Saturday, October 27, 2012

144th Post - Good to Great

I have worked at many good schools; a great school – not as much.  In the late 90’s,  I was fortunate to be hired as the music specialist at a brand new Elementary School.  If you ever have the opportunity to be on the inaugural staff of a new school, take it.

The school opened with a first-rate principal, and his fabulous VP. What a team. These two characters alone could have made the school great. Our first staff meeting was held in a yet unfinished classroom – no flooring or heat. We huddled together in the chilly room.  We were a diverse group, brought together with a common goal: to open our new school.
There were many setbacks that first year. A broken water pipe flooded the new wood gym floor. No gym until Christmas. Have you ever coached volleyball in a classroom? Our first Remembrance Day assembly, complete with choir, readings, wreathes, silence, and bagpipes was held in the front hallway/foyer. It still ranks as one of the most powerful Remembrance Day assemblies I have been involved in.
As in any brand new school, we had few textbooks and limited resources for our classrooms. Yet, upon reflection, it's clear that this was a 'great' school. We hadn’t implemented EBS (that came years later), there was no wireless network, no School News on First Class. We did have: dedicated/talented staff + pride/belonging (students, staff, parents, and community) + humour + flexibility + transparent leadership. More than anything we had relationship. That first year, and to be honest by year two some of this was lost, we worked as a finely tuned team. We laughed, we cried, we celebrated, we respected each other.  It was a year like no other.
Fast forward to now. I’m at a good school. We have many great moments. In 2012 we have many more gadgets, dare I say, bright shiny things, that have potential to lure us away from what may be the core of a great school: relationship and respect.
As a new VP, it has been a privilege to get to know our staff. This is a great group. They are not satisfied to settle. They continue to amaze me with their innovative approaches to meeting the needs of our school. They have a thirst to learn, they are not entrenched in the ‘old’ ways.
This week I watched this video, Don't be the Lid, about fleas in a jar. If you put a flea in a jar and tightly screw on the lid, the flea will try to jump as high as it can. But soon, the flea accepts its limit. From that point on, even if you take off the lid, the flea will never, ever jump any higher than the perceived lid.
What makes a school great? The people.
What is part of my role? To be mindful of where I'm holding a lid.
Relationship, respect, and for you hard-core academics: a dash of good pedagogy. That's my recipe for a great school.
Doable? Heck yes!
As always, I believe, better is possible.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

143rd Post - And the Light Came On!

I shake my head as I try to understand what I've done. This career move came after 32 years in education. Better late than never? We'll see. I didn't wait on purpose, there were simply other things that needed to be done and I wasn't ready to give those up to take on this new role as servant leader. And make no mistake, if you are not prepared to be a servant leader, think twice about being a school administrator.

This weekend was spent away from work, if you can ever be away from work with our devices binding us to our jobs 24/7. It was a typical Okanagan day in October. My reverend and I traveled up to our eventual retirement haven to pick and shuck our walnuts. We did so in the sunshine, the rain, and some pretty amazing hail. I picked under the cover of the tree, dearest JLP, picked under the sun, rain, and hail. He's such a good man! The fresh air and honest labour were restoring to my mind and soul. 

As always with the picking comes much time for reflection. My reflection this year was about work. The 'big idea' that attempted to hijack the joy of the day was: when is enough, enough? 

If you follow Will Richardson you may have read his blog post I want a Meta App. This one stopped me in my tracks. I may have shouted at my screen for the man to 'get a life'. Then as any good self-regulating person would do, I paused and reminded myself, Mr. Richardson writes blogs/books as part of his job. He's quite good at marketing himself. Most of the time I nod my head vigorously in agreement with his ideas, this time I had the urge to throw something at my screen.


I'm in education to teach. I'm not in education to promote technology. Just as gardeners, surgeons, musicians, athletes, (you get the picture) pick their tools to aid their performance, I endeavour to use this tool of technology to promote learning. Keep in mind, that it is one tool of our trade, it is not the ONLY thing.  If I'm jumping all over the place; looking for the latest greatest app, pinning the newest website, tweeting a relevant blog, I end spending more time cruising than doing what is ultimately the most important part of my role: building relationships.

Here's the thing:

I can spent time online trying to find the latest, greatest ideas for my staff, or I can sleep at night so I have adequate energy to relate to staff, students, and parents.

I can obsessively check my school email in the evenings and on weekends so I don't miss anything, or I can trust that if there was an emergency I will be contacted via my fancy new mobile device.

I can exhaust myself with the notion of completion, or I can decide when enough has been done and live a balanced and healthy life.

The biggest lessons I've learned in life came at great cost. Peace, priorities, joy, hope, health, family, balance. These have little to do with technology yet are the things that make me uniquely me; dare I say strong me.

My question becomes: how do I maintain the important parts of humanness and hold those along side the role of administrator? Who's demands are most important: parents, students, staff, Principal, District Leadership Team, Board of Education...or my aging mother, who I've haven't called all week? 

My answer is more holistic than you'd find in the simplicity of tracking every online activity today. My answer is actually a question. Does what I do push forward hope for our school? Does what I'm chasing down on-line or at meetings bring grounding to parents who are worried about their child not reading, learning math, being bullied, or being a bully? Yes and yes! At our school we may not all be on Edmodo, Twitter, Evernote. We may not all have accounts on, Pinterest, Google Reader, YouTube, BUT we talk to each other face-to-face. We engage with our students. We listen and respond to our parents. We are not perfect, but we are human. With the belief that 'Better is Possible', there comes a time to celebrate the here and now. 

It's a good thing, this education gig!