageous conversations and channeled them into an exploration of the skills and competencies students needed to navigate the realities of today and tomorrow. At times of political strife, misinformation, public health crises, it was paramount to bring the community together in service of students. More importantly, the Design Team meetings centered on asking themselves: how can our schools prepare Revere students to become leaders who tackle our society’s challenges?

Community engagement done well allows for the democratization of voice and invites a diverse group of community perspectives to elevate the needs of different stakeholders. Leadership at Revere intentionally established a Design Team that represented a cross-section of their community—students, parents, educators, administrators, business leaders, and community leaders. Each Design Team meeting was formulated to ensure all stakeholder groups contributed to the Vision of a Minuteman in a meaningful way. The overall goal was to empower Design Team members—to become change agents within the education system. 

“The community is important, and we should work with people from all over the school and community—students, bus drivers, and even the administration,” explained Portrait Design Team member and high school student Elisha Dennis-Brinson. “Leaders should always be willing to listen to the people around them.”

Revere students played a strong leadership role in the development of the Vision of a Minuteman. They are, after all, the central focus of the Vision of a Minuteman. Young people are positioned to lead and take action on our society’s critical challenges—they are passionate about equity, empathy, and diverse views as the pandemic has deeply impacted them.

Dr. Montgomery affirms that “it was inspirational for stakeholders to hear student leaders speak to the future of their school.” Student discussions were rich and robust because students were keenly aware of what they needed. 

Middle school student Avery Stein said, “Being part of this group, I’m able to talk […] about what I think needs to be changed and what the student body as a whole wants for the future.” Students focused on the importance of finding their voice and building their confidence to become leaders in their community. As stakeholders weighed different considerations and decisions, they relied on students’ voices as a litmus test. Giving students a voice is empowering.

Mr. Dennis-Brinson shared that he felt “proud to be able to share from my perspective and see my ideas be taken into consideration by creating a discussion on how we as a school can improve.” As a result, the Vision of a Minuteman articulates that Revere students embody empathy and confidence, which students had advocated early in the process.

Student participation in the Design Team allowed them to model agency. Ms. Stein explains that “being 14, I didn’t think I would play a part in how I can change my future, but my voice is being heard. I’m able to talk to principals, teachers, and people who are working in the schools. They want to know my opinions and they want to know the pros and the cons and what I think could shape a better future.” 

Outside the Design Team, students further demonstrated their investment in this vision that would guide their future and their peers’ future. Students interviewed Dr. Montgomery and collaborated with Battelle for Kids to write a story on the Vision of the Minuteman, which will be featured in the student newspaper, the Lantern. This initiative demonstrates that they want to advocate and raise awareness of this important endeavor.

The Vision of a Minuteman precedes the upcoming strategic planning process, where students and other stakeholders will continue to play a leadership role. District and community stakeholders will develop a strategic plan that sets forth bold strategies and measurable objectives that will bring the Vision of a Minuteman to life. This process will be founded on quality stakeholder engagement, unity of voice, and ensuring the broader community is invested and committed to student success. 

Dr. Montgomery’s aspiration is, “all stakeholders in the community live the Vision of a Minuteman every day, spurring meaningful change, helping students find their voice, and preparing them to become the leaders of the future.

Don’t Want Enemies…Don’t Choose Leadership

I was recently watching an episode from season six, episode two, of The CrownSpoiler alert: stop reading if you are a loyalist to the show and haven’t watched this far.  The episode focuses on the relationship between the Queen and then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.  Towards the end of the episode the Queen cautions Mrs. Thatcher about making enemies, whereas in response the Prime Minister recites the following poem by the Scottish poet Charles Mackay:      

You have no enemies, you say?
Alas! my friend, the boast is poor;
He who has mingled in the fray
Of duty, that the brave endure,
Must have made foes! If you have none,
Small is the work that you have done.
You’ve hit no traitor on the hip,
You’ve dashed no cup from perjured lip,
You’ve never turned the wrong to right,
You’ve been a coward in the fight.

After doing some research, according to a 2019 BBC documentary, Margaret Thatcher was fond of the poem and kept a copy of it on her desk. 

This was the first time I heard of the poem and candidly it took me off guard.  I re-watched the clip several times letting my mind marinate in the words.  I thought about how this poem related to my own experience as an educational leader.  Most importantly, I reflected on how Mackay’s message deeply resonated with my experience of leading during the pandemic.

Never I have experienced the level of vitriol we have seen in 2020.  Much of the scornfulness, coming from a place of hopelessness and despair, rather than personal attacks.  I have seen my fellow school superintendents across the country weather hurricane-level-five storms throughout this year fighting for what they believe to be the best for the students.  While each definition of what is best is intricately dependent on the communities in which they serve, nevertheless the intention remains constant to protect and educate our students. 

School leaders have undoubtedly created foes along 2020’s pathway, whether through in-person, hybrid, or remote learning environments.  We have analyzed countless data points from our district, community, state, and nation to find a way to fulfill our purpose of teaching children. 

As a new adjunct faculty member teaching future principals, I have this to say: if you want everyone to like you, don’t choose leadership.  To lead, we have to be courageous in our decision making.  We have to hit the traitor on the hip, dash the cup from the perjured lip, and most importantly, turn the wrong to right.   

Finding Joy

As I sit here and write this last Friday message of 2020 to staff there are countless memories of the year running through my mind.  Of course, some of them are wonderful and others are not so wonderful.  When I reflect on the year, it is not any different from other years in terms of the tally of good and bad, however, the pandemic does add a certain flair.  

The holidays are a time of remembering the past, celebrating the present, and dreaming of the future.  My sincerest hope is you take the much deserved time to be still and enjoy your families.  Even though this season may look a little differently from the past, I am confident we can create memories that will last a lifetime.

As an example, last night we finished watching “A Christmas Story” together as a family, and afterward, we played model trains.  For those of you who don’t know, “playing trains” consists of me running the train sets and filling the room with smoke while telling the kids “don’t touch that”.  While the night was simple, the evening was filled with smiles and laughter.  We made a memory that hopefully, many years from now when I am no longer around, my babies will look back fondly upon.  Perhaps they will share with their families about their own crazy Dad who played with trains or merely has a quiet moment remembering a holiday when the world was different, but how we still found joy.


We should be teaching our children…

As some of you know, I am a bibliophile.  I just finished the book Factfulness (2018) by Hans Rosling.  Towards the end of the book, Rosling wrote about the importance of teaching our children critical thinking.  I found that interesting because critical thinking shows up in our work with student engagement.  In fact, the high school used critical thinking as the area of focus for our recent instructional rounds.  Moreover, critical thinking is rising to the top of the characteristics that the Design Team is gravitating towards for the Vision of a Minuteman (Portrait of a Graduate).  
I think this week in our nation is a perfect example of the importance of critical thinking skills.  Here are a few of the suggestions from Rosing (2018) that we should be teaching our students that I thought were timely:

  • We should be teaching them what life was really like in the past so that they do not mistakenly think that no progress has been made.
  • We should be teaching them how to hold the two ideas at the same time: that bad things are going on in the world, but that many things are getting better.
  • We should be teaching them how to consume the news and spot the drama without becoming stressed or hopeless.
  • We should be teaching them the common ways that people will try to trick them with numbers. 
  • We should be teaching them that the world will keep changing and they will have to update their knowledge and worldview throughout their lives.

As educators, we have a rare gift and opportunity to shape the future.  As Rosling (2018) explains, teaching the above, “would protect the next generation from a lot of ignorance” ( p. 248).  I want to congratulate you on your work and to challenge you to continue to focus on critical thinking skills for our students and for our nation.  

Rosling, H., Rosling, O., & Rönnlund, A. R. (2018). Factfulness: Ten reasons we’re wrong about the world – and why things are better than you think. First edition. New York: Flatiron Books.

Jump…off social media

The partnership between community, parents, and school has never needed to be stronger than in present times.  Our children and students are faced with many challenges that are unique from what today’s adults were faced with in their own time of adolescence.  As a district leader and parent of four, I often wonder what proactive steps we should take to ensure our youth are properly equipped to face today’s challenges.  One of the greatest concerns I have had recently is around social media.  The most frightening aspect is I worry for not only children but also adults and wonder about the psychological and emotional effects of this technology.  As a leader, I see firsthand the number of students and adults who are benefiting from social-emotional support.

The above is true, all while perhaps paradoxically, I am a fierce proponent and advocate of technology integration in the modern classroom.  I believe the key is to strike a balance between education around the technology tools and both the benefits and potential risks.

I recently watched the 2020 Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma.  The documentary attempts to lift the veil of the social media giants i.e. Facebook, Twitter, etc. and their use of our data for profit and to shape our viewpoints again resulting in enterprise.  The documentary notes that according to the American Journal of Epidemiology (2017), “A 5,000-person study found that higher social media use correlated with self-reported declines in metal and physical health and life satisfaction”.  I imagine people are not surprised by this statistic; however, I am curious how many of those same individuals reflect on how their social media use is impacting themselves and their children.  I am often surprised when district leaders and teachers have to remind parents that their children do not HAVE to have a phone with social media capabilities.  Moreover, I am left wondering as some parents do not feel as if they can search/monitor their student’s devices.

As an educational leader and parent, I think social media use should be at the forefront of our minds for both our children and ourselves.  With the risk of sounding “old”, perhaps we could benefit from putting down the phone/device and interacting with each other.


The Power of Vision

Revere began our journey to create a Portrait of a Graduate (Vision of a Minuteman). Some people may wonder why we would dedicate the resources and time to invest in creating a vision instead of merely proceeding with everyday work.

I have had the pleasure and honor of being a district superintendent for over seven years and I have seen firsthand the power of vision in uniting and coalescing a group. When considering vision I am drawn to the work of Margaret Wheatley (1999) who described vision as an energy field and encouraged individuals to use it as a formative influence.  She wrote, “We would start by recognizing that in creating a vision, we are creating a power, not a place, an influence, not a destination” (Wheatley, 1999, p. 55).  

Oftentimes vision statements are not inculcated into an organization, but rather written in seclusion and shared to the masses by a few individuals expecting all stakeholders to embrace the direction decided by a select few in a position of power.  Wheatley suggested vision statements should move off the walls “and into the corridors, seeking out every employee, every recess in the organization” (p. 57).

I have never been more passionate about the importance of vision given the pandemic and how it has shaken nearly every aspect of our world. This is especially true in education, which up until the pandemic has been an institution largely resistant to societal changes. As an educational leader, I look forward to having meaningful conversations around what school can be and how it can truly support our students to find success in their lives regardless of their chosen pathway. The time is now to reimagine and reinvent.

Wheatley, M. J. (1999). Leadership and the new science : Discovering order in a chaoticworld. San Francisco, CA :Berrett-Koehler.

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