Why I lead

I lead because it’s important and it matters and because it is part of my being.  I’m not talking about being a saviour, but about making a contribution to my community and ultimately to my students.  I was a leader as a kid, organizing the neighbourhood children for soccer or hockey games.  I worked with trouble teens as a camp counselor right after high school and I was a leader in my school before ever becoming an administrator.

Having progressed as a leader into a position that allows me to influence change on a greater scale, I can’t imagine ever stepping back.  Even though being a VP is the hardest job I’ve ever had, I don’t think I could ever give it up.  The more I work in education, the more I realize how important the school has become to so many of our students, in ways beyond purely academics.  I strive to make our school a warm and welcoming place so that our students feel safe and comfortable being in our building.  I feel very lucky to be in a position where I’m able to affect positive change and it is now my duty to continue in this way.  Finally, although there are many days when I am exhausted emotionally in my job, I do have to confess that being a leader and helping others makes me feel really good.

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Not Waiting for Superman

Over the past week, I’ve read a few blogs that have talked, in general, about the tension between what we, educators, would like to achieve and what we can actually accomplish.  This year, it seemed to me that I felt more of a pull between what I wanted to get done and what I could realistically do, more so than I’ve felt in any other year.  To a certain extent, I was relieved after reading different posts and noticing that many people seemed to feel the same way (not that I was happy when other people were feeling stressed or anything!)

This sentiment made me start to question why we feel such a pull as educators.  During an admin meeting earlier in the year, I brought up the fact that ever since I’ve become a VP, I’ve regressed as a support teacher.  Any administrators with a split load will probably relate to my dilemma of having to do two jobs at the same time.  My deterioration as a support teacher forced me to look at my practice and try to figure out what was going on.  I quickly realized a major factor was that I had started to sacrifice one part of my job for another.  After reflecting upon this problem, I consciously decided to devote some more time to my support teaching and to ask for help, in the form of delegating, with the administrative part.   This solution wasn’t an easy fix for me, since it felt as though I had to choose one part of my job over the other.  But I knew that something definitely had to give, in order to reach a better balance and to properly support my teachers & students.  And I think therein lies the dilemma.  We are all human, we try to do our best but we can’t do it all.

As workers in the educational system in BC, we have all been pushed to do more with less for many years now.  This affects everyone:  teachers, custodians, Special Education Assistants, office staff, and administrators.  It seems that no one in education is immune to the “pull”.

Thank you to people like @datruss, @c_durley and @TiaHenriksen for sharing your ideas and struggles via your blogs.  I’ve found that reading your posts really helped me to reflect on my own practice.  I know that, at the start of the next school year, I will remember the lessons I learned this year about how much I can realistically accomplish.  I’ll still do my best and try to be as helpful as I can, but I know I’ll have to be okay with not trying to be Superman.

Parking lot life-lessons

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a “cup half-full guy” but be forewarned that this post is not a super positive one.  I had an experience today that shook my faith, not in humanity, as I don’t want to overplay the experience, but I must say that it did make me very sad.  Current and former vice principals know the feeling of doing parking lot duty and the ups and downs that go with it (I like the chance to have a quick chat or a “How’s it going?” when I’m out there but I don’t look forward to asking people not to park in the bus lane, yet again). 

In preparation for this morning’s big field trip to the waterslides (close to half of our students were going) I had to cordon off more than the usual amount of the parking lot in order to accommodate the seven school buses arriving at our school.  Things seemed to be going well while I was out there until I noticed a man trying to park in a spot that was cordoned off.  I noticed him edging forward and, thinking that he was adjusting his line to back into a handicapped spot, I picked up the pylon that was in his way and started to edge backwards, out of his way.  As I was doing this, it became clear that he wasn’t going to stop driving toward me and he ended up bumping into the pylon that I was holding!  In disbelief I looked at a parent who was standing nearby only to see the same look of disbelief on her face. 

After the man had parked I approached him, calmly (I promise you I didn’t lose it), introduced myself as the VP and asked him what he was doing.  To be honest, I was quite shocked by his answer.  He said, “I’m late and you’re causing a traffic blockage”.   In other words, I had the right to nudge you out of the way because you’re making me late!!  I tried to explain to him that we were expecting seven buses which was why the parking lot had to be organized differently on this particular morning and he shot back, “Where are they then?”  I explained that the buses were running late but that they could arrive at any moment.  I also explained to him that his unsafe action would not be tolerated again and that he would not be welcome in the parking lot if he acted in a repeat fashion, to which he just harrumphed and walked away.  I just kind of shrugged it off in disbelief and went about my business. 

A few minutes later the disgruntled man returned and went at me again about causing back-ups in the street due to the changes I made in the parking lot with the pylons.  Ironically, today the traffic was actually much calmer (not as many back-ups into our school parking lot as usual) since many of the kids had been dropped off early for the field trip.  He finally got into his car and with his windows rolled up, mouthed some words at me.  Luckily I’m not a good lip reader.  Being a cup half-full guy, I moved on and headed out to supervise on the field trip. 

I didn’t really even think about this event all day (as there were many other things to consider when taking nearly 300 kids on a field trip) until we got back to school.  It turns out that the man had written an “apology” letter addressed to the principal, funnily enough.  After the first line of a backhanded apology, the rest of the letter basically outlined why I had caused his frustrations and how he was justified in doing what he did.  So, in sum, the man pushed his car into a plastic object being held in my hands and felt justified in doing so (as my changing the parking lot’s organization that morning was “making him late”). 

What infuriated me was not necessarily that he lost it on me, though I didn’t enjoy that experience, but that he took no responsibility for it afterwards.  When did we as adults decide to abdicate all sense of responsibility and what kind of example does this set for our kids?  Whenever I deal with a student in my office, the first sign I look for is to see if the student has realized what they’ve done, and if they genuinely feel contrite about it.  Then we move on to discuss how they’re going to go about “fixing” the situation.  I was saddened that this man felt no sense of remorse; in fact, he seemed to feel entitled to carry out his unsafe actions.  I was also concerned that, as a family member, he would have influence over one of my kindergarteners.  What I take away from this experience is that one of my goals as an educator should be to instill in my students a balance between their own sense of self-worth and that of others.  I’d like to teach my students to feel valued but not entitled.  It’s a lofty goal but one that I believe is well worth aiming for, especially after my experience today.

Passion-based work

My eldest is in grade 12 this year and we’ve been talking a lot about “what next”.  When I was in grade 12, my dad gave me some well-meaning but poor advice.  At the time, I really enjoyed languages and thought I would like doing something in that field at university.  My dad, who speaks three languages, told me not to pursue that as “there was no money in languages in Canada”.  He (as an immigrant to this country) said to me that “everyone in Canada is bilingual anyway”.  I would later find this statement to be inaccurate, especially on the West Coast.  Fast forward some 30 years later and, after a few odd turns of fate, here I am working as an elementary school Vice Principal in a French immersion school!

We talk a lot in education about passion-based learning for our students but I think the same should said for the educators in the system and how we feel about our work.  For me, as a teacher and now an administrator, my job has never been about the holidays nor the money.  Of course, it’s been great to have spent so much time with my kids during the summer and Christmas vacations; as well, it’s true that I’m making more money now as a VP.  However, the point for me is that I’ve always cared about the work itself and not the things surrounding it.  I really enjoy what I’m doing and am driven to become better, not by financial rewards but because I care deeply about what I’m doing.

In fact when I was thinking about applying for the VP job, I tried to think of all the reasons why I shouldn’t apply and, despite accruing a long list of “cons”, I felt as though I still had to do it.  I had been fortunate enough to take on the role of acting VP for a year before deciding whether to apply for a permanent vice principalship.  As an acting VP, I gained insight into the role of an administrator like never before.  Having a greater opportunity to affect positive change on a larger scale was something which I found difficult to give up.  My passion for helping people, whether students, staff or parents pulled me along.  The need to continue on this new journey far outweighed any of the “cons” on my list and so, here I am.

Ironically, after all these years, I’m studying again to improve my French, picking up where I left off, after being dissuaded from pursuing languages all those years ago.  My love of languages is still strong and, what’s more, improving my French has nicely meshed with my job at a French Immersion school.  As I’ve become older and hopefully wiser, I realize that it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you love what you do.  I think those will be my words of wisdom to my son.

The Journey Begins

I would describe myself as a learner and that’s why I’m embarking on this journey.  I don’t know a lot about technology but I’m known as the tech guy at my school (partly by default as I’m the vice principal now and it falls under my job description and partly because I started dabbling around with the technology we had).  I now know much more than when I started at my school about five years ago, but I still have a long way to go and hence this course.  I’m nervous but I want to push myself to learn more and this is what I’m hoping to achieve during this course.  I’d say it’s already working as I’ve had to start a blog.  I’m also looking forward to connecting with other people who are eager about learning as well.