I see the work we do in Klein ISD as being very important to the lives of young people. For me, this drive to deliver an awesome education to every student led to a pattern of working around the clock. I would come home every day and spend a few hours with my husband and two children, then work through the night or wake up at 3:00 am and get on my computer.

I thought I was doing such a good thing for the universe. I was wrong.

Sue Matson, my coach through Holdsworth’s District Leadership Program, guided me toward a paradigm shift in my thinking.

She helped me see that as the leader of an organization, what I do is far more important than what I say. I can tell people all day long to prioritize their health or families, but if they don’t see me doing it, it means little.

She also helped me see that the list of things I  could  be doing for the organization is infinite, but I needed to carve out time and space for the things I  should be doing in order to be the best leader I can be.

Now I take that infinite list of tasks and instead of rushing to do it all, I run it through this filter:

  1. Does it really need to be done?
  2. Does it need to be done by me?
  3. Does it need to be done now?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” it is not a priority. This checklist has been a huge help in managing my time, and is a great way to grow and empower others if the answer to Question 2 is “no.” Another way I keep my focus in the right place is to set aside protected time for reflection and strategic thinking.

Jenny's journal used for Friday reflection time.
Klein ISD Superintendent Jenny McGown carves out time on Friday afternoon to reflect upon the week and jot down any lessons learned.

Weekly Friday Wrap-up

The last hour of every Friday afternoon, while the emails pile up and our community keeps buzzing outside my door, I retreat to my office for a ritual of reflection. I write a note to myself outlining key lessons learned over the week and questions to consider moving forward. I think of people who could use my encouragement and write gratitude cards. Then I review drafts of public remarks scheduled for the following week. I’ve learned that as a leader, you must choose your words carefully. They can either inspire or derail the progress of your organization, so making time to think through your message is a wise investment of time.

First Friday Ritual

On the first Friday of each month, I start my day extra early and carve out two to three hours to reflect on big, organizational questions. Are we spending time on the things that matter the most? Do we have the right people in the right seats? What are the root causes of our problems and what are our opportunities? What vision or key messages will inspire the entire organization? What metrics are driving our operations?

I started this ritual when I was named lone finalist for the superintendent position and began to feel the weight of my new role. If I am not clear on the vision and direction of the district, how can I expect the team to deliver results?

When you invest time in yourself as a leader, you are actually investing in the organization and the people you coach and develop.

The better I am, the better everyone around me will be and the better the organization will be.

This time is essential. But it must be carved out purposefully. If you think you will stumble upon some free time to think about all the things you want to achieve, I am here to tell you it will not happen!

Because this practice has been so impactful for me, I am now thinking about how to build in more time for our teachers to reflect and grow in their practice so they can better serve our students.

If you are inspired to do this for yourself, I offer this advice:

  1. Claim it as a priority – This may sound obvious, but if you put “reflection” on the bottom of a crowded to-do list, it’s likely to get bumped.
  2. Start small – If someone had told me in the beginning I would need to set aside 10 hours a month, that may have scared me off. If you don’t have two hours, take 20 minutes. Do it while exercising or on a long commute. As you cultivate the habit, you might find yourself expanding the time you spend.
  3. Set a goal – Set one clear goal and check back in with yourself constantly. What did you do this week to make progress on your goal? What did you learn that could help you moving forward?

As a leader, aligning my actions with my values has been one of the most transformational experiences of my life. I feel very protective of the Klein family, and I know that only when I’m at my best can I truly serve them to my fullest capacity.