Friday, October 18, 2013

BUILDING - What? Why?


Building Unified Instructional Leadership Direction In Northern Gateway

I have been a fortunate participant in what I believe to have been a most purposeful and intentional leadership development program within a school division.  The BUILDING program of 2009-2011 was a professional development opportunity that was envied by colleagues, including administrators, from within and outside of the Division.  Careful thought and attention to detail was evident as we were led through experiences, seminars, scenarios, and conversations that would facilitate our competency as school leaders.

What I thought I was capable of prior to taking part in BUILDING was unrealistic when I consider the vast learning that occurred in a mere eighteen months.  When we received our certificates of completion, there was confidence: in our knowledge about the Principal Quality Guidelines, in our understanding of the role of administrators, in our ability to find the background and deliver appropriate responses to tough questions, in our transformation as instructional leaders, in our Division Office personnel who had so willingly offered to continue to be a part of our professional learning network, and in our connectedness as a cohort group.

So, in an effort to answer "What?", I would point out the following, recognizing that this is not an exhaustive list:

  • leadership capacity
  • communication skills
  • interview repertoire
  • professional and personal relationships
  • humility
  • competence
  • confidence

When I consider where I was in the fall of 2009, I sometimes wonder what I was thinking applying to the BUILDING program.  If I were to share some big pieces in a limited context:

  • returned to teaching after a year's maternity leave with my second child (to a position where 8 of the 11 assigned core courses were either new in curriculum or completely new to me)
  • enrolled in a Masters of Education program (due to complete in April 2010)
  • fourth principal in five years at the school I worked at
  • the school was due to undergo a review that year

    I recognize that for some, that brief insight may seem somewhat daunting.  And for part of me, it was, especially when I considered the standards that I would be trying to reach.  However, there was another part of me that had sat as a young teacher marking Math 30 Pure Diploma exams and speaking to my teaching assignment: there are certain realities that are faced when teaching in a small rural community.  Where there are challenges, there are also opportunities.

    My mother always told me, "If you want something done, give it to a busy person, because they will find the time to make it happen."  My husband once said, "One of the things I love about you is that you are driven to be your best."  When I consider those statements in reflection, I can say that they quite probably influenced my decision.

    I daresay that it may also have been impacted by my relationships with my colleagues, a push from those close in my Masters cohort, my vast ambition to "know more" and "do more", my principal's support, my respect for those who had put forth the opportunity, and my overwhelming personal bias to bring improvement to my school (especially when I considered the future for my children).

    So when I wonder what I was thinking, I can always find the "Why?".  I can say I was being selfish.  If I was going to be the force for the educational transformation that I wanted for my school, my students and my children, then I was going to have to learn through the BUILDING program how to focus my enthusiasm to leverage change through appropriate means.  I can also say I was proud: to have that much support in pursuing a leadership opportunity must mean that I was demonstrating something that was worth applying to participate.

    "What?" and "Why" have been answered.  So the question is "Where am I now"?

    I am looking forward to an opportunity to be a part of BUILDING for a second time.  I am participating in a different role, I am viewing the experience through a different lens, and I am fortunate to be connected to different cohort.

    When I acknowledge "different role", I am excited to be a part of the behind the scenes, purposeful, intentional planning that will bring the program to fruition once again.  I am proud to be included given my new role in Learning Services, alongside the team that I have respected and admired over the years.  Again I am selfish in that I wish to grow in this program alongside its new participants so that we may pursue our vision for education, especially keeping our students and our children in mind.  I look forward to being a part of the activities this time that may not have been a part of the original BUILDING program.

    When I consider "different lens", I consider who I was before my previous BUILDING experience compared to who I was after.  Add to that my experience as a Learning Coach.  I am not the same person or the same educator I was four years ago, or even four months ago.  My first time through BUILDING taught me more about the reality of the role of administration.  Recognizing this reality in this venture, I can attend to this opportunity more critically, with a chance to build upon the foundation that was laid in my experience.  What is new to me this time through?  What am I viewing differently with this second glance?  How I will change as an educator through this program, in this current context of education?

    When I examine "different cohort", I am aware that I have been smiled upon with good fortune.  I have had an opportunity to be a part of various cohort groups along my educational journey, and I know how powerful they can be.  I look forward to being able to learn from this amazing and unique group of colleagues in this seemingly intimate manner.  I would regard myself as a benefactor of the growth that they will both undergo and inspire.

    So to report on "Where am I know?", I would remark that I am attempting to convey my enthusiasm and gratitude for this formidable professional development experience once again.

    Thursday, October 17, 2013

    Professor Ferguson: An Affectionate Moniker

    My educator background begins in the context of a small, rural, K-12 school where I had the opportunity to teach secondary math and science.

    What impact did this have on me as a teacher?

    I had the opportunity to get to know my students and vice versa.  I had the pleasure of seeing my students often, for multiple periods in a day.  Imagine teaching high school students with the same interaction time that is found in an elementary classroom.  The relationships that were forged were strong: I knew my students, and they knew me.  We knew how to push each others buttons and how to motivate each other; when to explore an off-topic idea and when to stay focused on the task at hand; how to work as individuals to accomplish our goals and how to work together to move our learning along; when to find the fun in the day's lesson and when to persevere through the struggle to increase our understanding.

    I do not use the term "we" lightly.  I consider myself a learner alongside my students.  It was our classroom, and they affected me as much as I may have influenced them.

    There is a comfort in connected, in knowing each other.  The conversations in my classroom were different in some ways than the ones that I recall, having graduated as a big city high school student.  However, they were the same when I consider those memorable teachers who highlight my late teen years.  Relaxed was how I felt in my classroom:  I was confident that my students knew that I was working hard to support them in achieving their goals.

    Comfortable and relaxed are probably not terms that anyone wants to hear when describing the relationship between teacher and students.  However, they are the terms that I am attached to when I reflect on my classroom experience.  Please do not mistake an association with questionable or unprofessional.  That is where the fine line is drawn: while I may consider myself a learner alongside them, I also have an awesome responsibility as their teacher to conduct myself in such a way that would be considered acceptable by the standards of the ATA, my administration, and my students themselves.

    Yes, students have expectations of teacher conduct.

    I was fortunate in my previous experience.  I taught supportive and empathetic students who could be engaging and entertaining with their sarcasm and wit.  My students were with me through two pregnancies, a Masters degree, and many other life events.  So much of who I am as a person is who I am as a teacher, and the reverse is also true.  When they asked how I was feeling, I would respond honestly.  When they asked what I was happening in my coursework, I felt compelled to share.

    Honestly, I think that my students may have known more about what was going on in my life than my colleagues.  Why?  Perhaps it was the circumstance of small school multiple subject teaching.  Perhaps it was because I spent more time with these young adults than I did with my staff, between teaching and extracurricular involvement.  Perhaps it was simply because they asked.  When I reflect on how it made me feel to be considered in this light in their lives, it fortified my commitment to connect with and get to know my students.  I also vowed to ensure that I viewed myself through their eyes as part of my reflective process.

    It is through their eyes that "Professor Ferguson" was born.

    It was shortly after I had completed M.Ed.  "Mrs. Ferguson, now that you are done this degree, what can we call you?"

    There was a conversation that took place around the fact that this extra learning, this piece of paper, had done nothing to change my identity.  I was still me, focused on students and improving each day.  They brought up how former principals insisted on being called "Dr." because of their degrees.  We discussed how that was a particular achievement should be celebrated with this sign of respect.  I related it to wanting to be called Mrs., not Ms. or Miss: a loving marriage is work to stay connected to each other and I wear Mrs. as a badge of honour... (I may have cracked a joke about dealing with my husband on a daily basis, to which they laughed as they knew him as the football coach).

    "Mrs. Ferguson, you should have a special title too..."

    The next moments were filled with my face in a blush and my eyes filled with tears as my students shared their thoughts about me.  What they described was overwhelming, and given our relationship, I could feel the sincerity in their words.  I will forever treasure this day.

    "Professor Ferguson" is a nickname that was given to me by a group of teenage classmates who somehow felt that I had done something deserving, or distinguished, or distinct...or some other adjective that they used that day.

    Know that I would never be so boastful as to consider myself any of those things, nor would I be so modest to believe that I do not have certain strengths that in combination may make me unique.  I do take pride in the work that I do, in my contributions to education, and in my relationships with my students.  However, on those days when I doubt my abilities, when my stamina may be failing, or when there is a need to persevere, a simple thing can incite a smile and recharge my spirit.  I can look at the e-mail address we created as a class, and now I can view the URL for this blog, in order to momentarily and instantaneously experience how those students made me feel that day.

    May I live up to the expectations inherent in the image of "Professor Ferguson", and may you be so blessed in your career to have students make you feel as mine did with this affectionate moniker.