September 25, 2017

What is the difference between education in the 1950's when I grew up and the education students receive today?
There certainly are many differences between growing up like I did in the 1950's and 1960's and the kids growing up today. For example, when I was playing Little League baseball in 1962 we had 12 games. I made the All-Star team for our Little League and we played maybe four more games against other area Little League All-Star teams. Today my two grandsons at a similar age are playing many more games with one playing over 40 and the other playing more than 70.
I grew up in Chicago (yes in the city of Chicago) and I rode my bike to all athletic practices and games. I had to cross busy streets and many times had to ride home after practice in the dark. I do not remember my parents ever chauffeuring me around. Today, parents transport their children to all activities. Even in high school I did not get transported by my parents. I attended a Catholic High School several miles from my home and took two CTA buses with one transfer to and from school and practice and games. Heck, we even showered after athletic practices and games. When is the last time students in your school showered after games or after physical education classes? I often wonder why we even bother to construct shower facilities in schools today.
Enough reminiscing about school and athletics, how about the actual education students receive today vs the education I received in the 1950's and 1960's? How about the arrangement of classroom furniture? In my schooling I can only remember the desks being arranged in rows and columns and the classroom totally dedicated to the teacher "teaching" and the students "doing/learning."
In the last three years, I have visited many classrooms in my coaching work with school administrators as they implement the "Voltz 6 Steps to Effective Evaluation." While I have not recorded actual statistics, the clear majority of classrooms are still arranged in rows and columns. There is often technology in the classroom but it is most often used by the teacher only (smartboards) or the students are using their technology in the same way we used to use pen and paper, to take notes.
I had the honor recently to have a conversation with Dr. John Hutton, Superintendent of Gurnee School District #56. John is retiring this year and we went out to dinner and talked about his career. John arrived in Illinois 11 years ago (my first year working at IASA) as a veteran superintendent from Indiana. John, early in his tenure at Gurnee, invited me to offer an administrators' academy in his district on using technology in education. John claims that this presentation inspired his leadership to effectively change the way teachers teach and students learn in the Gurnee district. While I did lead the initial training, John has been the real leader and visionary for his district.
He was one of 100 superintendents to be invited to a White House Summit in November of 2014 as part of the national campaign to make all schools Future Ready and hosted a regional event at Prairie Trail School in June of 2015 as a follow up to the White House Summit. In March, he was named by the NSBA as one of the twenty educational leaders to watch in 2015. Gurnee School District 56 received the Apple Distinguished Program Award for 2013-2015 and 2015-2017 and has been a member of the League of Innovative Schools since 2015. In June of 2017, ISTE presented Dr. Hutton the Distinguished School District Award on behalf of the Gurnee District 56 school community.
I can tell you from visiting classrooms in Gurnee, John has transformed the learning. Gurnee District 56 has won many awards for their innovative technology work. John was recently interviewed on the SHOUTENGINE podcast. You can listen to the podcast   here. The following are some of the highlights I learned from the podcast: 
  • As Gurnee Superintendent, John visits schools almost every day and he knows the names of many of the students in the 2,300-student district
  • 6th year for 1:1
  • Enhanced student learning backed up by improved student performance
  • Coding curriculum for K-5 students
  • All homes in the community connected via routers provided for by a Title I grant
  • SAMR model is used to insure rigor is added to the curriculum via technology
  • Libraries are now digital places where students demonstrate what they have learned
  • Gurnee school district uses the MAP assessment to guarantee "1-year growth for each year in school"
  • Learning occurs because of what the teacher does but also occurs via video, feedback from other students, student self-assessment. Technology enhances all of this.
  • Technology teaches students to be lifelong learners and to be curious about their own learning 
Being a Superintendent Is Hard Work
As you know, the school superintendent position is a very difficult position.
Members of the IASA Professional Development Committee wrote new administrators' academies for school administrators last year. Dr. Lynn Gibson, Hononegah High School District Superintendent, chaired a team that wrote an academy titled "Moving from Vision to Action: Learn How to Become an Essentialist." As a result of Dr. Gibson's vision I decided to read the book
Essentialism by Greg McKeown.
This book motivated me to prepare a presentation titled "Work - Life Balance." I have now given this presentation several times to superintendents and the reaction I receive from the participants is amazing to me. Many of the participants come up to me after the presentation and thank me for the message that I am sending. The message is you have "choice" in the decisions that you make.
I am sure you have discovered how isolating it can be to be a superintendent. It is a position that I liken to a sole survivor on a deserted island. It is difficult to find somebody else to confide in because of the nature of the job. It is easy to become an isolationist and internally deal with the various problems, concerns, initiatives, pressures and so forth of the position. Over the eleven years I have been in this position with IASA I have observed new superintendents gain excessive weight, seem to age exponentially, lose focus concerning family, friends and their own well- being. This is not every new superintendent but it is more than I would ever have guessed.
In Dr. Gibson's academy and in the book  Essentialism I believe you learn to say no and learn you have a voice in your own choices. Every school board member idea, every student perceived crisis, every parent complaint, and every teacher grumble does not need to be addressed immediately by you. As a leader you need to develop supports and other leaders who can take care of the majority of these issues. We do have choices on the actions we take. If we put everything on our own back the load will soon burden us to the point that we will not be able to stay on our feet, both figuratively and literally.
If you find yourself not getting enough sleep, not finding the time to spend quality time with family and friends, not eating and exercising to a healthy standard, or not taking vacation or weekend days to refresh your own energy then you need to rethink your priority. When I was a superintendent, a veteran school board president stopped by the district office when I was working past midnight and told me to go home. He said it will not be engraved on your tombstone that you worked 24/7. Your gravestone will reflect whether you were a loving husband and father so spend time with your family.  His words have stayed with me forever.
When I entered the superintendency we did not have cell phones. School board members and staff could not contact the superintendent 24 hours a day. When you left work you were not constantly receiving emails, texts, or other social media communications. You need to develop a system in which you are not connected 24/7 to your position. If a building is on fire and your cell phone is not in your pocket, I guarantee somebody will get in touch with you via other means.
The real message in the book and the academy is that you have the "choice" to make whatever decision you make. If you let your job consume your life it is because you make that choice. If you choose to eat unhealthy it is your choice. If you choose to reply to every text and email it is your choice. You have the choice to either turn your cell phone off or silence it and put it in another room when you get home so you can spend time with the people in your house who love you.
Don't look back in the near future at yourself and regret not focusing on the things that mean the most in your life. A superintendent I mentored once told me a story about the message his wife put on the garage door that led in to the house. "The people inside this house love you!"
How to handle email (and other communications)?
As a follow up to the preceding article I thought I would offer some strategies to help you say no and maximize your work efficiency. Remember the purpose of these strategies is not to get you to work more; its purpose is to allow you to spend more time with other aspects of your life.
Have you considered allowing all of your email to go to an account that is managed by your secretary? (At one presentation I made this suggestion and a new superintendent told me she did not have a secretary. If you do not have a secretary you can skip this suggestion.) If all your emails go to your secretary she could do the following: 
  1. Trash all emails that are junk or do not have to be answered or read.
  2. Respond to any emails for you that he/she has the information for and can answer. For some of these he/she may need to share the answer with you, others are routine and can just be answered.
  3. Divide the remaining emails into groups that have to be answered soon and those that can be answered later. The emails needing attention can be forwarded to you at the proper time. You then need to determine a process to read and respond to emails. I would suggest at certain times of the day only. For example, when you get to the office, before you go to lunch, and before you leave the office for the day. The secretary forwards the emails on a timely basis based on the importance of the response. 
My guess is that this process would allow you to get other more important work done. It also will teach you that you do not have to read and respond to every email as it is delivered which is a distraction to your work flow.
Superintendent's Communication to Community Members
As a district superintendent, I wrote a regular column that our local newspaper was kind enough to publish. This concept of writing to the community was derived from a conversation I had with a citizen of the community. We were trying to pass a referendum and he mentioned to me that the school district should communicate to the public on a regular basis, not just when the district needed money for buildings, staff, etc. This really impacted my thoughts, and from that time forward I wrote a regular column to the public about the school district.   It was similar to the regular updates I write to you as a new superintendent.
With the current advent of social media communication devices such as Facebook, blogs, Twitter, Instagram and others I would also publish my article in these sources. This would encourage citizens to participate in the decision-making process of the school district. If you are worried about having inappropriate public responses to your social media communications, remember that you can screen these comments prior to allowing them to be published. You can tell the public that you will not allow social media responses with swear words or libel information to appear on the site. Of course, you will need to include any negative comments or opinions or suggestions that are contrary to what you are proposing. This is an alternative way to obtain feedback from your public.
Tip of the Week
Now more than ever in my career administrators have the opportunity to make positive changes to education. Cease the moment and be a leader in your school district.

For more information, please contact:

Dr. Richard Voltz
Associate Director
Professional Development/Induction-Mentoring
2648 Beechler Court
Springfield, IL 62703
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