Canadian Experience?

Canada officially welcomes newcomers. At Canadian immigration offices around the world, we tell people their gifts, talents, training will be valued and respected when they arrive on our shores. Every week, our school registers newcomer families.

School councils in Ontario have an essential role in advising school staff and bringing parent, student, family and community voice to the forefront. Our school council is made up of parents who care deeply about the education of their children. They came to Canada for their children, but also in hope that they can contribute to our shared society. We have the benefit of the thinking and experience of a physician, a car mechanic, an engineer, a chemist, and a secondary school teacher. Among us we speak over eight languages. Our parents bring an advanced world view informed by thousands of years of culture from their countries of origin. I feel privileged to be part of their conversation and to learn together.

Yet, how many of these talented people are working in their field? One. Even though they were all welcomed to Canada, they can’t be certified or find work. Why? Because they don’t have “Canadian experience”. And you can’t get Canadian experience without certification.

This sad situation is a reality for so many of our parents and families. What a waste of human potential. We all need to examine our assumptions about the contributions of all Canadians. How can we widen our view and make sure everyone is able to contribute to the Canadian experience?

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Feedback. Priceless.

Becoming self aware as a person and as a leader is a journey.  Two essential ingredients are reflection and feedback. We cannot truly gauge our success as leaders without asking the people we serve how we’re doing.  Seeking feedback helps us check the assumptions we make about ourselves and our impact.

Last June, I asked our staff to complete a voluntary anonymous survey about my leadership as a school principal.  After reading Leading with Trust by Susan Stephenson,  I realized it was time for me take closer look at my leadership practices and especially my trust factor with staff.  This was a little scary, since I knew that not all feedback would be positive, but I also knew it was the best way for me to grow as a leader.  My Leadership Survey  was based on her example and included some rating questions and two open response questions. Stephenson cautions that sometimes the results can be hard to take.  The purpose was to get better picture of myself as a leader, so I needed the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I was pleased that 54% of staff completed a survey, more than enough to form a good sampling of opinion. The results?  Super interesting!  There were many positives where people recognized my strengths as an organized, committed and passionate instructional leader. Some offered really thoughtful insights on how I could do better. There was a strongly worded criticism, but in the end, it served to make me examine my behaviour more deeply. My biggest challenge was very clear: I need to become more approachable with all staff so they feel they can openly and easily share thoughts and feelings with me.  Reflecting on these results was humbling but incredibly powerful.

My next actions include sharing the results with staff and investigating how to build better trust. I want to become a better leader.  I want to be more effective.  I’ve taken the first step and more steps will follow. I challenge everyone to ask for feedback. Its effect is priceless.

Ripples

On Friday, I wore a kameez to school.

(This is the top part of a suit that women and men from central Asia wear. You can find out more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shalwar_kameez )

It was a gift from a family at a previous school. Mine is very pretty – black silk with gold and white embroidered medallions and trim. I had worn it gratefiully once, but then it disappeared into the back of my closet until I suddenly remembered it. I consulted with one of our staff members about the best way to wear it, and she enthusiastically agreed that I could wear it with jeans and flats or heels.

As soon as I walked into the school, I was overwhelmed by the reactions. Staff complimented me on it. An occasional teacher was delighted and told me I was wearing “her clothes” now. Parents noticed right away and commented how much they liked it.

Best of all were the students. As they passed me in the hallway or saw me outside, many did a double take and said, “Hey! You’re wearing what my mom wears!” or “I like your kameez!”  I could tell from their reaction they couldn’t believe their principal would wear one. Some grade 8 girls gave me tips on how to wear it next time.

I thought about those reactions later that evening. Who would think such a simple thing would be noticed, commented on and resonate with people?  Our impact as principals is profound, and so often, we don’t even realize it.