Growth Series: Reflections on Learning and Serving

This is the second part in our Growth Series, where our AD partners share how they are focusing their energy inward, reflecting on the values they want to work on the most, and putting goals into action to become the best version of themselves.

I just need to BREATHE!

It’s amazing to me how, after 21 years in public education, the start of a school year ALWAYS has me feeling as if I’m drinking from a firehose.

  • Activities/Athletics registration is open – Check
  • Fall coaches meeting scheduled, planned, executed – Check
  • Fall P.A.C. meeting scheduled, planned, executed – Check
  • Game workers organized and secured for fall events – Check
  • Officials scheduled for fall events – Check

And, as you know, the list goes on and on and on…

It’s easy to get caught up and spend the bulk of your time in management mode—tending to the organization, tasks, and duties necessary to run the activities department. And, just like quality coaches have to know the x’s and o’s of their sport, AD’s must be strong in these areas to have a strong activities department.

But, also like good coaches, ADs ought to be spending time developing themselves, professionally and personally to support their leadership journey in education-based athletics. Remember InSideOut principle #1: To be a better AD, you have to be a better you. It is foundational to the InSideOut philosophy and it applies to coaches, AD’s, spouses, parents, etc.

There are many popular avenues for professional growth. Perhaps you’re pursuing a graduate degree in sports management, or earning your CMAA designation by taking LTI courses from the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association. And of course, there are a number of best-selling, inspirational and motivational authors and speakers with which to engage. This article examines two unconventional approaches to professional growth opportunities for AD’s.

Wade Mortensen is an AD at Pillager High School in Pillager, MN. Pillager is a small, rural school in Central Minnesota and Wade wears many hats in that setting. He’s currently the AD and Dean of Students for kids in grades 5-8. He has served as a teacher and up until this school year was the head girls basketball coach.

Despite his burgeoning responsibilities at Pillager, Wade has made it a priority to grow professionally by committing himself to earning his MN administrative license through a regional cohort model of one of our higher-education institutions. It has caused him to look at the educational system differently, to see the importance of the many and varied programs that serve kids and has helped him understand more fully the role the activities department plays in the educational mission of the district. It also has helped him to understand more fully his impact and influence as an educational leader in his building.

To commit to this takes time and money, of course. Wade, however, sees tremendous value in enhancing his knowledge base and leadership skills and is making a conscious and sometimes stressful effort during this two-year window in his career to grow professionally. And, as a bonus, it has strengthened his relationship with other administrators at Pillager and there appears to be a financial incentive for Wade once he has earned his MN licensure.

My own professional growth journey has been pretty intense over the past 15 months…I was asked by our District leadership to take part in a regional cohort of the Minnesota Principals Academy. The academy is based on the research and programming of the National Institute for School Leadership (NISL). This executive development program meets two days per month over the course of two school years, culminating with an Action Learning Project, which is a personal project designed to affect a small amount of change that is needed in a program, building, or district.

Like Wade, my experience in this program has opened my eyes to the many challenges and needs in our education system and the role leaders must take toward improving the system. While the leadership units on math and science weren’t necessarily germane to leading the activities department, they have helped me to better support our principals and understand the demands on many of the coaches who are classroom teachers by day. Further, the Academy exposes participants to the educational research and case studies supporting:

  • Strategic thinking and planning
  • Systems alignment
  • Foundations of effective learning

These units of study prove to be outstanding professional development no matter the leadership role or title you have!

I have also appreciated this opportunity to understand the necessity of using available research and data in making decisions across the educational system, including in activities programming. Additionally, this program has helped me to communicate the importance a sound, educationally-based activities program has on connecting a large number of students to the school!

For me, professional growth is the time and activity that allows me to BREATHE and enjoy the goodness that comes with this often crazy, stressful, hectic vocation we call “AD.” Wade and I have similar and perhaps non-traditional avenues of professional development that we are currently engaged in as ADs, however, we have both found incredible value in learning more, networking more, leading more and serving more!