Superintendent of Schools – This past week I was finally able to check off from my to-do list – “visit every school in the division”. I’ve completed about 2/3rds of my formal school tours and have been invited to attend an event or celebration in almost every school. I’ve also made the effort to get to schools for informal, impromptu visits. When I make that type of visit I just pop into the office and then sometimes go for a walk about by myself and other times with an administrator. Being visible and in schools is important to me.
Why do I do this? As a professional meeting attender, I find that being out in schools keeps me grounded. These impromptu visits are about me seeing students and our staff in action in the context of their school and community. There is no “show and tell” when I make these impromptu visits – it is real life – just another school day. I try not to interrupt classes, but I’ll walk into classrooms when the door is open and just say “hi” or talk to the staff and/or students. It reminds me why I sit in all those darn meetings – to serve students, staff, and our communities.
I warned principals and assistant principals that they will need to get used to me just showing up. I’m not sure people actually believed me, but hopefully they see that I’m walking the talk. The visits are not about checking up on things, rather it about keeping it real and grounded. I know how hard our staff works for students. I know it is not always perfect. I know that some days it can be a struggle, but those are the days I need to see to help keep it real. When younger students ask me what I do, I usually respond “I am here to work as a team with their principals, teachers, and support staff to make sure they [the students] get what they need to be successful at school and life.”
Today I was at one site for a formal visit, but then visited three others sites as I scheduled some time for impromptu visits. I had a great conversation with four teachers about how they are able to support learners through various online tools and their facility needs in order to support teaching and learning. There was no meeting booked, no agenda, just a great face-to-face conversation. In another school I was able to hear about a challenge they are facing that I can probably support them by connecting them with other RVS resources. My last impromptu visit allowed me to talk to students who just completed a walk-a-thon as a fundraiser for school activities. Students demonstrated some of the key competencies we want them to achieve by shaking my hand, introducing themselves, looking me directly in the eye and talking about what was the purpose of the walk-a-thon.
I also know that people need to see me in their schools. I like to be visible to get to know people and let them get to know me. I need to be more than just a name or picture on a website. I know that it is still early in my tenure as Supt (42nd day) and that it takes time to know everyone (we have 2000+ staff), but it is important to me. Sadly, every time I visit a school I cannot visit every staff member, however, over time I hope to have some type of personal interaction with all staff.
Superintendent of Schools – I’m a big NFL football fan and I watch my team play weekly, watch league highlights, enjoy pre-game shows, etc. The league is a multi, multi-billion dollar enterprise that is half business and half about the ego of the owners. Successful teams find the right balance between consistency and innovation.
The head coach often survives based on the win-loss record of their team. Head coaches serve at the whim of their owner. Head coaches are most likely to be fired after a poor start to the season, just before their bye week or the Monday after the end of the season. Some head coaches last one or two years and others stay for seven to ten years. Some coaches are fired from one team and then days later are hired by another team. When a head coach is fired often all of their staff is fired at the same time. NFL coaching staffs are always in a state of flux in the NFL.
One of the interesting phenomenon about NFL coaches is about their coaching tree. The head coach is surrounded with coordinators, countless assistant coaches, quality control staff, training staff, doctors, video staff, etc. A successful head coach typically has a group of assistant coaches/coordinators that stay with them from team to team. When the team does well the coordinators suddenly become head coaches elsewhere and the remaining head coach takes someone they have developed and moves them up to be the coordinator. The coordinator who gets a head coach position often tries to bring people they have worked with previously to their new team. The new head coach may bring a scheme from their past teams that they will want to use on their new team.
Over time you can track many head coaches and coordinators back to one team or head coach. The role of the head coach is not just to win games, but also to develop their entire team (coaches especially) to be successful. Check out this website which demonstrates what I’ve tried to describe above – the larger the dot the more coaches they have directly worked with and if you click the same dot more than once you see how many those direct coaches have influenced -> http://graphics.wsj.com/nfl-coaches/
Enough about the NFL, in public education we have our own leadership trees. We learn from the people we have worked with along our own journey. Not just from fellow administrators, but also from the amazing admin assistants, building operators, teachers, CDAs, electricians, etc. Sometimes we learn from colleagues that we’ve never actually worked directly with, but through conversation and observation – it still impacts you. We take what we saw in one place and add it to our own bag of tricks. We try and learn from the scars we have from prior mistakes. We sometimes try and bring some of the people we’ve worked with in the past along with us. Successful organizations build the vast majority of their leaders from within, but also supplement with outside talent. A great RVS example of this is our administrative leadership program where we are actively supporting teachers who have expressed an interest in future formal leadership opportunities. Most of our new principals and assistant principals are from within RVS but we have some who have joined us from elsewhere.
I know that I have certainly been impacted by the people I’ve worked with along my own journey. Some of my elementary teachers continue to impact how I operate today. I hope that when I am finished my own career that my leadership tree is flourishing with many leaves.
Superintendent of Schools – Last week I continued my formal tours with visits to our schools in Beiseker, Crossfield and our three colony schools. It was my first time at our colony schools (Fairview Colony School, Tschetter Colony School, and West Haven Colony School). I was unsure of what to truly expect, but knew they were essentially one room school houses. These visits ended up being one of the highlights of my tours so far.
My thoughts about what the colony schools might look like were shaped by my mom’s stories about her time attending a one-room schoolhouse in rural Saskatchewan
and my memories of the movie adaptation of W.O. Mitchell’s Who Has Seen the Wind. Each school is on the site of a colony and each is somewhat unique with many similarities. There is one teacher, an assistant, and 10-18 students in one large room spanning Kindergarten to grade 10 at each school. There are breakout spaces for when the students are grouped into age groups to work on age-specific tasks. Once the garden is harvested in the fall, students 6 and over will learn German before their regular school day.
The kids were very friendly and we chatted about Thanksgiving, fall harvest celebrations, brothers and sisters. We laughed and discussed their favourite subjects as well.
The staff were incredibly warm and welcoming. They truly know their students and are called upon to teach all the grades and subjects. A pretty amazing task given the times. Thanks for the great visit and tour. I am looking forward to another visit.
Superintendent of Schools – This past week I spent two days in Edmonton at the Alberta School Boards Association’s Fall Issues Forum. We had four of our trustees attending the forum where discussions were focused on big picture issues impacting schools and school boards. Topics included: Alberta’s political environment; communicating your messages in the modern era; legal changes impacting schools; child and youth advocate act review; joint commitment to action on First Nations, Metis and Inuit student success; curriculum development; and a number of other topics. Our Deputy Minister, Dr. Curtis Clarke, joined the assembly to share some highlights from the Ministry and answer questions from trustees. It was a great opportunity for me to learn about the Alberta political environment as it relates to public education.
I spent two other days last week touring 11 of our schools on the east side of the division. These were the beginning of my formal school tours along with the ward’s trustee. The visits are quick, but highlight that our schools are unique and are doing great things for our kids and communities. Whether it was a large high school or a smaller K-9 school, what was clearly evident is that staff care for kids; that people are dedicated to supporting student learning; that our student and staff come from diverse backgrounds; and that each school has programs and offerings to address their local needs. Some tours were led by students, while others were led by school administration. We visited many classrooms and chatted with both staff and students. We were treated extremely well and I want to thank all those involved. Over the upcoming weeks I’ll have the pleasure of visiting every school in RVS along with their ward trustee. Watch my Twitter feed for various highlights from the tours.
Superintendent of Schools – Last week I had the pleasure of presenting at our Administrative Leadership Program (ALP) kick-off event for the year. This is our ALP-3 group, which consists of 18 new RVS Assistant Principals. Shortly I’ll be meeting and chatting with our ALP-1 and ALP-2 cohorts. Our ALP is broken into three groups – group one and two consist of RVS teachers who aspire to be in formal leadership positions. Group three is for beginning administrators. It is great to be in a division, which is actively developing their leadership team with a program such as ALP.
My part for the morning was to bring greetings and share a bit about my thoughts on leadership. These are new AP’s who generally are finishing their first month in the formal role of Assistant Principal. The timing is good because the reality of what being a school based administrator was settling in. A month ago the conversation may have been a bit more theoretical, but now they are living the role and dealing with the practical realities of being a new administrator. The first month has challenged them to be educational leaders, while helping to manage a school and the endless administrative requirements of public education.
I was able to share with them a few thoughts, tips, and experiences I’ve had along my own journey that have impacted my leadership style. Some of the themes I shared with the group:
• It’s critical important to show people you care.
• What you do, not what you say, tells your story.
• It is okay to show vulnerability and ask for help.
• Always take a team approach.
• Build trust among your colleagues.
• Seek first to understand then to be understood.
• Reflection is important.
• Begin with the end in mind.
• It can be lonely.
• It’s important to ask yourself, if no one is following, are you really leading?
• Stay plugged in.
• Find your voice.
Manny Ferreirinha, Sharon Rhodes, Ira Stroh, Murray Besenski, Pam Davidson, Jim Forrest and Penny Beaudry also shared their thoughts on leadership, building school cultures, and instilling instructional leadership. It was an enjoyable morning together and I look forward to meeting with the ALP 1 & 2 cohorts in the upcoming weeks.
P.S. Full disclosure – I’ve never been a school-based administrator but know their work quite well though supporting them for 15+ years in various divisional roles.