Relationship Building in Educational Leadership – Part 2
This is part two of a blog post on relationship building specific to the position of the public-school superintendent. You can find part one here.
The many roles of the superintendent, as well as those sub-groups with whom relationships must be built and nurtured to ensure success in the supertendency, is examined. In this post, more groups with whom the superintendent should strive to build positive relationships are explored.
Political and Legislative Relationships
As in any profession, educational leaders are passionate about their districts and programs. It is sometimes necessary for the superintendent to become an advocate for these. Collegial and association relationships can provide a voice for educational leaders to advocate for their schools.
Officials such as the State Superintendent of Public Instruction will often ask superintendents to serve on committees and voice input into policy affecting schools. These serve as a good forum for the superintendent’s voice to be heard and to build positive relationships with those in office. These are also opportunities to learn more about proposed legislation and how it may affect education.
Superintendents do not have the direct relationship with staff that they may have experienced as a building level administrator. In larger districts, the superintendent may not know every staff member. In smaller corporations, superintendents often take pride in knowing all members of their staff and how they contribute to the district.
Superintendents of larger districts who do not know all of their teachers must still obtain input from their employees. This may be done by communication through the chain of command (building principals, assistant superintendents, directors, etc.) or through the collective bargaining process.
Classified workers such as custodial, maintenance, clerical, and paraprofessional staffs are strong contributors to the success of the school system. A superintendent will want to solicit input from these subgroups in order to discern what they need to be successful at their jobs.
It is essential to have an employee relations policy in place to provide a framework on the roles and responsibilities of these employees and to ensure that all fair labor practices and laws are being followed (Norton, 1996).
As with staff, the superintendent may feel that he or she has lost some of the direct, daily contact with parents that they may have enjoyed as a building administrator. They may go several days without seeing or speaking with parents.
Often their communication is limited to the negative; the parent may only contact the superintendent when they are upset over the lack of a satisfactory resolution at the building level.
This does not have to be the case. If the superintendent is visible in the buildings and at community and extra-curricular activities, positive conversations and relationships with parents will follow. Any opportunities to showcase student achievements at a district level encourages positive rapport with students and parents.
It may be assumed that the superintendent will not have strong relationships with students, since they are based in Central Office. I think that most educational leaders would disagree.
I once worked for a superintendent who visited classrooms on a regular basis. She had stressed to us at the beginning of the school year that she was not there to see staff; she needed to get her kid fix every now and then. So many of the superintendent’s daily responsibilities are operational, and since they entered the field of education to be around kids, they crave this contact. Nothing like having lunch with kindergarteners to refresh your perspective!
As with parents, student relationships are strengthened with visibility. Students may not know exactly what the superintendent does, but even primary age children know that he or she is the leader of the district. For someone at this level to make time to attend an extra-curricular event or class presentation is a powerful way to let your children know that they are valued.
Superintendents are faced with complex demands that require various skill sets. Some of those are dealing with change, ambiguity, and diversity (Chapman, 1997, p. 235). All of these domains require strong communication and inter-personal relations skills.
By establishing a strong support network, these decisions and demands may not be easier, but may be more accepted by the populations of the district. In addition, a superintendent may be able to initiate reflective practice with some of these groups and adapt methods for future decision-making.
Chapman, (1997). Becoming a Superintendent, Challenges of School District Leadership. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, Prentice Hall.
Domenech (2014). Cohort Skill Building for the Superintendency. School Administrator, 71(5), 42. EBSCO 97765012.
Norton, Webb, Dlugosh, Sybouts (1996). The School Superintendency, New Responsibilities, New Leadership. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, Allyn and Bacon.
Pascopella, (2015). No Room for Ghosts. District Administration, 51 (5), 45-49.