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Thursday, 28 December 2017

#OneWordOnt



This school year has certainly been the most exciting and most challenging of my educational career thus far. I was given the honour of becoming a new principal in a large elementary school in our board. The transition to the new role has been a challenging one. We started the school year short two classroom teachers, and my husband and I, along with some very caring helpers including my nephew, some caring staff members, and some student volunteers, rushed to prepare the rooms to receive children. 

We were also short a secretary, a librarian, and two custodians. Not having a secretary was especially challenging given that I was new in the school, didn't know the staff or families, or where anything was filed, stored, or kept. Let's just say I learned quickly and painfully through trial and error, guess and check!

When I saw the tweets for #OneWordOnt, I thought, this year it is a no-brainer, my OneWord is "Listen". As I get to know new staff, students and parents, listening has become the single most valuable skill I've needed to draw upon. 

It is easy to jump to conclusions, to judge behaviour, to make snap decisions, to form quick impressions when we don't take the time to listen. But listening doesn't just happen. It is not always easy to do. It is a skill, and like any other skill, it needs to be learned, developed and honed. When there is a long list of things waiting to be done, and a crisis occurs - whether it be a parent who is upset, a fight on the playground, a child who has been bullied, or a staff member with an ill family member - it is tempting to quickly "solve" the problem, to say, "do A, B and C" without first taking the time to listen. But being new to the school community, it is so critical to take the time to listen, to get to know the people involved in the issue, to hear every side of the situation, and to learn the context. 

Listening means recognizing that behaviour is a form of communication. There are so many great quotes about listening, this is one of my favourites: 
 Listening is an art that requires attention over talent, spirit over ego, others over self. ~ Dean Jackson
Listening often means letting my ego go, and realizing that I might not have all of the answers, or know the best way of doing things. Listening means learning; I am not learning if I do all of the talking. Listening requires humility. Listening requires an open mind and heart, a readiness to hear the other person's perspective, it requires caring about what the other person is experiencing. Listening means hearing what the other person is saying, and not saying, without planning a response. Listening means caring more about understanding than about being understood.

This year is a year of building relationships. In order to do that, I plan to LISTEN.





Friday, 14 July 2017

To Know Me is to Love Me



Many years ago, when my children were still young, I joined a small faith-sharing group in our church. We met once a week to read scripture together and discuss the implications for our personal lives as young mothers. I grew very close to and fond of the other moms in this group. At one point I was writing a short article for the church bulletin about prayer, and I was thinking about how lucky I was to have such incredible women in my group, when it suddenly dawned on me that ALL people are incredible, we just rarely take the time to discover the unique beauty in other people that makes them so. Because we were in a faith-sharing group together, I had come to know each of these women on a personal level. I saw their strengths and their vulnerabilities, I knew them.

Nearly twenty years later, I became the Vice Principal of a K-8 elementary school. One day the principal and I were having a conversation about our staff and we are reflecting on how great our staff was and how lucky we were to work with such devoted people. I shared the story about my small faith-sharing group because I realized that it was a similar situation. I felt I had come to some great epiphany and I wanted to share it.

My principal, however, was not surprised. She simply said, "to know me is to love me".

It is that simple - to know me is to love me.

Over the last two years, I've achieved a certain clarity about what is necessary to be successful and find joy in the administrator's role. Love is a verb, it is not just a feeling, it is an action. Actually, it is a series of actions that you choose to make. Love is a decision.

In order to love someone, you have to make the effort to get to know them on a personal level. Knowing them as a coworker is not enough. You need to know who they are in their life outside of school as well as in school. You need to know what is important to them, what they enjoy, what they are afraid of, what their particular gifts are, and where they struggle.

Knowing who a person is, you must then shine their goodness, their assets, back to them. Be their mirror. This involves empowering them to use their assets, their gifts and talents, to help support the community of learners. Need them. Make sure they know they are needed. Let them know how they are needed.

Be of service to them. Take action knowing what they care about, what they need, where they are vulnerable, support them when and where they need support.

Yes, we need to know one another to love one another. But more than that, we need to be there for one another, we need to be of service to one another in order to love one another. It is not the act of being served that makes us love another, it is the act of providing service to someone else that leads to our loving them.

Love is a decision.

And here is the best part: with love comes joy. While love is a deliberate act, joy is its byproduct - a freely given gift to one who loves.

Being an educator is not for the faint of heart. Being an educator is a call to love. It is in the loving that we empower others to be their best selves, whether it is our students or our colleagues, and it is in the loving that we find joy in our jobs.