Why I Steer Clear of Politics

The ESPN Documentary “The Last Dance” chronicles the career of Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player of all time. The miniseries explores a number of topics both on and off the basketball court.


In an interview during the 5th episode, Jordan explains why he chose to steer clear of politics during his playing career: “I never thought of myself as an activist. I thought of myself as a basketball player,” he said. “I wasn’t a politician. I was playing my sport. I was focused on my craft.”


“Was that selfish? Probably,” Jordan said. “But that was my energy.”


It was as if Jordan had taken the words right out of my mouth. This is exactly how I approach my job as a school superintendent. I am not a politician. I am focused on my craft. Some people may think this is selfish, but this is my energy.

Navigating the political landscape as a school leader can be tricky. The transparent nature of society provides more opportunities than ever for school leaders to take a public political stance. Although difficult, I always attempt to refrain from political discussion and public displays of party affiliation.


There are two primary reasons why I choose to steer clear of politics.


First, I do not want to risk alienating half of the school community with my political views. My responsibility as a school leader is to effectively lead our students, staff, and community. If I were to share my political views, I take the chance that half of the educational community will lose trust in my leadership. While this knee-jerk reaction isn’t necessarily fair, this is reality in today's world.


Second, my energy needs to be focused on my work. Getting involved in politics can drain a lot of energy - energy that should be used to make our schools better. Limiting my exposure to politics deters me from fixating on troubling thoughts that could stifle my productivity and creativity. Having a clear mind allows me to best meet the needs of our staff and students.


Do not be confused - just because I choose not to take a public political stance doesn't mean I don't believe in advocating for schools. I will do everything I can to support our students. I relish opportunities to assist state legislators in making well-informed decisions about schools, regardless of politician political ties.


Also, I want to be clear that political issues that arise in schools must be addressed. Sometimes I discover a staff member is publicly supporting (or denouncing) a political party inside the classroom. When this occurs, I give the employee the same advice I give myself - remain as neutral as possible. Although challenging, I believe an unbiased approach is the best way to maintain the trust of students and parents.


I recognize the vital role politics play in our country's ongoing development. Without politics, we would not have the liberties we have today. Therefore, I am happy to allow others who are more qualified than myself to make their opinions known.


For now, I am comfortable staying on the political sidelines as I believe this neutral approach gives me the best chance of being a successful school leader.


Who knows, maybe someday my viewpoints will change and I will feel compelled to publicly discuss my political thoughts.


But for now, I’m going to focus my energy on my craft.

Copyright © 2019 by Dr. Jared Smith LLC.  Specializing in Leadership, Education, and Personal Growth.