In 1995, I attended an IBM project management “boot camp.” Some of the specific tools and procedures were new to me, but the ideas such as “work to accomplish a goal has a start and end date,” that scope, budget, and quality are locked together in a triumvirate of restrictions, or that managing stakeholders is critical to success weren’t new—that’s how large organizations have always done projects.
But when I was elected to my local school board eight years ago, I realized how little we teach educators about project management concepts. Teachers (and even some administrators) are not taught how to do Gantt charts. They don’t “get ahead” by being able to identify risks. Sometimes that frustrates me—no executive chart should ever consist of a list of “dates we met”—we need to be looking ahead instead.
Basic project management skills (not to mention honesty and transparency) matter for a state superintendent—and the ongoing drama of our current superintendent’s refusal to listen to a committee’s recommendation for a reading assessment program could be exhibit A. Making selections like this requires a plan. How are we going to gather requirements? How are we going to judge options? And then—how will we implement the choice? Project and program management requires that as you put together this plan, you consider everyone it affects. We won’t ever get a single answer from all 100,000 teachers as to the best path to take. But their input is crucial before decisions are made, followed by open and fully transparent decision-making and transition planning. And the superintendent must communicate, communicate, communicate throughout the process.
These are leadership skills, and without them, a superintendent cannot do the job of adequately supporting our schools and teachers. Mark Johnson taught for a few years, but being a teacher doesn’t mean you know what’s best for ALL our teachers. Quality leadership as state superintendent means listening and ensuring that multiple viewpoints are considered. Leadership in public service means that we do this in open and transparent ways. And to be successful for the benefit of our students, schools, and communities means that even when difficult change is necessary (not that it was, in the iStation case), all stakeholders understand why we make changes and are able to support high-quality implementation.
Without proper leadership, even the best ideas from teachers will not make our schools better. Experienced, proven leadership is the only way to make all of our schools better. We know that not every student is getting what they need in our schools today to be successful. We need the right leadership in the state superintendent’s office to understand the large system impacts of everything we do and make sure we’re moving forward for all.