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October 28, 2016

Together Talks: Ann Clark, Superintendent

My obsessive wait for this blog to post each week, along with my secret love of these posts, has inspired me to start regularly highlighting interviews with stellar leaders and teachers who can share their personal reflections on the role of Togetherness in their work.

Enter our new Together Talks series. Ta-Da!

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Our first interview is with Ann Clark, Superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Schools. I’ve gotten to know educators all over the district in the past two years of training their teachers, principals, and central office teams. Imagine my delight and excitement when Ann, whom I’d heard was the Queen of Togetherness, spent a full day in my workshop! She even talked to me afterwards about the power of her routines.

Here’s our first Together Talks, with thanks to Ann for nerding out with me on all things Together!

Maia: Tell me about your daily closing routine.

Ann: I like to end my day by clearing the decks. I always make time to return to my office – even after really late board meetings – to get rid of all papers (by giving them either to my assistant or to recycling), answer  4 – 5 quick emails on whichever device is most convenient, and complete any action items I picked up during the day.

The way I end my day informs how I begin my next day.

Maia: It sounds like you have an opening routine as well. Tell me more!

Ann: The nature of a superintendent’s job, as with many leadership roles, is that I have a lot of people who tug at a limited amount of time. I’m responding to other people all day long –a school visit, a meeting that runs late, or a call from law enforcement. In order to commit my days to serving others while also remaining proactive, I protect an hour and half, every day, that is completely mine. This is when I get my own deeper work completed. It may be in my office, at a coffee shop, or at home. This time is even scheduled in my calendar. I may write an important agenda, send birthday cards to colleagues, or prepare for a presentation.

Maia: How do you set expectations and model Togetherness for others?

Ann: The first is what I call my Tickler system (that’s Thought Catcher in Together parlance). I keep one piece of paper with the name of each direct report on it, along with a few lines underneath.  When I meet with my team for 1:1s, I write on the sheet what I want to discuss and what I will follow up on.  People see this and know I hold them accountable.

Anne's Thought Catcher Snip

The second way I model Togetherness is by valuing others’ time. I’m almost always on time to all meetings, and they do not run over. We end each meeting with a review of our action items, and open the next one by reviewing these publicly. Each meeting has a rotating time keeper and facilitator who work together to keep us on task.

Maia: What do you do when something throws off your plan? How do you regroup?

Ann: In September, I planned a huge celebration for our principals to thank them for their results. We had an ice cream truck, balloons, and the works! However, when the time came, our community had a traumatic week, and I knew I needed to change course.  I came up with a win-win: we had our meeting, we had some ice cream, and we processed our own leadership challenges and emotions in the context of everything that was happening.

Maia: What is your favorite organization tool and why?

Ann: I carry a leather padfolio. While I’m completely electronic, I like to flip through a paper calendar to see the big picture.

Maia: What Togetherness battle you have stopped fighting?

Ann: After 33 years in this community, I’ve learned that I don’t have to be at every event I am invited to attend. For a while I didn’t say no at all; now I am more strategic. I look across my calendar to see if I have another touchpoint with the organization, or if I can send a different team member. It is not easy to make these choices, but it is necessary to stay focused on what’s most important in my work.

 

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