You need to do this….

This past few weeks has been very hectic, interesting, frustrating….. I’ve been very busy in a number of different areas.  So, during this hectic time, I haven’t had the time to interact in my social networks like I am accustom to doing but I do drop by, read and see what is happening, drop a comment or two and move on. However, I’ve been having a very brief but interesting conversation with someone that I’ve “known” for a few years and who has been a big part of my growth and learning. The discussion has revolved around “Do as I say not as I do”. Now, as many people may know, I am a big proponent of moving things forward but in such a way that you don’t kill so many of your people that you have no one left once you get to where you are going.  So a comment was made about administrators needing to be leaders that “walk the talk”, modeling what it is they want others to do. Off-handedly, I commented about getting right on that as soon as I dug myself out from under the paperwork. Now, the conversation that ensued is similar to others I have had with various people at various times in relation to expectations of administrators in relation to bringing about change.

You need to do this……

That’s something I have heard so many times. It comes from people who are discussing a particular passion that they have in relation to students, learning, school, education, teaching, …. . As an administrator, I sit in a position where I get the privilege, and burden, of seeing a picture much larger than any other one person when it comes to the place called “school”. As the “leader” of this place called “school”, I have the responsibility to listen and discuss with all the stakeholders what takes place in the school. It requires a person to take into account a variety of peoples’ perspectives, all who have a passion for what they are doing.

So, as part of the discussion I was having, I asked about the admin experience of the other person  because I feel that, if you are going to ask me to act or do, you need to at least have an idea of what it is you are asking me. When I bring an idea to teachers, I do so with an idea of how it will impact teaching, planning, students, classroom, etc because I teach – more than 50% of my time. I have, to some degree, been able to experience it myself. Now, it’s not the same as being a teacher as I’ve had that experience for 10 years, teaching middle years and it’s not the same. Being an administrator changes how you view things to some degree.

I can’t say the same for most of the people who bring things to me. In fact, very few people have the experience of being an administrator when they bring forward ideas. They do not have the perspective of seeing a much larger picture from that  perspective. It’s almost impossible to describe the way it changes your perspective. When an idea is brought forward, you begin to see it as part of a very large picture, of which that one idea is only a piece and, which you have a unique perspective.

Initiatives won’t break you, Fatigue will…..

Really, we don’t truly acknowledge the impact that all the initiatives and changes that have been happening over the past 20 years since I began teaching have had on teachers and teaching. The change in teaching has been happening since I first stepped into a school as a teacher and it hasn’t stopped. It has been constant and, it has slowly come to impact every single aspect of teaching. This constant motion, like waves on a beach, has an impact on the people and, if we don’t truly acknowledge this, it won’t matter what else we do. Take a look at the number of initiatives and proposed changes that are coming at schools. You see, it’s not just the technology that is on the table but physical fitness/health/obesity, social awareness/interactions, drug/alcohol/tobacco, food/proper nutrition, sexual awareness/education/sexuality, globalism, inclusion, differentiation, racism and many more. When someone comes to discuss with me the importance of their passion, I do understand because I have a few of my own. But, it’s also part of this bigger picture and, guess what? It all can’t be #1 priority.

Part of my role is to balance the needs and wants and, as much as I’d like to say that our focus is on learning, I can’t because the picture is so much larger. It isn’t about any one of these but about them all and each one has importance. Balancing these is part of what I do.

Can I see the manager please…

Ever taken this route some time when you haven’t received the service you feel you deserve or you want to speak to someone you feel will be able to adequately deal with your problem. That’s part of my role too. I also book the school for community events, invoice people for school use, arrange for coverage of people when there are events and deal with a whole group of other duties that, for lack of any other description, are strictly managerial. They have nothing to do with being an EDUCATIONAL LEADER but they have a great deal to do with how the school runs and the relationship we have with the community. There is no outward modeling but it is a critical part of what I do. You won’t see it, you won’t hear me talk about it but, if someone isn’t happy with what happened, you’ll hear about it and, in some way, my name will be attached.

Build it, they will come…

As with all public schools, every student that enters our doors has a place in our building. We do not get to interview our students to see if they will “fit”. We work to find a fit for them which means that we must continually look for ways to engage them in learning. For some, it wouldn’t matter what we did in the classroom, school is not where they want to be but, because we can offer a variety of other options for them like trade-skills, sports, arts and other options, we are able to build a program that will give them the necessary courses that will provide options for them when they leave. Yes, we could do a better job in some areas but, as the leader, it’s a very fine balance of allocating resources, time and energy because schools have become the place where we try to deal with all the social aspects that I’ve mentioned above. We aren’t just about “academics” but about so much more and it just isn’t about “local” but about “global”.

In order to do this, as a leader, I need to have a bigger picture and understanding of how the various parts fit together. To do this, I don’t just administrate and teach but I coach or referee 4 or 5 sports a year, take students on outdoor trips and do a variety of other “extra” activities. I present at conferences about technology. I participate in division and provincial assessments to further my understanding of areas where growth is needed – student and teacher. I sit on division committees related to reading, assessment, data reporting and am part of the administrative lead team.  I work with special education teachers to facilitate inclusion for students with intellectual, physical and behavioural difficulties and work with staff to develop and adapt for students using RtI. I continue to take university courses – just finished 6 courses on UbD and DI. I continually work to develop ways to assist teachers/staffs to use technology to facilitate communication and sharing of ideas. I work on developing ways for teachers to use technology to assist with their own learning/lives so they see connections to the learning environment. I present to other administrators on a number of issues – most recently DI. I teach and develop courses with students, having them help me to adjust and adapt – which means that planning is constantly happening and changes to what is happening in the classroom is constant because their understanding and learning drives what we do. I advocate for parents, students, teachers, janitors, EA’s and I listen to parents, students, teachers, janitors, EA’s, division staff and other agency people. I liason between division and teachers and am the spokesperson for division initiatives. I continue to work at building my PLN, both online and f2f.

Add all this up…

“Do or Do Not, there is no try!” – Yoda

I have this poster on my wall in my office. Many people don’t understand it. “Why can’t we just try?”

In my world, I facilitate other people to try things – to take chances and push the boundaries and stretch themselves. That means, I do or I do not. I can provide for that opportunity or, because of what is going on, I can’t. I can allow an event to take place or I can’t. I make decisions – sometimes I have can include others, sometimes I can facilitate others to assist in making that decision, sometimes I can allow others to make the decision, sometimes I can bring in others to assist with the decision but, no matter what method is used, I am responsible for that decision. It takes a great deal of trust and knowing the people with whom you work to share decision-making and to trust and feel comfortable with that process. As someone in the school, how long do you want to wait for someone to decide that they trust you and have faith in your ability to make decisions that are best for the learning of the students? I have a good idea having been an administrator in 6 different buildings. (Hint – it ain’t years!)

When people begin to talk about “If administrators would only…. ” or “If only our administrator would….” or “If administrators only understood….” or “If administrators…..” I just sigh. I use to try to explain but it’s like explaining to someone outside education what teaching is all about – they just don’t get it. You see, I’ve had many people  who have told me that administrators don’t really get anything about: technology, special education, behaviour, teaching, learning, students, parents, discipline, budget, extra-curricular, social justice, law, distance education, interagency relationships and so much more. I’ve also noticed that most people have a real passion for one or two areas and the others are, well, others.

So when someone suggests that “Administrators need to model….” I often wonder “Do you really understand what an administrator does?” “Do you REALLY do that yourself?” “Have you walked in these shoes?” “Do you really see the whole picture or do you just think you do?” Or, do you have a passion and believe that it should be everyone’s passion? You see, working in an area of passion is easy, although nothing is without its frustrations and setbacks.  But working in an area you don’t understand and trying to understand it, advocate for it and balance it with all the other areas isn’t very easy. Neither is setting aside your passion to listen to others about their passion or issue or focus or desires or fears and then supporting them. I think that many administrators DO get it – in a large picture way which is very different from those who see things from a particular point of view.

Of course there are going to be many who disagree with me, some of them administrators and that’s okay. Disagreement isn’t a bad thing. In fact, through reflection, it leads to growth. Just like making a mistake – which I do hourly. It’s all part of learning.

Just for the record – all adults need to model for youth and we all have a responsibility to be models for others. As an administrator, I do have a responsibility to be a model – in many different ways and in many different forms and I have the responsibility to learn and grow but I can’t be all things at all times and sometimes, yes, I do need to attend to managerial things – it’s my responsibility. I’ve chosen NOT to just have one passion but to have many, for the many different people who walk through the doors of that place we call school.

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2 responses

  1. I think the next time someone asks me, ‘So what’s it like being a principal?’ I’m just going to say, ‘check this post out!’
    That said, although you highlight the challenges and do a really good job of explaining how in advocating for others (so many others) that you can’t walk the walk all the time… I think this post also misses some of the great pleasure of the role that you hinted on: The bringing together of the community or different groups, empowering a teacher to follow their passion, directing that passion into a direction that will have impact, and advocating for kids, (sometimes being the only advocate they have).
    You post sheds light on the challenges and makes your point very clear, it just does so in a way that makes the job seem thankless, and I don’t think that was your intention, and it certainly has not been the experience I’ve had.

    That said, I just celebrated 4 years of blogging, and indirectly mentioned you in my post’s comments today: http://pairadimes.davidtruss.com/my-4th-blogiversary/comment-page-1/#comment-4024 as one of my first significant digital friends… and I can say this 4 years later- I’d work for you, in your school any day!
    Cheers,
    Dave.

    1. David,
      Nice to hear from you. This wasn’t about being a martyr or it being thankless but trying to shed light on the fact that when someone, with a particular passion or point of view, wants me to be the “model” they have to realize that I have to model for many different things – one of them being a manager and doing the paperwork. It’s about being involved in learning AND being involved in more than just learning – it’s about helping to raise kids and, therefore, modeling in more than any one way. It’s also about the fact that, if I didn’t find what I do satisfying, rewarding and deeply important, I would find something else to do. It’s also about people not trying to “fix” others, or however you want to try to describe it but, instead, finding the strengths of the people and using them. Learning, which is what we are about, is so much more than just any one area – it’s a combination that has an ebb and flow that, until you sit in an administrative position, you don’t really understand.

      I’ve never been a consultant or a superintendent or director but my experience as a principal has taught me that, in those positions, there is more than what I know and, therefore, I really have to allow those people to be professional and do their jobs and, if I perceive there is a need because they seem to “lack” something, then it’s part of my job to assist them in that area and quit complaining that they aren’t doing their job or they’re lousy as at understanding technology or spec ed or any of the myriad of areas that are part of their jobs but, instead, figure out how, as a team player, I can fill that gap.

      I see too many people who want others to “do it all” without understanding that no one can be “it all!” You can’t model “everything” at the same time and you can’t be everything to all people – trying to make everyone happy just makes no one happy. Instead, you work with your strengths, surround yourself with very talented people who have strengths where you have weaknesses and then lead. So, if I’m not strong with technology, I need to find someone who is and, while developing that area, allow them to be the model. Same goes for all the other vitally important areas in a school – spec ed, nutrition, athletics, curricula development, assessment, etc. To expect an administrator to be “the one great model” is no longer a valid image and the quicker we come to grips with that and move forward, the quicker we’ll be able to use the strengths of all. So, as an administrator who does have a very good knowledge of technology, special ed, athletics, curricula development, assessment – I could try to do it all but I’d burn out and crash and be no good to anyone. Instead, I look to others to be leaders in specific areas, guiding, assisting, helping, advising, asking, monitoring and generally making sure that, as a school, we are keeping our eye on the most important thing – better learning. That’s my focus – my guiding light – and where I put my energy for modeling.

      I love what I’m doing, most of the time. I’ve been frustrated by some non-necessary politics and some decisions that have really distracted from focusing on Learning. It’s been a real soul-searching year but, as I’ve passed through the fire, I’ve learnt that, as the educational leader, I’m to model learning. I have other people in the building who lead in other ways. Oh, and I teach over 50%. To me, anyone who EXPECTS me to fit a particular mold with a particular perspective obviously doesn’t understand the role of administrator. My advice is forget about being the dynamic “all-in-one” leader, find your strengths, focus on learning and surround yourself with highly competent people who can lead in those areas which aren’t your strengths. And, when someone wants you to be “the model”, agree and then introduce them to the person whom you trust to carry that torch.

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