On a sunset walk after a spectacular day on Poverty Bay with blue sky and fresh snow on the Olympics, I thought of three personal stories that illustrate the weight of leadership.

1. The afternoon I was appointed superintendent, I had coffee at the mall and watched hundreds of young people stream by and thought to myself, “their education is ultimately my responsibility.” I felt the yoke the way any responsible teacher, principal, and system head does.  It’s heavy.

2. I suspended a middle school student in a made-for-media disciplinary action.  Unfortunately his mom was my daughter’s sunday school teacher.  The board president and principal also went to the same church.  Talk about awkward narthex moments….that’s when leadership gets really personal.

3. The worst day as superintendent was signing 800 termination notifications (last in, first out) in preparation for big budget cuts during my first year.  Fortunately we were able to save many of those jobs, but the process was a nightmare.  I remember that day frequently when thinking about what superintendents (and certainly affected teachers) have been through this year and will go through over the next two years.

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Tom Vander Ark is author of Difference Making at the Heart of Learning, The Power of Place, Better Together, Smart Parents, Smart Cities and Getting Smart. He is co-founder of Getting Smart and serves on the boards of Education Board Partners, 4.0 Schools, Digital Learning Institute, Latinx Education Collaborative, Mastery Transcript Consortium and eduInnovation. Follow Tom on Twitter, @tvanderark.


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