August 12, 2014

looking ahead, leading by example, but not "bugged" anymore

Looking ahead, an uncertain future?

I find myself more than half way through the summer looking ahead to the new school year. Yes there is some uncertainty surrounding the state of our BCTF strike and BC Government dispute, but this doesn't stop me from preparing and thinking about the coming year with excitement.

The last school year definitely ended on a down note, I will admit. To go full bore with the students and staff to such an immediate stop with no transition or gradual ease into the summer was a shock. There were many unfinished presentations and projects for students. For me, like many other teachers, this did not mean an extended holiday however. I went straight into house painting for the summer (early) with a friend who owns his own business. Thank God for that, but not exactly what I had planned.

Leading by example, my passion project

One significant decision that I had to make at the beginning of summer was to sell my classic 1968 volkswagen beetle that I had been restoring all year since October. You might say that's a big reason for a lack of blogging over the past year, I was just totally consumed with this project of passion. It began with a challenge to myself about being engaged with something in the same way that I wanted my students to be engaged with their learning in depth projects (which we also called Genius Hour projects). I couldn't just tell them it was important to work on something in great detail over the course of an entire year, I had to get my hands dirty and show them too.

Here are some highlights of my own project.

driving my 1968 beetle home in October 2013
I barely made it home in the hour drive, the bug was leaking oil all over the place. I brought a fire extinguisher just in case!

figuring stuff out

disassembly and removal of the 1500cc engine

As I continued work on my beetle project I looked at my repair manual daily, read numerous blogs, scanned hundreds of on-line diagrams and images, and talked to a number of mechanics on the phone and face to face. This led to me taking parts across town for dismantling with shop tools that I did not have and destroying a number of items of clothing with grease and oil. Often I had to learn to rely on the help of friends for expertise on assembly and disassembly of some stubborn parts.

engine rebuilt and ready for re-install

new suspension in front end
brand new interior, seats reupholstered and carpet installed
There were aspects of the project that I had never tackled before such as rebuilding the front suspension and redoing the entire interior. I have had many beetles before that I have restored in different capacities or sold in parts. Surprisingly I accomplished even more than I thought I could. This did require some vulnerability to ask for help at various stages of the project and not be afraid to take risks. I learned a great deal about being resourceful, believing in myself, and not giving up.

Switching gears slightly now...

Leading by example, my thoughts on leadership

In addition to this time consuming project, in the spring of 2014 I had applied to become a vice-prinicpal in my district. This took many hours of writing my resume and speaking with colleagues about what should go into that application. I was one of only a handful of successful applicants who went all the way through to the final round of interviews, but sadly was not selected in the end. I was very disappointed, but the experience was very valuable and I learned some great insight into the process itself. So as I look ahead, regardless of strike or set backs, I feel re-invigorated again with the prospect of another school year and another opportunity for leadership opportunity in the job I love. As I prepared my next application for vice-principal in the next few days, here is my perspective on what makes a successful school and year!

Relationships are the key and foundation to a positive, safe, caring learning community. Through my relationships with some excellent leaders such as my current administrator, I have adopted and developed a guiding philosophy that has helped to direct my practice and role as a leader in the schools I have worked in. It can be remembered as the 4 "C"s.

1. Cared for - It is important that the students, teachers, staff, and parents that we work with feel cared for. Without this it is often hard to bridge gaps of anxiety and discomfort, and effectively chart a course or have a shared vision for school success.

2. Capable - Often students and teachers need encouragement to see themselves as capable members of a team. This can be done by highlighting examples of their previous work, and/or by speaking to the positive qualities that they bring to the learning environment. And yes I am talking about teachers too!

3. Connected - Most significant to any project or work that is accomplished in schools are the connections we make with each other, and as a leader those opportunities that are presented for interpersonal relationships to build. When students and teachers are engaged in work together, there is a significant increased purpose, passion and enjoyment of the activity.

4. Contributing - I often ask my students about what the evidence of their learning will be, and how they are going to communicate that learning to others. I ask them to use their imagination and bring something fresh and personal to their learning and presentations. For teachers this can take the form of sharing about what has gone well or not so well, and taking time to plan ahead together. In this way, learning takes on a new perspective and level of engagement for all involved.

I have been told many times by my colleagues and people I meet through the various presentations I make at conferences I am an inspiring to them. I am happy to hear this because I have dedicated myself to the work I do by constantly reflecting on my practice and finding ways to be creative in whatever setting I find myself. However I understand that this recognition is not simply directed to the tasks or projects that have been completed; but it is a reflection of the value I have placed on creating positive relationships with my students and in the various networks, committees, and teams I am connected to. I care deeply about the work I do and the people I have the privilege of working with.

Two examples of my leadership in recent time have been in my work as chairperson of the Whole School Project at my elementary school where the entire school community focused on an appreciation of the spaces that encompassed the school, in particular the natural environment of the river nearby to the school. I would even use the word transformational to describe the kind of change that took place within that school community. Secondly has been my ability to move between various committees and take on the chairperson role of the Social Responsibility Committee at my middle school where we reached out to the community with random acts of kindness. Both projects involved collaboration with colleagues within the school, partner groups in the district, and members of the larger educational community.

Now as I think ahead to what the next exciting project might be, I won't know exactly what it will look like, but I know some of the people I will be working with. There is a plan in the works to get many teachers and students from different teams together working on passion projects of their own choice but that are connected to each other. Consequently teachers will be working with students that they would not normally have contact with, something that hasn't happened at the school on this scale before. This could be another great adventure in my eyes! Sure there may be some unknowns and messy parts along the way, but the outcome will be amazing. There is always something to look forward to as school approaches every year!!

Looking ahead, but not "bugged" anymore

my beetle restored and ready for sale June 2014

The day came as I said, where I had to sell my beloved beetle. It wasn't my original plan, but often things change mid course. It's not all bad news though, I was very proud of my finished project, and I was able to double my investment!

These two stories I have told, one of a beetle being restoration and the other of a career that is building, have something in common. Both are about an ongoing process and life-long passions; and both are about reaching out to others for help and inspiration, not about doing it alone. That is what keeps me "fuelled" (pun intended). It is important not to look back  feeling discouraged or "bugged" (double pun) about what was, or the disappointments that have happened; rather we must look ahead for what can be. Hey you never know, maybe I'll find another beetle to restore soon. I have made a number of new friendships that can lead me in the right direction when the time is right. Moreover, this teacher strike will end too, and we need to be prepared for what our schools will be like on the other side. One thing I know for sure - as long as we are connected to others who share our passions, we can accomplish something of great value, significance and fulfillment.