Superintendents' Critical Conversations with Educators: What Research Says about Needed Skills Enhancement

By John Hunt and Sandra Watkins.

Published by The International Journal of Educational Organization and Leadership

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All school leaders must hold nearly daily critical conversations with those they supervise. This is an expectation of educational leadership and such conversations are essential if educational organizations are to move forward. In the United States, most school superintendents are employed by elected lay boards of education and must subsequently report to those boards. This structure may result in making those critical conversations more difficult to conduct.

Many superintendents today are employed by school boards with the expectation of bringing about dramatic change in school districts by building cohesive educational teams. Conversely, employees in organizations are often most comfortable with the status quo. A key question is how superintendents can hold critical conversations, bring about second order change in their districts, and not have mutiny.

This paper addresses the issue of how to hold critical conversations and reduce resistance in the context of superintendent preparation programs. All 867 public school superintendents in Illinois were invited to complete an online survey regarding administrative practices and needs and 43% responded. A common response was the need for superintendents to have stronger skills in building and working with teams. The strong implication of this response was that this element needs to be strengthened and reinforced in leadership preparation programs. The authors of this paper will engage the audience in a discussion of strategies for integrating such skills into superintendent preparation programs, thus enabling prospective and current superintendents to become the "best loving critics" of those they supervise while maintaining peace and harmony in their school districts.

Keywords: Superintendent Preparation Programs, Critical Conversations, Second Order Change, Team Building, Voices from the Field

The International Journal of Educational Organization and Leadership, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp.43-53. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 173.724KB).

Dr. John Hunt

Associate Professor, Department of Educational Leadership, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Edwardsville, Illinois, USA

John W. Hunt spent thirty-four years as a teacher, principal, assistant superintendent, and superintendent working in Colorado, Missouri, Washington, and Illinois. He was also the director of two separate K-12 university laboratory schools. For the past eight years, he has taught educational administration courses in the principal and superintendent preparation programs at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. He teaches in the master’s, specialist, and doctoral programs. His research interests are African-American schooling in post-Civil War Missouri, minority and urban education, and principal and superintendent preparation. Since joining the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville faculty, he has published twenty articles in professional journals, three book chapters, one book, and has given fifty-two national and international presentations.

Dr. Sandra Watkins

Associate Professor, Department of Educational Leadership, Western Illinois University, Macomb, Illinois, USA

Dr. Sandra Watkins served school districts as a teacher, school counselor, guidance director, school psychologist, principal, coordinator of gifted, assistant superintendent, and associate superintendent in Nebraska, Wisconsin, California, New Hampshire, South Carolina and North Carolina. For the past decade, she has taught educational leadership preparation courses for superintendent and principals at Western Illinois University. Her research interests focus on district and school improvement in urban and rural schools, the superintendency, and the advanced learner. Dr. Watkins has presented at over seventy international, national, and state conferences and has published twenty-six articles in professional journals, a book chapter, and co-authored a book on accountability.