Superintendent of Schools – Last week my 14 year old son, JT spent the day at work with me as part of a national Grade 9 campaign entitled, Take Your Kid to Work. Given my work is connected to schools, my kids have a decent idea about what I do, but it was a behind scenes day for JT.
He was excited because he got to wear a shirt and tie just like it was a hockey game. Throughout the day he remained very professional and took the day very seriously. Throughout the Education Centre we had 3 other students attending work with their parent for the day.
I warned him that the day was not planned for him and it will probably be a day full of meetings. The day started with us working on some behind the scenes work on the Ward Boundary Review project that JT pretty much just watched and asked questions about. We then had an hour and a half long briefing style meeting about one of the branches of our Learning Department. We moved right into another meeting about one department’s budget. JT was interested in that meeting because he got to watch a bit about how resources are allocated and some of the challenges when you want to do a number of things but the funds just are not available. He saw us prioritize spending based on the overall student needs.
At one point during the day I had to ask JT to step outside as it was a confidential material, but for the rest of the day he was with me fully. We attended a committee for about an hour that was working on the development of RVS’ new internet site. That was probably his favourite part of the day. The group asked his thoughts on the design because it directly related to students. His day finished with a bit of office work, and then when I headed out for an evening meeting he got to go to his hockey practice.
Since that day he has asked me a couple of follow-up questions about things that were discussed during the day. Overall it was a good opportunity for him to better understand what I do and I really enjoyed having him around for the day.
Superintendent of Schools – On October 21, I was honoured to be part of the Board’s celebration of long service and retirement held at the Education Centre. The evening was an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of approximately 89 team members who either had 20, 25, 30 or 35 years of service and those who have retired this past year. The combined service for this group of around 90 people was over 2,100 years or about 400,000 school days!!!
As I said in my speech – the evening was a small token of appreciation and a chance to celebrate all of the group’s substantial contributions. These contributions cannot be quantified, measured or categorized but they are significant.
All of our contributions make a difference. Whether the contribution is done quietly behind the scenes; up on the roof of the school fixing an HVAC unit; working 1:1 with students with significant challenges; standing in front of a group a kids teaching; working in an office; driving a bus; volunteering to lead a drama performance; keeping our schools clean and beautiful or governing the system … it all makes a difference. We all contribute to the overall collective and make a positive difference in our schools and communities.
Thank you for all that you do! Together we make Rocky View Schools and together we make a positive difference.
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.