Thanks Moms!

I have always been surrounded by strong women in my life. My grandmothers, my mom, my mother in law, sisters in law, and some AMAZINGLY fierce, determined and resilient friends.

As a child I spent a great deal of time with my grandma Rodgers and grandma LeCourtois. These were two woman with completely opposite personalities. My grandma Rodgers was nurturing, gentle, patient and selfless. We could do no wrong in her eyes and we respected and loved her so much we never ever even thought of misbehaving. On the occasion that my brother and I got a little too rowdy she would say “here, here!” and we would immediately get back in line. We spent countless hours at my grandpa and grandma Rodgers house. All of our Christmas, Easters, Mother’s Days, Fathers Days and even some of our summer holidays. My grandma would color with us for hours, play games, bake and cook, read, tell us stories and just be with us! My mom was an only child so my brother and I felt very special and cherished. We admired and respected our grandma and even into our teen years we would walk over and spend our lunch hours with her. She was always a soft place to land and you knew she would be there to listen and to never judge! My boys were fortunate as they also got to know and love my grandma well into their childhood. Gigi was as special to them as she was to my brother and I. My grandma Rodgers taught me to be kind, generous, and love unconditionally.

My grandma LeCourtois was fierce and a little bit scary at times. She was a very tiny woman but was strong and mighty. When we were young we knew that if we crossed a line that we might get a little knuckle on the head and a stern reprimand. Later in my life after my grandpa died my grandma moved down the street from our house. I always felt sad and worried that my grandma might be lonely so I would walk or ride my bike down to her house to see how she was doing. There would always be a National Enquirer on the TV tray, mints in the candy dish and a game of cribbage or Yahtzee. My grandma LeCourtois knew how to have fun. We spent all of our summers with her and my grandpa at the trailer where we camped for the summer. My grandma maintained her trailer until she was in her 90s and too tired to trek the 1 hour drive to get there. My grandma LeCourtois had lots and lots of friends. She went to the lodge, to the Legion, to play cards, to play the piano, or out for drinks. She had an active social life well into her late 90s. My boys loved my grandma LeCourtois and were amazed at how active and with it she was until she passed away at 103! My grandma LeCourtois taught me to be an independent woman, to surround yourself with great friends, to have fun and to live your life to the fullest!

I was such a lucky kid! My mom stayed home with my brother and I until I was in grade 8 and my brother was in grade 6. We would go home every day for lunch, turn on the Flinstones and have an amazing meal. Sometimes it was our supper time if my dad was working afternoons. My mom would cook a full meal and we would sit as a family at the table and eat together, say goodbye to my dad and then head back to school. My mom baked, sewed, and took amazing care of our home and her family. She never complained and seemed to get great joy out of being our mom. She was a lot like her mom but with a touch more worry and a little less patience! My brother fell victim to the wooden spoon a lot more than I did but one sharp bang on the counter and I would get back in line. My mom did go back to nursing when my brother and I were older and worked her way up in her career until she was a Director of Nursing in several homes for the county. She had a lot of responsibility and stress in her job and she modeled for me how to be a successful working mom, always putting my brother and I before anything else. I know now what a sacrifice that must have been.

Later in life along came my mother in law. My mother in law was not like my mom at all. She was one of the most selfless and charitable people I had ever met. She would literally give you the shirt off her back if you needed it. My husband is the oldest of 4 and has 3 younger sisters. All of whom tested their mother’s patience throughout their adolescence. Despite doing so much for so many and trying to make a difference in the community my mother in law always put her family first and I mean her whole family! Her siblings, their spouses and their children. My mother in law certainly played the part of the responsible caretaker and has never turned her back on anyone in need. She taught me what it was like to be resilient, grateful, charitable and hardworking! She did not have an easy childhood but despite its challenges she was grateful for her family. Through all of the hardships she relied on her siblings and mother and never ever forgot where she came from and how lucky she was to have the love of a family.

I feel so fortunate to have been raised by these strong women. I know that all of them have contributed to who I am as a person and more importantly as a mother. I hope that my boys can find little bits of all of these women in me and that they can carry these parts forward into their lives and perhaps parenthood one day.

Thank you to all of the women in my life who have made me a better person, wife and mother! I love you all!

What drives your leadership?

I finally finished the book This is Day One by Drew Dudley. It took me quite a while because I wanted to work through the exercises that he provided in the book and really focus in on my values and develop my “action guiding questions.” This was a very difficult and reflective practice for me. As part of this process Drew asks that you list 30 Edge of the Bed Advice statements, reflect on 2 situations in your life when you were at your best and 2 when you were at your worst, identify the values within all of these and tally them to determine your core values.

Reflecting on the best and worst situations was the most difficult for me. It is hard to objectively look at your behaviour in these moments. I also tend to let things go so the details of some of the memories were vague. It took me several weeks to sift through some of the things in my life and identify what I felt were the best and the worst moments.

At the end of these exercises I was able to identify these as my top 5 values:

Balance
Empathy
Self-Awareness
Vulnerability
Growth

This process uses the values you have identified to write your “Action guiding Questions”. Drew thankfully provides some samples and I decided to choose from them as I did feel they captured the essence of what I was thinking.

Balance: How did I take time for something important to me today?
Growth: What did I do today to build the capacity of others?
Self-Awareness: How did I challenge something I believed in today?
Vulnerability: When was I honest about a personal shortcoming today?
Empathy: How did I strive to better understand someone today?

In the book Drew suggests that we set a reminder to intentionally take some time to review these questions each day. I have done that and will use them to reflect at the end of the day. I am also going to use them at the beginning of the day to set an intention.

Through this process I have wondered if I would have been able to do this 2 years ago. I do not think that I had the headspace, energy or time to think as clearly as I do now. Part of my journey over the last 2 years has been very personal. I have learned things about myself and my leadership that I could not take on previously. I felt like I was on automatic pilot just trying to survive. I have learned that I am a better version of myself if I have the time to reflect and to really use that reflection to change my behaviour. This deeply impacts both my personal and professional life.

The last 2 years have been a time of reflection, healing and growth for me. They have allowed me to be a healthier and more balanced person. I am very excited to continue to grow and the learn over the next few years working internationally as well as through my doctoral work. I know I still have so much more to do and learn.

If you have not read This is Day One I highly recommend it and that through reading it that you take some time to deeply reflect and identify your core values and how they impact your purpose as a leader. I know that personally I have found this process to be transformational. I feel that I have identified those values that I hold true at this point in my life and my leadership. I believe that they allow me to be the most authentic version of myself.

What would you identify as your values?
How would you use these to create your action guiding questions?

Passengers on the Journey

Living and working internationally is a bit like an extended holiday. You go to one place unpack for a while, book some tours, explore and reach out to others who are there with you.

Sometimes you find yourself meeting new people who are very different from you or those whom with you have a lot in common. You chat with them at the pool, on a tour or may even sit with them at dinner. Before you know it you are spending time together and enjoying their company. At the end of the holiday you exchange emails, add them to your Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and you have expanded your network. You may never cross paths with them again or you may stay acquaintances or become long distance friends.

This is similar to what it is like to work and live abroad. You arrive at a school, settle in and begin to establish relationships with those around you. Some relationships are more formal and some individuals become very close and personal friends.

When you work internationally you are fortunate to be surrounded by individuals that often share the same beliefs, values, experiences and more importantly sense of adventure. For me these individuals have become my family in China. They look out for me, support me, care for me, encourage me and accept me.

At the end of this year many of them will be leaving CISB and going in different directions: Southern China, Korea, Poland, Abu Dhabi, and Canada. Some will meet up with old friends and become colleagues again and some are going into new and unfamiliar environments without a support system.

What I know about these individuals is that they are brave, adventurous, open minded and want the most that life has to offer. They are globally minded and passionate educators that model their love of life long learning. They immerse themselves in the culture, language and experiences of their host country. They are resilient, curious and make an impact on children all around the world.

I admire these individuals for choosing their own path and living a life with purpose without regret. Thank you for being passengers on my journey and for positively impacting my life. I will miss you all!

Brene Brown meets Drew Dudley

This weekend I watched the Brene Brown’s Netflix special A Call to Courage TWICE! I found it inspirational and very much aligned with what I try and live as a leader. So many things from the special resonated with me!

“Be brave with your life. Choose courage over comfort”

“Have the courage to show up when you do not know the outcome.”

This for me sums up my decision to move to China and to start over as an international educator. I had no idea what I was getting into I just knew that I could not stay where I was. At the time many of my friends and family said I was brave but I did not think so. I thought I was taking control of my life, getting our of a bad situation and choosing to grow as a leader in a different context. Looking back I do see the courage it took to step outside of my comfort zone and to risk losing my family and my career.

“Brave leaders are NEVER silent about hard things.”.

Leaders need to have the courage to have hard conversations even if it means they do not come out unscathed. Courageous conversations are always difficult as a leader. You never want to hurt a person’s feelings or make them feel bad about themselves but if you are not willing to stand up for what you believe, push people out of their comfort zones or confront what is not right then you are not doing your job. Giving people praise, positive feedback and accolades is the easy part of the job. Setting the bar high and holding them accountable is the challenge.

Leaders need to show vulnerability with their followers if they want innovation, change, risk taking and growth. Cultures or organizations with leaders that have a zero tolerance for mistakes, demand perfectionism and reward employees that put on their suit or armor will not grow or succeed. Vulnerability is what allows people to have the courage to take risks and to propel the organization forward.

It has taken me a long time as a leader not to be hurt by the comments, behaviour or feedback from others because of the position of leadership not who I am as a person. In her special Brene makes a powerful statement “If you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.” She talks about stepping over feedback from those who refuse to show their vulnerability and focusing on those individuals that are right there with you and call you on your shit and make sure you are staying true to your values and beliefs. I am getting better at this. If I want true and honest feedback I will ask a few very close friends who I know will give it to me and hold me accountable. These are my people, my tribe and the rest of what others say is just noise and I refuse to let if define me as a person or a leader.

How does all this connect to Drew Dudley and his book “This is Day One: A Practical Guide to Leadership that Matters?” I have been doing several of the exercises that Drew has in his book. I decided this weekend to tackle the following questions: “What three values does this individual (Meaning me) stand for above all others? What three values would you say play the biggest role in influencing their decisions and determining their behaviour?”

Drew provides a sample list of many values and then asks “Imagine if you had to explain your three identified values, simply and thoroughly. Write down the definitions you would create and start with a commitment too….

I started with the following values: Transparency, relationships, collaboration, vulnerability, trust, empowerment and growth. I left them for a bit and rolled them around in my head trying to narrow them down to three. Then I watched the Brene Brown special, ruminated on her words and identified my three.

A commitment to relationships based on honesty, trust, respect, transparency, kindness and love.

A commitment to growth by empowering, enhancing and improving my life and the lives of others.

A commitment to the vulnerability to embrace and model uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure in both my leadership and personal life.

These are the the three I am going to live with for now.

What would you choose and why?

Do the values you have chosen help you to speak your truth?

What would others say?

#EdcampBeijing

Yesterday was such an AMAZING experience for the organizing committee and the participants. #EdCamp Beijing went EXACTLY as we had intended!

I was the only person on the entire organizing committee that had ever attended or organized such an event. I was so pleased that the team had such open minds and were excited about looking at new and participant centered ways to engage our teachers. There were some different factors that we had to consider in organizing our EdCamp:

1. How do we manage the large number of schools that might want to attend?

2. How do we support and accommodate the large number of Chinese teachers who will be in attendance?

3. How do we support the participants in shifting their expectations about what PD can look like when it is directed by the participants?

These questions guided our planning and preparation for the day. We decided to be careful how we marketed this opportunity for participants and who we marketed it to. We decided to stay within our network of English and Chinese schools many of which are IB schools. We did also invite some of our non IB international schools hoping that they would also see this as such a great opportunity! We sent out a registration form to our networks and ended up with 240 registrations. About 60% Chinese and 40% foreign teachers. We also asked participants to indicate if they were willing to facilitate and many indicated that they would love to facilitate.


We knew we would have a large number of Chinese teachers and wanted to accommodate their needs. It is really difficult for many of them to attend sessions in English because of
their need to constantly translate the discussion. They tend to participate more when it is in their home language. We wanted them to get as much out of it as everyone else so we mirrored our sessions. We offered 12 sessions in three blocks in both English and Mandarin. Teachers were able to post their topics in Mandarin and our Mandarin co-organizers sorted them in the same way as our English organizers did. We colour coded the sessions and divided the floors into Mandarin and English.

Finally we wanted our participants to know what an EdCamp really was! International schools PD opportunities have not involved as much as Western public systems have. PD is still fairly traditional. We invite in workshops for a couple of PD Days for teachers to attend or we send them to other workshops offered throughout Asia. There are few opportunities for job-embedded PD that support coaching teachers to changing their practice. We use our coordinators and coaches for this but they also need support and coaching so that they can move teachers forward. Networks are build but still involve sharing of ideas and resources. International Schools are VERY competitive so having a formal network of support and sharing is difficult.

We wanted our participants to know what to expect so we sent out a great deal of information ahead of time including a short video of what to expect at an Edcamp. We created a large WeChat group for participants and provided information leading up to the event in both English and Chinese.

When participants arrived we met them all in the lobby and supported them in knowing what to do. Within no time we had 2 boards covered in post it notes with some deep topics for discussion.

We gathered in our auditorium and I was able to do a welcome speech and give participants an overview for the day. We let participants go and begin their discussions for the day! Each person had 3 choices that they could attend. We practiced the Law of Two Feet and allowed participants to decide on sessions that worked for them and to choose as needed. We provided tours of our school prior and after the event so that participants could see some of our best practices in action and read our walls.

The experience was OVERWHELMINGLY positive! There was a buzz of excitement from the beginning of the day to the end. Several groups stayed to debrief and share their learning and some went out for lunch together to continue their learning. Many of the participants asked when we would be doing it again! They were hooked! They felt that the experience was valuable and filled a need for them!

We gathered for about 30 minutes to reflect as a team and listed the positives and possible changes.

Positives:

Number of participants: 160 people were in attendance
Chinese participants came prepared to discuss topics of interest to them.
Cultural breakthrough in how our traditional Chinese teacher view professional learning!
Offering sessions in Mandarin and English was positive.
Variety and choice of sessions was great!
Timing of the sessions was perfect!
Creating the board of sessions was easy and we allowed enough time to do so!
Tours were well-received!

Changes:

Offer 10 sessions instead of 12
Break up sessions by level of experience ie.New to play-base learning/experienced at play-based learning
Re-adjust sessions for 3rd time slot
Scale down the amount of food we provide.
Shorten our second break
Look at future EdCamps for Leaders and Teaching Assistants
Offer a time at the end for consolidation and networking
Have a bigger team for the day of the event
Find some sponsors!

All in the all the day was a GREAT success! We were all thrilled with how things worked and are planning to offer another opportunity in the Fall and Spring next year!

So pleased to have worked with such an AMAZING team of educators to plan and offer the first #EdCampBeijing! So proud of our work!

This is Day One Leadership

A few weeks ago I read one of my friend and colleague’s Twitter posts. She had described their leadership retreat and referenced the book “This is Day One: A Practical Guide to Leadership that Matters” by Drew Dudley. I thought well if Sue Bruyns is reading it then it must be great because she is one of the most brilliant and well respected leaders I know! So, I decided to download it onto my Kindle.

This is one of those books that I REALLY wish I had a hard copy of to mark up and highlight. There are so many questions Drew Dudley asks in this book that really make you stop and think as a leader. He is EXTREMELY reflective and asks the questions that are important for leaders to answer daily.

This week I found myself at the TCM doctor, reading the chapters on Growth and Self-Respect. There were some things from these chapters that really resonated with me and rolled around in my head during my treatment.

In the chapter on Growth Drew talks about the “Edge of the Bed Question”. Drew defines this as a time in your life in which your son or daughter calls you into their room, asks you to sit on the edge of the bed and then asks “Mom/Dad, what’s your best life advice? What single insight has most contributed to your happiness?”

WOW! this really took me aback. What would I tell Harrison on Griffin if they asked me that question at a pivotal point in their lives? Have I given a thoughtful response when they have asked similar questions? Did it sound like BS or was it perceived as sound advice?

What I did discover is that I need to spend some more time mulling around this question in my own mind. So many things flashed into my mind….don’t ever let a moment pass you by, take the opportunities that are presented to you, don’t be afraid to take risks, love with all your heart, leave the world a better place, do what makes you happy, be kind, be honest, be genuine…..ahhhh I do not know! None of these sound very profound! What is my best life advice? That requires more reflection for sure.

In the Chapter on Self-Respect Drew shares that he sets reminders on his phone to stop and ask himself the following questions several times a day:

Impact: What have I done today to recognize someone else’s leadership?
Courage: What did I try today that might not work, but I tried it anyway?
Empowerment: What did I do today to move someone else closer to a goal?
Growth: What did I do today to make it more likely someone will learn something?
Class: What did I “elevate instead of escalate” today?
Self-Respect: What did I do today to be good to myself?

If we truly want to practice servant leadership and recognize the leaders around us then we need to be cognizant of these questions throughout our day and in the interactions with our staff. I intend like Drew to put a daily reminder on my phone to set and intention at the beginning of the day as well as a time at the end of the day to reflect on these questions.

Drew also shared the importance of a leaders ability to heal. He talks about the most extraordinary leaders having the ability to heal and to recognize healing as a skill that most be practiced daily. Leadership is vulnerable and as leaders we get hurt both intentionally and inevitably therefore leaders must be resilient and have the power to heal themselves.

This made me think about the challenges of leadership and about all of the difficult experiences, interactions, mistakes and self-doubt leaders face. As a new leader you are devastated by each hurtful or difficult experience and question your abilities as a leader. As you gain knowledge and experience leaders have the ability to let things go and to take them less personally.

Is healing then the same as getting a thicker skin or not taking things personally?
Is it about recognizing that it is about the position and not the person?
Is healing the same as resilience?

The final thing from my reading today that stuck with me was the concept of “Greatest being the enemy of Great.” Drew shares a conversation with two men he meets on the train who met as teens on Juno Beach. In this conversation Earl one of the men says people should draw a line in their mind that represents great and that for every experience in their lives their only question should be ” Did that experience fall above the great line?” He goes on to say that the goal in life should be to have as many experiences above the great line as possible.

For me this seemed in line with the concept of giving gratitude. If we put our experiences above the great line then we are tuning into them and giving gratitude for having had the opportunity. Living life looking for the greatest experiences seems like an impossible quest when we all have many things in our daily lives we can put about the line if we just stop to notice them.

This book has a very human way of viewing leadership. It does not see leadership as a position but more of a privilege and by that I mean an opportunity to stop and to celebrate the leadership we see in others every day. As individuals in leadership positions we can ALWAYS do better and be better! We need to stop and reflect on our leadership to insure that we are on the right path. This book provides a great opportunity to use deep and meaningful questions to reflect on your leadership.

For more information about This is Day One Leadership. Check out Drew Dudley’s book “This is Day One: A Practical Guide to Leadership that Matters” or the article in Forbes Magazine “For best results live your life one day at a time.” . or Drew’s Ted Talk “What if Every Day Was Your First Day at Work?

Thank you and Farewell

Two years ago around this time of the year I made the decision to take a leave of absence from my job as a principal at the Thames Valley District school board, pack up my life and move to Beijing, China. These two years have flown by and I have made the decision to resign from my position at Thames Valley and to remain in Beijing. This was not an easy decision for me as it means leaving my family, friends and colleagues behind.

I am extremely grateful for the time I spent in Thames Valley District School Board. I have so many things to be thankful for and want to express my gratitude….

To my colleagues who have supported me, taught me and pushed me in my leadership.

To my superintendents who always listened and helped me to find solutions to very complicated problems.

To all the communities that I served as a vice principal and principal. I have learned so much and been given so many gifts as the result of knowing you all!

To some of the most resilient and dedicated teachers I have ever met. You make a difference in the lives of so many children. You work so hard for your students and families!

To TVDSB for the leadership opportunities and professional development. You have given me the skills, experience and passion to lead.

I have a committed to another year in Beijing and I am looking forward to continuing my leadership in this context.

I do not know where I will be a year from now but I know that I am going to enjoy each and every minute of the journey.

Thank you Thames Valley for you I will always be grateful!

Morale Compass

Last weekend I had the pleasure of participating in the IB Leadership Workshop Culture and Context. We talked a lot about the culture of the organization in which we work as well as the culture and context of the staff, students and parents that we serve. We looked at a variety of factors that effect how we interact with other cultures: power dynamics, communication methods, masculinity and femininity, etc.

We examined the culture and context of organizations and looked at ways to make changes for improvement. One of the areas that kept coming up was school climate and morale.

This is something that I have always struggled with as a leader. I know that my behaviors and attitudes set the climate for the building. The way that I interact with parents, students and staff, my expectations, the priorities identified and the things that are celebrated and acknowledged are a part of creating this climate. I have always taken this responsibility very seriously. I strive to be genuine, open, transparent while modeling high standards for myself and a dedication and a passion for teaching and learning.

BUT……

What happens when as a leader you are managing things that are completely out of your control? This last couple of weeks in Ontario have been very tumultuous to say the least for Ontario educators. Funding cuts for autism supports, changes in curriculum, complusary ELearning and increased class size. These decisions have been made by the Ontario government and are being mandated in Ontario school boards. This has caused parents, teachers and students to take action. There are organized student walkouts, silent protests and active campaigns for change. This climate of unrest and uncertainty is difficult. Emotions are running high and will spill over into schools and classrooms across the province. Unfortunately school principals are going to be left to manage this mess along with the day to day challenges of being a school administrator.

How then are principals responsible for school climate? Principals are being forced to deal with things that are way beyond their control that will no doubt effect the climate of the school as well as staff morale.

This for me is where the dllemma comes. I do believe that principals play a key role in the morale of the school but they are not the only ones! What responsibility do the staff have? What about the parents and community? Senior administration? Principals are often caught in the middle. They are expected to communicate decisions and directions that are made at a level beyond them or support the implementation of initiative from the board or ministry that they cannot control. They then have to manage the emotions, thoughts and feeling of their teachers, parents and students. How much of this is within their control? How much can they change or fix? How can they manage the
impact on morale?

Principals can enter their building with the most positive attitude, enthusiasm, hope and encouragement each day but that cannot be solely what drives the morale of the school.

Here’s the truth…..WE NEED YOUR HELP! As principals we want to create an environment in which all staff feel valued, accepted and appreciated. We want to have fun, celebrate, laugh and not take ourselves too seriously. We want to provide opportunities for staff to socialize, relax, celebrate and come together as a community. We value it! Here is the thing…..we CANNOT do it alone!

We need staff to share the enthusiasm, gratitude, hope, pride and encouragement of others. We need staff to share both the responsibility and leadership for school morale. We need a team. Everyone needs to be a leader every day! Sometimes it is the small things that make a difference in shifting perspectives or attitudes. Positive school culture and morale do not require big changes. Greeting someone in the morning that you do not normally see, offering positive feedback to a colleague, complementing or thanking someone, bringing colleague a coffee or treat, taking a duty, covering a class, noticing someone’s personal struggle, standing in the halls to greet students each morning, bringing a snack to team meetings, taking a challenging student for a minute, offering suggestions for change, taking a risk and creating a plan of action.

If we do not look out for one another, assume positive intentions and lift each other up then who will do it for us? We often talk about what is in and what is outside of our circle of influence or control, our contributions to school morale are definitely within that circle. All staff can have a positive impact on morale with the choices that they make each day.

How can we come together to make a positive change and create a learning community in which we support and lift each other up each day?

How can we work together to value and support each member of our community?

How can we create a shared responsibility for the moral in our buildings?

Afterward: To my Ontario colleagues, teachers, support staff and administrators…you are in for a bumpy ride over the next while. Now is the perfect time for teachers, support staff and administrators to come together as a community. You will be faced with some difficult circumstances that are out of your control and you will need to rely on one another to get through them. I know that my administrator colleagues are going to need all the help that they can get to weather this storm. My hope for all of you is that you use this time to reunite as a community and to support one another. For too long there has existed a divide between teachers and administrators. We all want the same things…..a safe and welcoming learning community for all that puts the interests and needs of students first. My hope is that you will wrap around one another and find a way to support and look out for each other!

Practice Vulnerability

This week I had Bob Jackson a colleague and friend visit me and spend some time at my school. I wanted him to authentically experience what was happening at our school so that he could provide fresh eyes and be a critical friend. I wanted some feedback about what he saw, heard and felt about the school.

I asked him to join our Grade 3 team meeting and to observe the process of collaboration. The team started out with celebrations. Celebrations of their students, teaching and learning and one another. One of the new staff shared that they were happy with themselves and finally felt like they could relax and had an understanding of the PYP, numeracy and literacy practices. They admitted that they struggled and really thought that now 7 months into the school year they had they knowledge and confidence to do their best teaching. This teacher openly shared their struggles with the team and admitted that the journey was very challenging.

When I debriefed this with Bob he was very surprised at the teacher’s willingness to be vulnerable with his team. He said that in his experience many educators experience “Imposter Syndrome” and are afraid to show their vulnerability to others.

As defined in the Scientific American Article “What is Imposter Syndrome?” There are 3 types of Imposter syndrome.

Type #1 “I’m a fake.”

“The fundamental fear is being discovered or unmasked. Achievers often feel like they’ve made it thus far under wraps, but the day will come when their cover is blown and they will be revealed as a fake.”

Type #2 “I got lucky.”

“The second flavor of Impostor Syndrome attributes achievements to luck. A twist on this is “I’m not smart/talented/gifted. I just work hard.””

Type #3: “Oh, this old thing?”

“In the last variation of Impostor Syndrome, the receiver of an award or recognition discounts or downplays the honor.”

This observation made me stop and think.

As leaders how do we show our vulnerability with our staff?

How do we encourage teachers to take risks, make mistakes and grow?

Are we creating a culture of compliance or collaboration?

I believe as a leader you must model and create conditions for your staff to take risks. They need to know if they make a mistake that you will be there to process the learning from the experience with them. Leaders need to create a culture of risk taking verses culture of compliance!

But how….

1. Admit when you do not know something and commit to finding the answers.
2. Admit when you are wrong.
3. Share your mistakes and the lessons you have learned.
4. Ask questions.
5. Avoid judgments.
6. Allow teachers to experiment and take risks.
7. Ask others for help if you need it.
8. Collaborate!
9. Ask for feedback and use it for your growth as a leader.
10. Model continuous professional learning and growth.

By showing your vulnerability as a leader you give permission for others to do the same.

Spinning Wheel of Death

You know the spinning wheel of death that comes up on your computer and no matter what you do you cannot stop it. You either need to wait it out, shut it down or try and escape. No matter what you do there are consequences. Lost work, restarting a project, time, frustration or an explosion of programs at start up.

This experience for me parallels those meetings with parents that just go around and around and no matter how hard you try you cannot find common ground, perspective or a solution. We had one of those this week and it was a challenge. Two hours of going around and around with a parent. It left us all frustrated and exhausted.

My Vice Principal and I left at the end of the day annoyed and exasperated. The next day we sat down and debriefed what happened and why.

Why had this happened?

We were not prepared: These parents had arrived unannounced at the end of the day with an entourage and wanted answers based on what their child had told them. We had been in meetings for days discussing students and had not had an opportunity to thoroughly complete the investigation or close the loops with the teacher and students involved.

There were some cultural beliefs in conflict. We wanted parents to have their child take responsibility for their parent in the issue and the parents wanted an apology and an opportunity to save face. They could not see their child’s part in the problem. All they could focus on was that their child was made to feel uncomfortable when a teacher called them on their disrespect and part in the situation. Our perspectives were so far apart finding common ground was not possible.

We were not in control. The meeting occurred because the parent arrived at school and demanded that we meet with them. We wanted to resolve the situation quickly and keep it from becoming a bigger issue which can happen but we were not ready to discuss it. We had not decided on a plan or resolution. We had not even had time as an admin team to talk about the situation at all.

There was a great deal of emotion. Parent were angry and upset. Mom was crying. Dad was quiet but angry and the child was turning on and off the emotions when it was convenient to get the desired result….absolving themself of any responsibility and changing the narrative.

Empathy and shared experiences were not effective . As administrators we often share our personal experiences with parents so they know that as parents we have been in similar circumstances and understand and respect that these experiences are all a part of development. We talk about challenges with with our own children and share strategies that we have used for handling them. In this case this was dismissed, unwelcome and misunderstood.

We were not going to handle the situation the way the parent demanded. Simply put these parents did not want their child to take responsibility for their part in a conflict and admit they had made a mistake. They shifted the blame to the teacher and we were not having it. The teacher handled the situation in an appropriate way based on the beliefs and values of our school and that was not something we were willing to compromise. Parents could not accept this.

So what, now what?

We debriefed some strategies that we thought might have helped in this case and allowed us to resolve the situation in a more efficient manner.

1. Always schedule the meeting. Do not take drop ins or on demand meetings unless it is an emergency and honestly there are VERY few emergencies. Chances are you will end up going around and around or scheduling a follow up meeting.

2. Complete the investigation, communicate with all parties involved and close the loop. In this case the parents demanded an apology and it turned out that after the 2 hour meeting they had discovered that they teacher had told the student they were sorry if their feelings had been hurt or they were distressed. That is all the parents wanted and in the end satisfied them. If we had had the opportunity to close this loop then we could have avoided going around and around with them for hours.

3. Stick to the facts and avoid judgments or assumptions. Present what happened from all perspectives, share the process for the investigation and the resolution/consequence.

4. Use the policies that you have in place as a basis for your decision making. Be consistent and fair.

5. Know the culture of the parents. We tried to use empathy and share our own parenting experiences but that was not effective with parents from this culture. Some parents want you to be authoritative, punish, ignore, educate etc. Have some idea of what they value so that you might find some common ground or an approach that they will understand.

6. Do not go it alone. If you have another administrator, coach, LST, or teacher. Have them sit in the meeting and take notes so that if it goes sideways you have documentation.

7. Have an exit strategy. Set a time limit. Find an escape. Shut it down if it is not productive.

8. Follow up with an email to the parents that summarizes the meeting, next steps and resolution.

9. Clean the slate and maintain a positive relationship with the child and the parent. Emotions run high when dealing with our children and parents just want the best for their child.

10. Do not take it personally!

You will have meetings that do not go well and that wish you could take back. It is inevitable. Preparation and reflection do help in avoiding frustration, misunderstanding and maintain positive relationships with parents.