Connect. Collaborate. Risk. Innovate.

Connect. Collaborate. Risk. Innovate.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Would I Want to Be a Teacher in My Own School?

One of the most significant shifts that I faced as I made my move from classroom teacher to vice principal, was the realization that I needed to dedicate as much time, care, energy and attention towards the adults in the building as I do to the students. As a classroom teacher the focus is primarily on the students sitting in front of you- and rightly so. It is an enormous responsibility and challenge to create the optimum learning conditions that will ensure that each individual child receives the emotional, social and academic support that they need for their continued growth and learning. As a classroom teacher, I was enormously impacted by this question, poised by Dave Burgess-
If your students didn't have to be there, would you be teaching to an empty room?

I can distinctly remember that moment, and the thought that popped into my head. It was,"Oh crap." Because it forced me to be honest about what I was trying to achieve as a classroom teacher. Was I just trying to get by, to survive, to make my way through the never ending mountain of marking? Or was I trying to empower a generation of engaged and thoughtful global citizens?

I was once again reminded of this challenge when reading The Innovator's Mindset, by George Couros. Couros suggests that in order to create the conditions for innovation and growth, we need to ask ourselves some essential questions, including-
Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?

As someone who struggled in school myself, as a teacher, I challenged myself to create the learning conditions that would have kept me motivated, engaged and excited about learning. Even after 17 years in the classroom, I still found this a daunting task. 

But again, the shift for me as a school administrator was that it's not only the students that I serve, it's the teachers.  Dean Shareski closes his recent blog post, "Professional Learning is Messy" with this question- 
How do you and your leadership create conditions and opportunities for you to listen?

Dean argues that some of the best professional learning results from opportunities to sit and listen, to hear from passionate individuals, the "smart people" who push us to actively engage with new thoughts and ideas. So like the "perfect storm", each of these elements have challenged me to extend George Couros' question to the following:

Would I want to be a teacher in my own school?

I'm not big on resolutions, and like most educators, my "new year" began in September. But as we move into 2016, I am resolved to help create the conditions in my school that would have inspired, motivated and supported me as a classroom teacher. I am resolved to serve the adults in the building with the same care and attention as I serve the students. No small task. I will make mistakes. It will likely be messy at times. But I also resolve to be as patient with my own learning, my own growth as I was with my students'. To be honest, for me, that's likely the bigger challenge.
I'll let you know how it goes...

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Taking It Personally...

Among the many pieces of advice that I was given as a new administrator, one is reminiscent of a line from a favourite movie of mine, A League of Their Own. Similar to Tom Hank's infamous line, a colleague told me, "There's no crying in Admin..." As harsh as that might sound, to some extent, he was right. As administrators, we are quite often faced with students and families in crisis, families who are attempting to navigate heart-breaking, sometimes enormously traumatic events in their lives. In these moments, it's neither helpful, nor professionally responsible, to allow our own emotions to surface. As time passes, many of us become accomplished at compartmentalizing, maintaining a calm, supportive and empathetic demeanour in the face of sometimes challenging and emotionally charged circumstances.

That mindset is possible in part due to another piece of advice I've often heard- Don't take it personally. Again, on the surface, good advice. Often students, parents and staff come to us upset, angry and frustrated. But just as often, there is a context that is rarely directly related to something that we personally have done. Again, in these moments, taking it personally isn't helpful. Instead, I have learned to stop, and listen- gradually determining the root of the concern...

But sometimes, I think we do need to take it personally.

This next part is particularly difficult for me to write. In October, I wrote about an experience that I had with a student who was struggling. He was rarely attending classes, and was feeling disconnected to our school community. In conversation with this student, I shared some of my own challenges, my own struggles in school. Gradually, over a period of weeks, this student began to attend more regularly, often stopping by my office first to say "good morning" to me. He had amazingly supportive teachers who were also working with him, welcoming him into their classes, working to get him caught up on assignments. We seemed to be making a real difference with this student...

...Until suddenly, he stopped coming all together. This student has since dropped out of school. My heart breaks a little as I write that. Because how is it possible not to take that personally? I'm not suggesting that I alone am solely responsible. In the same way that I would never dream of taking "credit" for the "successes" of staff and students, I know that I can't accept sole responsibility or blame for "failures". But I also believe that part of what makes us effective educators and leaders, is to some extent, taking things personally- putting our heart and soul into our schools, our communities.

In fact, some of the people who inspire and move me the most are those who, without a doubt, take it personallyIan Landy (@technolandy) and Karen Copeland (@KarenCopeland3) champion for mental health awareness by sharing deeply personal stories of their own children. Pernille Ripp (@pernilleripp) honestly and openly shares a story of when she felt compelled to apologize to a former student for "failing" him. And George Couros (@gcouros) unapologetically wears his heart on his sleeve, sharing and inspiring through personal narratives that illicit both tears and laughter. These are all individuals who bravely share their vulnerabilities with others so that we can learn, and grow from their experiences.
Image Credit

So as much as I know that as an administrator I need to keep my own emotions in check in order to best serve my school community, I can't pretend that it didn't break my heart a bit to learn that this student, this boy who I had tried so desperately to welcome into our school community, had dropped out. It's hard not to take that personally. But at the same time, I can't let it immobilize or defeat me. I can learn from it, and I can move forward. Some days that isn't easy. But it is my responsibility to keep trying.

Update- January 2016...
Happy to provide an update. This student has decided to return to school for second semester. He has missed our school community. Thrilled to welcome him back! :)