Connect. Collaborate. Risk. Innovate.

Connect. Collaborate. Risk. Innovate.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Next Steps, When the Only Constant is Change

It's deceiving.

On the surface, schools appear to be highly regimented, structured environments, regulated by bells and pre-determined schedules. 

But in reality, the only constant, is change. 

Each school year brings new challenges, new initiatives and new possibilities. It is the unpredictable and fluid nature of a school community that I love. 

It is challenging. It is invigorating

And it is exhausting

But, it is never boring

In two weeks, I will be making the move to a new school. After only two years at my current school, I must admit that this is a bit of a daunting prospect. It has taken me two years to gradually learn the stories, the context, of my current students and staff. 

As someone who values relationships as an essential foundation of a school community, that understanding and insight is partially how I gauge my success as a leader, and set goals for the year ahead...

But as poet Robbie Burns and later author John Steinbeck so aptly noted, "the best laid plans of mice and [wo]men often go awry..."

So, plan B. 

Fortunately, I have also come to the understanding that my most rewarding opportunities have come from unexpected change and challenge

So despite being somewhat daunted by the prospect of learning the stories of a new school community, I take with me incredible learning and rich experiences, and I am excited by what lies ahead.

It is with enormous gratitude and appreciation that I look back on the last two years. 

And in the end, I am not starting again. I am simply continuing the journey

Relationships- the measure of my success.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Connecting the Dots

Do you remember the "connect the dots" pages we used to work on when we were kids? You know, the ones where you had to search out the consecutive numbers in order to connect each dot to the next. Ultimately, when all of the dots were connected, the bigger picture would reveal itself. Some were relatively simply, with the picture already apparent without having to draw the lines between each dot. But some were far more complex, the bigger picture a mystery until more lines were drawn between the seemingly unrelated points, gradually revealing the completed picture. As a child, I would sometimes get frustrated with the complexity of these more intricate pages, losing my way as I searched out the next "dot". Sometimes I would persist. And sometimes I would give up.

In any large organization or district, we are faced with a similar task...

We are presented with numerous tasks and initiatives which on the surface, may seem unrelated or disconnected. I would argue that our job as school and district leaders is to help to connect the dots for our staff and school communities. We need to help others to see the bigger picture. We also need to ensure that we are taking a close look at any new initiatives that we are developing to see how they align with our "bigger picture". If we don't, we risk that same frustration that I faced as a child. If we want individuals to persist, or better yet, to take ownership of new initiatives, we need to be selective in what we are asking them to do, sometimes functioning more as a filter than a conduit.

This analogy extends to the classroom. As teachers, we need to explicitly connect skills and content to the world beyond the classroom. We need to help our students to see the bigger picture, the relevancy of what they are learning. Again, if students aren't able to see these connections, they can become frustrated by seemingly unrelated tasks. But by "connecting the dots" and providing our students with greater insight into the purpose behind what we are asking them to do, they become partners in their learning, rather than simply passive and compliant participants.

The reality is that some things just need to get done and that not every task or initiative is inherently connected. Sometimes we aren't privy to the bigger picture ourselves. And sometimes we just have to trust that the bigger picture will reveal itself in time... But whenever possible, if we are able to communicate our purpose, our "why" to others, we can avoid some of the frustration and fatigue that can serve as a very real barrier to meaningful growth and innovation.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Lessons Learned

I often have individuals ask me for advice about moving from a teaching position into an administrator role. Nearing the end of my second year as a secondary vice-principal (or assistant principal to my American colleagues) I'm hardly an authority.

If anything, a few years in, I'm even more painfully aware of what I don't know.
But, here's a little of what I have learned...

1. I have had to make sacrifices. Finding a balance between my professional and personal responsibilities is an ongoing challenge. I'm not sure if I'll ever figure that out.

2. I need to admit when I don't know something. And when I've made a mistake. People are incredibly forgiving and kind.

3. Relationships are the most important part of my job. They form the foundation for everything else. It takes time. But the rewards are enormous.

4. Talking is as important as listening. Listening is important. But talking is equally important. By taking the risk of being vulnerable and sharing my own story, I give others permission to do the same.

5. Mentors are essential. They encourage me. And inspire me. And tell me when I've done something stupid. All are needed.

6. The little things matter. Saying good morning , saying thank-you, giving a hug, holding a door open. The little things make a big difference.

7. I still have so much to learn. That's overwhelming sometimes. I feel the weight of the enormous responsibility of my role.

8. I love my job. It's the hardest thing I've ever done. And the most amazing. I am grateful every single day.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Leading Change: Getting it Done.

We know that meaningful, impactful change takes time. It requires thorough consultation and careful planning. Depending on the scope of the initiative, this consultation and planning stage may span the course of several months, even years.

However, there a comes a time in every initiative when it is simply time to get it done. It's been my experience that this can be one of the most challenging transitions for an organization- the point at which the abstract becomes reality and dialogue transforms to action.

Given that for most organizations a considerable amount of time (and money) has likely been invested in the consultation and planning stage, it's not difficult to understand why there might be a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty associated with the implementation stage of any significant change initiative. At the point at which implementation is on the horizon, individuals are fully invested, often on an emotional level. Again, this is understandable, even necessary. Passion and commitment are integral for the successful implementation of any initiative.

It is at this stage that I find it most necessary for decisive, courageous leadership. (I shared what I believe are the necessary attributes to lead change in one of my previous posts.Someone has to be willing to take the leap. It is that often uncomfortable step into the unknown. It invites the possibility of failure. It's a incredibly hard step to take. No question.

But sometimes we lead change. And sometimes we need to give it a little shove. To get it done.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

The Tipping Point

A tipping point is defined as "the critical point in a situation, process or system beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place."

This concept can also refer to the point at which anomalous acts become the norm.

Most often this concept is referenced in connection to negative acts- crime, racism, pollution...

But instead, how can we harness the power of critical mass in connection to acts of positivity?

What is the tipping point at which kindness and compassion become the norm and intolerance and hatred an anomaly?

What can we do to shift the balance?

Here's the answer.

Every kind word, every act of compassion, every good intention can move us closer to that tipping point.

Each of us has the power, the responsibility, to tip the scales.

What will you do to help?

Friday, 6 January 2017

Weighty Expectations

It's ok to quit. It's ok to stop doing something that others have come to expect you to do. It's ok to change your mind, to have second thoughts. It's ok to say no.

I'm saying this after a week of observing largely well intentioned challenges and directives to make resolutions and set goals. In addition to these "New Year's" challenges, many individuals are already struggling under the enormous pressure of maintaining expectations that they established in previous years. The weight of others' expectations, intermixed with our own self imposed standards, can be suffocating. Debilitating even.  

We are so incredibly hard on ourselves.

I'm not suggesting that goal setting and establishing high expectations, both for ourselves and for others, is not a valuable and necessary exercise. Although I'm not a big fan of New Year's resolutions, I am a firm believer in taking on new challenges and opportunities, of finding your "edge" and pushing beyond it... But sometimes the weight of either self imposed or external expectations can make it difficult, almost impossible, to change our current trajectory, to re-evaluate, re-assess and forge a new trail. 

I see the impact of these weighty expectations not only on my family, friends and colleagues, but on the students in my school community. With anxiety and mental health issues on the rise, how are our expectations of our students' contributing to this trend? Are our students forging their own paths to success, or simply following a route that others have mapped out for them? Are they pursuing interests and passions that fulfil their purpose and goal, or are they obediently complying with others' expectations of what they should be? 

In the end, I truly believe it's about finding a balance...allowing ourselves to be inspired, motivated and challenged by others, but also giving ourselves permission to shift course, to forge a new path in unexpected and uncertain directions. 

I'm still working to find that balance and although I have more questions than answers, I'm pretty sure it's not something that can be encapsulated in a New Year's resolution or accomplished within the timespan of the year. So I'm giving myself (and others) permission to take their time, to make mistakes, to risk disappointment and even failure. Because some of my most incredible and rewarding opportunities have come to me "by mistake". 

So, here's to more questions than answers, to the journey ahead, to a year filled with possibility and potential... 

Happy New Year. :)

Sunday, 27 November 2016

The Heart of the Matter

Things are rarely as they seem. And sometimes in our haste to solve problems, maintain efficiency and restore balance, we lose sight of what's important. Sometimes with the best of intentions, we convince ourselves that addressing surface issues means that we have "fixed" a problem. We assess, we determine a course of action and we implement, without really taking the time to delve a little deeper. Without taking the time to get to the heart of the matter.

To use a medical analogy, many times in school communities, we treat the symptoms, we don't cure the illness.

I truly don't believe that this is intentional. I believe that it is the byproduct of good people trying to do the best they can with limited resources. And one of the most most precious resources in any busy school community is time. Fostering relationships takes time. Building trust takes time. Collaborating and consulting with others takes time.

That means some hard choices. To extend the medical analogy, we need to set up a bit of a triage in our school communities. It means asking ourselves some important questions...

What do we value? What are our priorities? What is non-negotiable? And what can we let go of?

In a perfect world, we could do it all. But in reality, we need to invest our time where it needed the most. If we don't, we will continue to apply bandaids to broken legs.

But our kids are worth more. They are worth investing the time to get to the heart of the matter...