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Cabin Crew

Thank you @dougpete for pushing me to continue to reflect and deepen my thinking about my last post.

In my last blog “Turbulence” I talked about the challenges in Ontario Education. During the @voicEdcanada broadcast there was discussion about the level of turbulence and how it impacts the journey. I feel that many school boards, schools, administrators and teachers have experienced a period of severe turbulence. Ontario education has had a period of unrest and change for years. Labour strife, increased student needs, decreased funding, new programs and initiatives as well as increased pressure to improve teacher knowledge and pedagogy.

There was also an interesting comment about how since 911 the cockpit is completely closed off from the rest of the plane, passengers, flight attendants and what is happening during the flight. I laughed out loud as the Ward Air flight with real food, china and cutlery was referenced. I too remember flying on Ward Air and having the whole experience including the visit to the cockpit to speak to the pilot and see what happens there. I think we even received a pair of real wings!

So what does all of this mean in regards to the current state of Ontario education. I thought about the personnel on the flight. Pilot, head flight attendant, and flight crew. Who plays these roles in the education system?

Let’s look at the pilot…..in the broadcast it seemed as though there was a feeling that the principal is the pilot. I do not see them in that role. They are not that disconnected from what is happening during the flight. To me the pilot is the superintendent or the board. Physically disconnected from schools as many of them have offices far from the schools they serve. Disconnected from the daily challenges, stresses, celebrations and operations of the school. Taking orders from the control tower (Ministry) as to the direction and flight plan for schools. Supporting the crew when called upon or when there is a serious crisis.

I see the role of principal as more of the Head Flight Attendant. They have the responsibility for the rest of the flight crew (teachers) and the passengers (students). They are the one that is the link between what is happening in the cockpit and in the cabin. They manage the crisis that arise during the flight and work to solve problems with their team so that the flight is safe and comfortable for all passengers. They coach, support and encourage growth and independence of their team and at times directly support the passengers in their care but during the majority of the flight they leave that to their capable crew. If something goes wrong during the flight they are responsible and must report to the pilot. They must work with their crew to find a solution and continue the flight with the least amount of disruption. If there is a conflict or challenge with one of the passengers they become involved to help manage the situation. They keep things running smoothly so that the pilot can continue to follow the flight plan without disruption.

What about the flight crew? They are the individuals who do the majority of the work with passengers during the flight. They are the ones who directly meet their needs. Some passengers sit quietly, sleep or entertain themselves as the flight progresses, while others have more difficulty. There are anxious passengers, disruptive passengers, demanding passengers, and sick passengers. All of these passengers must get what they need in order to make the flight a success. They can only use the tools and resources at their disposal and at times they even run out of what they need in order to make the passengers happy and healthy. By the end of the flight they are exhausted.

Back to the idea of turbulence. During periods of severe turbulence everyone struggles to do their job. The pilot intensifies their focus on the flight plan, the head flight attendant surveys the most immediate and urgent needs and creates a plan to safely meet them and the flight crew waits for guidance and direction. If the turbulence persists then the flight becomes increasingly intense and emotions begin to run high. The flight crew has to switch their focus from meeting the physical/comfort needs of passengers to meeting both the physical/comfort needs as well as the social/emotional needs of passengers. This is no easy feat and creates an environment of tension and stress.

There are still so many parallels and questions…..

How can we get back to those direct visits to the cockpit? Can we break down some of the barriers that allow us to work more collaboratively? How do we become more connected?

What about the comforts of those Ward Air flights? China, cutlery, little salt and pepper shakers and delicious food. Is there a way we can look to the best practices of the past in an effort to improve the present?

How can we keep all of our passengers safe and comfortable? What improvements can we make in order to better meet the needs of the diverse students and families that we serve today?

How do we reduce turbulence so that everyone has a smooth and comfortable flight?

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