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Be a beacon of what is right in public service

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Dr. Matt Hillmann
Northfield Public Schools
MASA President

“As soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would rather serve with their money than with their persons, the State is not far from its fall.” — Jean-Baptiste Rousseau

Our nation continues to face a workforce shortage unlike we have witnessed in some time. MASA members are all too aware of these workforce shortages in nearly all parts of our schools. While it is critical to be transparent about the difficulties we face in education and public service in general, we may also be inadvertently engaged in negative marketing.

Our society needs a public service renaissance. We need to emphasize its overall positive nature. A few items to consider as talking points when encouraging public service:

  • Public service is good work — it is both challenging and rewarding.
  • Effective public service helps develop trust in our democratic institutions.
  • Public service is meaningful — we have an opportunity to impact the lives of our neighbors positively.

We also need to acknowledge some sacrifices we make for the greater good when choosing a career in public service:

  • Working with the public has challenges —  different people have different expectations and sometimes express their displeasure in less than tactful ways.
  • Salaries for public servants can be lower than for private industry.

All too often, we compare public service and private industry. As educators, we have long held that running a school and a business have similarities but require different management approaches. Public service cannot be just a “job.” We need to recognize it as a calling — a vocation — if you will. 

We do ourselves no favors by perseverating on the negative aspects of public service. All occupations have flaws. I hold a simple philosophy in this area: I execute the parts of my position that I don’t like, so I get to perform the aspects of my work that I love.

We can also inspire others to a career in public service. Encourage not only students but those adults in our community who we see could be difference-makers. People need to hear the potential our positions — our vocation — hold in serving our democracy.  

As MASA members, we can be beacons of effective public service and the joy it can be. Our love for our service can be the best marketing for the next generation of public servants and, most importantly, educators.

Keep living your purpose

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Dr. Deb Henton
Executive Director

It’s hard to think of spring when you have trouble finding a place to put the accumulating snow we have had this year in many parts of our state. Hopefully, by the time this column is published we will see dry pavement, robins aplenty and kids riding their bikes!

As you look toward the end of another school year, a friendly reminder to keep living your purpose. Our MASA Executive Development Committee developed this theme for the 2022-2023 school year more than a year ago. The Spring Conference focused on how we can live out our purpose in our daily work. 

Here are some tips I heard at the conference that might help you focus on your purpose as you encounter anxious staff and students eagerly awaiting the end of the school year:

  • Listen. Really listen to whomever is speaking with you.
  • Write a purpose statement that you reference frequently. Clarify what you truly mean when you articulate your purpose. Think beyond what first comes to mind. Go deep into your purpose so you don’t question your why when times get tough.
  • Be intentional about your self-talk. Focus on the positive and the possible. Believe in yourself. Be kind to yourself. If you are thinking negatively, transform your thinking to the positive to reinvigorate your purpose.
  • Know that you are courageous and engaged in noble work. It is challenging work, rewarding and some say your job is the best they ever had. Share a positive narrative about public education whenever you have the chance. Celebrate success!

Some of the best tips will come from your colleagues. Lean on them. You are not alone in this work. Living your purpose requires a healthy you and your colleagues and I stand ready to support you in your purpose. Call us. We will listen-really listen.

I hope you have a refreshing summer filled with whatever it is you like to do.  Thank you for all you do. Your leadership matters.

Spring Federal Advocacy is in the Air

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David Law
Minnetonka Public Schools
AASA Executive Committee Member

The AASA Governing Board met on Wednesday, February 15, ahead of the National Conference on Education. During this full-day meeting, representatives from Region 3 had the opportunity to spend time together in a breakout session to discuss some topics of importance to AASA and provide feedback. The primary topic was to provide input on the AASA Legislative Agenda.

For those who haven’t spent time with this document, it is lengthy and covers many items that might not be a priority or area of interest locally. During this discussion, we shared that AASA must be ready for any of these topics to surface and have a position on the topic. For most Region 3 leaders, this was a novel concept and is the reason I am including it for our MASA membership. While AASA has priority bills that they work on during the session, like fully funding special education or addressing Title IX funding challenges while we revise how families apply for financial support, there are always other topics that come up. I encourage members to review the laundry lists of items on the AASA legislative agenda and determine which are locally important. With this information, you could share feedback with the MASA Federal Advocacy committee.

Another high-priority item from AASA was the “Parent’s Bill of Rights.” This topic has surfaced locally too but could be much more impactful if it was enacted at the national level. The AASA response has been that almost every facet of this proposed legislation already exists in statute. This is another topic worthy of review at the state level but also nationally when articles from AASA come out.

The final item that our group spent significant time discussing was the role that schools play in supporting community mental health. Region 3 representatives shared perspectives about whether schools should be the first line of support for mental health crises or a place that can help students find community support and transition students back from a more therapeutic setting. As federal and state elected officials continue to allocate funding to schools to support students’ mental health needs, we need to be consistent about what we are able and expected to provide.

Dan Bittman (Elk River), Jeff Elstad (Owatonna), Chris Mills (Stephen Argyle), Craig Oftedahl (Luverne), and David Law (Minnetonka) are fortunate to be representing all of you in these discussions and welcome your feedback ahead of our July legislative advocacy session.

You can find contact information for your AASA Governing Board members online at: www.mnasa.org/mn-aasa-governing-board.

Advice for Sports Parents

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Denny Smith
Leadership and Development Trainer

It’s not always easy being a sports parent, but here’s the kicker: It may not always be easy to be the son or daughter of a sports parent either. Being involved in competitive athletics is an emotional roller coaster, so let’s look at a couple of ideas that might make the road less bumpy.

In a previous Leaders Forum, we shared the story of a youth soccer referee who got fed up with the terrible behavior of some parents, so he caught incidents on video and spread them on social media. Although he may have been partially motivated to embarrass them, his main intent was to let them see themselves in action and do a little examination of conscience, and it began to work. As the parents observed the ridiculousness of their less-than-fourth-grade behavior, they began to change. One mother wrote to the referee to let him know that she had gone four weeks without yelling at an official.

Most parents are pretty well-behaved, but like anything in life, there is always room for improvement. Here are three ideas that can help us be as positive as we can be and make participation in sports a rewarding experience for our kids and for ourselves as adult leaders. Credit for the first idea goes to Charlie Campbell of the Minnesota State High School League. He suggested having a conversation with your son or daughter and asking them, “How would you like me to cheer for you?” Most kids aren’t going to ask you to scream at the refs or bad-mouth the opponents or criticize their teammates. They will paint a pretty clear picture of their wishes, and adhering to their requests could produce some good results.

Thirty years after the fact, I received this second insight from my son. He said that the worst part of playing for me was the ride home after practice, so let’s see what we can learn from that. The ride home after practice or a game does not have to be, nor should it be, a coaching session, and most certainly should not include your critique of their shortcomings. If you do discuss the game or practice, focus any conversation on the positive, allow him or her to share frustration for a short time if need be, but immediately help direct the energy towards letting go and moving on. When you sense that he or she doesn’t want to talk about the game or practice, it might be wise to change the subject to the price of tea in China.

A third consideration is to keep winning in perspective. In fact, we open our “Coaches and Parents Make the Difference” seminars with this thought: “If you want to be a winner, you have to learn how to lose.” Former Marquette Basketball Coach and TV commentator Al McGuire shared this insight: “The greatest emotion is winning. The second greatest emotion is losing.” When speaking to athletes, I try to convince them to do three things: play hard, have fun, and always be a class act. Perhaps Berton Braley’s Sportsman’s Prayer says it best:

In the battle that goes on through life,
I ask but a field that is fair,
A chance that is equal with all in the strife,
The courage to strive and to dare;
If I should win, let it be by the code,
With my faith and my honor held high.
And if I should lose, let me stand by the road,
And cheer as the winners go by.

Denny Smith, a former teacher and coach, and a motivational speaker and author, is committed to making our schools and communities safe and welcoming for all people. Excerpts from his latest book, “Coaches Make the Difference,” can be previewed at www.dennysmith.com.


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Daniel Ludvigson
Long Prairie-Grey Eagle Public Schools

Nature is a wonderous and peculiar thing. As it was put in the popular Jurassic Park movies, “Life will find a way.” Nature has many examples of bouncing back from adversity. One that comes to mind are the great redwood forests. We have learned that forest fires are not only beneficial but a necessary part of the health of a redwood forest. Closer to home prairies need this cycle of growth and starting anew as well. Challenges are a part of what shapes us. They become a part of our experiences and understanding. I have often said, “calm seas do not make skilled sailors.” Without challenge, growth cannot happen. It lacks that driving need that serves as the fuel for change. Coming off of the pandemic I think it best to stop and reflect on this idea.

Many districts were set back. Learning was halted, plans were discarded, and losses were experienced in many ways. Many of us learned far more about technology than we would ever care to. We were forced to “find a way.” This was an event that defined the generations it touched. This will cause changes, that is a given. What those changes look like, only time will tell.

In times of new beginnings, there is opportunity. Despite the uncertainty and anxiety that comes with the unknown it also presents a time for new growth. We can learn things and make changes that would not have happened if we were left without that anxiety and uncertainty. Opportunity is often in plain sight, you just have to adjust your perspective to see it.

So, take those challenges and adversities that life has thrown at you and use them to drive a positive change in your life and the lives of those around you. Perhaps your experiences with depression allow you to connect and empathize with others that are experiencing it. Perhaps being forced to teach in a new way allowed you to learn techniques that allow you to touch students’ lives in deeper ways. Perhaps all the arguing and conflict that has plagued us during these past two years has honed your ability to navigate those difficult conversations. Sometimes the purpose we seek in our experiences is the purpose we give it. Sometimes perspective is what reveals opportunity.

Remember you can be the difference that allows others to grow back stronger from their adversities. By standing together we can build strong relationships and develop trust that could not have existed without adversity fueling it. We can learn from the experiences of others and we can teach others about our own experiences. We all have knowledge, skills, and talents that can be one piece of something special and unique. Our forests do not have to regrow alone. Our cycles of regrowth can help us as families, schools, and communities come back stronger.