It’s Your Circus, They’re Your Monkeys…

It’s Your Circus, They’re Your Monkeys…

My wife started a new
job last week.  Superintendent of
Schools.  Her first day in town and with
nothing in the cupboard, she headed to the local grocery store early in the
morning.  Incognito in ball cap and
sunglasses at 7:00 AM, surely she could slip in and out quickly.  Experienced superintendents and board members
know the inherent dangers of the grocery store and would never have attempted
such a move, but she is new and a risk-taker. 
You know how this ends… “Say, aren’t you the new superintendent?  There are a few things I would like to talk
with you about….”
There are 58 new
superintendents in Kansas this year. 
Over half, 35, are brand new to the job, never having served as
superintendents before.  These
superintendents have all passed their preparation classes and taken their
certification exams.  They have all honed
their skills as principals and/or central office administrators.  They are smart men and women with good skills
and a heart to make things better for kids. 
But they have never sat in the superintendent’s chair.
 The part that is hard to learn from books is
the personal side: 

  1. You are
    always the superintendent. Once you put on the hat, it doesn’t come off.  (Even if it’s a ball cap that you think makes
    you invisible in the grocery store at 7:00AM.) My dad, who has over 20 years
    experience in the superintendent’s chair, used to say “imagine someone is
    following you around with a video camera.” 
    Today, when everyone has a smartphone, you can be assured that someone
    is.
  2.  Your
    family will be affected. Your spouse and children will be treated differently.
    People with good intentions will give them special treatment, which can be even
    worse than treating them poorly because of a grudge against you.  Then there is always the knucklehead who thinks
    sending you a message through a son or daughter is a good idea. “Tell your mom
    we don’t like the….”
  3.  It’s
    lonely at the top. Any CEO will tell you that, and it is true in this job
    too.  People make friends with their
    co-workers, but your co-workers know that the relationship is different even if
    you don’t think it is.
  4. You live
    between the rock and the hard place. 
    Your job is to navigate that space between countervailing forces,
    parents and teachers, students and taxpayers, board members and staff, just to
    name a few.  There is inherent stress in
    that space.
A wise old
superintendent described the job with this story:  Picture yourself walking through a meadow on
a beautiful sunny day.  In the distance
you see a row of trees, swaying in the cool breeze.  As you get closer, you see a little monkey
out in front of the trees, jumping up and down and screeching as only a monkey
can do.  He is throwing things and
yelling at you.  But you think to
yourself, it’s only one monkey, I may get a little dirty, but I can deal with
one little monkey.  So you walk closer
and as you approach the trees you notice that the breeze has died down, but the
trees are still swaying, the screeching is getting louder and all manner of stuff
is being thrown at you.  The whole forest
is filled with monkeys, and they are mad at YOU!  Every superintendent has a day or two like
this.
Excited about that new
job? Of course you are!  Because to quote War Daddy, it’s “the best
job you ever had.” Every evening when you lay your head on the pillow, you do
it with the knowledge that you did something to help kids today.  There is nothing like it in the world.

Board members, I write
this for you as well as for the new superintendents.  You have a new member on your team.  Help them out whenever you can.  Set goals, set boundaries, set expectations
and talk through them.  Be supportive,
insightful and help them understand there will always be monkeys.