Difficult Choices that Define us as Leaders
What was I thinking? I spent my first several years at District 303 in St. Charles struggling to learn the district and to build trust with my team. It was a much larger role from my previous position. Far more responsibility and more demanding. Seven years plus at St. Charles and I had the privilege to hire everyone on my team of nine except for one person (and she was promoted into a new role). “The dream team” was built and they were firing on all cylinders… my job was to keep the ship moving and support their growth and productivity. We just completed a major construction renovation and paid off a large amount of debt, both key milestones and great learning experiences for me personally.
But then, I did something that seemed irrational and perhaps unexplainable. I decided it was time for a change. But this change had nothing to do with my satisfaction level at my current job. I loved St. Charles. The community is passionate about education, supportive and talented colleagues and a board of education that was appreciative of my work. So why would I leave what was very comfortable for a new opportunity which required me to start all over again? Part of it was work-life balance — the opportunity to be just five minutes from home was exceptionally appealing as my children increasingly participated in extracurricular activities. But there was also this desire to take on a new challenge that perhaps only a new organization would provide me. To say it simply, I was looking to grow.
“So why would I leave what was very comfortable for a new opportunity which required me to start all over again? To say it simply, I was looking to grow.”
A Personal Journey Towards Growth
Three years ago I couldn’t swim 50 yards without stopping. I was stagnant in my traditional workout routine. I’ve never been an elite athlete, but I enjoy the competition and the health benefits that sports provide. I’ve run two marathons, once for my wife…to impress her while we were dating (2004) and once with my wife to support and share in her first marathon experience after our first child was born (2010). I never enjoyed running that much until I met her but I swear I will never do a marathon again. For that reason, I decided I would take on a new challenge and conquer my fear of swimming in open water while combining my desire to do more road cycling. My goal was to complete a half Iron Man (70.3 mile) triathlon.
Now, I won’t go into the details but what I will say is this. It took quite a bit of time, money and education to get started. I remember the day I swam over 1000 meters in a pool without stopping and felt so proud. Months later I would swim over two miles. I had stretched my abilities beyond my wildest beliefs. In July of 2020 in Springfield Illinois, I accomplished my goal and completed my first half Iron Man triathlon (with the help of many along the way). No need to do more. What I found through the experience is how much swim training made me better at my job. It relieved my lower back pain and cleared my head, particularly in the winter months when I couldn’t do so on a golf course. The biking – in those once embarrassing spandex diaper shorts – strengthened my legs and my balance improved. And yes, I still had to run, but not quite as far and as frequent. The bottom line is that my confidence in myself at work also flourished. I had more energy and had less self-doubt. The residual benefits from taking on a challenge can last a life time. And yes, I still swim and bike today as part of my routine… but at some point, that may get boring too and it will be time to change yet again.
Challenge Yields Growth
John C. Maxwell has written many leadership books with great lessons for today’s leaders. One of my favorites is his concept of “more more” and “more before.” Great leaders have a vision to see that there is more that they can offer and more of an impact that they can have to bring positive change to their environment. They also have the ability to see that vision before others do and to seize an opportunity at a time when it may not be obvious to others.
In my five months here at District 87 I have learned so much about myself and the field of public education. Being part of a High School District is very different from my time in a K-12 District. Of course there are positive aspects to each environment. In my new setting, I am engaging in conversations and focusing on work that I would otherwise not have. For example, I have especially enjoyed the regular conversations surrounding our district equity plan and how we can make all of our programs and services accessible to all of our students and families. The work is embedded deep in the Glenbard culture.
Recently (only two months on the job) I was asked to fill in for my superintendent and lead the board of education meeting. This happened to be a particularly challenging meeting as we had a large audience and concern over a controversial issue. I was honored to be able to do so but this was something I had never done in my previous 15 years in education. If I am being honest, I was extremely anxious. Overall it went well, but more importantly I have grown significantly from the experience. Previously I had only imagined what it would be like to represent the district at the board table – this made it real.
Some of us face the opportunity to grow regularly in our work environment. Others may have fallen into comfortable routines. If you are the latter, challenge yourself to keep applying the unique skills and characteristics that make you great in a whole new way. No one needs to leave their current job to take on new challenges. There are always rocks that need to be turned over. Areas that require a fresh set of eyes. Perhaps those opportunities lie closer than you think.
“There are always rocks that need to be turned over. Areas that require a fresh set of eyes.
Perhaps those opportunities lie closer than you think.”
An Opportunity to Reflect
We have all experienced increased challenges during this pandemic. I don’t blame anyone for wanting to maintain the status quo right now. But perhaps 2022 is the time you take a big leap forward. By choosing growth over comfort, you serve your district, your students and your staff. You also serve yourself as you become the leader you always were meant to be.
I leave you with a few questions to ponder as you enter into the New Year.
- When was the last time you purposefully put yourself in an uncomfortable environment?
- How can you bring a growth mindset to your job?
- What is one new thing you have been reluctant to engage in and can you find the courage now to dive in?
Wishing everyone a growth-filled 2022!
By Seth Chapman, Ed. D.
Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations / CSBO
Glenbard High School District 87
Glen Ellyn, Illinois 60137
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