The end of Semester One is rapidly approaching, and this is an opportune time to reflect on the successes and challenges that I’ve encountered as a new administrator over the past five months. I still start each morning by walking through the front doors of the school in a bit of a state of disbelief. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to be where I am. I try to be here at 7:30am – before most staff have entered the school – and this gives me an opportunity to walk the halls and think about the day. This deep-thinking and planning time allows me to put myself in a state of readiness and effectiveness and I think it’s critical to making each day a good day. But I still shake my head thinking that it was not all that long ago when I was walking the same halls as a student. I often flash back to my own high school memories and honestly, it can be a strange mix of emotions.
Much of my focus this semester has been on developing relationships with staff and students. I am very appreciative of these relationships and I truly value them. They get me through some challenging situations. Relationships are built on trust, and it will take time to both create and maintain trust that hopefully extends to everyone in the school. I was talking with my brother, who is a manager at Ontario Parks, and we were reflecting on the fact that as leaders, the best approach is to be open, honest, and communicative – and this goes a long way in helping those relationships grow. I try to do that every day as a leader – with a mix of my sense of humour and personality – and I hope that people will come to value and appreciate my leadership style. I have a huge sense of pride for my school, both as principal and as an alumni. It is incredible watching students succeed – and there have been many successes: our school athletic teams have competed provincially. Our school is sending a team to the provincial Cardboard Boat Races, (a STEM initiative that is very, very cool). We have students currently applying for post-secondary, students who are finalists for major awards, and students who are finding themselves and planning for their futures. It takes time to get to know students – and it’s particularly frustrating for me that it’s taking longer than anticipated to know all of their names – but students are what make this place exist and I’m lucky that all of my students are awesome. Seriously.
One of the other successes that I reflect on is my ability to open my office – or the floor in staff meetings – to challenging conversations. There have been a few times so far this year where I have had to make difficult decisions. Inevitably, not everyone agrees with the results of these decisions, but I think it’s extremely important to establish conditions where we can talk openly and honestly about where the decision came from – and why. So far, this has worked well and I appreciate that people have been comfortable and trusting enough to approach me candidly. This is one of the Core Capacities of Ontario’s Leadership Framework that I value the most. It ties into relationship-building, it allows me to know people’s interests, passions, expertise, and experience, and it fosters a sense of teamwork.
I’ve also had the opportunity to visit all classes within the school and this has led to some amazing conversations about instructional leadership. One key role of a school principal is to oversee and develop the instructional program. For a person who has never taught many of the subjects that we offer, this can be incredibly challenging. However, there are some universal truths, (I believe), to success in any classroom including management strategies, communication, engagement, differentiated instruction, effective planning, use of inquiry, inclusion, etc. etc. etc. and it has been awesome to sit down and listen to teachers talk about their program while also allowing me to offer my own perspective/ideas/experience in a positive, supportive manner. I will be engaging in my first round of Teacher Performance Appraisals soon, and the groundwork to make these successful has already been laid through these visits and conversations. I will not profess to be an expert of every subject, but I can confidently share my knowledge and experience about these universal topics to help create classrooms where both educators and students can thrive.
Finally, the last reflection is a comment about the challenge of this school year. This year has been a different year for education in Ontario. As a new principal, I am learning to navigate and balance the politics of education with the need to manage the school. For ten years I was actively engaged in the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation as a district and provincial leader. When I made the decision to enter school administration, it also meant leaving the union and stepping away from the work that I valued. However, my involvement with the union provided me with amazing opportunities and experience which I am now able to bring with me every day. It has also afforded me a level of understanding and respect for the various job classes that exist within my school. As educator federations engage in various levels of job action, it is a strange feeling to be on the other side of the fence. While we share many of the same values and goals, my role is different and it is taking some time to digest the changes. I will circle back to my first point about relationships, though: strong, meaningful relationships help to weather challenges. While roles change, we are all working to make this school awesome.
As I work through this first year, I’m also further developing my vision for the school. This vision will be an important part of my Problem of Practice/Professional Growth Plan but first I need to build those relationships, establish that trust, and know my school. I’m getting there, but I think I need to finish the first year and really think about what that vision might be. Relationships between the school and community? Equitable education for all students? A 100% graudation rate? The school as a community hub? All of the above!?!?
I have rambled on far enough, but I will end by encouraging you to reflect on your own visions for what you do this year. What has worked? What can you improve on? How can you foster and develop relationships within your life?