What I Wish I Had Known

By Paul Weber

When I hear blues great Sonny Boy Williamson sing, “In my younger days, I wish I knowed then like I know now,” I picture two people in two very different settings: Sonny Boy singing in a smoke-filled Chicago club in the 1950s, and me, sitting in my superintendent’s chair in a rural Wisconsin school district in the 1980s and ’90s. Sonny Boy and I both wanted to get back the years, to live our lives and do our jobs differently and better.

After almost 20 years as a superintendent, I was tired and looking for a new challenge. I wanted time to think, read, and reflect -- activities for which I had little time in my busy schedule. So, I took early retirement and an assistant professor’s job at a private, urban university, in charge of a graduate program for teachers. I thought I would do well because I was experienced and pretty smart. After all, I had almost 30 years in education as an elementary teacher, principal, curriculum coordinator, and superintendent. I thought I had a lot to teach others, but it turned out I had much more to learn.

Here are a few things that I wish I knew when I was superintendent. These lessons come mostly from reading education research and helping students apply it in their classrooms and schools. I hope some of these ideas will help current superintendents and board members do their jobs better by understanding the power of properly applied research. They appear in no particular order:

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