The Winter Solstice – Growing Light

Today is the shortest day of the year. The Winter Solstice is today. From today until mid-June, the light shines longer. As we live through the challenges of Covid-19, there is also light at the end of the tunnel. This weekend, Dr. Fauci once again shared vaccinations will be available to the general public by June.

I have great faith and hope. As the days grow longer, we draw closer to the end of this global pandemic. There is hope we will be reconnecting with family and friends in the first part of 2021. I have faith we will create an academic recovery plan to close gaps caused by a year-long disruption for our students.

We still have a couple of long, cold months ahead of us, but we see the light. We will continue to support each other, lift those in need, and provide encouragement to our team. The days are getting longer . . . the warmth of spring is just around the corner . . . we’ve got this!

The Edge – Journey to Elite

“It isn’t about pride; it’s about being moved.”

It’s easy to say “I am proud” of our district’s Response to the Covid-10 challenge. The Events of the past ten months have demanded our very best; we’ve been purposeful in our efforts to achieve the best Outcome available to us. Our E+R=O training with Tim Kight prepared Hilliard for challenges; we’ve been training for demanding events.

For me, it isn’t about having pride in what we’ve done; I am moved to continue to push my edge. When we face real challenges, we are driven to achieve results. Those who are forced to their edge, who perform under pressure, are on a journey to elite. Covid has pushed me; it has pushed our team to our edge. We’ve persisted, enhanced our Response, and built new skills. It’s not about being proud; it’s about being moved to be elite.

Accountability is Essential

An angry parent recently asked me, “where is the accountability in public education.” I responded, “public education has many layers and levels of accountability.”

When school districts are strong, property values are higher. Successful schools are desirable for young families; it also means established families have the option to sell their homes at a higher price. The community elects the Board of Education; tax levies require voter support. Accountability is part of our culture; it is critical in high performing districts.

Covid-19 has increased engagement with school leadership. We’ve had thousands of people on Zoom Meetings and attending virtual Board Meetings. This crisis has increase conversations and debates about our learning modality and safety protocols. The community’s feedback is short-cycle accountability; we read every letter, listen to each phone call, and appreciate the shared resources.

Support Leads to Results

“If support is missing or neglected, the team will not have the tools, resources, or confidence to do their job,” Tim Kight.

Support comes in two functions – the resources needed for success and the inspiration to get the job done at an elite level. In Hilliard, we were well-prepared, with the requisite technology, for eLearning which forced to transition last March. Thanks to the leadership of our technology team, our students have iPads and have experience in Canvas. Our teachers have utilized technology as a tool for many years.

While the physical and technical resources have been available, emotional and behavioral support is require continued development. Yes, every student has an iPad, but it is much more complicated. For many students, eLearning isn’t the most efficient instructional mode. Most teachers didn’t go to college to teach virtually. Leadership requires emotional support and inspiration. We must continue to support our teachers, students, and parents during these difficult times.

Clarity precedes Excellence

“Great leaders communicate clearly and constantly,” states Tim Kight.

Clarity begins first from the heart. Leaders don’t just say words; they create feelings with their words. When we lead with clarity, the “why” is the motivator for belief. It isn’t only about what is said – it is how it is communicated and the leader’s energy.

During Covid-19, more than ever, communication has been critical. Even during Community Zoom Meeting with over a thousand people, I haven’t used a scripted. I haven’t tried to hide my emotions or struggles from the community. As a team, we’ve been clear with our goals, our process, and our why. Yes, we’ve adapted and adjusted our plans to new data and health recommendations, but we’ve been faithful to our core principles since March. Our current situation is difficult; we must acknowledge this reality. We must also instill confidence that “we’ve got this together.”

Authentic leaders, those who care deeply and earn trust, achieve results. It’s not a strategic plan or mission statement that motivates people to perform at a high level. It’s clarity of purpose and confidence in the team. It’s a leader who creates a “We not Me” approach and builds a supportive culture.

Competence is Technical Trust

“Competence isn’t about what you know. It is about how you use what you know,” shares Tim Kight.

Earning technical trust is the difference between inspiring and managing. We’ve all worked with leaders who simply manage. They handle the day to day operations by the books. In a school setting, managerial leaders do no harm; they stay the course every day.

Inspirational leaders, those people who earn our trust and move organizations forward, facilitate learning and growth. We’ve all worked with, or for, leaders that motivate us to perform at a higher level. We’d run through walls for these people. Great leaders aren’t always right – they don’t have all the answers. Elite leaders acknowledge what they don’t know. They build credibility through humility and authenticity.

To earn technical trust, leaders tap into the knowledge and experience of the entire team. Covid-19 has expanded our teams; school leaders are working with health commissioners and epidemiologists daily. Not only do we listen to these scientists, we ask questions and share our expertise. We’ve built teams – teams balancing details about infectious diseases with the social-emotional needs of students. When elite leaders from different fields come together with a common purpose, everyone benefits. 

A Connection is Personal Trust

“There is a direct relationship between the level of connection people feel with their leader and the level of effort they are willing to invest in achieving goals.” – Tim Kight.

Building connections is essential for effectively serving any district as Superintendent. There are reasons district leaders live in the communities they serve – building trust and relationships. With my children attending and graduating from our schools, I’ve had the honor of interacting with hundreds of parents. During levy campaigns, I directly engaged with thousands of community members. At Giant Eagle on Saturday morning or the Rusty Bucket for an evening dinner, talking with community members is part of the job – it is critical in cultivating connections.

During Covid-19, building connections is different. We haven’t had Football Friday Nights or Winterfest; personal interactions have been limited. We miss personal communication, but we still strive to connect and engage. We act with empathy and care for each other. We give each other grace. We listen to understand; We adapt and adjust to what’s safe and prudent.

From Community Zoom Meetings with thousands of community members to personal phone calls instead of an email response, to care deeply and listen carefully is critical. I still have much work to do. I need to be more concise in my written responses and pause to hear more when in person. I will live with a growth mindset and continue to create opportunities for connections.

Character is a choice.

Character matters. We earn trust through our repeated behavior over time. It doesn’t matter what leaders say; it only matters what they do. As Tim Kight reminds us, “Talent is a gift. Character is a choice. “

During this Covid-19 crisis, my goal has been consistency and honesty. I know not everyone is going to agree with my recommendations and decisions. During a time of partisan division, this crisis has become way too political to build consensus for a uniformly accepted response. Our community is deeply divided concerning our covid response actions. All I can do is a leader is be consistent and clear.

From the outset, we have been intentional in our partnership with Franklin County Public Health, Columbus Public Health, and our Ohio State University CATS Team. At my core, as an educator, not a public health expert, I believe partnering with local health officials is the right decision.

I am accountable for my recommendations to the Board and decisions as Superintendent. My goal has been to respond to community members when asked questions. I don’t want to be defensive, but instead informative. Our plans have been influenced by the learned information shared by experts within our community.

It’s an honor to serve as Hilliard’s Superintendent and a responsibility I take to heart. I strive to live, and to lead, with my values at my core.

Create a Positive Culture

You don’t need to absorb the energy around you; you can create it.

The continued stress and frustration associated with the coronavirus is all around us. Covid-Frustration is real; we all must confront it head-on. We must be disciplined in our response when others are venting or complaining.

If we permit the negative energy around us to become our default behavior, we become negative. It’s easy to be among colleagues or friends and “join in” the BCD behavior. It’s easy to absorb the energy around us.

When we are disciplined in our actions, not only do we improve our mindset, but we can change the environment for others. We create the culture we desire. Of course, we acknowledge the impact Covid has on our lives – it can’t be ignored. But rather than complaining about it, we Respond with skill. We take action to improve the situation; we embrace productive discomfort and create the best possible Outcome.

When we utilize our R-Factor Training, we control our 20 square feet. We don’t absorb the environment around us; we create the culture we desire.

Passion for Growth

Our Passion for Growth is vital during this Covid-19 Crisis. We will stay focused on our mission and vision. We know growth requires struggle – it is uncomfortable. We embrace the productive discomfort that is necessary for continuous development and improvement.

During Covid, there is a tendency to develop a “survival mindset.” We must fight this urge. Embracing productive discomfort requires us to be disciplined – to Win the Moment.  We train ourselves to have a Passion for Growth, not to settle for survival. We have the power to Respond to Covid-19 (the Event) with skill; our action determines the Outcome. 

Don’t settle for surviving this crisis. Live with a Passion for Growth to Win the Moment.  Our Core Values don’t work independently; they work together in harmony. We Stand-up and Own our feelings and behavior. When we need help and support, we ask for it. Power of the Team is more critical in times of crisis; we lift each other when we are down. We support one another when we fall Below the Line. Each of us is challenged every day, but when don’t BCD, when we live with discipline, we achieve great things together.