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August 2014 | Volume 56 | Number 8
Making Exceptions: The Challenge of Educating 2e Students
My first two years as a principal didn't give me a lot of room to grow professionally other than to develop a thicker skin. At my first board meeting, our superintendent was charged with embezzling money and falsifying state documentation, so I spent the next two years just trying to help the school survive. Difficult board meetings, a distrustful public, and financially stressed coffers defined my early career as an administrator.
At 28, I was hired to lead an ailing middle school in another district, and I had just begun a doctoral program. My wife had twins, our fourth and fifth girls, the same month I started the program and two months before I officially started the position.
My days spent at school quickly turned into nights, and then into weekends as I struggled to find the right balance among paperwork, student discipline, building culture, ballgame supervision, and teacher evaluations. Our building of 510 kids had generated 5,090 discipline referrals the year before, and over the summer, we added 50 more kids to our enrollment. I found myself working from 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. from August to May. Unfortunately, most of that time was not spent in classrooms, but just doing damage control.
During year three, I decided I needed to know where all of my time was going. In a three-ring binder, I recorded my activities in 15-minute increments, from 5:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. I always kept the binder open and noted what I was working on when I switched gears. Any time I spoke to a student, a parent, or talked on the phone, I took notes in my binder and referred back to them throughout the year. At the end of each semester, I coded my tasks as "administrative" or as a "student," "parent," or "staff" interaction, and created a pie chart of my time.
By focusing on where I was allocating my energy, I became better at prioritizing my work; every morning, I reviewed, added to, or deleted tasks from my to-do list (which I also kept in the binder). I started each day with my most challenging items and got them done early, which had the greatest impact on my schedule. As I checked items off, I was energized by a sense of accomplishment. Every night before I went home, I moved anything not accomplished to the top of the next day's list.
Scrutinizing my time allowed me to manage it more efficiently, which meant I could spend the majority of it in direct contact with students and teachers. Discipline referrals decreased by 88 percent. Math and language arts achievement grew by 20 and 10 percent, respectively. And when challenges or complaints arose, I always had impeccable documentation to give to my supervisors or to our attorneys.
When I was 32, I accepted my first superintendency in a 300-student, rural district and once again found my days growing longer. I employed my system of binders and by year four, I had enough extra time to visit classrooms and hang out with kids. Now I'm in a bigger district with more people supporting me, and while I don't have to track every minute of every day just to survive, I occasionally dust off my binders when the need arises. Although I'm sure there are apps now that can achieve the same outcome, those early years would've finished me off without my homegrown solution.
Would you like to write for the next "Road Tested" column? Visit www.ascd.org/educationupdate for submission details.
Kevin Goddard is the superintendent of the Sarcoxie R-II School District in Missouri and a 2012 ASCD emerging leader.
Copyright © 2014 by ASCD
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