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Leadership Best Practices

Five Habits of Successful Superintendents

February 14th, 2019

Whether you are new to your role as a superintendent or have held your position for over a decade, job success requires continual reflection, learning, and refinement of skills and habits. While every school district is unique, research has shown that some specific qualities and behaviors improve the performance of superintendents, and resultantly, in the success of their schools.1 Take the time to reflect on your strengths as a school leader and areas of opportunity for continual skill advancement. The following five habits of highly successful superintendents can guide you in your quest for self-improvement and district-wide academic achievement.

Habits of Highly Successful Superintendents

#1 – Successful Superintendents Regularly Collaborate with School Leaders.

Multi-Ethnic Group of People and Collaboration Concepts

A leader is only as strong as his or her team members. One of the most valuable skills that any school administrator can have is to listen to the concerns, needs, and ideas of key staff members. No leader can operate in a silo. By fostering team dialogue, brainstorming, and creating a culture of collaboration, superintendents can earn the trust and respect of their school leaders, help solve problems team members are facing, remain aware of trending issues or hurdles affecting schools and students laterally, and receive ideas and suggestions from those uniquely positioned to provide valuable insights.

To adopt the habit of regular collaboration with school leaders, set aside weekly one-on-one meetings with key administrators, as well as a monthly unified team meeting. Understandably, schedules and district events may cause cadence interruptions, but do your best to maintain a regular meeting frequency. During the sessions, listen more than you talk. Always ask team members about challenges they are facing and ideas that they have to improve critical school success factors such as student achievement, teacher engagement, and parental involvement. Document critical takeaways and assign action items accordingly. Listening is vital, but so is acting to alleviate barriers to success and implementing improvement plans.

#2 – Successful Superintendents Have a Long-Term Vision for District Success.

Superintendents are responsible for short-term goal achievement, but more importantly, the most efficient superintendents learn to continually set long-term goals and objectives that align with an overall district-wide vision. They monitor those goals, routinely take steps toward achieving milestones, and make every short and mid-range decision in their purview by considering how it will allow the district to make progress toward its vision. Superintendents have high-pressured responsibilities, and it can be easy to become mired in daily issue management and resolution, but such a myopic approach to management will not enable the type of necessary evolution that every district needs to ensure it is continually adapting to the needs of an ever-changing educational landscape and youth culture.

To adopt the habit of developing and focusing on a long-term vision for your district, collaborate with your board, school leaders, and parents to better understand your current position relative to student and school achievement and set a goal for an ideal outcome. Perhaps your most significant need is to improve graduation rates or retain teachers or increase parental involvement. Whatever you decide is the most critical factor that will lead to overall district success should become an essential part of your vision and long-term objectives. Then, set aside time in your schedule monthly to establish one or two tactical motives that will help you move toward that goal, and dedicate time for strategic execution. Leaders can only accomplish goals of magnitude through small steps, so by taking a systematized approach you will improve your chances of success and goal achievement continuation.

#3 – Successful Superintendents Maintain an Unwaveringly High Expectation for Students.

The words Beyond Expectations on a ruler to illustrate great results, good grades or other measurements met or surpassed in school, career or life goalsNo matter the location of your district—whether in an area of underserved and economically disadvantaged populations or an affluent area with support systems and student resources in place—a successful superintendent will never compromise on his or her expectations for student success. Young people from any background or life circumstances can be successful in the classroom if their school’s leaders foster a culture of confidence and support, keep student success as the focal point of all decision-making, and engage the community and parents to be part of student success. It is critical for influential adults to demonstrate their commitment and belief in student achievement for students to in turn believe in themselves, and superintendents are at the base of a pyramid of support that should set a foundation for quality performance.

To adopt the habit of maintaining the highest student expectations, start with an exploration of your student body’s current academic progress. A district can only formulate strategies for student improvement by first understanding current aptitudes, strengths, and weaknesses. Make it a part of your quarterly process to review student academic progress reports and discuss with your school leaders in your weekly and monthly meetings what barriers they believe they are facing toward individual and holistic academic improvement, and work to overcome those hurdles. Set quarterly and annual goals to improve cumulative student test scores, even if only by a few average points, and never accept that your district has reached the pinnacle of its students’ capabilities. With proper support systems, feedback mechanisms, and action plans in place, student achievement can always reach new heights.

#4 – Successful Superintendents Maintain Close Community Relations.

Parents are not the only individuals outside of a school district that are critical to district-wide success. The community as a whole play a vital role in enabling student success. The taxpayers who allow critical funding can make the difference between a school obtaining the budget for new technology, additional staff, and improved facilities that significantly impact student achievement. The most successful superintendents keep the community informed of student progress and the district’s long-term vision and help residents understand the symbiotic relationship between its members and its students. By encouraging the community to appreciate the role that students play in the future of their hometown and its current economic, cultural, and social progress, community members will be more likely to lend support for school projects and initiatives.

To adopt the habit of maintaining closely aligned relations with your community, hold regular open forum discussions to share progress and objectives with the community. During these sessions, listen just as much as you talk so that you can understand any concerns or misinterpretations community members may maintain that are acting as roadblocks to support. Validate that you have heard their concerns and take follow-up action to address issues when possible. In between open dialogue sessions, distribute community newsletters, share information on your district’s website, provide updates to the media, and use other valuable communication channels to keep community members informed of district progress and validate that you value the community’s continual involvement in student success.

#5 – Successful Superintendents Keep Evidence-Based Artifacts for Evaluations.

Every administrator and teacher in your district should have a dedicated professional development plan, and leaders should assess each one throughout the year. Development plans are critical components of district-wide success due to their inextricable link to individual teacher success, job satisfaction, personal motivation, and empowerment. The implementation of performance reviews and professional development plans for your faculty will enable them to address students’ academic needs strategically by reinforcing their role in student success. For discussions to be impactful, superintendents and principals must be able to demonstrate to teachers quantitative and qualitative measurements of performance success. The most impactful performance reviews and development plans assess specific criteria and establish measurable goals and the steps needed to achieve them.

To adopt the habit of implementing meaningful staff performance reviews, enable the level of quantitative and qualitative record-keeping that is necessary to foster collaborative dialogue between school leaders and teachers. Implement a transparent data repository and assessment technology system to make data input and assessment easy for busy school leaders. By maintaining all performance records in a single digital repository, superintendents can monitor both individual leader performance and overarching district success and continually work to break down the barriers inhibiting collective improvement.


By adopting the proven successful habits of highly effective school superintendents, not only will you benefit professionally, but your district and your students will also benefit from a success model built on a foundation of collaboration, long-term vision, community support, high expectations, and evidence-based individual leadership improvements; such factors are invaluable to the success of your school district. Once they become daily habits built into your routine, you will be able to focus on positive outcomes and reaching even more aggressive goals.

Set Yourself Up for Success with SuperEval

Did you know that SuperEval is much more than an online evaluation tool? SuperEval can also help you to:

  • Create a goal-aligned district.
  • Promote better communication.
  • Deepen conversation among school leaders.
  • Reflect on your own professional practices throughout the year to continuously improve and learn.
  • Organize and preserve evidence-based documents.

If you’d like to learn more about how SuperEval can help you succeed as a school superintendent, please contact us today.

1. Henry, L., & Reidy, B. (n.d.). Characteristics of Effective Superintendents. Retrieved February 12, 2019, from

2. California School Boards Association. (2017, May). The School Board Role in Creating the Conditions for Student Achievement. Retrieved February 12, 2019, from this website.

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