Friday, August 28, 2020

Talk Me Through Your Process

I recently engaged in a conversation about the thoughts/feelings/actions connected to becoming a school principal. Ramona Meharg, Chris Cluff, and I were talking about our experiences with the Principal's Qualification Program (PQP) and the 'roads' we traveled that led us there. 

As we were talking about the thoughts, feelings, and actions that we engaged in to earn the credentials to qualify us for the PQP, Chris asked if we wanted to go deeper by starting a podcast where we could talk about our process - past, present, and future. All three of us were game and the "Talk Me Through Your Process" Podcast was born. 

It's a bit of a mouthful but if you can get past that you will quickly realize that the three of us are serious about personal and professional growth, self awareness and reflection, and continuing to learn about our process to formal leadership in education. 

Graphic created by Chris Cluff

The podcast is a great tool to assist us in sharing our perspectives, learning from each other, and learning from others outside of our immediate circle. We are modeling our process in a public way with the hope that it will start up great discussions and encourage others to do the same. As my friend Joe Marquez likes to say, education is a collaborative sport! 

One of the things that has become part of my leadership process involves making connections between the work I do and and the Catholic Leadership Framework. I would recommend this practice to anyone interested in becoming a school Principal because it can lead to a familiarity with effective individual and system practices. Becoming familiar with the expectations and then connecting them to one's practice, and vice versa, will help build the flexibility and fluency required to lead a school. This is part of my process and I suspect that it will help me as I move closer to becoming a school Principal. 

I invite you to check out the conversations we are having AND welcome you to join us! You can find the Talk Me Through Your Process Podcast on YouTubePodbean, and Apple Podcasts. Reach out with your questions, comments, and process so we can collaborate to become the leaders that schools deserve. Feel free to comment below or connect on twitter (@rchids, @chrisjcluff, @RamonaMeharg).

Monday, April 13, 2020

Leadership During a Pandemic

The Covid-19 Pandemic has really flipped our way of living upside down.

It started on the other side of the world and has ended up in our backyard, literally. The way we live and operate day to day has changed and continues to change at a fast pace. The last time I was with people, other than my family, was March 13. It was announced on March 12 that schools would be closed for an additional two weeks after the March break ended. With those measures, we were to return to school on March 30. Today is April 13 and we have been told that we may return to school on May 4th.

In addition to getting used to teaching my class in a completely different way, I have been paying close attention to the leaders around me and how I can lead in small 'l' ways as we embark on a journey that has never been done before.

I have been thinking about and reflecting on the actions of my Principals. They have both been great at keeping us informed and connected. We have had several online staff meetings and some social ones as well. They have been bringing us together to keep us up to date about what is happening in our Board and they have provided us with optional social meetings where we can gather to talk and hang out. They have not faltered and they have not shied away from their leadership responsibilities.

In fact, as I consider the Catholic Leadership Framework and how my principals have been operating, I can say that their words and actions align with all five of the pillars of the leadership framework. Here are some examples:

1. Setting Directions: they have been building a vision of what our work will look like, establishing short term goals, and communicating with us.

2. Building Relationships and Developing People: they have been providing us with a time and place (digital) to get together and share our thoughts/feelings, have been empowering staff to share best practices and to learn more about tools and strategies that may meet their needs.

3. Developing the organization to support desired practices: they have been building collaborative cultures and distributing leadership, assisting us in continuing to improve our relationships with families and the community, and providing us with information on resources that may be valuable to us at this time.

4. Improving the Instructional Program: they have been staffing the school - we have had teachers return from maternity leave and they hired a new teacher for one that just retired, providing instructional support, and buffering staff from possible distractions from their work.

5. Securing Accountability: they have been building the staff members sense of internal accountability and meeting the demands for external accountability.

They have been, and continue to be, great examples for me as they do their work. As they lead, I can see that they meet the expectations of the framework as well as meet staff members where they are at and offer them a helping hand to continue to develop as educators and leaders (formal and informal).

As I observe them, I consider how I am leading at this time. I certainly follow their lead, but outside of their direct influence, what I am doing to lead? How do my words and actions fit within the leadership framework? As an aspiring formal leader, these questions are important for me to consider and to act upon. When I reflect on my thoughts and actions during this pandemic, I can make connections to the leadership framework as well as consider next steps to work on meeting expectations within the framework. Here are some examples of how I have been leading within the framework:

1. Setting Directions: I have been working hard with my colleagues and myself in order to set short term goals that facilitate a positive learning environment for my students while setting professional goals for myself and assisting my colleagues in doing the same for themselves.

2. Building Relationships and Developing People: I have been connecting with and helping out staff members at my school and other schools who have reached out for support and guidance. This has brought me great joy and has presented me with a collaborative model to problem solve. The best of both worlds as we work to meet our student's needs during this unprecedented time.

3. Developing the organization to support desired practices: I have initiated and joined in on collaborative ventures where leadership is distributed based on participant interest and skill set, I am aware of and working towards continuing to build positive relationships with my families and the greater community using digital means.

4.  Improving the Instructional Program: I have been researching and implementing digital practices in order to help lead my students and colleagues to success, and I am paying close attention to the progress my students have been making in order to provide them with feedback that will take them from where they are and move them forward.

5. Securing Accountability: I have been reaching out to the parents of my students and providing them with my role in our new learning environment, I communicate my expectations to my students and keep them informed on the expectations I have for myself with respect to my availability to them, and what I will be doing to support their learning and well being.

As we continue to live and learn each day during this pandemic, I will be keeping my eyes and ears open on the leaders around me. My perspective on this time is that this is a wonderful opportunity to learn and grow as a leader - acquire new perspectives and skill sets - that will benefit my growth and that of the people around me, today and in the future.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Daring Greatly

Drawing by Chris Cluff

In August I wrote about a collaboration I wanted to engage in - "Dare to Lead Collaboration - In and Out of the Classroom" - which came from my reading of Brene Brown's book 'Dare to Lead' and her Daring Classrooms initiative. The 'In the Classroom' plan involved working with other educators on ideas and activities that would assist us in providing our students with safer spaces for them to learn and grow. The 'Out of the Classroom' plan involved me working on some of the things Brene talks about in her book that would help me learn more about myself and who I am as a leader, and possibly who I can become as a leader. 

For all intents and purposes, the in the classroom component is coming along nicely. I have established some norms with my students and we are doing well at dealing with our inner critic and thinking about why we armour up when we find ourselves in certain situations. With respect to the outside of the classroom component, I am much more aware of my vulnerabilities and armour but something just isn't right. Even though I am much more aware of my thoughts/feelings and behaviours, I find myself kind of stuck and needing to take a next step.

It is almost as if the universe was feeling my pain and desire to grow when I found out that my school board NTIP Consultant was looking into finding a Dare to Lead facilitator to speak to NTIP mentors and mentees. He was able to make it happen and I was able to attend a Daring Greatly workshop.

The workshop was exactly what I needed. I spent the day learning and talking about the following concepts: 

  • vulnerabiltiy
  • authenticity
  • boundaries
  • trust
  • empathy
  • self-compassion
  • shame
  • coping
One of the activities had us provide a brief introduction to our arena (the place where we do our work) and what we would like to ask of the group - what they could help us with. My arena is my work place, my ask involved people taking the time to wonder why I would be so quick in putting my armour on in certain situations. 

Around certain people, I will not show my vulnerabilities and I will certainly clam up and keep quiet. In some situations this armoring up that I do could be interpreted as a safety mechanism - a way to protect myself from being judged by others. As the workshop progressed throughout the day I learned more about why I armour up and how I can become more resilient to the shame that causes me to shut down. Many people try to cope with shame by armouring up. People cope with their shame in different ways and I learned more about what I do when I feel shame. More importantly, I learned about what I can do to deal with my shame (my inner critic) in a way that won't cripple me. In a way that allows me to work towards being my best self rather than becoming a lesser version of who I am and what I can be. 

When I think about daring greatly, I think about how it is connected to leadership - particularly my leadership journey. When I consider the Ontario Catholic Leadership Framework I think about the section at the bottom that lists personal leadership resources that leaders draw upon to effectively lead. Cognitive, social, and psychological resources are needed in order to set directions, build relationships and develop people, support desired practices, improve the instructional program, and secure accountability. I would argue that it is necessary and important for leaders and aspiring leaders to continuously work on building up their personal leadership resources. 

For me, part of building up my personal resources means that I continue to work on building up my resilience to shame. At the workshop I learned that building up my shame resilience requires the following:

  • recognizing when I'm in shame and understanding what triggered it,
  • challenging my inner critic by responding with self-compassion, 
  • telling my story and talking about shame with the people who have earned the right to hear it, and
  • learning about what I need when I am in shame and how to ask for it
Dealing with my shame won't be easy, but I believe it is necessary. If I don't do it then my shame will get in the way of me stepping into the leadership arena - where at best I will triumph and at worst I will fail - but will have failed while daring greatly. 

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Learning to Lead

How does one learn to lead?

This question has been on my mind over the past few days. A conversation with my Principal and a chance meeting with the former director of my School Board have me thinking about learning to lead.

As a child I listened to and watched my father in a variety of situations. When I take the time to really consider leadership and my interest in it, I think of my father. He had an entrepreneurial spirit and seemed to enjoy problem solving. He was also charismatic and had a great sense of humor. People seemed to like him. I watched him navigate all kinds of situations and even had a backstage pass to what he looked like outside of the public eye.

As I got older and entered my teens he provided me with advice regarding relationships and how the world works. When I was finishing up my Masters degree I got my first "real" job and he continued to offer me advice around leadership and relationships and how the two intersect. Sadly, he passed away before he could see me become a teacher and act as a sounding board for the journey I would experience over the last 17 years.

Since then, I have relied on the art of observation to get a better idea of what leadership is and means. Early on in my career it meant watching the leaders around me (great teachers, principals, and consultants) - listening to what they said, watched them as they dealt with people and situations, and paying attention to what came after they made a decision or helped in solving a problem.

With time came opportunities to work in different schools, participate in Board and Provincial committees/initiatives, formal leadership training, readings, and mentorship. All of which have provided me with the chance to learn - about myself, leadership, and how the two come together in an organic way to make me the leader that I am today.

The power of the internet has allowed me to observe from afar. Email, YouTube, and Twitter are examples of platforms and modes of communication that allow me to learn from people and situations that I would never be able to connect with in a face to face fashion.

So what have I learned? Connection and mindset are key ingredients to learning anything. With respect to my leadership journey, I use my experiences and make connections to the Catholic Leadership Framework in Ontario. The expectations of what leadership looks like are outlined in the framework. This leaves the ball in my court. It is up to me to seek out and/or create opportunities that will allow me to learn about and practice leadership and to connect my experiences to the expectations in the framework.

With an open, curious, and creative mindset, I am able to have some fun with the work I do and the connections I make to the framework. At the end of the day, the learning is mine so I try to make the best of it. My mindset has not always been this way. It has evolved over time and experiences - both good and bad. There is room for new knowledge and growth all around me.

This is how I am learning to lead.   

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Small "l" and Big "L" Leadership

I've been thinking about formal leadership lately.

I've been reflecting on the situations I have put myself in - and the experiences that have come from those situations - and how they have assisted me with the leadership skills and attitudes that I have and that I am working on. I have had some great conversations with my Principal and Vice Principal as of late and they have got me thinking more about leadership and what it currently looks like for me. The valuable conversations that I have been engaging in are helping facilitate my thinking, particularly around my strengths and what I need to work on.

I've landed on a couple of things that I want to work through in this blog post.

1) You don't always have to take on a huge initiative as the "leader" in order to be a "leader".
2) Real collaboration will allow you to "lead" with your strengths and allow you to learn new things (what you don't know or what you need to work on) from other "leaders".

I'm going to use a fairly recent school experience that will help me illustrate the two points I have stated above.

My school recently purchased a home reading program for our primary students. We purchased close to 700 texts that needed to be stamped, organized, and tracked. We needed to figure out and prepare a presentation for an evening information session for families to introduce and explain the program. There were a lot of pieces to this puzzle and someone had to take the lead.

No one jumped at the opportunity - like me - many were happy to help but no one wanted to be responsible to "lead" this initiative. At a primary division meeting the team talked about it and a couple of people chimed in and stated what they would be willing to take on. This was all that was needed in order for others to step up and take on a piece of this 'project'.

I spoke up and explained what I was going to do. I was very clear about the role I would play, when I would start, and when my portion would be done. I also let everyone know that I was happy to help out in any other ways where I could be of use. With respect to the first point I made above, I didn't feel like I had to take on the entire initiative as the leader of it in order to actually provide leadership. I also stated that because we were all together talking about the initiative that we should take the opportunity to define who would do what. Fortunately, enough people volunteered to help and the work was divvied up. Each person who took on a piece of the initiative would "lead" in their particular area in order for the parts to be put together into an awesome whole that would get this initiative off the ground. We didn't have anyone take on the initiative as "leader" but each person who volunteered to help would "lead" in their own way with their part of the program preparation.

The division leader would be the one that we would report to with respect to what we were responsible for but she wasn't going to micro manage the project and chase us for our parts. This is where I would like to address the second point I made above. Each of the people involved were going to work on their part in order for this program to be ready for the students and the parent presentation to be ready for the information session.

The division leader's part of the project involved putting together a slide deck for the information session. Once she started working on her portion of the initiative she realized that she didn't know how to do some of the things that she wanted done for the slide deck. She came to me and asked for help with something that she knows I am fluent with. Not a problem - I used my strengths in that particular area to help her get her portion of the work done. I took the lead there and she learned something from me. I found myself struggling with the portion of the work that I took on so I leaned on another staff member to teach me how to be more effective and efficient and she was happy to do so. She "lead" me with her strengths and I learned from her.

Those are just two examples of how a group of us truly collaborated in order to get this home reading program ready. We leaned on each other's strengths in order to learn from each other and get things done. It is something I won't soon forget - especially now that I have decided to blog about it. :)

Leadership doesn't always mean big "L" leadership. Sometimes, and I am willing to generalize that most of the time, small "l" leadership is what is needed to get things done. Of course big "L" leadership is required to ensure that things are happening and that people and situations are moving in the right direction - but - without the small "l" leadership work things (details) won't be taken care of. From my perspective, I believe that people preparing for formal leadership positions need to have big "L" leadership and small "l" leadership experiences. I believe it is important to see things from a macro level and to be part of the inner working micro level. I also believe that I have been walking the walk and talking the talk of when it comes to the balancing act of taking on small "l" and big "L" leadership opportunities.

With respect to the Ontario Catholic Leadership Framework, what I wrote about easily fits under the 'Building Relationships and Developing People' and the 'Developing the Organization to Support Desired Practices' pillars.

Building Relationships and Developing People
As we worked together we were supporting and demonstrating consideration to each other. We acknowledged and celebrated our accomplishment(s), took each others opinions into consideration, built upon and responded to each others unique needs and expertise, and did all of the above in a caring way.

Developing the Organization to Support Desired Practices
Our work was collaborative and involved a distribution of leadership. Collaboration was modeled in our work, mutual respect and trust was involved, we developed clear goals and roles related to our work, and it culminated with an event where parents were welcomed, respected, and valued as partners in their children's learning.

I was not "leading" this initiative but my role was integral in its success. In fact, each of us played a pivotal role in getting the program ready for the students and putting together a quality presentation for the families when they came in to learn more about how we are helping their children and what they can do to help as well.

Now that this blog post is complete, I need to get to my email to send a quick message to each of the teachers that took a "lead" with this project to thank them and tell them how grateful I am to be able to work and learn with them!

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Dare to Lead Collaboration - In and Out of the Classroom

I recently discovered one of Brene Brown's Dare to Lead resources for educators, Daring Classrooms - a free resource that is built around the Dare to Lead book. There are lesson plans, videos, and a leadership assessment that you can take to learn more about your strengths and opportunities for growth with respect to the ideas presented in the book.

I visited the site and took a closer look. I was really pleased with the ideas there and decided that I would like to implement some of them in my classroom this year, as well as work with other educators in a collaborative fashion with the goal of improving the leadership of all involved. To this end, I asked if anyone wanted to collaborate with me this school year.

Lots of people responded and said that they were interested so I started a Google Document titled Daring Classrooms Collaboration with some ideas about how we could connect and work together. If you haven't checked out the document, please do so. If you like what you see, put your name down and let's work together!

In addition to the opportunity of building a safer space for my students, work with other educators and their students, I get to learn about myself and put into action what Brene writes about in Dare to Lead. At first, I was apprehensive about tweeting an invitation to collaborate with others. I sat with the feelings that came to me - I acknowledged them and worked with them for a bit. I realized that this was a growth opportunity for me and that I needed to take action.

I took the first step and now I am looking forward to what comes next. After the tweet and creation of the document, I started to reflect on the Ontario Catholic Leadership Framework and how the idea of Daring Classrooms Collaboration fits with the expectations of the Leadership Framework. Many of the expectations in the Leadership Framework connect well with my vision of the Daring Classrooms Collaboration.

One of the pillars of the framework focuses on developing people and building relationships. The idea behind the collaboration project is to help people (teachers and students) grow and develop - to understand themselves better, and to take action that will hopefully lead to continuous improvement.

Another pillar of the framework focuses on developing the organization to support desired practices. Several of the educators who have indicated an interest in participating in the collaboration are from my school board which means that the work we do will align with our Board Improvement Plan for Student Achievement. The Board's plan prioritizes nurturing our Catholic community, building capacity to lead, learn, and live authentically, and student engagement, achievement, and innovation. My vision of the collaboration project, along with the content of Dare to Lead, fit nicely with the priorities of the my School Board.

Last but not least, collaboration is a key ingredient of the Leadership Framework and the Board's plan for student achievement. I will do what I can to continue to work with others and offer them opportunities to work with me with the goal of growth and improvement for all involved. I don't know how this will play out but I do know that I will dare to lead!

Monday, June 10, 2019

I Almost Quit

I have been taking an additional qualification (AQ) course over the last few months. We are in the last week of the course. I almost quit with the course, three times.

When I was provided with the opportunity to take the course I was quite excited. I enjoy learning, especially when it is self directed and can have positive implications on my teaching practice. I started off great, like most people do. As I moved through the modules I found that I was bumping up against assignments where I wasn't sure how to answer them and sometimes I didn't even know where to start. The feelings I experienced were interesting - fear, confusion, excitement - all at the same time.

When I would feel the emotions I listed above, I would step away from the assignment and come back to it at a later time. I found that the time away  gave me the opportunity to let the task sink in and have some time to process what was being asked and the concept that was being examined.

When it came time to deal with the "big" assignments, I would feel the same emotions but there was an added thought that would manifest itself. It involved thinking and self talk that I would just not do the assignment and forfeit the course. I did that three times throughout the course. That was the fear talking. I would walk away and give my heart the chance to defend itself from my brain.

After some time away from the course I would do two things. I would tell myself that I could quit after I finish the assignment, and that I needed to start the assignment - whether it put me on the right path or not - I needed to act rather than think. These two things got be back in the game and have led me to completing the course.

More importantly, I am much more aware of how the two things I decided to do can be applied to almost any issue I encounter in life. If I am doing something that I just want to give up on, I can tell myself that I can quit after I complete the task at hand. If that doesn't work (or even if it does work) I can do something rather than do nothing. If I am going to quit, it isn't going to be due to inaction. I am going to do something rather than nothing.

When I compare my experience with the Catholic Leadership Framework I see the importance of personal leadership resources - a section that don't often look at when examining the expectations that make up the document. The reason I didn't end up quitting is because of the strategies I used and the some of the social and psychological resources that the document refers to. Being able to manage my emotions, be optimistic, and resilient helped me get through this experience - like it will for almost any difficult experience.

I almost quit. I suspect I will feel like this again, especially when I am in a tough position. From a leadership perspective, it will be important for me to look back on this reflection to help me regroup and activate my social and psychological resources in order to act and save quitting for another day.