President's Corner

From the Press Box to the Sidelines

by MARK T. BIELANG

Whether you’re a football coach or a school district leader, September marks the start of a new season. It’s time to gather your team, develop your game plan and coach your players to victory.

With much to accomplish, how you decide to use your time will be vital to your success. How much time should you devote to studying the game and keeping a global perspective? How much time should you spend getting to know your team?

Mark BielangMark T. Bielang


Whether your goal is a winning football season or having a productive school year, relationships form the foundation of your efforts. As such, you must make a commitment to devote your time to nurturing relationships. No matter what the game, nothing can replace the presence of a trusted coach on the sidelines supporting and encouraging the players.

Margaret Wheatley reminds us: “Relationships change us, reveal us, evoke more from us. We do not live in a world that encourages separateness. Only when we join with others do our gifts become visible, even to ourselves.” The question is how do we, facing infinite demands and finite time, fit building relationships into our schedules?

For me, Friday night football games provide a great opportunity to do just that. I typically arrive a bit early, touch base with other staff and watch the pre-game activities. During the game, I work my way along the sidelines, talking to parents, students and community members. By half time, I will have worked my way toward the press box, my favorite vantage point for watching the game.

One challenge of coaching is being able to stay close to the action and still enjoy that press-box view of the game. But, as good coaches know, coaching from the press box isn’t effective.

How often do we, as school leaders, make time to step out of our offices and walk along the sidelines to actively coach our teams? How often do we take the opportunity to mingle with the spectators, to really learn how they feel about the game, the players and our coaching?

As district leaders, we’re expected to view things from the press box, to observe our school districts as a whole rather than as small segments that make up the system. Like football coaches, we need to enhance our view of the field to see the patterns, tendencies, opportunities, shortcomings, threats and other factors that we can adjust to make the team more successful.

Still, just like coaches, we need a presence on the field. That’s where relationships get built. That’s where the action is, where things happen. We must make time to engage with others in meaningful ways so we can develop the relationships so important to our success.

Perhaps our challenge is one of balance — of balancing the time we spend in the press box with the time we spend on the field. Learning to balance the time spent gaining a broader perspective with the time needed to develop personal relationships with our colleagues, our community, our staff and our students will help us all have winning seasons.

We are fortunate AASA provides opportunities for us to learn how to find that balance. Whether it’s the National Conference on Education or the targeted symposiums and summits, you will find opportunities to build your own relationships and to discover new strategies for achieving balance in your life and in your work.

As you plan for your own professional development this school year, please include AASA events as a way to support your efforts to be a balanced leader and an exemplary coach for your team.

Mark Bielang is AASA president for 2009-10. E-mail: mtbielan@ppps.org