Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Sum of the Parts

Imagine the inner workings of a fine Swiss watch.  Each of the movements, the cogs, springs and gears is a precision crafted piece of the mechanism that keeps time.  Each component has a purpose and function that the timepiece must have in order to work properly.  Now lets say that the smallest of the movements gets damaged, dirty or even removed.   How will that affect the precision of the time piece?  The timekeeping ability will be inaccurate or stop completely.  

When we take this metaphor and impose it on a group or an organization, we can see that every member has an integral role in the functioning of the system.  When any one of the movements, or people, is not calibrated correctly, the performance of the entire agency loses its accuracy and precision.  

As those charged with the role of leadership of an organization, a team, a school, a classroom, it becomes clear that tending to all the parts is necessary to enable precision work.  Think of the horologist who's role it is to adjust and calibrate that precision timepiece.  On occasion it may require cleaning or servicing.  This may take the form of a phone call or a conversation with individuals.  Sitting together in the team room before work or during lunch and taking part in the daily conversations with the various team members will provide a window into the thoughts and the movements of the team.    Taking time every day to walk through the school or the organization will further that insight as you look with fresh eyes at the physical environment and the interactions of those around you.  Without some form of connection and observance, how will we ensure that our organization's parts are acting together to become the most precise timepiece?  

Another way to consider the importance of each member can be illustrated using the texts of 1 Corinthians.  "One body but many parts."  Here an organization, a church, is compared to the human body.  Each member of the group functions as an independent and different part of the human body, working together as one person.  As in any organization, there are 'parts of the body' that are more noticed, the eye, the mouth, the lips while other parts are less visible, less noticed.  While those more visible parts may seem more attractive and important, the unseen ones, like the hands and feet, are often the doers and movers and as such are no less important.  Each part of the body has been put together and each has its precision task that works towards the goal that the body is meant to do. 

There is an additional consideration to take from this metaphor though.  The text in 1 Corinthians continues to illustrate that as a member of the body, each part has the charge to recognize its relevance and its role.  It says that "If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.  If one part is honoured, every part shares in the joy."  We are all to pay attention to the other parts - and to share in the precision ability of the agency.  Even in the timepiece each of the movements interacts with one or two others.  We can all be leaders in our own areas.  If we wait on those charged with the role of leadership to check in on all parts we may miss out on the opportunity to help others who may require it.  If we don't take action when we see one of our friends stressing or suffering, or when we don't point out the success of others around us, we may be diminishing the efficacy of our agency.

Whether a precision time piece or a human body, it is clear that any organization is made of many parts, each with its own task that moves the organization towards its goals.  Leaders are charged with overseeing these parts and ensuring their efficacy.  Our ability to achieve our best potential comes when we recognize the importance of all parts and work together to create the conditions for success.  Together we are stronger and to quote Aristotle, we have the ability to be "greater than the sum of our parts".  

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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Dean Shareski recently posted a request for educators to talk about Watershed Moments in education.   I was inspired to take up his offer and write a few watershed moments from my life as a school administrator.  These are moments that define our actions and beliefs or as Dean stated "Watershed moments are those occasions where there the lightbulb came on or something profound was shared or understood."  

First moment: In the second year of my first VP job I was meeting with students who were being removed from classes due to attendance.  It was October and a couple of teachers came to me with lists of students who had accumulated the magic number of absences - I believe it was 14 - and they wanted to clear the students from their courses.  I distinctly recall sitting with a young man who had moved down to Winnipeg from a northern community to attend school, this was the third time I was removing him from the same courses.  He was sad because it would be his last time trying and he would be moving back to the reserve.  In three different semesters this young man had taken the same intro units of the same courses from the same teachers and then was removed due to absences.  I realized that there had to be a better way to engage students who didn't fit in the system the way it was being run - this young man and many others were not being given the supports necessary to survive in school; teachers were more concerned with their courses than they were with the students.  From that day I have preached that we all teach students - not subjects and will do everything possible to scaffold success for all students.
Second moment:  Watching a family of elementary students being apprehended from school by our child protection agency and seeing the fear and sadness in the face of the elder two and a happy unknowing innocence in the face of the youngest made me realize that for many students school is their familiar, calm, and safe place.  I will do everything I can to make our schools into this type of space for all children.  I strive to collaborate with our education specialists, police service and child protection agencies in order to create as much continuity as we can for our students who become at-risk.  

Third moment:  Attending an ASCD conference 9 years ago I listened to Michael Fullan describe the power of the PLC .  He gave me the framework for putting my beliefs around teamwork into action in the school.  That has become one of the most pivotal leverage tools that I have adopted in my practice - unleashing the power of a high performing PLC - for teachers as well as any other staff in the school.  When we believe together, we are able to do far more than when we are separate. 

Fourth moment:  Early in my current job (9 years ago) I was reading about the upcoming Truth and Reconciliation Commission and I spoke about it with my friend, an indigenous woman who worked at the school.  In the course of the conversation I decided to say to my friend "As a public school principal I want to apologize to you for any trauma that your family experienced." This was met with an emotional response that bonded our friendship.  That moment made me realize that my position as a school principal in Canada inherently carries with it a shadow of the residential school system and that I need to be vigilant and sensitive to that dark legacy.  I work hard at creating a welcoming environment that speaks to all our students and their families through the physical spaces and my own interactions.  

Sunday, February 8, 2015

PD - For One and For All

Today I had a couch day...thick with a chest cold I slept, watched some Netflix and read through the #denapalooza twitter stream.  I love the way we can all participate in free PD via social media.  I have always been a proponent of PD for all.  This is the act that makes the team stronger and builds success into the very structure of the school or team.  When we roll out a new idea or tool, we commit to ongoing PD for the year to ensure that the learning goes deep and the practice is well embedded in our classrooms.

This past summer I had the good fortune to be invited to the DEN SUMMER INSTITUTE - PRINCIPAL'S SUMMIT.   However, reflecting on my visit with #DENSI2014  I am reminded me that we need to also address the needs of our early adopters and staff champions.  Id the good fortune to be invited to the DEN SUMMER INSTITUTE - PRINCIPAL'S SUMMIT  While this may not be a new idea to many, it was refreshed for me the necessity of this practice in addition to team wide PD.  When our staff champion becomes more skilled and inspired, s/he returns to our team and spreads that energy throughout the rest of the early adopters.  

As the LC arrived at DENSI2014 I watched each member embrace, catch up and then start sharing ideas and things that they had done since last seeing each other.  As Educational Leaders we need to know our team and know their passions and strengths.  Allow the expert to become more expert so that they are in a better position to share and strengthen the entire team.  When staff with similar strengths and language/understanding come together, they are already in stronger position as they do not need to start from zero.  Their sharing and learning commences quickly because: a) they are already on a similar level of conversation and b) they are excited to share their trials with an enthusiastic audience.  

On the flip side I also noted a few folks who were sharing about their flops.  A level of comfort and security was noticeable as there was also no hesitation in this sharing either.  Each of the staff champions in the DEN were recharging and learning from the first day.  If school teams had sent the teachers who were in need of convincing or who were “just not getting it” the DEN would not have had the same power that it holds.  

The team I work with is excellent and is comprised of many strong and intelligent members, even a few Denstars.  We are always committed to  meaningful school wide PD topics.  I think that I will be speaking with each of them about their  specific passions and strongest skills.  We will be making a list of topics to be on the look out for as I seek to provide strengthening and reenergizing experiences for each of them.

I think this applies to district wide PD initiatives as well.  When a ‘big gun’ is brought in to present to teachers from a number of schools, we need to balance opportunities that, using a sports analogy, strengthen the bench alongside those that strengthen the stars.  

Perhaps this is what we all need to consider next time an important Professional Development opportunity comes around.

My 28 minutes are up today - thanks for reading.  #28daysofwriting

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Cultured Pearls - #28daysofwriting

Many people equate pearls with value.  We see this in fashion and in wisdom.  Originally pearls were found by chance, created in the amazing biology of the oyster as it organically responded to injury by excreting a substance known as nacre.  In the modern day, pearls are now grown in farms.  The process is still organic as farmers insert a ’seed’ particle into the oyster to start the nacre secreting process.  Pearl production has dramatically increased with this infusion tactic.
  Like the oyster and the pearl, many schools in the past were magical when opened; people found beauty inside an amazing school culture. Unfortunately, like the oyster and the pearl, some schools were opened to find nothing of value.
School culture is a hot topic in the Twitterverse these days. Many connected educators are posting their thoughts and feelings, their practices and wishes.  While I agree that school culture is a multifaceted gem, reflecting off students, teachers, support staff, and families, today I will write about the role of the principal.  It is the role I am most familiar with.
The principal is like the pearl farmer in that s/he is the person with the power to insert the ‘seed’ into the school in which they work, the team that they lead,  the community they support.
I suggest two ‘culturing’ tools for principals.   They are fairly simple to use and yet can create remarkable pearls of value. I like to call this creating the conditions.
The first tool is called TALK and LISTEN.  Too often we enter a new setting and do one or the other!  I like to think that we need to sit and hear from all team members while we determine what the needs of the school are.  By ASKING QUESTIONS and LISTENING THROUGH THE ANSWERS we can assess the real needs that our teams, students and families tell us.  Let people have a voice but don’t be afraid to direct what you are talking about.  Ask questions, direct conversations, drive the direction of the talking.  A few ways this can be done might include common professional development, book studies, or posting a discussion topic for the day.  Develop a practice of engaging at least one conversation a day with the team...but don’t talk to the same people every time, if you want to harvest many pearls you need to seed many oysters!
The second tool is also a basic one called WALK THE TALK.  As the principal it is imperative that modelling happens.  People need to see you outside of your office, in a different hallway, and at different times of the day.  This can be very challenging when you are inundated with demands from the Board Office or professional organizations.  Staff also need to see that you are investing in the same things that you expect of them.  Read the book for the book study, participate in a PLC, develop and connect with a global PLN.
I had the fortune this past week of having a principal from another school ask if he could tour the school I am at.  He heard me speak in the fall.  I gladly accepted his request, even joked that he was coming to see that I was being honest with my stories and examples of school culture!  What happened was really encouraging and rewarding.  In a blog post about his visit @csgamble made note of little things that our team does - things that I hadn’t really thought of but reflect the richness of a strong school culture.  You can read his blog here.  I left Chris with a comment about time.  This cool, amazing, high powered team didn’t develop overnight.  We have worked together for seven years now and as the principal I have tried my best to insert small practices into the environment that  are reaping pearls of great value today.  
My 28 minutes are up - thanks for reading.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Language is least that is what we have been told.

Language is the key to letting people know what you mean, what you expect and what you hope will happen.  Finding a common language is the first step in moving all parts of your organization in the same direction.  But what does 'common language' mean in a school setting? 

Common language between all members?
Common language of instruction?
Common language for assessment?
Common language for discipline?
Common language of action?

I have encountered a number of leaders who have not been clear and decisive about the language that they use or that should be used in their organizations.  In my experience I have found that establishing a common language for all team members is a very powerful driver for the mission of the group.  At our monthly staff meetings there is an opportunity for our team to connect and establish a common language for literacy instruction through all grade levels.  This is an opportunity for all staff - teachers, administrators and support staff to share and develop our common language.  This translates into an advantage for our students and families as they move through the school; they will spend less time learning a new ‘language’ each September.  It provides a sharpening of instructional time for everyone.

In the area of literacy instruction, our team has found the work of Regie Routman to be a useful framework to have vertical conversations which lead to common beliefs and common language.  The work of Gail Boushey and Joan Moser has helped our team develop common practice for our students as well.  We have found that our students respond well to these common elements as they move through the grades at the school.  They do not seem to stress when we speak about 'stamina' and our teachers appreciate the infusion of the 'OLM' across their lessons.

In regard to discipline, by sharing a common language, our students will be able to know what is expected behaviour in all areas of the school.  We are working at removing the variability that so many of us met in our own school experiences as we moved between classrooms.  I’m not suggesting that we remove individuality from the classrooms of our schools but I am suggesting that we come to an agreement around the use of our words and the meaning of our words.

As an educational leader I need to continue to create opportunities for our team to understand what the expectations around common language are as well as guide the definition of that language.  Our team will become stronger, our teaching will become sharper and our students will become more successful.  

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Leadership Lessons from Mission Control

Leadership Lessons from Mission Control

In 1969 Gene Kranz was the leader of one of history's most successful teams. He led a team of hundreds of individuals including Charlie Duke as they planned, built and executed one of the most famous events in history-the first landing on the moon. Without the leadership, diligence, expertise and dedication of these individuals and more, Neil Armstrong would not be one of the most famous humans in history. Armstrong's "One small step for man one giant leap for mankind." quote reflects the efforts and work of thousands of individuals before the scene and work of one man. Armstrong may have been the person who took the step but Duke was the voice of mission control and Kranz was the Flight Director of the entire Apollo and Gemini rocket program.

Armstrong and his crew experienced the biggest event of their lives, a mountain top experience. They were thrust not only into the spotlight but into the collective memory of the world. Kranz and his crew, while popular with the science and engineering crowd, remain somewhat unknown to this day. Yet Kranz did not take offense at the lack of spotlight, he didn't pack it in or complain. He continued to lead his team through many more launches and missions.

When Apollo 13 was crippled on its way to the moon in 1970, Kranz's leadership was tested more than ever. His undaunted work through that crisis put him in the history books alongside the astronauts that stood on the moon; his story retold in the movie Apollo 13.

Mountain top experiences get the press but all the hard work is the preparation, the climb up, the climb down, the packing away of the gear and then prepping for the next adventure. The times between mountain top experiences are critical to any venture, to any group.

What are you doing as the leader between the mountaintops? When things go wrong...are you prepared to lead through the challenges? Are you meeting your team members where they are? Are you taking time to check in, unpack, prep and repack? How are you creating leaders from within the organization? How are you enabling the stars on the team to shine?


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Learning & Leading

Week #9 of SAVMP challenged me to reflect on the Learning part of Leading. 
This past week I took a day for personal business and then had the opportunity to attend a PD session with Richard Allington. This is Canadian Thanksgiving weekend and I am thankful for three things I learned while I was away for two days:  Connect & Refresh, Grow, and Be Humbled

1. Connect & Refresh:  The session was sponsored by @mbascd and I was able to connect with a number of my colleagues that I rarely see.  I was able to have conversations with other administrators; a commodity is short supply for many stand-alone school admin.  Professional conversation with people who deal with the same issues and concerns provides opportunity to gain fresh perspectives, learn new things, and sometimes just plain vent.  I met up with one friend I hadn’t seen in twenty years and had an opportunity to meet @chrisjstahl “ilr” in real life.

2.  Grow:  I was more than ‘nudged’ by Dick Allington and his deep well of data; his acerbic style was inflammatory for many, but I relished the bluntness!  Teaching is hard work and we need our best and brightest teachers with our most at risk students.  I was reminded of my friend @kimcjr who always told me we need to be teaching with a sense of urgency…when reviewing the studies that Allington spoke of I can see why!  As an educational leader I need to reset my own focus sometimes.  Taking a day of PD is a great way to enable this.

3. Be Humbled: Upon my return to school, I found that the world ran on with out me.  I was actually away for two and a half days due to the alignment of meetings, personal time and PD.  @mlhrom is a super designate who steps into the role easily and is supported by the entire team. During my absence we had a few new students register, construction begin on a grooming room, a new classroom teepee erected, and a major community event organized.  I am very blessed to work with an amazing team – they remind me that everyone is replaceable, including me. 

I send my thoughts to my PLN friends on this Thanksgiving weekend.  You have given me an audience for my thoughts and an opportunity to express them.  I often refer to Twitter and the #SAVMP (School Adminstrator Virtual Mentorship Program) as a forge that pushes me to clarify my educational philosophy.  Expressing beliefs in 140 character tweets or fewer than 1000 word blog posts is like swaging and edging…responses, comments and conversations are the hammering and shaping.   

Enjoy the weekend!