Talent Looks a lot like work!

I had a great day of learning today and it was well outside of my comfort area…in one sense. I attended a Math teachers inservice that was hosted at my school and it was great. I say out of my comfort zone because I am an English teacher and most if not all the math that they were talking about meant very little to me. That being said, I was not there to hear about the math, but to hear from Michael Belcastro. You can check out all his videos on his YOU TUBE channel and that is pretty impressive in itself. I think he has created over 2000 videos that deal with all sorts of Ontario Math curriculum.

Mike is a teacher I have wanted to meet for awhile. I guess we have met a couple of times at different things but I have never really had a chance to talk with him or to hear him go over his approach to teaching. It was a great session for me because I got to see someone who had actually taken the chance to try it a different way. He actually has the courage and the work ethic to really go in a different direction. This was a great experience for me because he embodies a lot of what I see needing in schools.

He is actively engaged in a pretty advanced version of a Flipped Classroom which utilizes self made You Tube videos and D2L. Essentially in Mike’s class, a student is assigned the lesson for homework which consists of a number of videos outlining a concept and then an assessment quiz that the students take on D2L and have to achieve a mastery of 70% to move on. All of this is done BEFORE they even walk into class. The class time then is spent working on larger and much more interesting projects that allows Mike to work in smaller numbers with the kids.

I love this idea but the best part of the day was to see all the teachers, and especially my teachers trying to wrap their collective heads around the idea and then getting excited about the possibilities that could be on the doorstep for them. They got into it but I know that this will not bring about changes right away. It will take some time but I think that the more that we hear from these amazing people, the more we can see ourselves do it.

I had a good talk with Mike later in the day and the one thing that I wanted to impress upon him, (and any teacher that I encounter who is trying something different), is to keep going. I have used this analogy before, but I love the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan to prove a point:

I like this scene because it proves a point: “The first guy over the wall, is going to get bloody!” I see people like Mike as those guys who had to take fire as they hit Omaha Beach. The mission depended on these men, knowing that they were going to get the worst of it, standing up and doing what needed to be done. I have no doubt that Mike has had his fair share of doubters and he even mentioned that colleagues, parents and students have resisted his ideas. He could have easily folded to the pressure and just given in. God knows that I have seen this in my career and have even felt the temptation myself. When you spend your time hitting your head against the wall of resistance, eventually you get one hell of a headache! The best part of today was that Mike still has great passion for his profession and believes in his vision. He knows that the audience has people rolling their eyes while hugging their textbooks, but it has not deterred him. That was great to see.

Like I said before, it was also great to see my teachers getting into the possibility that there may be another way to approach their work. It is a struggle I know, especially to maintain momentum but that is where I come in. I have to find ways to support those teachers that want to try new things. I may even go so far as to say that I even need to push at times. Don’t get me wrong, I will not spend any energy trying to get someone to do something that they don’t want to do, but I do see the need to give a supportive nudge to someone that is waiting anxiously at the edge of the pool, just testing the temperature with their big toe. Okay, here is another movie image that I love to use when talking about educational change and reform.

In this scene, Bruce Wayne understands that the security of the rope is holding him back from his goal because he is not embracing his fear of death. The same can be said of teachers. too often I see teachers who know that things need to change, but hold back in some way. They cling to the security of “what everyone else is doing” and never really change their teaching style. The problem with this is that sooner or later, they revert back totally and it is hard to see any remnants of a difference. Mike and I talked about the need to just go for it and to really “go all in” when you feel something is worthwhile.

This is where I have to offer the most support to my teachers that are looking to change things up. I have to support them financially because if the only thing keeping them from a new look, is money, then that is just not good enough. I need to support them with PD and when it comes to scheduling. I have to be willing to look at the daunting task of scheduling and do away with the strive for a good percentage (number of kids with a perfect schedule), and see that work behind the scenes is often the most important.

I also have to be supportive and protective of the influence that these teachers have. To borrow from the Private Ryan motif, it can be all too easy to get picked off by the sniper fire of traditionalism and the machine gun like repetition of “this is how we have always done it”. I have to insulate from those influences but also look for ways to expose them to the good ones. This was a great exposure today for my teachers and I now need to expose them to more of people like Mike Belcastro. The good news is that while Mike is still in the minority, there are more like him coming!

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Let’s Be Clear: This is Child Abuse!

My wish for the above picture of Adrian Peterson is that it could have been a mug shot taken as he was arrested and locked up for child abuse. For those unaware, the All Pro running back for the Minnesota Vikings is involved in allegations of child abuse as pictures of his 4 year old son were released showing the aftermath of a discipline session in which Peterson whipped his son with a branch or “switch” so severely that he left open soars and bruises all over his body. The following pictures are graphic and I only include them to give context to my emotions on this subject.

I wish this narrative was rare or even surprising but as we have seen in the news recently, especially with the Ray Rice issue, all too often professional athletes engage in behaviour that is wrong. The surprise we have about these occurrences I suppose says more about the fact that we tend to equate athletic ability with some sort of moral compass. These incidents should remind us that this is a dangerous mistake to make, especially when we tend to espouse athletes and celebrities as role models for our children.

My disgust and sheer head scratching astonishment this week though is not reserved for Adrian Peterson. It is reserved for the reaction that this incident has had about the situation. I regularly listen to sports radio in the car, most specifically the FAN 590 and Monday morning I actually found myself yelling at the radio listening to this segment of the Brady and Walker show. The segment is long but if you skip ahead to around the 19 minute mark you will hear Andrew Walker saying that he has a hard time comparing Adrian Peterson to Ray Rice because the “line is blurred about how to discipline your kids” but not so much with spousal abuse. This is easily the stupidest thing I have heard on the subject and the focus of my anger in the car the other morning.

Why are the lines blurred and why can we not make a direct comparison between Rice and Peterson. In fact I would say that Peterson is much worse than Rice. Rice hitting his fiance was disgusting and cowardly but that woman could have left that situation possibly. She could have made different choices about the type of man she decided to be with. Peterson’s son could not make any of those choices. Let me remind everyone that this child was 4 YEARS OLD!!! My youngest is 7 and I don’t allow myself to consider what I would feel like if I found him with those marks. I guess in a way I agree with the radio host when he says that he has a hard time comparing Rice and Peterson, because I think that Peterson is so much worse.

Then I hear Charles Barkley talking about his upbringing and how the lines are blurred for him as well.

I have heard this garbage a lot as well lately, saying that we cannot impose our ideas about child rearing on others and that we have to look at the cultural context of Peterson to understand his motivations for whipping his 4 year old. NO I DON’T!!! I don’t have to understand his context because he whipped his son!! He abused him and should be put in jail for that action. There is no context here. The argument about spanking is one thing and I will be the first to admit that I was spanked as a child but it was not this! It was a pat on the bum that really didn’t hurt as much as it scared me into understanding the seriousness of my parents’ message. This is not a case of going too far. This amount of abuse which shows evidence all over his body including upper and inner thigh, back, arms and hands involves anger and aggression. I get chills when I think about the crying and pleading that this 4 year old must have done while this torture was going on. This was not going over too far; this was sadistic and cruel.

Here is the thing about parenting as I see it. I knew, as I grew up that there were some pretty dangerous and awful things that could happen to me out in the world. As I grew aware of my surroundings I understood that not everyone was looking out for my best interests. But I also knew, without a sliver of doubt that when I came home, those fears were left at the door. I knew I had nothing to fear in my home because my parents had created this home for me. I respected my parents, but I never feared them and I am tired of this idea that the two are synonymous. I knew that they offered me unconditional love and a safe place to get away from the increasingly threatening world and if I did not have that place, I don’t know how I could have got through growing up.

This leads me back to our job in education. My disappointment when it comes to reaction of some people about Adrian Peterson has really caused me to pause and consider the role of school to our kids. If people are still “confused” about the line between child abuse and child rearing, then we have a lot of work to do in society but it means that our call to create safe and inclusive schools is all the more important. Our school theme this year is PEACE and I think it is all the more powerful this year because of what we have seen in the sports arena. I cannot imagine a single teacher I have ever met, (and there are some that I don’t have much professional respect for), seeing those pictures of this 4 year old victim and saying that they are fine with that. I guess the job comes with this very sensitive gag reflex when it comes to the safety of kids. We need to be vigilant about the communities that we create and as the principal of the school, I have to constantly strive to maintain a safe school at all costs. I have to do this because the public reaction to this situation shows me that perhaps school is the only place that these kids can feel safe.

This has been a sad and emotional start to the week for me, but I only hope I can use it to keep me focussed on my job.

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Happy New Year

So another year starts and there are so many things to look forward to and so many things to consider. This is when I both miss my time in the classroom and are simultaneously so happy that I am a principal. There is a real dichotomy here I understand but worth a bit of an explanation.

I remember back to when I was in the classroom how much I loved the start of the year. It was a chance to try new things and to look at the same building and see new challenges and possibilities. I really miss teaching probably because of that immediate ability to try things. I did not have to convince anyone of the merits of what I wanted to do or try to gain consensus among staff. I just had to plan like crazy, maybe bounce some ideas off some of my trusted colleagues and then give it a try. I am somewhat impetuous by nature so this was a great career for me. I could try something on a Wednesday that came to me on Tuesday. I was able to be as creative as my energy level would allow.

This is what I miss some times as I sit in my office. I miss actually educating young people. I miss being able to just try my ideas and not worry about how they would “appear” or how to win people over. I could just try it. That is not the reality of a principal. Probably because my actions impact so many more people now and because more people try to read into my actions. Because of the more “public” reality of my job I have to weigh my actions more carefully and not “just try it”. I miss the classroom for so many reasons, but that is truly the most severe thing.

But there is another side to the coin, (as there is almost always is), and that is what is really the best part of the job. The best part is that my actions can have so much more impact from the office. Now my ideas can be shared with and improved when I share them with my teachers. We can engage in great discussions, (something that is incredibly rare for VPs), and figure out the best ways to implement things. We can even look beyond our school and see what we can do to change larger educational structures as well. We regularly talk about things like The Third Teacher, Student Voice, Skills Development and proper use of technology. We talk about these things and then look for ways to implement them into classroom work.

Now I should say that this is where is gets frustrating for me because I can’t be the one who executes the plan. I can’t make sure it gets done immediately. I have to abide by the timeline of those teachers that are in the classroom. There are times when I wish I could have a class and then try some of the ideas we talk about, but for now the principal’s chair does not allow that.

I once heard that the worst administrators are the ones that really want to be administrators. I guess the sentiment is that the worst admin are the ones that want out of the classroom. I suppose it is a good thing that I see myself as an “educational amputee” that still feels the itch from the limb that has been lost. In fact I would say that this is what I need to explore more in my second year as a principal. I have to continue to think about what would make classroom practice better AND look to use my increased “influence” to impact even more people and maybe even change the larger educational community.

Lots of stuff to consider as we start the year, but truly the only thing I have on my mind now is getting my staffing done, just another part of the principal’s chair.

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Taking from Robin Williams

I promised in a Tweet a couple of weeks ago that I would do a new post on this blog as I had taken the summer off to recharge and was thinking that a great way to get back into the spirit of a school year would be to write a new blog post. I was trying to figure out what to write about and thought about reviewing HOPE statements for the year or reflecting back on the school year that was, but then I learned with great sadness last night of the passing of Robin Williams. This really did impact me because I was a huge fan of his work and surprisingly perhaps not so much of his comedy. I cannot deny his genius with improv but his voices and act was getting a bit predictable. In fact, I really liked his more serious roles and found him to be one of the finest actors of the past 25 years and his death has given me a chance to reflect on his career and you forget how many different movies he was in and the wide range of emotions he captured on screen.

I thought I needed to write something about him so decided to take a few of my favourite clips from his movies and try to apply them to education. To help illustrate some of the educational theories I believe in and especially my own role of leadership within education. This is the best way I could come up with to honour the work and legacy of a great actor.

Dead Poets’ Society

I know it seems a bit obvious to use this movie in a blog about education but it is such a powerful one from my past. I loved the tension that exists in this film with the backdrop of an ultra-conservative school, that cannot possibly contain the spirit of Mr. Keating. The lessons he teaches the young men in this film are amazing and timeless but none more so than the idea of resisting CONFORMITY. I could easily apply this to students but I choose instead to apply it to myself and my role. I often find myself questioning my ideas and thinking that when I am most “outside the box” that perhaps I am wrong. I do have moments of pause when someone comes into my office, closes the door, and says that I have to slow down with the new ideas. When I get push back to ideas or initiatives, I cannot help but wonder if it would be easier to just go with the flow. I am not claiming to be some sort of radical or super-creative leader, but I do think that I see things a bit different than the majority.

I feel the temptation to “fall in step” with the crowd in a lot of different settings. I get it at school but also at Principal meetings, at conferences or even in conversations with my colleagues and superiors. I guess (or at least I hope) that all people must feel this way from time to time and I suppose that the change agents, the ones who can really make a difference, are the ones that soldier through. The ones that value their own ideas and are willing to see them through no matter the detractors.

I would say though that it is a fool who only considers their own ideas and does not look to others for advice or sharing. I suppose the key to collaboration is having confidence enough in your ideas to not only express them, but to also allow them to be refined or improved by the ideas of others. Every blade needs a sharpening stone and that is what we as leaders need to seek out while still holding on to our own ideals and ideas.

Good Will Hunting

This is such a powerful movie and the one that Williams won his only Oscar for but is so full of practical truths that it would be hard to avoid in an article like this.

I see this as a message to all educators and teachers in particular. William’s character challenges Damon’s to look beyond what he reads in books and look to experience life. This is such a 21C message for me, especially the line when he says, “I can’t learn anything from you that I couldn’t read in some fucking book.” I think teachers need to keep this in mind when constructing their lessons but perhaps change “book” to “Google Search”. I once heard Will Richardson say, “You should never ask a question on a test that could be answered with a Google Search”.  This is so important for teachers because the incredible pace of technology must change the way people see school. If we continue to see school as a place where people learn facts and then are tested on them, then we are signing up for our own extinction. The internet will do that better very soon, (if not already), as more and more sites are using very complex algorithms and coding to allow a student to tailor their own lessons to meet their personal and individual needs. If we continue to see our job to deliver curriculum then we will, (and should be) out of work very soon.

If on the other hand we see our role to inspire and to allow students to learn and refine skills like Collaboration, Problem Solving, Critical and Creative Thinking, then we will never be matched by a machine. This is what we have to do in education and see the curriculum, (until the ministry finally realizes the change in tide), as a vehicle or a context to that delivery. The end goal should not be the learning of things but the perfection of skills that will allow students to grow, learn and contribute to the world that they will live in. A great movie with  real message for all educators.

Patch Adams

I stumbled on this clip when going through a bunch this afternoon and this one really speaks to me from my history in the classroom. I started my career with the “don’t smile till Christmas” mentality and that was effective for discipline but did not do much for relationships with students and that impacted my ability to understand what they needed to succeed. Then I was teaching at a self directed school where the students chose to come see me for assistance. I had to go out of my way to be welcoming and to off set my natural physical intimidation so that students felt safe to come see me and get the help they needed. What a great lesson to learn: I needed to be nicer to be better. I hear far too often teachers brag about how tough they are and how that equates to success in the classroom. I totally understand the need for classroom management but I wonder if these teachers are measuring their own success in the classroom as opposed to the students.

Think about it, if you have to be a “prick” (in Patch Adams words), so that you get through the curriculum, then is that really the point? I guess it comes down to the old question: Is it a teachers job to teach content, or to teach students? If it is the first then there is something seriously wrong with the system and it must be changed instantly! In my previous role of VP I had to deal almost exclusively with discipline and the teachers that would never send me anyone, were usually the ones that had good relationships with their students. They were not the ones with “the best classes” but the ones that worked hard at getting to know their kids instead of getting through the curriculum. What a great call for us to consider relationships in our classrooms.

Dead Poets’ Society

This is probably one of the more famous clips from the film with the “Carpe Diem” phrase which became iconic after most people had seen it. The message is a common one throughout the history of education but I think it has a particular importance now. With the technology of social media and truly world-wide access and reach, this is a very different time in the course of human history. Students can and should be looking at making their mark on the world from a very early age. Gone are the days of working through high school and university simply preparing to do something important. These years, while prepatory in nature, are ripe with opportunities to contribute and to do extraordinary things. There are plenty of examples of young people that have added greatly to the world, but I think that teachers and administrators need to keep this in mind as they prepare for the year. Look for and support opportunities to make learning experiential and to make it more than just academic in nature. Instead of studying business practices, can we start one? Instead of looking at the water crisis in Africa, can we look for ways to solve it? There are plenty of problems in the world so subject matter is not an issue. How can we help student to seize the day?

In that same vein though, we as educators need to start doing some seizing of our own. I am growing tired of the term 21st Century Learning seeing that we are 14 years into the century. Some of the basic ideas behind this movement still seem so foreign in our schools and even futuristic while the rest of the world has evolved to something much different than we are modelling in our classes. We have to carpe some diem when it comes to education. It almost feels like educators are waiting for some expert to come and change things. This is not going to happen because WE ARE THE EXPERTS! We are the ones that are charged with the task of changing our educational model because we are the ones that will be saddled with the mantle of failure if we don’t. How can we start seizing each and every day as a opportunity for change?

Awakenings

It was great watching some clips from this movie as it was in the mid 80s and to see how young both Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro look was fun. I take this clip very personally because it talks to a struggle that I have on a daily basis. I am the first to admit that I lack a sense of patience when it comes to my job and how I see leadership, but I need to remember the important things that are common to us all. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job and I see it as truly important but there has to be some priorities and a level of perspective. The first has to be with my home life. I have been pretty good about getting home at a decent hour and have consciously said NO to some things because they meant being away from home but I still have to do a much better job of turning it off when I get home. I had real trouble sleeping this past year and that was because I could not turn off the voice in my head going over things to do at work. I have to develop ways to get a better balance between home and work. I have to consider and enjoy the simple things that help to keep me sane and then focussed.

This goes for work as well. I have to do a better job of stopping to listen to people’s stories or to just connect with the people I work with. I try to push myself at work so that I can wrap things up efficiently and then not have to get home too late, but does that mean that I am not taking the time to listen to people and to get to know them on a different level than just polite chit chat? Something to consider and something that I will certainly look to focus on this year.

 

So, I know this was a long one but I think it is necessary. If nothing else I think the sudden and all too sad parting of Robin Williams can give us all the opportunity to reflect. If we consider his amazing body of work and then use that to add some context or perspective to our lives, then this event, while so hard to understand and comprehend, perhaps will have some meaning and worth in the long run.

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A Tribute to a Giant: Mary Anne O’Leary

My world and the educational world as a whole got some bad news this week with the passing of Mary Anne O’Leary. I sit here tonight, the night before attending her funeral, and needed to stop and consider the context of this amazing woman.

Just some background for people who may not have known Mary Anne. She was the founding principal of Mary Ward CSS and was the driving force behind it adopting the model of Self-Directed Learning that it still has today. She made many other contributions to education through her work as a superintendent and then on the faculty of the Education wing of UOIT. While she did lots of amazing things, (including raising two great kids), her impact on me was with her connection to Mary Ward.

I have mentioned before what a profound impact teaching in that school had on me and on how I look at education as a whole. I often wonder what I would be like today if I had not made the decision to teach at Ward over 15 years ago. I wonder about it but I know for sure that I would not see things the way I do now. I also know for a fact that I would not be nearly the educator that I am if it was not for that experience. For this reason I owe a huge debt to Mary Anne. I owe her because she was able to bring a style of learning to a board and a city that had NEVER seen anything like it. She was able to convince people of an idea that has profoundly changed the way I see the world. How do you thank someone for that? (I guess you write a blog!)

While I have always appreciated what Mary Anne was able to accomplish I think that this past year as principal has heightened my appreciation for it even more. She was a true agent for change and she did the work to get people to try something totally new. It was not always the most graceful thing in the world but it has been a great success and as I feel my way through my first year of leadership, I marvel at what she was able to do. I marvel at her ability to connect with people on a level that they could trust her enough to literally challenge everything they had known about education. The staff in the early years of Mary Ward had to vote on the idea of becoming a Self Directed School, and I know that many of them voted FOR Mary Anne and not necessarily the pedagogy. That is extraordinary to me! She was able to lead, not through proclamations and directives, but through relationship and trust. What an incredible role model.

I really have not too much more to say than that. I wonder how I will react at the funeral tomorrow? There will be emotions for sure but I know that mine are the result of not what we have lost by her passing, but by what we have gained from her living. I suppose that is what leadership is really all about.

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Clearing Things Up

I just have to offer some further explanation for my previous post. I had a visit from a staff member that I truly trust and whose opinion I sincerely respect and she said that some of my staff were upset about comments I made at the end of the previous post. The comments were:

I have no delusions thinking that I have earned that trust of my entire staff. I even think that there are some members of staff that will never trust me totally. One of my goals is to become better at identifying those people and then have the strength of will to simply forget about them. I can’t spend energy trying to win over a saboteur, I’m just going to make sure they don’t get their hands on any dynamite! In my second and future years of leadership I have to trust not only my own leadership abilities but the commitment and professionalism of staff to follow my lead.

The issue that some of my staff had with my comments were apparently that they think I am saying that I see anyone who disagrees with me as a saboteur and that I will ignore them. I have looked at it several times since we talked and while that was certainly not what I meant, I can see where someone would get that idea. I don’t think my actions have indicated that this is my approach but I have to try to take it from someone else’s point of view. Much like the commercial above, I have to consider context and make sure that my words are not misconstrued.

I want to make it clear that I don’t think that anyone who disagrees with me is a saboteur. I welcome people who disagree with me as I have no delusions about having all the answers or even knowing all the questions. I value honest and direct dialogue more than anything in our profession. I highlight those words because that is probably the context that I wanted to add to my previous posts. I think that the profession of teaching is dependent on honest and direct conversations. I get frustrated when I feel like I cannot be direct with someone. When I feel like I have to be “politically correct” or dance around an issue for fear of upsetting someone or triggering a response that is not intended. I would welcome a challenging voice as long as it was interested in dialogue and working together to get things done. I guess my idea of a saboteur is someone who is only looking to shoot down ideas and changes without an intention to work on it. Honestly, there has been very little of that in my first year but there has been a lot of indirect conversations that seem to avoid the point. There is a lot of dancing around things and I would hope to get more direct dialogue going so that things can get done.

I mentioned this to the teacher that brought the concerns to me and she made a good point that I had not considered. She mentioned that some people were simply not comfortable with such a direct nature. Some people may have read my blog and then felt powerless to do anything about it and unable to make a comment. That idea really hit home to me. I hate the idea that some of my staff would not want to approach me about things. That they would hesitate to share their opinions with me for fear of a reaction. I guess this is where my direct nature can be a detriment and where I have to work on my approach. The more I think about it the more I shake my head at my own blindness: I seek out and crave open and honest dialogue but have not done the work to set up a culture of that in our school. I have to do the ground work before the other stuff can happen.

I suppose that is the context that I needed to add to my previous post. That is the clarity that needs to accompany directness. I hope that people appreciate the fact that I want to be more than a facilitator in the school. I hope they appreciate a leader with a vision and not just a “yes man” or “cheerleader”, but I have to do the work to create an environment where not only my ideas, (and those of my supporters) are heard. Where those who disagree have a voice and the comfort to make that voice heard.

In the spirit of that I would encourage people to leave a comment in the section below if you would like. I guarantee that I will read all of them and release them for others to see. To my staff I would encourage you to email me questions or comments or to come see me about something that is bothering you so that we can make a better solution out of our ideas.

Thanks for reading and for the potential for comments.

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Why me?

I have asked this question a lot over my first year as principal; not in a self pity way or to bemoan how my luck is not what I think it should be. No that is not the context of my mantra, “WHY ME?” If you have read any of my previous posts you know that I have a rather low threshold for whining so that is not what this is about. I have asked the “WHY ME?” question in a context of self doubt or at least a lack of total confidence. When people ask for my opinion or my permission or want to know what I want, I seem to ask to myself, “WHY ME?” Meaning, why are you asking me? Should I know the answer to that question? Should I know better than you, (possibly someone who has been in education twice as long as me?)

I suppose all first year principals have to ask this question some times because the role is truly a surreal one because literally the moment you take the job, people are looking to you for decisions and direction. You are trying to get the lay of the land and people are asking you how to tend it. You are trying to remember people’s names and they are asking you for career advice. It seems like too much and I have often felt completely unprepared for the role and wondered how I could possibly insist on things when I have so little experience.

Funny thing is though, that I think the school wants you to make decisions and to lead. Even if they are not thrilled with the decisions that you make, or disagree with your direction, it is important for your staff to know you have a direction. I genuinely think people want to be lead by someone with a sense of direction and purpose. I would think that the worst kind of leader is someone who saw themselves as solely a facilitator. Someone whose job it is to simply help people get things done. Not much to get behind there and not much to be inspired by. With this type of leader the staff is left to themselves to gather inspiration and that leads to monotony and even an educational atrophy that is hard to shake.

It has been weird for me to come back to a school where I was s student to lead a staff made up of some people that taught me. I have to admit that it is still a bit odd when the people who taught me in grade 9 are coming to me asking for permission to go on an event or to buy something for their department. Signing their mileage claim forms seems odd, like I am checking up on the people who used to mark my essays and give me uniform violations. I have to say that the staff has been amazing to me and the awkwardness is found within me, not them.

But then I think about my role and whether or not I deserve to be “in charge”. I think it comes down to this: the staff likes the fact that someone is willing to be in charge, accepting the responsibility and the sometimes unpleasant elements of the office, while still offering support and a vision for the whole school. I think that educators are excited by dynamic leadership because they understand how important education is but have not had the chance or the time to really think through all the transformative elements necessary for leadership. They appreciate someone who has.

I guess there’s the rub when it comes to educational leadership. To be an effective leader you don’t have to be loved by everyone (impossible), and you don’t have to explain everything to everyone to get buy in. You simply need to be trusted by your staff. If they trust that your motives are good and that you have the best interests of the community at heart, then they will follow. They may even take some risks or go along with something they are not totally comfortable with, if they trust in you. They will follow the leader, not the initiative.

I have no delusions thinking that I have earned that trust of my entire staff. I even think that there are some members of staff that will never trust me totally. One of my goals is to become better at identifying those people and then have the strength of will to simply forget about them. I can’t spend energy trying to win over a saboteur, I’m just going to make sure they don’t get their hands on any dynamite! In my second and future years of leadership I have to trust not only my own leadership abilities but the commitment and professionalism of staff to follow my lead.

Lots learned this year and still lots to go: what a great job!!!

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