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Posts Tagged ‘principals’

How is that for a title?  It feels a bit like my effort at click bait.

Promotions are very different in education than many sectors.  It is strange when I hear people say that someone got “promoted from teacher to vice-principal”.  Teaching and administration in education are such different jobs, it is not as though you are the best teacher and then become the vice-principal.  When speaking to perspective vice-principals I talk about the multiple paths for leadership in education.  For some, it is the route of school administration, for some it is growing and expanding influence as a classroom teacher, and for others it is moving into the realm of union professional development or staff rep and advancing in the union leadership.  And all are amazingly important and influential – and at times people crossover between them.  

Over my 25 years I have had a chance to see a lot of excellent school principals, and a lot of great teachers’ union presidents (and staff reps) and they share many qualities.  Some of the best union reps I have seen have later become great administrators.  And in education, leadership is leadership – so here are some qualities that I have seen true for both groups:

They are good teachers – If I could only know one thing about someone before they were to become a principal or a union president, I would want to know what kind of teacher they are in the classroom.  Now, not all good (or great) teachers excel as union leaders or school leaders, but if they have just been mediocre in the classroom, and haven’t lived the great power of being a difference maker for young people I don’t want them leading the profession.

They listen well –  We all know those people in our lives who will let you speak, but they are not really listening, they are just waiting for their turn to talk.  Leaders in education truly listen.  And they need to do a lot of it.  People turn to their union leaders and their principals most often when they have a challenge.  And they usually don’t just want you to fix whatever is wrong, but to listen to what is going on.

They change – Our profession is forever changing and the leaders heading it must change too.  Some of the skills that made a teacher great 25 years ago, are no longer relevant.   We see changes in society, and we particularly see the influence of technology on our work and our students.  And we see issues emerge.  Nobody asked educational leaders about diversity or reconciliation even a decade ago, but this is now part of our daily work.  And modeling this change and growth sets the tone for those who we work with.

They have a presence but it is not just about them – When it comes to principals, I can usually tell 2 minutes into an interview if they have the presence needed to be an educational leader.  Like union leaders, they don’t need to fill the room with this personality, but they do need to be able to capture the room with their words, their manner and approach and their vision.  And look for those using “we” instead of “I” statements, it is usually a sign of what drives them.

They work a lot invisible hours – The impetus for this post was really a text I got from our teachers’ union president – it was just after 9:00 PM last Wednesday – his closing line was “I’m available 24/7.”  We were looking to support someone who was needing some assistance.  It is not the type of thing that will go on a resume, or really that anyone will ever know – but he, like the other good ones, know it is not a clock-in and clock-out job.  The same is true of the best principals.  The best ones I know often work long hours, but act like they always have nothing but time. It is the magic of leadership – like the image of the duck calm on the water but swimming furiously below the surface.  

They are always open to a deal – You don’t need to compromise values and principles to be open to deals.  You have to be flexible.  Principals cannot get dug-in on a position that they don’t allow themselves to move.   And not everything is “the hill” on which to take a stand.  Sometimes a deal in either role, gives someone else a win which might seem like giving in to the naïve, but it actually shows strength and sets you up better for next time.

They separate issues and people – We need to be able to talk about ideas, debate directions and let us think either of these things lead to us putting people into boxes as “good people” or “bad people”.  In education we have different roles, and there is a need for a healthy tension – a healthy tension between union leaders and management, between principals and staff, parents or students.  We don’t need to see the world the same way, but when we disagree – it doesn’t mean the others are bad people. It seems like politics, especially in the United States, struggles with this idea.  We still largely have it intact but I admit that COVID has strained it at times.

They want to leave things better for the next person – How do you know if a principal was successful?  Check-in on their school 10 years after they leave.  I have seen principals be “a hero” with staff for how they spent money or supported initiatives, but then leave the school in financial ruins with dozens of “special deals” for favoured staff that could only be undone after a litany of hard feelings.  While the good ones in leadership are always thinking about their time as being on a continuum, whether in the union office or the principal office.   They want to do the best for students, staff and parents during their time, but they also want to be sure it is well set up for the next person who comes in.  One piece of advice I give to those new in these jobs is to start the job thinking about how you will leave it when you are done – whether in one or ten years.

We need good leaders in all aspects of the school system.  School communities, I argue, get the principals and union leaders they deserve.  If there is a culture of learning in place, where people work together and keep students at the centre of decisions these are the people who aspire to leadership.  I count myself lucky to work in a place like that right now.

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If asked, most people would agree they could do well with more flexibility in their life — this is also true in the education field, and almost all education reform movements include a call for greater flexibility.  Of course, this can mean something very different from one person to the next.  For me, flexibility is about giving more choice and ownership. I shared this slide (below) in a recent presentation giving an overview of what I think flexibility means in the education context.

Just as we talk about students owning their own learning as an optimal goal, the same is true for adults;  the more we own our learning (and teaching), the more optimal and powerful a system we will have.  As a leader in a school district, I want all levels of government to grant us the flexibility to allow districts to have their own flavour, or character within a larger framework.  In turn, as district leaders, we can do the same for schools in allowing schools their own signature. It is a given, tensions may continue around central or local control, but flexibility and balance should be a consideration here as well.

The process repeats itself in schools with principals giving teachers the ability to be flexible, and teachers doing the same for students in giving students choice in the what and the how of their learning.  I do often hear, “we just need permission”, and I am not always sure what that means, but it does point to a culture of thoughtful experimentation where those at each level in the system recognize it as part of their role to increase the flexibility, choice and ownership for others in the system.

Granted, flexibility is only part of the equation.  The commitment of everyone in the system (as it becomes less standardized) is to network — pulling people together to pull together key ideas.  Teachers need to network students with similar passions, principals need to assist in networking teachers, district leaders to network schools, and governments to districts. Ideally, governments around the world would network together, because just as it is important that two students network and work together to solve a problem in a Grade 5 social studies class, the same holds true for everyone in the system. We want BC to learn from and with Alberta, Ontario, Australia, Finland and all others who are on this journey to move education forward.

Part of my role as district leader is to encourage flexibility, to be a cheerleader for innovation and then to tell the story, weaving together the different journeys  in the district as part of a shared narrative.

Creating a more flexible system is all the rage right now — who doesn’t favour it? It does need to be more than just letting people do whatever they want to do. It needs to be systemic, across all roles, giving increased choice for others to work within a larger framework, and pulling the different approaches in a network of learning — together.

I find it easier to write and talk about a system with less standardization and control than what we currently have, but it will be part of our challenge going forward to allow passions to be pursued, and permission to be given. Hopefully, we are now at the front end of the era of educational flexibility.

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The beginning of February is generally seen as the midway point of the school year; it also marks the midway point of our first year in the West Vancouver School District, where our school and district leaders have turned to blogging to connect with their school communities.  At a recent principals’ meeting we took a look at some pretty amazing statistics, including about 250,000 page views on their blogs since September, emphasizing how powerful a tool this can be in connecting with a local and global audience.

And just what have some of  our educator leaders been writing about lately?

Director of Instruction, Lynne Tomlinson, recently wrote about Inquirydom in describing some of the challenges as we embrace inquiry and innovation:

There is a danger in overusing educational jargon and too often, good ideas and purposeful, relevant pedagogy are watered down to a shrink-wrapped version of their former selves.  As educators, we are well aware of the “pendulum swing” of learning models over time and it is important to think critically about the reasons why we may want to embrace any changes to our programs, large or small.

Kalen Marquis, teacher-librarian at Bowen Island Community School guest-blogged for Principal Jennifer Pardee and described the value of digital dialogues:

Used purposefully, Digital Dialogues may enhance the development of important skills and provide timely access to useful information and time-tested knowledge. Used wisely, they may facilitate ongoing inquiry and gradually develop the broadest awareness, deepest understanding, and most inspirational and transcendent wisdom.

Chantal Trudeau, Principal at Ecole Cedardale, wrote about the careful work that often happens at elementary school level to integrate curriculum, particularly when it comes to combined classes:

Teachers do not ‘cover’ a curriculum, they teach students. Teachers plan their instructional program meticulously to ensure that the Prescribed Learning Outcomes (PLO) from the Ministry of Education are taught to their students at their level of ability. . . . In the elementary years in particular, learning and instruction often take place in an integrated fashion and do not always stay within the boundaries of a particular subject area.

Darren Elves, IB Coordinator at Cypress Park Primary School, looked at how we teach learners to ask good questions, and the important value it plays:

At a time when our government is looking at better defining the parameters of 21st century learning and teaching, it is my belief that the students’ abilities to explore the key concepts by acquiring and practicing a range of questioning skills will further enable them ‘to be active participants in a lifelong journey of learning’.

Scott Wallace, Principal at Gleneagles Elementary, recently described play and its importance in school.  Reflecting on a recent workshop staff participated in, he shared five key concepts of the Play is the Way program:

  • Treat others as you would like them to treat you
  • Be brave — participate to progress
  • Pursue your personal best no matter who you work with
  • Have reasons for the things you say and do
  • It takes great strength to be sensible
Val Brady, Principal at Hollyburn Elementary, blogged about a topic that regularly comes up with parents — anxiety and how we can help.  Her post was informative, full of resources, and reassuring as a normal behaviour:
Anxiety is a normal emotional state that we all experience at various times in our lives. Anxiety serves as a means of protection and can often enhance our performance in stressful situations.  It is closely related to fear, which is another normal and necessary emotion that everyone experiences.
Rockridge Acting-Principal, John Crowley, linked the recent announcement on UBC shifting to a broad-based admission system to the important role of “The Other Part of  School Life.”:
I encourage you all to challenge your child to be involved outside of the classroom, to develop the perseverance and leadership skills that come from working with other students, and work on that essential skill called “finding balance”.
And Sentinel Secondary Principal, Jeannette Laursoo, highlighted the amazing experience a number of Sentinel students had at the recent Model UN Conference in New York:
At the conference, Sentinel students became members of a crisis committee and represented the viewpoint of their assigned country when faced with a pressing issue or event.   They discussed, debated, and solved the issue.  For example, Aeron Westeinde, was on the Modern Day Haiti Committee, which was responsible for rebuilding Haiti from the ground up.  They developed programs to improve security, education, agriculture and irrigation within the country.

These are just a few snapshots of what is being written, and how staff are being more transparent with their own learning, and the learning in their schools. Some themes emerge, ones we see elsewhere including the role of early learning and self-regulation, the power of digital learning and the interest in inquiry-based study.  What is also clear in so many of the posts, is the powerful experiences students are having — personalized learning is alive and well in West Vancouver.

The blogs are a great celebration of community — curious students, engaged and passionate teachers, thoughtful and visionary school and district leaders.

For a complete list of the West Vancouver School District blogs, please see (here).

Thanks to all who have engaged with us this year.  We appreciate being able to share, and to continue to share, our learning with our local and global communities.

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