Connect. Collaborate. Risk. Innovate.

Connect. Collaborate. Risk. Innovate.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Dare to Be.

Although many of us are still blissfully immersed in the warm and hazy days of summer vacation, I was reminded by a post from my cousin whose children attend school in Arizona that for some of us, school has begun. I've had conversations in the past with colleagues about the back to school dreams that seem so prevalent among many educators, from beginners to experienced. Sometimes triggered by that first "back to school" commercial, anxiety tinged dreams often stem from a desire to do our very best for our students

As someone who finds it challenging to fully embrace rest and relaxation, (I'm working on it) my mind is never far away from planning and dreaming for the year ahead. I'm fortunate to work at an amazing school, with dedicated staff and highly motivated students. But as is always the case, there is room for growth. There are things we could be doing better

So in the midst of setting some goals for the year ahead, here's what I noticed... I divided my goals into two categories: "plans" and "dreams". Somehow I differentiated between these two- "plans" being those practical, concrete goals that are safe, attainable, achievable. And "dreams" being those that are risky, abstract and perhaps more challenging to achieve. "Plans" are safe. "Dreams" are risky. 

In life, and as part of my professional journey, I've learned that if I'm avoiding a conversation with someone, it's probably a conversation that I need to have. As a school administrator, I've had to learn to have those difficult conversations. They're never easy. They're often uncomfortable. But in the end, they are important conversations that need to happen. And they often result in meaningful and important change. 

See the connection? 

By categorizing some goals as "dreams", I was giving myself permission to push them off to the side, to "avoid" them. Which likely means they are exactly the goals that I need to be working towards. 

For many of us, we allow ourselves to dwell in the safe harbour of attainable goals. But in order to support meaningful change in our schools and districts, we need to push ourselves to dream. As Greg Satell writes in a recent post, we need to "dare to be crap". Greg's reference was in connection to creativity, but I think it applies to any undertaking that requires an element of risk. 

Scary stuff. But if I want to help my amazing school community be even better, we're all going to need to "dare to be..." Dare to be creative. Dare to be innovative. Dare to do things differently. Dare to fail. Dare to try again. 

So in the midst of these hazy, warm days of summer vacation, perhaps we can all spend just a few moments in the hammock, on the dock, in the deck chair, dreaming about what we are going to "dare to be" in the year ahead...
To create successful school communities, we need to "dare to be..."

Friday, 15 July 2016

A Better Mirror

The first time I met Christina, I knew there was a story.

The second week into her grade eight year, she'd been referred to the office for making racist comments in the hallway. Walking into my office, Christina unceremoniously plunked herself into a chair, scooped up a candy from the container on my desk, popped it into her mouth and proceeded to tell me in great detail, and using some fairly colourful language, why it wasn't her fault that she'd used a racial slur against another student.

I let her continue, not correcting her language, or calling a halt to her rather creative and clearly embellished version of events. I just sat. And listened. And watched. And wondered what could have possibly happened in this thirteen years old's life to bring her to this point...

Looking over her file after our first meeting, my suspicions were confirmed. To say that Christina had weathered some challenges in her young life would be an understatement. By the time she found her way to me, Christina was a seasoned veteran of social services, ministry testing and behavioural interventions. Navigating ongoing dysfunction at home and learning challenges at school, Christina had a remarkable talent for finding her way into the middle of physical and verbal conflicts on a daily basis. She was a tough cookie. A vulnerable kid wrapped in a tough protective shell.

With the additional insight into her story, over the next 6 months I carefully and consciously worked to develop a relationship with Christina. And when I say worked, I mean it. She didn't make it easy. A girl who had been repeatedly let down by the adults in her life, trust was a foreign concept to her. Her "go to" defence strategy was to push people away by whatever means necessary- both physically and verbally.

Over time, and with a number of supports in place, Christina began to experience some success. But as is so often the case, just as things seemed to be going well, she would inevitably find a way to sabotage her progress. Thirteen years of deeply engrained distrust and dysfunction wasn't easy to overcome. And so I continued to work at it. Because underneath the tough shell, I could see Christina's potential- an undeniable spark of intelligence, creativity and compassion. On a daily basis I tried to be Christina's mirror- to help her to see what I could see...

Thankfully, not every student has faced Christina's challenges. But every student has a story, a context that they carry with them as they walk through the front doors of our schools and into our classrooms. As educators, it is our responsibility to learn these stories and to carefully and consciously work to build the relationships that will support each students' unique path to success.

"To This Day" by Canadian spoken word poet Shane Koyczan has always resonated with me. In it he writes;

...if you can't see anything beautiful about yourself
get a better mirror...

Let's never forget that for many of our students, we are that mirror

Saturday, 9 July 2016

My People

I had the amazing opportunity this past week to present an Ignite as part of the 39th annual BCPVPA short course at UBC. Short course is structured around the BCPVPA Leadership Standards of  instructional, relational and organizational leadership and moral stewardship. It's an inspiring week of learning, sharing and connecting with educational leaders from around BC.

Being invited back to present by Ian Landy was pretty special. Attending short course a year ago marked the beginning of a new journey for me. Reading over my post from last summer, "Are You Talking to ME?", it's clear that I was feeling both inspired and overwhelmed by the road ahead.

But most importantly, I was energized by the connections, the relationships, that I had formed over the course of the week. Although the sessions that I attended during short course last summer provided me with a wealth of valuable knowledge, it is the relationships that have sustained me through the challenges and successes of this past year.

You see, as much as the role of a school leader requires us to support our students, teachers and families, we must also establish strong networks of support for ourselves. As Langley vice principal Kim Anderson shared during her Ignite,
"We need to find our people, so that we can be their people."

I've learned a lot this year. I've learned policies and procedures, structures and guidelines, standards and practices...
But most importantly, I have learned to listen and lean on my people.

From endless advice, to notes of encouragement, to much needed hugs, I can't imagine having moved through this past year without the wisdom and generosity of my people.

So although I'm certain that the participants of this year's short course have learned a great deal that will serve them well as school leaders, I'm hoping that even more importantly, they were able to find some of their people. Because it is these people, these relationships, that will sustain and energize them on their journey ahead.