GRACE – #Oneword for 2017

I’m ready to start the new year.

In 2016, I chose essential as my one word. It proved to be the perfect choice as I reflected throughout the year about how to pare down what I spend my time on to that which I consider most important. I also successfully experimented with various ways to use less time on those things that I have to get done, but don’t consider particularly enjoyable. The idea of Essentialism is now embedded in my thinking and my actions.

Photo Credit: Deida 1 Flickr via Compfight cc

The word grace encompasses thinking that I’ve been doing for the past few months. Ideas of forgiveness, love, gratitude and growth have all been present for me. I finally decided on it after finishing Wab Kinew‘s The Reason You Walk, a heartfelt meditation on reconciliation, love and forgiveness. “To be hurt, yet forgive. To do wrong, but forgive yourself. To depart from this world feeling only love. This is the reason you walk.” (p.268)

Then, as often happens, I began to see references to grace everywhere. Arthur C. Brooks wrote recently how powerful it might be to forgive another person this very day and how that small act can make the world better. Dan Rockwell offered leadership advice on How to Respond with Grace and Resolve When Teammates Disengage. A walk in the Royal Botanical Gardens brought out the chickadees!

This year, I want to consider deeply how to find the grace to forgive and love throughout all areas of my life, not just when it’s easy.  It’s scary because I’m sure I won’t be 100% successful. That means grace is my best word for 2017.

 

Riding Around Town

img_2518I unlocked the Sobi bike, threw my work bag in the basket and set off. Last week, I used our Hamilton Bike Share network (aka Sobi) to get from school to school for some visits. It was amazing! I love riding my bike, but I didn’t imagine that it would be so fun. The combination of a beautiful day, riding around a city I love, and seeing staff hard at work for our students made for a great experience.

I have a wonderful job. It’s hard sometimes – some days I really need to go home and cocoon on the couch. But mostly it’s exciting and interesting. Oh, and did I mention that the schools I work with are in downtown Hamilton, a very bikeable city, so getting around is quite easy?

Last Wednesday was also International Walk (or Roll) to School Day and I wanted to participate. Any little way I can reduce air pollution and be active seems like a good idea.  But I had school visits. Earlier in the week, I had seen Principal Mary Finstad biking to and from and meeting, skirt, helmet and all. So, why not ride?  I am a regular user of Hamilton Bike Share, although usually on weekends. It was fun to plan to use it on a work day. I parked at the first school, got permission to leave my car there for most of the day and headed out after my first visit. No athletic clothes necessary – I was riding Amsterdam style in my work outfit. The Sobi bikes are modelled after Dutch bikes, so you’re not competing in the Tour de France, you’re just bopping around town. I stopped for a coffee then on to the next school. Visits over, I biked back to the hub near my car and then off to my office for a meeting. Pretty great.

What about you – have you ever considered walking or riding to school or work?

Two Essential Questions for Reflection

The end of a school year always prompts reflection. After collapsing exhausted on Canada Day to recover from the whirlwind of June, educators take a few deep breaths and think about their year. That reflection takes different forms. It can be mulling over how your class did as you sip a morning coffee on the balcony, or wondering what you could improve in your approach to inquiry as you walk the 17th fairway, or seeing your teaching approaches through a new lens by reading that educational title that was on your nightstand for ages.

Photo Credit: Flооd via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Flооd via Compfight cc

My reflection is focussed on two questions:

Am I getting better?

How do I know?

Steven Katz, psychologist, teacher and researcher, uses these questions as a basis to measure all improvement, whether as a whole school or as individual leaders and educators. They are simple yet powerful. Where can you look to know if you are really getting better?

This year, I focussed on two areas for my own growth and improvement as a leader. It almost goes without saying that I have many more areas to improve, but I kept in mind that we can only do a couple of things well.

First, I wanted to create a space in principal learning teams and school visits where there could be open and trusting dialogue about school improvement. I also wanted to work on my listening to understand people’s perspectives and experiences (in the interest of full disclosure, this is something I feel like I always need to improve).

These are some pretty nice goals, don’t you think? And that’s really where it stops, unless I have some way of knowing if I’m getting better. One component is my own observations. I see some progress in learning teams with principals and vice principals as they lay out what they are struggling with and hoping to learn about. I watch as some principals ask questions during school visits or push back. I try to be honest and transparent, but I’m not really sure if I’m perceived that way. But these impressions aren’t enough.

Shakil Choudhury has shared that the most important leadership quality is self awareness. We get there through brutal self-honesty and feedback from others. I’ll start by gathering feedback from those I work with through a series of questions:

What does open and trusting dialogue mean to you?

Do you feel the principal learning team time and the structure of the school visit is useful for creating that dialogue?

What can I do to improve the conditions for this dialogue to exist?

What are my strengths as a listener?

What do I need to improve as a listener?

I’ll be back with an update. Here I go!