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10 New Skills Superintendents Need in 2018, as Learned at AASA

10 New Skills Superintendents Need in 2018, as Learned at AASA

At the recent National Conference on Education presented by AASA (The School Superintendents Association), held February 15–17, 2018, in Nashville, Tennessee, district leaders gathered together to learn more about “Education in the Digital Age,” this year’s theme. And, while much of the content centered around online learning, it was clear by the variety of sessions offered and the conversations overheard that superintendents today have a lot of complicated priorities taking up headspace. Having spent about half a day on the exhibit floor and several hours in sessions myself, I came back with a few new insights on the wide breadth of activities and responsibilities (some of which might surprise you) that ultimately roll up to these fearless leaders.

Whether you hold the position of superintendent yourself, hope one day to reach this position, or simply want to gain a better understanding of this role, today we’re unpacking 10 new skills expected of superintendents in 2018 that I learned at the AASA conference.

  1. Defining and Guiding Equity Initiatives

Whether it’s talking about creating a culture of empathy and inclusion, increasing access to effective educators, or closing the achievement gap, equity is at the center of many different conversations right now. The AASA conference was no exception, with more than 12 sessions focusing on the topic. Finding ways to make equity measurable and achievable is a challenge commonly experienced by superintendents, and it’s something you can bet you’ll hear more about as leaders continue to develop initiatives that will make inroads in this area.

  1. Dealing with the Tough Stuff

You can’t turn on the news and without finding an example of current events that are creeping into classrooms and affecting today’s students. Whether it’s tragedies, such as school shootings or student suicide, or it’s the ongoing heartbreaks tied to school bullying (and now also cyber bullying), superintendents are charged with exercising extreme judgment and leadership in these situations.

  1. Supporting All Students

Already, superintendents are tasked with leading program initiatives that support subgroups like English language learners and those receiving special education services, and they will continue to make these subgroups a high priority, I might add. But, in today’s school climate, there are additional student populations that just 10 or 20 years ago wouldn’t have received the same level of attention, support, or understanding as they to today. This includes those affected by DACA immigration policy and undocumented students, as well as those that identify as LGBTQ+. Creating safe and supportive environments for these learners is something we can expect to find on just about every superintendent’s priority list.

  1. Improving School Culture

School culture encompasses so much, including staff morale and student achievement, and today’s leaders know that expert communication and open feedback among teachers can help steward change that translates into improved student relationships and discipline. Truly powerful implementation and sustainability start at the top.

  1. Handling Social Media with Care

As both a powerful tool for building support and a sharp sword that spreads scandal, I think we can all agree that social media is both friend and foe. Either way, in today’s digital age, it can’t be ignored, and how it’s handled begins at the leadership level. With such diverse responsibilities as understanding best practices and policy implications and using platforms to share ideas and information, establishing the recommended course of action at a district is one pesky project that could save a lot of course correcting later when faced head-on.

  1. Moving Beyond Academic Needs

It’s true that students who can possess a sense of belonging and purpose, who can problem solve with peers, and who can persevere through adversity are more likely to reach their full potential. Caring for students in these ways harkens terms such as “social-emotional learning” and “Whole Child approach” (or “whole-student-focused initiatives”). Superintendents are increasingly finding out the benefits of dedicating resources in these areas and simultaneously experiencing the challenges of creating a system that can support them in a meaningful (and measurable) way.

  1. Creating Digital Age Buy-In

Is your district leading the way when it comes to utilizing technology to transform learning? Champion teachers are helping move the needle, but when a superintendent makes digital learning a priority, a full rollout of a digital initiative is possible. And who do you think is ultimately responsible for creating buy-in among district teams, school boards, and the community at large? You guessed it—the superintendent.

  1. Moonlighting as Marketing Professionals

This particular priority may not be in the job description, but lessons learned in the private sector can help superintendents implement a full marketing strategy that changes the public’s perception of what goes in schools. By implementing practices now common in digital marketing, district leaders can recruit and retain teachers, pass bond measures, and turn community members into advocates.

  1. Defining College and Career Readiness

The profile of a 21st century graduate is evolving. As college- and career-readiness benchmarks take center stage in ESSA and state requirements, you can bet that superintendents are looking beyond GPAs and test scores to ensure that their districts’ students are prepared for what’s ahead. In current conversations, leaders are challenged with considering elements such as social-emotional learning, noncognitive skills, workforce experience, and course rigor.

  1. Seeking One’s Own Professional Development

A superintendent doesn’t just lay out expectations for how educators at the district engage in professional development; they are also tasked with building up their own capabilities and professional networks as effective leaders. At this year’s AASA conference, superintendents had the opportunity to attend sessions on topics that included propelling their careers and overcoming barriers as women leaders. The best leaders believe in the value of ongoing learning and self-improvement to stay sharp.

It’s safe to say that when many of the more traditional duties and responsibilities of a district leader don’t even make this list, the job of superintendent is not for the faint of heart. With that in mind, we at Edmentum want to take a minute to thank those individuals who have committed their careers to improving the lives of students, developing excellent educators, and shaping quality school systems. Whether we’re partnering with you or not, know that we’re always cheering you on.

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Madison Michell

Madison Michell has been a member of the Edmentum team since 2014 and currently serves as a Marketing Manager. As a former Kindergarten and 3rd grade teacher during her time as a Teach For America corps member, she believes education truly has the power to transform lives. She is passionate about connecting educators with online programs, best practices, and research that improve teaching and learning for today's students.