I am not a teacher

A few days ago it hit me like a 100 watt lightbulb going on.  I am not a teacher.  

Since the age of about 6 this is all I have ever seen myself being.  OK, maybe there were those few months in the late 80s that I thought I could be a lawyer.  But I didn’t.  I became a teacher.  I became a damn good teacher.

I started rough like most of us, fumbling my way through the first couple of years, learning about the difference between teacher education and really teaching.  I made mistakes, I learned, I developed, I grew. I started to mentor.

I moved to a new country and felt like I was starting learning all over again.  Everything was new, but I was a good teacher so I kept on growing, and learning, and trying new things and stopping old things and getting better. I blended what I knew and did before with this new knowledge and experience. I still made mistakes and worked from there.  I mentored some more.  I took a Master’s degree in administration.

I moved back to Canada and became a VP.  I still had a classroom, still made mistakes in both jobs, but I kept on learning about a new province, new students and their needs, new communities, new curriculum, new strategies, new best practices.  I felt like the strongest teacher I’d ever been.  I felt inspired by the leadership role that I’d added to being a teacher.

I became a principal.  I still took opportunities to get in classrooms and teach “guest units”, do projects, model, demonstrate, do my thing.  Show that I was good at my thing.  At the same time I was adapting to the role of principal, figuring out (like a new teacher) the difference between administrator education and the real job.  There were great, invigorating challenges and heartbreaks.  There were uplifting successes and frustrations.  There was still a lot of growth and still a good deal of failure.  I could see where I needed to develop skills as a leader.  I could see areas where my teachers could learn, grow and develop and I continued to learn as much as I could.

But last week it hit me.  I am not a teacher anymore.  I am a principal.  One of the roles of a principal is to be an instructional leader, and I thought for a long time that meant continuing to be a master teacher.  But it doesn’t.  It means helping others to be their best, not being the best.  Light goes on.

It’s just like a great hockey player who becomes a coach.  That player could be the best on the ice, but once they move into the coaching role, it’s not their job to be the best player on the ice anymore. Any great coach is obviously still invested in the success of the team and their players’ growth. They will get to know their players, study strategy and new techniques not only in their sport but in leadership, and coaching.  They will work hard to bring out the best in others.

So am I no less committed to learning all that I can about research into how kids learn as I was when I was a teacher.  But now I get to dig more into how adults learn, how change occurs, how to bring out the best in staff and students.  But I don’t need to KNOW it all or DO it all in a classroom.  I will support, motivate, encourage, point in the right direction, connect, provide perspective, ask questions, listen, resource, advocate, facilitate and participate.  I will ask those I work with for feedback and and listen to them so that I can keep on learning and growing.

I am not the best teacher.  But I will continue learning to be the best principal I can be.

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Reflections on “Spirals of Inquiry”

My first professional summer read is “Spirals of Inquiry: for Equity and Quality” by Linda Kaser and Judy Halbert.  Published by the BCPVPA, this book has been distributed widely in Surrey schools and I am hoping to take the framework and concepts presented into my work starting in a new school this fall.  

My first reflections are on the first four chapters of the book.  These sections provide a foundation for practices that have been proven through experience and research to have a positive effect on student learning, including engagement,motivation, achievement and success.

One of the basic tenets of the book is that teaching and learning must weave three “ways”:

1.   Wise ways, based on Canadian Aboriginal worldview and learning principles

2.   Strong ways, based on research including John Hattie’s Visible Learning meta-analysis, formative assessment and feedback, reciprocal teaching and social-emotional learning

3.   New ways, which includes innovative practices, structures and settings that account for local context, student needs, resources and challenges.

This approach resonates with me.  There are many practices and approaches that educators have seen come and go with the swing of the pendulum.  Each individual teacher chooses those that make sense to them for their own personal reasons.  And just as many are ignored or quickly discarded as fads.  By acknowledging the value of practices from the past, present and future, we can take the best of each to develop a learning environment that mets the unique needs of each student and community. 

The authors of the book are very forthright in their belief that knowledge of effective or innovative practices is not enough – and that action is a professional responsibility of all educators.  As a teacher I was usually open and eager to integrate new and effective practices into my teaching, but as a principal I do not always know where, when or how to start those conversations with teachers who seem reluctant to adapt their classroom practices to better meet student needs.  In reading this book I felt a new moral imperative to make learning for both students, staff and myself an intentional priority.

So where will we start?  I am working on that.  A few thoughts so far are:

– staff meetings that focus on learning rather than organizational details

– an “inquiry team” of interested parties that will take on our first attempt at the spiral process ( more on that to come)

– talking about our big questions and encouraging curiosity about what is going on for our students, why that might be, and developing hunches about what might make a difference.