Kristen Dobson is a member of The Broad Residency's 2017-2019 cohort and served as Executive Director for Special Projects at Texas Education Agency.
I wake up excited to start another week. Given the many moving parts of the job, including the need to hire six more people on my team of 12, push forward four unique projects and adapt to organizational changes across the agency, I start my day by prioritizing major activities. I categorize my work by level of urgency and level of importance to help me organize my to do list. This will help guide decision making throughout the week as emails start to pile up.
I leave the house and head out to the office. The agency is located one block from the capital, and it is always refreshing when I drive by the beautiful building. It reminds me that my work is dedicated to serving the 5.5 million students across the state of Texas.
I enter a large conference room where we have convened the Chief Academic Officer Council for a monthly meeting. The Office of Academics created this council to provide feedback on all state programs, and the group represents different sized districts across the state. I present our plan for launching the new instructional materials quality review process that will provide districts with information about the quality level of publisher’s materials. The council expresses excitement about this initiative given it is a challenge for their staff. The group then proceeds to ask numerous questions related to timing and process. I reflect on their responses and realize the extent to which a communication strategy will be critical to successfully launch the initiative.
I meet with a new employee on my team that will be working on the instructional materials quality review project to discuss his role charter. This is the document that outlines the five essential functions of his job and the associated outcomes-oriented metrics he will be measured against in his annual evaluation. I review his charter and ask him to explain his rationale and describe how he will collect the data for his proposed metrics. This generates thoughtful discussion and we agree on the changes needed to finalize the document. I upload the finalized document to our shared drive and we plan to revisit performance against these metrics in our quarterly feedback meeting.
I walk up one floor to meet with the head of our legal department. I know my team has statutory authority to launch the instructional materials portal because it was passed in a House Bill in the 2017 legislative session. However, I want to ensure the statute supports our current design and launch plan for the initiative. The head of legal opens a book that has a binding the size of my palm, with numerous statutes marked with sticky notes. We review text word by word and talk through scenarios of how the text could be interpreted. I listen to him process his thoughts out loud and I am thankful we have his expertise. Eventually, he determines the project has legal coverage to proceed as planned and I am relieved to have his team’s approval.
I am finally back at my computer. I close my door, browse my emails and respond to those most urgent. I then open a webinar presentation we will be presenting to all districts interested in applying to one of our grant programs. I add comments and send back to the director leading that project.
I hear a knock on my door and one of my team members enters to discuss my department’s administrative budget. She is responsible for working with the agency’s budget, accounting and finance department to ensure my team’s allocated money is in the proper accounts based on our programmatic needs. She asks about a couple of line items where there is confusion and I call one of the grant administrators on speaker who I know can help. Together, we identify next steps to work out the issue. I eat lunch during the meeting given this is an action-packed day.
I transition to interview candidates in the final round for the Director of Quality Instructional Materials Reviews. This is the project I have been working on all morning, and I need to hire a person to join my team and lead this project. This position requires a deep expertise in the classroom, which I do not have, so I asked two colleagues with strong instructional backgrounds to join the interview panel. I am relying on their input to help me assess the skill level of the candidates in this area. Interviewees have been pre-screened through an intensive written exercise which helps ensure I am interviewing high potential candidates. The first candidate comes in and we have them role play facilitating a meeting and answer a series of questions. The candidate impresses me on some questions, but I have hesitations about their project management experience which is critical for this high profile, high budget project. I walk them out to the elevator and tell her we will be in touch.
I meet the second candidate in the waiting room and bring them in for an interview. This candidate demonstrates passion for and understanding of the work, portrays a solutions-oriented mindset and shows strong project management skills. She doesn’t have the direct experience related to instructional materials, but I can tell she is a quick learner.
The interview panel debriefs and shares their reactions to both interviews. There is a unanimous decision that the second candidate is the strongest. The panel recognizes she doesn’t have the perfect background for the role, but her interview convinced the team she would be a strong fit for the position. Based on her experience, I calculate her offer amount and input my hiring recommendation into the agency’s system. This will route it to the Deputy Commissioner for approval.
I return to my office to meet with the new intern who has joined my team. I previously asked him to meet with all team members in my department to learn about each of the four projects and identify areas in which he could support the work. He provides me with a list of potential project ideas, listed in order of priority. I am impressed with his preparation and relieved he has done so much critical thinking on his own. We review his ideas one by one; I provide context where needed given this is only his third day, and we re-prioritize slightly. I ask him to create a work plan based on our discussion to ensure he is not over-committing himself. I also ask him to create his role charter so we clearly define his roles and responsibilities during the duration of the internship.
I review my to do list for the week and see that my project slides are due for an upcoming status meeting with the Commissioner. I create them and send to the team that runs his Strategic Priority update meetings.
The office is mostly empty at this point, so I go back to my email, excited to have some uninterrupted time to work. I focus my time on answering questions that will help my team move forward their work and addressing the important, urgent items on my to-do list.
I call my fiancée and we pick a place to meet up for dinner. We each discuss our days and I am glad to have a partner who supports me as I navigate building a team and launching new programs. We also start talking about wedding venues which is an exciting reminder that we will soon be getting married!
I finally get home, pack my lunch for the next day and get ready for bed. I love reading before I fall asleep, and The Broad Residency recently released our homework assignments for the upcoming session. I find a cozy spot on the couch and read one of the new articles. It gets me thinking about how to apply management best practices to my new team and I have a couple ideas for new things I want to try. I send an email to myself as a reminder for the next day.
I look at my calendar, set my alarm and take a couple deep breaths to relax. This is day one of a long week, but I am excited to be in the middle of work that is focused on improving outcomes for kids.
I start my day off with a run around the lake in Austin.
I join a call with the Louisiana Department of Education to listen to lessons learned from a similar project they completed to review instructional materials based on quality.
I respond to emails in level of priority, provide HR information they need to make complete the hiring of two team members, and review a draft grant application written by one of my direct reports.
I join a call with a district to learn about their local instructional materials adoption processes and associated pain points. I am using this information as an input to launch our pilot reviews for instructional materials.
I meet with my instructional materials project team to discuss our communications plan and prepare for the kickoff. We recently awarded a vendor a $3M contract to support the launch of quality reviews of materials.
I attend a meeting with legal to review a draft of our rule. This is text that provides additional information to the public about the legislative statute for my instructional materials project. After an extensive public review process, the rule will be adopted into the Texas Administrative Code and will give my team the authority to execute what is outlined in the rule.
I meet with the Commissioner to review an Algebra I analysis that estimates the number of students who excel in math at an early age but are not on advanced pathways in 8th grade. I present a series of recommendations that the state could implement to address the problem and the Commissioner approves them and provides support on next steps
I meet with one of my direct reports to complete one of our routine 360 feedback sessions. We discuss strengths and development areas, and I request upward feedback for how I could be better supporting her and/or the team.
I finally get to eat lunch! I close my door and eat lunch while I draft a list of items I need to review with my boss during our check-in.
I meet with another direct report for our check-in. He has been visiting schools that are implementing his pilot program. We discuss what data we can prepare for the legislative session coming up in February to ensure we maintain funding.
I meet with my boss for our check-in. We explore what incentives the state can offer districts who choose to be a part of our pilot. I think back on how much I have learned about the role of the state in Texas and am thankful for my position.
I jump on the phone with the instructional materials team to relay the changes based on my conversation with my boss. We are iterating on our launch process daily which is exciting as it improves, but difficult to continuously adjust the plan.
I check my gmail for the first time today! I am closing on a house in 8 days so have some papers I must review and sign ASAP.
I meet my fiancé for dinner. We head to a place downtown and walk around to enjoy the outdoors.
I open my computer back up to complete the performance review of one of my direct reports and review a data collection survey going out to vendors.
I get ready for bed and read a book until I fall asleep. Ready for another big day!
I wake up and rush to the office, grabbing a coffee on the way out the door. I am not a morning person so my early routine is short and sweet.
I attend a training on Bill Analysis and Fiscal Note development led by our Government Relations team. The legislative session is about to start for this biennium and we must be prepared to assess new bills as they are proposed during the process.
I walk to the capital to meet with a lobbyist working with different technology organizations. This group has historically been supportive of one of my projects, so I want to provide a status update and obtain feedback on progress to date.
I block time to send all the follow up requests to the group that attended the previous meeting.
I head back to the agency to attend a Data Governance Board meeting. There is a law in Texas that all data being collected from the field be approved by this group. My team presents three surveys we plan to release and get them approved to send externally by this group.
I meet with one of my direct reports for our weekly check-in.
I attend the Commissioner’s Senior Staff Meeting. He updates us on the new performance evaluation system the Human Resources team is launching, provides an overview of his legislative priorities and talks through expectations related to the upcoming legislative session.
I leave the office early to grab a drink with a peer in another department. We each own work that overlaps so we need to make sure we are in close coordination. It is also helpful to discuss barriers and successes her team is having so we can learn from each other’s experiences.
I head home and respond to emails that have piled up after a full day of meetings.
I head to dinner with my fiancé and my brother who lives in town.
I work on a presentation for an upcoming meeting with the Commissioner and send off to my supervisor for review before I head to bed. We have a meeting to discuss the presentation the next day.
Head to bed and read a couple articles before lights out!
I start off my day reviewing the agenda for the day’s conference over breakfast and coffee with my team. We have 80 educators traveling to Austin to be trained on how to review instructional materials based on quality.
I start the conference off with a team introduction and an overview of why we are launching this initiative. The main point I seek to make is that the end goal is to improve outcomes for all students across Texas.
I turn the floor over to the vendor we have hired responsible for facilitating an ice breaker exercise. I walk around tables and observe interactions, meet participants and engage in discussions.
I leave the conference early knowing it is in good hands being managed by one of my direct reports, the Director that oversees the project. I transition back to the agency where I prep for a meeting with my supervisor, the Deputy Commissioner of Educator Support.
I meet with my supervisor and raise three new project risks that have surfaced and need to be escalated to the Commissioner. I present my mitigation plans to address the risks and align on next steps with my supervisor.
I block time to review the new blended learning rubric that another one of my direct reports has been working on with a vendor. This rubric will determine how well districts and schools are implementing our blended learning program that has scaled to 30 districts. I generate a list of general observations and feedback and add my detailed comments to the draft.
I have a meeting with the Deputy Commissioner of Finance to identify if it is possible to access additional funds to enhance a program. This conversation leads to me track down people across multiple departments including grants, budget, legal and academics to clarify internal processes and obtain an answer. We were ultimately able to access the money.
I walk over to the capital to meet with a representative from the largest English Language Arts Association in Texas about our ELAR quality review project. We discuss ways to ensure we obtain their feedback when we launch the next ELAR K-12 quality review process.
I met with one of my direct reports for our weekly check-in. I have obtained approval to remove all of my teams 10 foot tall cubicles to create a more open work space. We discuss next steps to move the process forward with facilities.
I answer the dozens of emails that have piled up while in meetings most of the day.
I check my gmail and switch to wedding planning mode (the big day is coming up in two months)!
I head home and meet my fiancé for a quick dinner!
I open my computer and complete one of my Broad assignments for the upcoming session.
I head to bed and read a couple articles from EdWeek related to my projects before falling asleep.
I wake up and rush to the office, grabbing a coffee on the way out the door.
The Interim Director I have hired is leaving the agency in the coming months, so we have started the recruiting process to replace her. My hope is to hire somebody before she leaves so she lead the onboarding process of the new hire. This morning is full of round 1 interviews for candidates that have been vetted via an application and a performance exercise. We interview the first candidate.
We interview the second candidate.
We interview the third candidate.
We interview the final candidate for the day.
Our interview team consists of myself, the current Interim Director and my supervisor. We debrief the interviews and select one candidate to move to the next round. We also norm on interview processes and discuss a couple ways we can improve our questions to obtain better information from candidates in future interviews (we have two additional interviews the next day).
I rush to a meeting with the vendor that is creating the online portal that will house our instructional materials quality reviews – similar to a Consumer Reports for instructional materials. The vendor has been working on a brand name and logo for the website being developed for this project. They present me and the team with name options and mood boards and listen to our reactions and feedback so they can improve drafts. It is very exciting to see the creativity and expertise of the vender coming to life after a nine month process to get a signed contract.
I walk down the street to the University of Texas campus to teach a class to a group of graduate students in the school of public policy on entrepreneurship in education. I give an overview of the State Department of education in Texas and facilitate a process to help students to think through problems in the space and how they might address them as entrepreneurs.
I finally have a second to open my computer and begin to answer the dozens of emails that have piled up while in meetings most of the day. We are presenting the State Board of Education in two weeks so I take time to provide input on the draft of the presentation my team is developing for me to present.
I transition home and work on the seating chart for my wedding with my fiancé. The wedding is now in two weeks so we are down to last minute details!
I return back to my work email and prep for a meeting I have first thing in the morning. Again, I am not a morning person so typically have to finish up at night.
I head to bed and read a couple articles before falling asleep.