Why Leaving School is Hard

I have been connected to the heart of education for the past 15 years. Where’s that?  In a school.

School is where the learning action is. School is where the lead learner in the building can have the most influence of anyone in the district. I enjoyed that privilege every day. I talked students anytime, explored their work and asked questions to find out what they were dreaming about.  I built meaningful relationships to help them become more engaged in their learning. They often made me laugh out loud!384_150507_040

In a school, I walked down the hall and chatted with any number of teachers, educational assistants, caretaking or support staff and parents or guardians. I sat in on staffroom and learning team discussions to find out what people were thinking and what they are wrestling with.

Every day, I saw my purpose. I just had to look at the students and staff and it was clear.

This September, I’m going to be a system district principal where I work from a central  office. That’s the  place that school staff often thinks is out of touch with the day to day reality of education. It’s a place where it’s easy to get caught up in what classrooms “should” look like and what teachers “should” be doing precisely because you’re not in a school. You have to work doubly hard to make sure you understand what happens there. I see my purpose clearly in this position  too. It’s an exciting opportunity to work with other principals and instructional staff and it’s linked to the strategic directions of the school board which are student and staff centred. But it’s just that little bit removed from the action in schools. ivory-tower-tg-version

Greg Miller, a principal in Alberta who blogs and tweets regularly, wrote a blog post called “Moving to Central Office and Staying Student Centred” which you can find here. He’s changing jobs too, and I enjoyed his post at exactly the time I was having the same thoughts. He gives some great suggestions.

Of course, I’ll be out in schools next year. I’ll still ask questions and really listen to teachers and support staff. I’ll be working closely with my principal colleagues and superintendents so we can learn together. It’s important work, and I believe in it. I plan to use many of Greg’s ideas in addition to some of my own, including remaining open to truly hearing what people in schools are telling me.

But I’m really going to miss being in a school.

Will the Real Impostor Please Stand Up?

Do you ever hear a little voice in your head that says, “I have no idea how I got to be where I am, but I just hope that nobody finds me out!”?

I’ve just finished a close read of Intentional Interruption by Steven Katz and Lisa Ain Dack. I highly recommend this excellent book on professional learning through collaborative inquiry. Each chapter is full of provocative statements and wisdom about what true learning is and how humans behave when faced with new ideas. I am particularly interested in the mental barriers we all bring to learning (Chapter 5: The Barriers: How Our Minds Get in the Way).


One of these is that we don’t want people to see our vulnerabilities.  We present the strongest and best version of ourselves. Most of us try very hard to avoid anyone seeing us as weak in any areas. Along with this fear of others’ seeing our weaknesses, we can experience what Katz and Ain Dack call “the imposter syndrome” (p. 46), that same little voice I asked about the beginning of this post.

I’ll admit it, I’ve heard the voice. It comes when colleagues discuss concepts or ideas that I don’t really understand. It shows up when my boss asks me a question, and I don’t know how to answer. I can hear it when a parent or guardian questions one of my decisions, and I fumble for my reasoning. Its power comes from our belief that we are the only ones who hear it. Because it silences us, it can really get in the way of participation and engagement in new ideas and thus new learning.

The reality is, of course, that everyone hears this little voice.  We all feel vulnerable at one time or another and think someone is going to figure out that we don’t really know what we are doing. As leaders, we can use the knowledge of this common experience to increase trust and improve relationships in our schools.

Principals create the culture of the school and of professional learning and collaboration. We can help others overcome the mental barrier of hiding their vulnerabilities by showing our own. When we learn with staff and students, we can admit we don’t know something. We can ask questions when someone uses a word or a term that we don’t understand. And, as Katz and Ain Dack suggest, we can explicitly tell someone that during the learning process they will feel like an impostor, but when it happens, there are ways to respond to that emotion.

This year, I plan to bring the impostor syndrome into the light.  Can you think of ways you can do the same in your work?

All About the Love: My Liebster Awards

Aviva Dunsiger very kindly nominated me for a Liebster Blog Award a few days ago. (Her post is here.) I was flattered and humbled, since I’m fairly new to blogging, and Aviva has been on the blogging scene for quite some time. Being such a newbie, I’d never even heard of the Liebster Award, so I did a little digging.  I found this post to tell you more about it:  Sopphey Says.  It’s really a sort of blogging chain letter. I love the concept, so I’m in.

Liebster Blog Award Here are the rules for the award:

1. Link back to the blog that nominated you.

2. Nominate 3-5 blogs with less than 3 000 followers.

3. Answer the questions posted for you by the nominator.

4. Share 11 random facts about you.

5. Create 11 questions for your nominees.

6. Contact your nominees to inform them of their nomination.

 My Answers to Aviva’s Questions:

1. What do you love about education that you hope will remain a part of it for many years to come? Why?  I am passionate about public education. It’s one of the most important services a democratic society provides for its citizens. At its best, it ensures that all children have equal opportunities to grow, to learn and to work together with all kinds of people. 

2. What are your future educational goals? I’m looking forward to having an influence in a larger sphere in education. 

3. How do you bring about change in your school and/or in your Board? The best way to bring about change is through sustained, ongoing effort within the strong relationships I have built over time. Good relationships are built on trust.  In addition, an understanding of change theory is essential so when you hit bumps on the road or just plain roadblocks, you are prepared and know what to do next.

4. What changes would you like to see in education? Why? A de-emphasis on the use of external standardized testing within districts is a necessary change. We need accountability, and we need to know how well students are learning, but the use of the pencil and paper standardized, multiple choice test needs to change. 

5. What are your professional development goals for this year? So, I want to learn to use Prezis effectively, I want to inject creativity into my interactions and presentations, and I want to learn more about how to create the best conditions for learning.  

6. What word would you use to best describe you as an educator? Why?  Honest. I try to make my thinking and learning visible to others. I don’t shy away from feedback, either giving or getting. I share my opinions openly.

7. What word would your colleagues use to best describe you as an educator? Why? Global thinker. I have an ability to see the big picture in different situations, synthesize new information and adjust my viewpoint. 

8. What’s your favourite educational quote? There are far too many truly outstanding quotes to narrow it down to one. I like to highlight a different quote every week for staff. In the past, I have posted it on the Monday Message and on my office door. Here’s one I like a lot: “If teaching were easy, we wouldn’t need teachers.”  by Todd Whitaker.

9. What’s your favourite technology tool to use in the classroom? Why? It’s so important that we make technology work for us to create conditions for 21st century thinking and learning. It’s not about the latest shiny gadget, and it’s not even about 1:1. We need to teach creativity, collaboration, inquiry and critical thinking. I’m not in the classroom, but now I work with leaders who are trying to create those conditions. If leaders can use and model tools as they work on this, it may help move teachers who are fearful, anxious, or reluctant. Social media is one way: Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram or blogs. Our district has a fantastic blogging platform created by Jared Bennett and Aaron Puley called the HWDSB Commons.

10. Would you suggest that other educators start to blog? Why? Blogging is a great reflective tool. It brings order to all the thoughts flying around in your head after long days and nights at school. It provides an archive for you to track your ideas and growth as an educator. Even if you just do it once a month, it will add value to your life. Try it!

11. How do you remain positive in education? I remove myself from negative people. I empathize but offer alternative viewpoints if I hear negative conversations. I focus on what we’re here for. If a child can’t make you laugh aloud every day, there’s something wrong.

Eleven Facts About Myself:

1. I am privileged to have a job I love and find deeply satisfying. I look forward to work every day. Where else do you have such an opportunity to make a difference to someone?

2. I train for and complete a few triathlons every year.  I love swimming, cycling and running. It gets me outside in all kinds of weather. Plus,  when you set a goal and complete it in a race, it feels great.

3. I’m an avid reader with wide ranging tastes. Reading is both professional and personal for me. You can see my reading shelf at Shelfari.

4. My favourite colour is purple.

5. I love the woods. Next time you feel stressed out, go for a trail walk (or run!) amongst trees.

6. I started my career in French Immersion schools after a year in Paris, France as an au pair and degrees in French.

7. Fashion is fun! There’s no such thing as too many pairs of shoes. (Well, maybe there is.)

8. I’m not funny, but I love to laugh.

9. I love to travel. Whether it’s choosing a destination, anticipating the departure, experiencing what’s new or well- known or sampling great food and drink, it’s part of my privilege to see the world.

10. I’m a perfectionist. ‘Nuff said.

11. I use stories to understand the world, whether through novels, TV shows, movies, or listening to others talk about their lives. We have a common story (Joseph Campbell, anyone?) that can bring us all together.

My Nominees:

Choosing nominations was difficult, especially since Aviva highlighted some that I would recommend as well. (See the Blogs I Follow page) I decided to focus on people in formal leadership roles. Here are my nominations:

John Robinson  –  The 21st Century Principal

Shelley Burgess – Reflections of an educational learner and leader

Chris Kennedy – Culture of Yes

 Eleven Questions for my Nominees:

1. Why do you blog?

2. Why education?

3. What is the most important thing you learned this year?

4. What is the best piece of feedback you have ever received?

5. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

6. What advice would you give to someone just starting out as a teacher or a principal?

7. What web application do you use every day and why?

8. What’s the best thing a student ever said to you?

9. What’s your favourite part of your job?

10. Whose blog do you always look forward to reading and why?

11. How do you maintain the discipline to blog regularly?


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