Friday, August 30, 2013

A Vision for Learning, Teaching and Leading

A school community is not about one leader but many leaders including students, parents, and teachers.  I have strong beliefs about learning, teaching and leading.  Leading in a learning community is about standing up for what we believe in. Leading is helping others find their passions and reach their potential.  What brings everyone together with a common wisdom is VISION.

When we opened our school, it was important that we established a vision statement that represented our shared beliefs and guided us toward becoming the school we wanted to be.  We were filled with hope and passion about our new school.  We wanted to establish a vision that would bring us together and represent our commitment to the journey ahead.

Why should we establish a vision?

A vision gives us direction.  It points us toward our goal.  It's our true north.  It captures what we will stand for and reminds us of where we are going.  Everything we do aligns with our vision.  A vision is a lense we can use to make sure we are holding strong to what our beliefs.  A vision builds a common language, a common wisdom and a shared dedication to our school. 

Visions are crafted with serious thought and carefully chosen words.  To others our vision can simply be a collection of words.  But for those who created the vision and live by it each day, it is strong and full of passion and commitment.  The words have depth and the message is clear.  

Just as the picture of a beautiful lake brings us back to a favorite vacation spot, a vision can be our cue for thoughtful learning, teaching and leading.  It is an affirmation for the hallmarks of our life at school. 

In my next post, I will share how we built the vision that would guide all of us toward the school of our dreams.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Three Days of Inspiration - Life and School

This post is a continuation of a series of three days of reflection on Life and School. 


Day 2 was spent at home.  My daughter was having a yard sale the upcoming weekend.  I would be there to help with the kids during the yard sale hours.  So on this day, I decided to gather some things to put in the garage sale. I didn't intend to take much but I figured the opportunity was there for me to pass a few things onto new owners.

I started with books.  I recently brought home all the books I had at school because I retired from 37 years of teaching and leading as a principal.  Those of you who are teachers can imagine what one can collect in 37 years.   I had shelves of picture books that will be given book by book and visit by visit to my grandchildren.  I had shelves and shelves of professional books on learning and teaching.  I passed some of them onto other teachers and brought some home because they were hallmark books that I couldn't do without. I had shelves of professional books on leadership and education.  Some of those I left for the new principal and the rest I brought home.  Needless to say I needed some bookshelf space.  I purchased a new bookcase but that wouldn't be enough.  So I started to sort.

I have a hard time parting with books.  I am a book junkie.  After I read a book, it sits on my shelf and reminds me of characters I loved.  However, I rarely reread them.  So on this day, I asked myself if I could part with a few of my fiction titles to create some shelf space.  I spent hours sorting and stacking.  I realized that some of the books I had read 15 years ago.  Why shouldn't I share these with others?

As I looked over each book and contemplated if I could part with it, I began to remember.  Why did I read this one?  Was it recommended by a friend?  Was it a book club selection?  I recalled the stories, the places, and the characters.  Who did I talk to about the book?  Why had I kept it for so long?

I finally had the books sorted into two stacks.  The first stack included the collection of books I was just not ready to part with  (Love in the Time of Cholera, Crossing to Safety and so many more).  In the other stack, I had those books that were difficult to part with but hoped someone else would enjoy a new reading adventure.  I packed those in a box ready to join the yard sale treasures.

Throughout the day, I walked about my home noticing other things -  not just books - that I could add to the yard sale.  As I considered each item I asked myself, "Could I part with it?  Did it still have a purpose?  Was it time to let it go?

These thoughts brought me back to school life.  Every school year, I would enter school in August to re-imagine my classroom, redesign the space, and reconsider routines.  The hardest part was letting go of some things to make way for the new.  It's good to let go of things.  It opens doors for new possibilities, new ways of thinking, and new adventures in learning, teaching and leading. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Why I Lead - A Life of Mentorship (#savmp)

I think leadership has always been a part of me.  It's difficult to explain.  My leadership came in the form of helping others.  My style is a quiet form of leadership backed by a strong sense of what I believe in.  It's not difficult for others to recognize what is important to me.  From there, I can lead by supporting others on their journeys of learning, teaching and leadership.


An Opportunuity for Mentorship

Now that I am retired, I want to focus on two things: staying involved in education and giving back to the profession.  When George Couros from Canada posed the idea of a principal mentorship, I jumped at the opportunity.  I saw it as a chance to give back and continue learning.  George had this great idea of pairing mentor principals with mentees to support them along on their leadership journey.  When he put the idea out there, he received an overwhelming response of 350 folks who showed an interest in the collaboration.  What a great opportunity to learn together.  Each mentor has been assigned three mentees.  I will be mentoring a high school vice-principal from Kenya, an assistant elementary principal from Texas, and a vice-principal from a secondary community school in British Columbia.


Why I Lead

George suggested we write about why we lead.  There was a time when leadership seemed a scary venture.  I was always interested in helping others recognize their potential.  Maybe that's what led me to leadership.  I strongly believe that leadership is not synonymous with position.  Long before I was a principal, I felt I was searching for ways to lead others - not to places I thought they should be but to where they wanted to go.  Part of being a leader was developing a strong sense of empathy in order to recognize what others wanted and finding ways to support them.  I watched for people who had a quest and asked:  How can I help you?  What do you need to be successful?

Early on in my career, leadership was mostly my work with children.  It came from the depths of caring, nurturing and helping them discover who they could be.  Gradually, it spread to my work with other teachers. I recognized the value of collaborating and learning from others.  I looked for ways to get conversations started and sustain the good work they were doing in classrooms.  It seems that in every position I held there were doors open for leadership experiences.  I had my own ideas to share but more so wanted to help others discover theirs.  I wanted to make an impact on the lives of others.  Maybe it is my own desire to leave a legacy - a legacy that doesn't showcase my accomplishments but the success of others.


Developing a Leadership Style 

For me, leadership is not taking a loud stance and demanding that people follow me.  It's about serving others and leading quietly from behind.  I have always loved this quote:

     A leader is best when people barely know he exists, not so good 
     when people obey and acclaim him, worse when they despise
     him ... But of a good leader who talks little when his work is 
     done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, "We did it ourselves."  
     ~  Lao Tzu

For some, this might be considered a weak form of leadership.  But I think I lead from example and from a strong belief system that is embedded in everything I do.  People know what I will stand up for.  They know what is important to me.  They recognize my non-negotiables.  Once I have established who I am and what I stand for, I can lead quietly and by example.  So I lead with words and actions.

I want others to believe in their own potential.  I want them to know that they choose their own paths.  They make their own choices.  They take their own risks and reap the rewards.  For me, leading means unlocking potential, connecting people, and promoting their independence - working myself into the background so they can lead themselves and begin to lead others. 

Leading is about building a community in which others can succeed.  At school, that means creating a network of collaborations that support learning and leading.  It's important to me that students as well as teachers have a strong voice in what happens at school. 

At this point in my life, I am searching for new ways to lead.  I am looking forward to participating in the principal mentorship opportunity and I continue to grow and learn.  That's the best part!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Three Days of Inspiration - Life and School

The last three days have been both exhausting and inspirational.  I will be reflecting on my three days in the next few blog posts.  Here are my thoughts on life and school.


On Day 1, I went to Apple Tree Auction Center with my husband.  It was just a day meant for fun - a way to celebrate my new-found freedom after retiring from the principalship. This day was my birthday, and I decided that I wanted to go to the local Apple Tree Auction Center  for the day.  I love the feeling of finding little treasures and the thrill of bidding against others to get them.  My husband and I furnished our first apartment by going to auctions, and so we both have enjoyed it over the years.

Apple Tree Auction Center

On this day, we intended to stay at the auction for just a few hours and ended up staying the whole day. We bought some large furniture items for my son, who is always filling his apartment with an interesting and eclectic collection of treasures.

I bought a wicker basket for my yarn and knitting projects and a little tapestry stool for a foot rest at my writing desk.  

We even purchased two cardboard boxes of  rocks (yes, rocks!) for my grandchildren.  At ages 5 and 3, they are so curious and love collecting rocks around the town and on vacation.  The rocks we purchased are fascinating.  Whole and partial quarts are embedded in the large stones.  We know the kids will spend hours as apprentice geologists deep in curious exploration.

I even fancied purchasing an odd but interesting piece of furniture that would inspire my writing but I feared that the item was so "unique" (and I say that kindly) that I would not have a place for it in my home.  It would have been a great place to think, imagine and write - a cue for my writing mind to get to work.

When the auction was finished, we set out to find a U-Haul truck so we could remove our purchased items before the auction house closed for the day.  We picked up the truck, and 100 miles later the furniture was delivered to my son's apartment and the rental truck returned.  Another 40 miles later, we were home and exhausted.  I love the way I was able to choose what I did that day and the small treasures that I added to my home.  It was also a great day to spend with my husband pursuing one of our shared interests.

Since retiring, I have discovered a new flexibility in my life that I  really enjoy.  I can get up and do whatever I want whenever I want.  If I feel like working hard to accomplish something, I do it.  If I want to rest and relax, I can do that, too. It's a nice feeling.  My life is filled with less "have-to" tasks and more time for "want-to" choices.  I am very fortunate.

But what about school?

I am wondering about the parallels between this day and a child's (and teacher's) day at school.  How can we make school and life like this for our children and teachers?  Does is require stepping away from rigid schedules and prescribed curriculum?  Would more choice and a student-centered environment encourage exploration, choice, curiosity and new learning?

I was so excited about the sense of adventure the auction offered me.  I had no plans accept to be there and soak in the experience.  I spent the day examining the items in the auction like an explorer anxious for new discoveries.  I used my phone to search online for the price of a beautiful wooden clock I found.  I determined what I was willing to pay for each item, and I anticipated what others would be willing to invest.  I mentally kept track of how much I was spending for the day.  I was disappointed when I missed a bid for a box of beautiful glass paperweights (and came home to do some research on them so I would be equipped to bid if I came across them again).  I conquered my fears of bidding wrongly based on the fast and furious words of the auctioneer.  I quietly celebrated when I won the bid for the items I really wanted.

So how can we help make school life more like real life? (No, it doesn't require a field trip to the auction center.)  Can we be the designers of a new life at school where children are curious and invested in learning?  Can students and teachers be makers of school adventures that inspire us to explore, research and learn?  Can we help students understand that math has a place in the world?  Can we encourage our students to navigate to knew learning as I did with the glass paperweights?  Can we help children conquer the fear of making mistakes and help them realize that mistakes are all part of learning?

I think we can.  What are your thoughts?