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.