System Leaders with School Responsibilities


web“We need system leaders with school responsibilities.”

This culture building quote comes from Dr. John Malloy, Director of Education for Hamilton-Wentworth. He said it during a meeting with superintendents, principals and vice principals. It resonates strongly with me, because I see it as a shift in thinking for so many school leaders.

Big picture thinking has always intrigued me. As a teacher, I always wanted to know the how and why of pedagogy and decisions that affected my classroom and the school. I also spent some time in union leadership, and the provincial machinations and interplay as well as their effect on schools and individual teachers fascinated me. I didn’t always appreciate or agree with some school and system decisions and went through times where I could feel disillusioned with “the system”. In my various roles as school leader, I came to a deeper understanding of where and how decisions are made within large organizations like school districts.

My interest in why led me to Simon Sinek‘s work. He talks about how leaders inspire action in his book and TEDx talk, which you can find here.  He talks compellingly about how individuals, companies and organizations need to start with “why?”

Why do we exist? What is our purpose?

Every formal and informal leader in our system must understand our larger purpose and the why. We all need something to believe in so we can come together with that shared purpose but without the narrow focus on our own backyard. That translates into system leaders with school responsibilities. When we know the why, we can explain it and inspire others. Every leader must be willing to engage in measured, thoughtful dialogue with educators, parents, school support staff and students about their beliefs and our purpose.

Of course, school leaders have work to do in schools, but it should never be an us vs. them mentality within a district. It’s easy to focus on why your school doesn’t have the latest in gym flooring and others do. Understanding system decisions helps. Yes, the endless email takes way too much time. Marking essays and writing report cards can be a grind. I, too, can get caught up in the operational side of my work, but that will never inspire me.

Have you thought about deeply about why you come to work every day? Do you know your why? Mine is a strong belief in public education within our human society. I also believe in the power of people to make a difference in each other’s lives, both individually and together. I am privileged to be in a position to influence, in some small way, children and youth’s lives.

Let’s continue the conversation in the comments – what do you believe? Are you a system leader with school responsibilities?

Looking Back – Planning Forward


Our school year is drawing to a close. It’s a frantic time as all educators finish up year end tasks and plan for important occasions like graduation and even closing ceremonies. And yet…

Time goes byJune is the perfect time for reflection.  July can be too late; we’ve already checked out and started vacation. In August, the previous year can seem like a long time ago as we prepare for a new start.

I know all educators ask themselves if they accomplished their professional and personal goals with students and staff. Usually the answer is no, because we educators tend to set the bar high and focus on setbacks or even failures. We all need to take the time and remember all the wonderful and positive things we accomplished this year. What difference did you make to students, to colleagues, to parents, or to your boss? And let yourself feel good about it!

I am finishing my first year as a school superintendent. It’s been challenging, and I’ve learned more about myself as a formal leader and what’s necessary to be the kind of leader that can open up the conversation.  I’ve been reflecting about my own processes and organization for next year. More thoughts on that will come in a future blog post. I’ve also been thinking about great educators I’ve worked with or who taught me. For instance, my grade 8 teacher was genuine and honest. She really believed in me.  Colleagues in teaching showed me how to meet individual student needs, even when it was hard. Others showed me the power of an idea. Former principals encouraged me and let me stretch my wings, maybe in ways they weren’t always comfortable with. Superintendents said yes instead of no. And now I have supervisors who believe in me and allow me to make my own way.

I want to take these lessons and convert them into ongoing action as a superintendent of schools. I want to always be authentic with all the people I come in contact with. I want to believe in others’ ideas and support them as they learn. I want to say yes more than no.

What about you? Who do you remember from your schooling and your career? How can you synthesize the lessons you learned from them with your June reflections?

YouTube – Underappreciated by Educators?


Last year, I listened to Alec Couros at Connect 2013 in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Alec is a well-known University of Regina professor who is at the forefront of connected learning. He spoke about “Disrupting Learning” and how our connectedness to everything should be changing schooling.

He talked a lot about YouTube.  Now, I’m pretty sure everyone reading this post has used YouTube, if only for the crazy cat videos. Alec’s point was that we don’t leverage YouTube to transform learning. We don’t explore all the possibilities. In the time since the conference, I haven’t seen many educators using YouTube consistently for learning (as opposed to showing a video to keep kids compliant). I’ve thought of a few basic examples, but I would love to know more.

Photo Credit: redsoul300 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: redsoul300 via Compfight cc

Teachers could find a provocation for their latest inquiry about Canadian/American relations and the War of 1812 Why not go visit Rick Mercer at YouTube?

Do you want an inspiring video about life? Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement address fits the bill – from YouTube.

Maybe you and your colleagues need a good laugh or a wake up call. Bad Substitute Teacher can help.

Best of all, you can make your own videos! For example, our district has a channel:  HWDSBtv. All kinds of video is posted there. You can easily create your own channel and then upload videos. Not sure how? I bet some of your students or staff would be more than happy to help. Videos don’t have to be anything fancy – you can record a message for your staff, students or community on your webcam and upload it with the push of a button on your own channel.  I’d love to see some examples of this to share with colleagues.

What do you think? Is YouTube a disruptor or a distraction?