If you want to succeed as a SPED Director, you need to have access to the superintendent.
However, if your superintendent is so overwhelmed that there’s no time left for you—when he or she is constantly rushing from meeting to meeting or so consumed with daily responsibilities precluding any type of normal conversation—then you are headed for real trouble.
Aside from leaving you ignored and frustrated, this lack of attention can seriously impair your enthusiasm and career growth as well.
If this describes you, then it is probably time to begin solving the problem.
How to Deal With an Overwhelmed Superintendent
1. Use Another Communication Method
Although your superintendent may be too busy—or unwilling—to chat with you face-to-face, you might have more success if you resort to alternative modes of communication. Perhaps sending a short but focused email or text message will elicit the response you want.
Don’t even try to schedule a meeting or a chat unless there’s no way around it. You probably have a better chance of receiving a response to a quick email or text than pushing for that meeting that likely won’t occur any time soon.
2. Take a Quick Peek
Try to peek into your superintendent’s office every so often to see if there is time for a quick question—and if you find him/her available make it quick. Ask something that can be answered in a minute or two, and defer the explanation for sometime later.
While you’ll need to select your questions very carefully, remember that getting some guidance is better than none. And when your superintendent is extremely busy all the time, this can be very helpful.
3. Schedule Weekly Meetings
Do it gently and diplomatically, but push hard for weekly one-on-one meetings with your superintendent. This will provide you the opportunity to ask questions, set your priorities, discuss your superintendent’s priorities, and get those clarifications you need.
But remember that you want to stay clear of these meetings becoming dumping grounds for your superintendent to give you even more work. Set the agenda and do your best to stick to it. Use those meetings well—they may be all you get.
4. Choose your Battles Carefully
If you just can’t continue without your superintendent’s assistance, then don’t hesitate to inform him/her. But go about this judiciously. It’s imperative to only draw on a busy superintendent when absolutely necessary.
5. Impromptu Encounters
There are times when you can’t wait until the next weekly meeting. This is where you’ll need an even more fine-tuned approach to improve your chances of getting that impromptu meeting with a busy superintendent.
In these situations, you’ll need to use at least one of these 3 strategies:
Know how to frame your ask
Become familiar with the superintendent’s assistant
Make it easy to meet with your superintendent
A. Know How to Frame Your Ask
When you ask for a meeting, it’s imperative that you frame the request in a way that makes it useful for your busy superintendent. In other words, be crystal clear as to “what’s in it for you” where “you” is your superintendent. Remember, he/she is busy and needs to be able to justify that time spent with you.
For example, if your reason for this meeting is to update your superintendent on your work, this won’t sound either urgent or compelling enough, especially when your superintendent is busy. While it may be useful for you, for him/her it isn’t that exciting. But if the meeting is important for the superintendent, then it becomes a priority.
Similarly, if you have an idea that will save your superintendent time or aggravation, that would probably be compelling as well.
Remember, the “what’s in it for you” goes beyond “getting” the meeting. It also serves as insurance against the meeting being canceled or replaced by a “more important” meeting.
B. Become Familiar with the Superintendent’s Assistant
Because most superintendents have substantial responsibility and are so busy, they often have an assistant. And that being the case, they’re likely to trust and rely on that assistant.
This is so crucial to you because the assistant often controls the superintendent’s calendar and has the authority to move meetings around when necessary.
Since the superintendent often relies upon the assistant’s judgment, the assistant probably has considerable influence in both establishing and rearranging the calendar.
So, the assistant can be very helpful to you in navigating your superintendent’s calendar and understand his/her likes and dislikes when it comes to meetings.
If you treat the assistant well, then you will have a clearer path to meet with the superintendent. And the opposite is true as well. If you mistreat the assistant, you may end up in the superintendent’s doghouse also.
Bottom line is that “gatekeepers” are very important and need to be treated carefully!
C. Make it Easy to Meet with your Superintendent
The best way to facilitate a meeting is to “meet them where they are,” literally! What this means is that you need to get to know your superintendent’s routine, habits, and daily schedule. You can do this by working through the assistant or through observation.
When you are both in the office, catching your superintendent on the way in or out of the building often works well. Perhaps this “meeting” will occur in the elevator where you have a captive audience, if but for a few moments.
Invest Now For the Future
Essentially you are learning how to manage your superintendent. While the strategy and tactics might seem silly at times, there is nothing silly about it. When interacting with the superintendent is necessary, you really have no choice but to do whatever you can to meet that need.
And it could be that once your superintendent sees how determined you are, and the value of your meetings, this entire problem may begin to gradually fade away. Your sincere and intensive efforts might bear the fruits of obviating any difficulties.