This past week I had the opportunity to join more than 4,000 superintendents and educational leaders in San Antonio for AASA’s National Conference on Education. Below are my ten biggest takeaways from the event:
Trust & Inspire: Sean Covey absolutely crushed Friday’s keynote. Covey suggested that too many school leaders are stuck in the command and control leadership style of the past. Instead, today's school leaders must create a high trust culture that inspires every employee to work at the highest of levels. Hearing these words helped to confirm my leadership philosophy, and will likely be the focus of my opening day keynote next August.
Listen: Another conference theme was that leaders must be listeners. Too often, school leaders refuse to acknowledge stakeholder concerns. And when leaders consistently refuse to listen to groups of employees or parents, those individuals often turn to the school board, social media, or even the local media to voice those concerns. Instead, leaders must find ways to let people vent and voice their concerns. Even if nothing tangible comes from the conversation, people feel good knowing that their voice is being heard.
Maya Angelou: The following was shared in three separate sessions: “People will forget what you said and what you did … but they will never forget how you made them feel.” Not only has this thinking become a core value, this also helped to reaffirm a previous post where I suggested that educational leadership is about how we make others feel as opposed to programs, initiatives, or test scores.
The Superintendent's Role: My favorite breakout session was one where Max McGee from HYA Search Firm spoke about how the role of the superintendent has changed. In previous generations, superintendents were skilled in instructional leadership, data, finances, and operations. While those things are still important ... superintendents in today's world must now be expert communicators, know how to unify employees and community members, be highly visible and transparent, and be politically savvy without being a politician. When I heard these things, I had an "aha" moment because I realized "this is how I spend much of my time!"
Imposter Syndrome: Some people might be surprised, but I often feel anxiety and “imposter syndrome” whenever I go to a conference - especially one of this magnitude. It didn’t take long for those fears to go away. I was very fortunate to speak with speak with Dr. Fred Williams from Dublin, Georgia while waiting for a shuttle at the hotel. Dr. Williams and I spoke about the biggest issues facing our districts. Interestingly enough, schools in Iowa and Georgia face the same issues (staff shortage, perception of schools, school choice, etc.). While this conversation only lasted 10 minutes, Dr. Williams made me feel like "I belong" in this setting.
Sharpen the Saw: I have been a bit complacent recently with my push for professional development, so being at this conference came just at the right time to kick my butt into gear. Being around so many successful and like-minded people open not only reminded me that there is a big world out there beyond Waterloo, Iowa, but also gave me the inspiration needed to push myself to even higher levels. This conference also confirmed that I must empower employees to attend conferences and other professional development opportunities as the benefits can be life-changing.
Plane Ride PD: Never underestimate the professional development opportunities of a plane ride! The beauty of flights are that you don't have access to internet and have minimal distractions for multiples hours at a time. Understanding this, I always go prepared with a few books to read and a podcast or two to listen to. On this trip, I read The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod and listened to the Daily Stoic Podcast with Ryan Holiday and James Clear. I would highly recommend both and plan to revamp my morning routine as a result.
San Antonio is Amazing: I cannot say enough good things about San Antonio. I loved how it was a big city with plenty to do, but it didn’t feel super crowded or ultra stressful. Every morning I took a walk down the River Walk just to soak in the beauty and to think about how fortunate I was to be on this trip. Beyond the scenery, the people were friendly and the food was amazing! My favorite restaurants were Mi Tierra Cafe, Domingo Restaurant, Ambler Texas Kitchen, and Texas de Brazil Steakhouse. I will definitely be back!
Take Advantage of Opportunities: When Jay Goldman - the editor of School Administrator Magazine - asked me to speak on a panel of authors, I wasn’t sure if I could go. It’s a busy time of year in our schools, and our district doesn’t have a history of attending events like this. However, I am glad I took advantage of this opportunity to not only promote the Waterloo Schools, but also to push myself personally and professionally. This event gave me the confidence that I can "hold my own" on the big stage.
Yolo: On my way home I had a five hour (!!) layover in Denver. Knowing I had time to kill, I took an Uber into the city to see the mountains and experience some Denver cuisine. Far too many people my age start acting “old” and never take experiences when they present themselves.
As Lucile Ball once said, “I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done.”
If you liked this article, you'll love my books Learning Curve and Turning Points.