WomenEd Blogs

Collaboration: A Superintendent’s Superpower


By Dr Jacinta C. Mayronne @drcalzy

Dr. Tracey Beckendorf-Edou, superintendent of Cascade School District in Washington State, is a collaborator! As she tackles her second year of superintendency amidst the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Dr. Beckendorf-Edou, the ideal systems thinker, shared some brilliant ways for other women to navigate their journey towards superintendency. She gave us insight on essential qualities of a school superintendent, why qualified women choose not to pursue superintendency and benefits of diversity in the role - specifically gender diversity, how to encourage other women to pursue educational leadership, and what compels and sustains women throughout their leadership journeys.

For our @WomenEd_US November 2020 Twitter Chat, Dr. Beckendorf-Edou discussed women in the role of superintendent.

What or who influenced you towards becoming a superintendent?

For a long time, I thought I would never want to be a superintendent. I didn't want to deal with the politics. I was a good number two. I actually had somebody encourage me and say, you should become a superintendent one day. I was thinking, oh no, not me, and I had all these reasons why not. Once I had the idea in my head, little by little, all the reasons not to become a superintendent dissipated a bit at a time. I would say it was people who could see it in me. They saw it in me, and then it took me a little bit longer to see it in myself.

In your journey in becoming a superintendent and now being in your second year as a superintendent, which of the 8 C's do you most relate to and why?

I feel like I most relate to collaboration in that I feel like, through collaboration, we gain multiple perspectives and learn more about what's going on and what we can do. We tend to respond better when we collaborate.

Can you expound on how your leadership approach has assisted with your success in climbing the leadership ladder within education?

It is really important to be systematic because we need to think about how we put processes and procedures together. Being systematic is a great approach because it teaches you how to clarify what you do when under different scenarios, and you can always improve it. Being systematic gives you an ability to think about the system as a whole and how the different things that make up the system operate. Systematic approaches make operations and decision-making more transparent and more transferable for other people to pick up the reins as needed. I would say having a systematic thinking approach is helpful for an aspiring superintendent. You don't just want to think about your bubble, you have to think about the entire organization from top to bottom.

Your Twitter chat focus was on 'Non-traditional Candidates for the Superintendency.' How would someone interested in superintendency take the nontraditional route?

I would say that most superintendents are male principal coaches. They might have had other roles in there, but a lot of superintendents are male principal coaches. Coaching is really good in that you learn how to be a leader, and you learn how to coach people, and you learn how to encourage people. None of those things are bad. I wasn't any of those things. I wasn't a principal, for example. Some people thought that that would automatically disqualify me from being a superintendent, including myself. I went up the teaching and learning route. I went from teacher to professional development coach, to working in a district office, leading professional development, working with federal programs, school improvement, and executive director of teaching and learning. For a time, I thought that I hadn't been a principal, so then I wouldn't be able to be a superintendent. Well, that's not true. Here I am, a superintendent, right now.

Those kinds of thoughts we think are true because that is what we see. We see a lot of male principal coaches. I have nothing against male principal coaches at all, and a lot of them are great superintendents, but that doesn't mean that I can't also be a great superintendent coming from the teaching and learning side. I was a nontraditional teacher, and now I am a nontraditional superintendent. We don't all have to have the same story, and that's okay.

What are some social ways women leaders can effectively network?

I recommend seeking out other female leaders and making a point of befriending them. When I came to town here, I scoped out the female leaders in the area so that I could start making friends. It's very helpful to have other leaders around who understand what you're going through, even if it's not the same kind of organization.

Would you be willing to share a story or anecdote with us that exemplifies your decision-making skills as a leader?

We created a healthy start reopening plan [due to the COVID-19 pandemic]. I held a reopening stakeholders' group. There were students, staff, community members, parents, school board members, health care professionals, and administrators in the group. We met for seven weeks to address different challenges we would have to face with the reopening. That information informed the work that we did. We also looked at other school districts and guidance from the Washington State Department of Health, our local health district, and the CDC. Then I created a healthy start plan and sent it to my whole management team for feedback and improvement. The health district and the school board gave me additional feedback. It was highly collaborative and ended up in a written process that was improved through more collaboration.

I openly seek feedback and try to make sure that it's written down so that we all have a resource to look at to know what we're doing.

Please describe your experiences leading a school during the events of 2020.

I was fortunate to have seen that cycle play out, while a teacher in Africa during the AIDs epidemic. As far as leading the school district, I played out in my mind, here we are at the denial stage. Now we're in the misinformation stage. Now we're at the starting to really feel it stage. Now we need to change our behavior stage. My past experience has been helping me think about where we're at and where we're going. It has helped me keep my perspective. My experience is that this is hard and that people are struggling at every role in the school system. First and foremost, I have to pay attention to the health and safety of students and staff at the same time as student learning.

What does being #10% braver mean to you?

I call it feel the fear, but do it anyway.'

Dr. Beckendorf-Edou believes in collaboration and being a systematic thinker. This leadership approach has helped her be 10% braver and, as a first and second-year superintendent, navigate her school district through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Learn more about Dr. Tracey Beckendorf-Edou and her work in educational leadership: @tlbeckendorf

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Saturday, 01 October 2022

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