Rob White loves technology, fishing, and good efficient communication. He manages being both the athletic director and assistant principal at Saline High School in Saline, MI, all without caffeine.
as told to Romy Glazer
You could understand Rob White’s approach to athletic directing once you know his approach to school administration and teaching. Education. He’s constantly on the move and dealing with unexpected situations, but in all things, whether a mistake, scheduling conflict, or dealing with concerns, he sees it as a way to learn and get better.
My day usually starts before 6am. I’ll roll out of bed, get in the shower, and can be out the door in a half hour. We live close to the high school in Saline, which makes it easy to get there really early. I’m also the assistant principal there, so I need to be around as much as possible. It’s an extra layer on to my day.
I used to drive to work with my two kids, who also go to Saline. Now that my oldest has her driver’s license though, they’d prefer to sleep in a little more, and drive themselves. I’m sure they just love having their Dad as an administrator.
I’m technically not drinking caffeine any more. It’s been almost 10 months. The job is energizing in itself and I’ve found that I don’t need it like I used to.
Before I do anything in the morning, I’m checking my email. I have a hard time if I’m not connected. I try my best to keep on top of things, but on a normal day, I’ll usually receive somewhere between 150-200 emails. I get a good number of them done first thing in the AM from my iPhone, and then also when I’m on lunch duty. The Mophie case I use is a must-have, otherwise, I’ll drain my phone’s battery before lunch. I’ve also got an iPad which I use sometimes. Remember 10 years ago and Franklin Planners? We’d have to set aside family time to figure out who would be where. Man, times have changed, haven’t they?
My secretaries are essential to me. When I get to work, they’re the first ones I talk to. We’ll touch base on the major open items for the day, and anything that might’ve happened overnight. Is there anything big coming up that I’m forgetting? That sort of stuff. Without them, I might not see the forest for the trees.
There’s a not a hectic time in my day; you can get into a routine, but every day is different. It seems like one day there’s issues with transportation, or the fields, or something else. Always the next phone call. Being the athletic director is interruptions and unexpected situations. It’s not going to events all the time, even though I want to. My job is to help my leaders impact lives – and when they do, that’s something I can be proud of.
The two main values that I aim to practice every day is being straightforward and transparent. I also try to have an honest and open vision and philosophy, which makes this easier. I personally believe in the coaches and what we’re doing. Our coaches are incredible, and what we’re doing for the kids is hard work, but it makes a big difference. Do we make mistakes? Sure. But being straightforward and transparent helps us to correct our paths if we need to and address concerns easily. School athletics is educational. The most important part is making mistakes. We want everyone to grow together.
When I started out managing our 32 Varsity Sports and 120 coaches, I had a tendency to over-communicate, if that’s even possible. People say communication is the best way to keep everyone on the same page, and it is, but I’ll be honest, I communicate less often and get better results. When I was sending out 15 emails a day to different people and my coaching crews, they weren’t absorbing the information. One of them later told me that it all turned into ‘white noise.’ So we started sending out a monthly update email instead. It’s color coded, with the things happening the month ahead at the top, and then the things that are still important but are being repeated at the bottom. I manage it with a running Google Doc – whenever I think of something I want to include, into the doc it goes, and when it gets time to make the update – I get serious about firming up what’s in there. It works.
The biggest struggle right now is online organization. I’m always making sure people know that you don’t need to call the office anymore for things like you used to. I need everyone to be doing their work. But parents, the media, and the rest of our public friends need to know what they need to know, and once they’re trained in going to our websites to get that information, I need to be sure it’s easy to find. Otherwise, there’s another phone call. We’ve got this great website with all the information they need and they’re using it! But if I’m doing my best work, I’m making sure that it’s right where they can find it.
You need to know your audience for everything. Take social media for example. I want to communicate with parents mostly, so I’m on Facebook. Parents aren’t on Twitter just yet. They’re moving there slowly, but it’s mostly a place where students hang out, like Vine and Instagram. The nice part about Facebook is that I can schedule things in advance. On the weekend, usually on Sunday, I sit down with our upcoming schedule and I’ll write announcements for the week that’ll come out the day they need to. It takes me anywhere from 1/2 to 1 1/2 hours to get it all done. If I’m using Twitter for the students, I’ll schedule the announcements to come out first thing in the morning – our kids are usually on it right when they get out of bed and until first period. Scheduling my messages for them around 6am means that they’ll see it and can retweet, favorite or talk about it to their friends first thing.
We work hard at Saline to support the local press. Sure, it’s part of their job description to cover us, but we want them to hit their goals too. Website hits, papers sold, either way, it’s all partnership. There’s too many people who don’t acknowledge that. The approach of educational athletics means the media is a part of it too. If they make a mistake I let them know.
Always hire the best coaches. It gets harder and more important every day. Back in the day, coaches always used to be teachers. You’ll know them, their character, and know they’ll be around for a while if they’ve got a teaching job. Now, that’s not always the case. Hire the right people that share your passion, vision and drive. It’ll make your life much easier. It helps me sleep at night knowing that I’ve got the right people in charge.