Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Courage to Lead

     I was recently asked to give one word that I felt best described leadership. When asked a question like this I try to clear my mind and let the question find the answer. The word "courage" tumbled across my lips and intuitively it made sense.
     The dictionary defines courage as "the ability to do something that frightens one". While this definition touches on aspects of the work we do as educators, it does miss being a complete fit. I've always felt that the balance of being a confident leader is to not be inconsiderate.  It is this aspect of self-doubt that is often a hallmark of strong leadership.  It is the skill that allows for acknowledgement of the good work being done coupled with the ability to confront current realities.  We live and work in an environment that is defined by change and we have a responsibility to respond to that change.  The greatest things I did early in my teaching career have little contextual reference today.

     Positional power can be misused and set the work of a school back. Roland Barth talks about the significance of the relationship between Principal and teacher as being the greatest contributor to school success and the driver for all other relationships in a school ("Improving Relationships Within the Schoolhouse", Educational Leadership, March 2006,Volume 63, Number 6). The balance then, comes in engaging all who have a stake in the outcome in the conversation of why changes need to occur and what those changes might mean.  It's important to have all of the information at your disposal and to be prepared to have your thoughts challenged.

     Courageous leadership is not limited to the formal positions defined in school district but instead, is displayed across the system.  Recent blogs have highlighted great teacher leadership and powerful leadership lessons learned from our students. The power of two students in Nova Scotia to challenge bullying based on perceived sexual orientation spawned a wonderful celebration in schools across our country where we all don pink and think about the impact of our actions.

     Courage should not be used as a weapon to blindly charge forward. Instead, it must be balanced with the perspective that comes from walking in the shoes of others and being open to having their experiences influence the final outcome.  If I have developed any skills as a leader in my twenty-eight years of being an educator, it is because of the contributions of others that have emboldened me to be courageous in the face of significant challenges. Thanks.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Parents - A Positive Attribute of Successful Schools

     I recently had the pleasure of delivering the opening keynote at a parent conference hosted by the Simcoe County District School Board.  The "Circle of Learning" conference (http://scdsb.on.ca/parents-corner/circle-of-learning-conference/) is organized by the parent involvement committee (what a great idea for all districts to have) and part of their mission is to connect parents with student  success. This is the third year they have organized the conference and the goal is to build the participation levels each year. I also had a chance to sit on a panel and hear some interesting perspectives and some common themes that align with my daily work.

Circle of Learning 2

     The comments also served to remind me of the valuable role parents have played in many of the successful outcomes I've seen happen in my twenty-eight years as an educator.  Whether it was a commitment to communicating with individual parents about the positive attributes of their children I was privileged to teach or seeing a middle school PAC grow from a small core of fundraisers to a group of 50 or more that initiated change and became the strongest advocates for our school, their contributions have also been precursors to larger positive outcomes.
     Communicating with parents continues to be an important part of my work today. Often times the point of interface is the midst of a crisis where resolutions are not as quickly achieved. Still those moments provide deep insights such as this recent communique I received from a parent:
“He is not the perfect child, if there is such a child, and I'm sure he will have his moments, but I would like them handled with maturity and fairness and with the professionalism that we can expect from the school and the adults who have been trained to deal with these situations.”
The point being made is that parents generally believe that educators have skills and abilities additional to their own and this might provide a deeper insight into resolving the challenges with the child.  Ponder this question - Do you think that your communication with a parent about a problem their child has is a revelation to that parent? More often they are aware of the challenges and limitations as they spend significantly more time with the child.  They are looking for some additional assistance in managing the problem and, in my experience, are much more likely to feel part of a team when invited to co-create a solution.
     Anything we can do to include parents in the daily lives of schools and to remain active participants in the education of their children will almost certainly guarantee a positive result.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Friday - The End of the Week Stories

     Early in my career I used to gather with colleagues at the end of the week over a cold drink and share stories of the week that was. In general, these stories could be characterized as "the disasters of the week" and often referenced negative events (albeit with a humorous spin to them).  Those who had the best story to share would sit quietly and let the pretenders share their event before relaying the "mother of all stories". These longer sagas created lots of laughter and provided some release from the stress of the work we do.  I'm not here to condemn those story swaps and was a willing participant. Instead, I wonder if we should start taking a similar amount of time to share the awesome things that are percolating daily in all of our schools.

     Public education appears to be the recipient (or cause in some people's view) of bad news in society today. If the key folks in the system (teachers, parents, principals, vice-principals, administrators, and students) only share the disasters in these social gatherings, who will be the bearers of the good news?

     Today marks the end of Education Week in my locale and I want to share with you some of the tremendous events that occurred. We had fabulous displays of student work at the two malls in our larger communities and at various businesses in our smaller ones.  Students took great pride in seeing their work displayed (as in the photo) and many community members were provided insights into the work going on in schools.  We had the graduating students reading to elementary school students on one of the days, a math class being delivered on another, and a music class performing on a third. These all occurred in the mall and drew lots of positive attention. Our elementary schools took part in the district basketball tournament which was also open to the public.

     What's happened in your schools this week?  As you head into the weekend which stories will you share? If you have the time to post a comment, share something great that happened in your school. All of us have the capacity to be transmitters of good news and empower each other with many more good news stories to share.  At the very least it may cause those who believe they know our world to pause and reflect on why educators are a critical component of a healthy and sustainable future, and perhaps stop imposing challenges that impinge on our capacity to be difference makers.