GCU adjunct provides insight for superintendents in new book

November 28, 2018 / by / 0 Comment
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By Theresa Smith
GCU News Bureau

Dr. Howard Carlson, an adjunct faculty member in the College of Education at Grand Canyon University, has recently published a book, “Accelerated Wisdom: 50 Practical Insights for Today’s Superintendent.” It can be ordered online by clicking here.

Carlson is the superintendent of the Wickenburg Unified School District and the reigning Arizona Superintendents Association Superintendent of the Year. He also has presented to new superintendents as a part of GCU’s Superintendents’ Collaborative Network. On the occasion of his book release, he answered several questions for GCU Today:

Dr. Howard Carlson

Question:  Your book appears to be aimed at a specific audience. Is it designed for aspiring superintendents and current superintendents? Is it also aimed at school board members? Basically, who is your intended audience? Is there an unintended audience?

Answer: Intended audiences for the book would be those engaged in superintendent certification programs, individuals new to the superintendency and also seasoned superintendents. The book provides concepts designed to help superintendents through situations they face daily. Examples might be how to respond to someone who has an idea they want to share with you, or how to remain focused when multiple distractions compete for your attention.

I co-authored a book in 2009 titled “So Now You’re the Superintendent!”, which is used by colleges across the country in their superintendent certification programs. I have found that although the first book provided many insights for those entering the superintendency, a second book was needed to help people succeed on a daily basis.

Q: Was it difficult coming up with 50 insights? How many did you have to leave out?

A: This is an interesting question. I started out thinking I would offer 40 insights, but as the writing process progressed it became tough to limit the number to 50. I actually indicate in the book that I am sure those reading what I have written will have additional insights they have found useful, and I provide my email so they can enlighten me regarding what they have found to work well. I have also started a blog at www.acceleratedleadershipwisdom.com, which I hope I can use to gather thoughts and insights from others. 

Q: While you probably don’t want to play favorites, tell us your top three insights and explain why for each one.

A: Although my top three tend to shift, based upon the situation I am currently facing in the superintendency, below are three I use often.

1. Keeping Track: In other words, putting in place systems for me to collect, manage and archive important information. The superintendency is very demanding, and without a great organization plan we will ultimately fail. 

2. Reacting to New Proposal and Ideas: Superintendents are approached on an ongoing basis by teachers, parents, board members, etc. with ways to “make our schools better.” The challenge for the superintendent is to respectfully listen to the new idea yet create time for thought and reflection prior to responding. The technique I recommend in these situations is to ask the individual for a written proposal. Doing so places responsibility back on the person to outline the idea as they have conceived it. If they are serious about the proposal they should be happy to do so; alternatively, if they are wanting to “dump” the idea on you and are not personally invested, they may not follow through. 

3.  Promoting Ideas, Concepts and Organizational Changes: As superintendents, we all study the change process as part of our superintendent preparation programs and often consume other materials on the subject as well. Over the years what I have learned is that there are two other key components which must be considered when contemplating the promotion of an idea, concept or change. The first is emotion. Authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath speak to this concept and point out that in the absence of eliciting an emotional response in conjunction with using systems like Howard Gardner’s Levers of Change, the idea will likely not resonate with others. A second piece, which we often don’t think through, is the fact that although an idea may be good, it may not be ripe for implementation. Our ultimate goal in promoting an idea, concept or change is that it will be sustained.  If we have not planned properly, nor used the right tools, we will likely not achieve success.

Q: Is there a common misconception the public has about the job of a superintendent?

A: I am not sure I would refer to it as a misconception, but I don’t believe the general public understands how very political the superintendency can be for those in the position. I have often said that being a superintendent is as close to be an elected official as one can get. Superintendents deal with multiple constituencies, which represent a diverse set of views and ideas. It takes a high degree of emotional intelligence to deal with these competing positions and bring people together around a set of common goals that will move students to the next academic level and also meet their individual needs.

Q: Is there a common misconception new superintendents might carry with them when they start the job?

A: Good question! I believe the misconception is that new superintendents go into the job thinking about the work (i.e., the curriculum and instruction) without fully understanding the context (politics). New superintendents must realize that for the work to be accomplished, the context must be effectively managed. Again, there are many competing interests in a school district, and those issues must be considered prior to making any move or setting goals. 

Q: How long did it take to research and write the book? You have served as a superintendent over the past 20 years in Washington, Minnesota and Arizona — have you been filing away ideas in your mind or on paper?

A: I have been filing away ideas for decades. The file is a few inches thick and full of sticky notes, emails, articles, book references and other helpful information I have collected over the years. Every time I came across a unique idea or picked up a point of wisdom, I would put it in the file. My intent was not originally to use the ideas for a book but rather as a way to record important concepts that might help me in the superintendency.

After co-authoring my first book, I realized that there is a lot of material out there for superintendents regarding how to get started, but not much available related to the day-to-day issues superintendents face. Hopefully this new book will in part work to begin filling that void.

Q: As a member of GCU’s adjunct faculty, what trends are you sharing with adult students that you are seeing on the front lines of education – in K-12 classrooms all over your district – that are critical to helping young people learn and thrive?

A: I find that adult students crave practical application to go along with the theory they are learning. In other words, how can this bit of research or a conceptual framework be used in their position? I believe some of the trends adult students find most helpful today are concepts such as ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and how this research impacts our students today. Also, addressing the issue of school safety and how it is being effectively implemented in schools. Finally, the ways technology is being used to personalize learning and the promise of adaptive learning systems for differentiation and intervention.

Contact Theresa Smith at (602) 639-7457 or theresa.smith@gcu.edu.


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