My best friend Jen would make an excellent administrator. Why? She is a natural leader, excellent educator, committed to professional development and loves working with students and teachers. She is creative, fun and inspiring. There’s just one problem. She is not interested. Like many others, she doesn’t feel it is the job for her. Like others, she fears that a career in administration would reduce the amount of time she gets to spend with kids, and fill her days with problems to deal with. And I get it. If I rewind four years, when I first started thinking about administration I was in the same place. In fact, when I was offered an ‘acting admin’ position a couple years ago I accepted for one reason: I wanted to shake away the silly notion of applying that seemed to bubble inside me every time the posting appeared. The temporary ‘acting admin’ position would be enough to convince me it was not the job for me. Five months in, when I found out the acting admin position would be extended for the entire school year, my principal approached me and asked if I was going to apply to be an administrator. I said no. She then asked if I would like her find someone else to do the acting admin position for the second semester so I could return to my counselling position. I heard myself say no. She asked why. It was a fair question. In that moment I realized I had no explanation, and it was time to adjust my own belief, and recognize that I love the role of administration. She then asked if that meant I would put my name in for the admin pool. I said I would definitely think about it. She told me to think fast – the posting was to come out the next day. So here we are – three years later, and reflecting on my vice principal roles in two schools in two different districts, I have to say I love my job.
Being an administrator is so much more than handling conflicts, managing diminishing budgets, listening to complaints and responding to student discipline. Fortunately I have had the opportunity to work with two outstanding principals, Mary O’Neill and Sean Nosek who both embrace the notion that school is not just about learning curriculum, but also about learning lessons in life. As an administrator, we get to experience so many positive and unique moments, where students and staff learn together. Yet, I wonder if we share these positive moments enough. By the number of people who have said “I would never want your job”, I’m thinking we do not. Statistically, when people are happy about something they tell 2-3 people and when they are unhappy they tell 10-15. What a different world we would live in if we could flip that statistic.
The last few weeks have been full of amazing experiences. Here’s a quick glimpse at some of my favourite moments. They shed light on what administration is really like and why I love my job.
- Grade 8 Inquiry Project– a team of our grade 8 teachers dedicated the month of April to Inquiry Based Learning. For one month, they put curriculum aside and helped students develop their own questions for inquiry. The month long event culminated in a morning exhibition where students showcased their incredible projects ranging from the creation of video games, new all weather recycled clothing, and a violin performance by a student who had taught herself how to play. As a vice principal walking through the exhibition I was inspired by the excitement and passion that surfaced with these purposeful assignments. Students studied what mattered to them, and in doing so embraced their curiosity and sense of wonder. Many students were so engaged in their learning, they continued to study their topic after the project was over.
- Me to We Night – I was lucky enough to find myself on the invite list to an evening of conversation with ladies from Kenya who were visiting North America for the first time. Mama Monica and Mama Leah shared the stories of their lives, growing up in poverty with no education. Now, in coordination with Me to We, they teach others to make beautiful jewelry that is sold around the world. They now have 600 women working with them, and their lives have changed dramatically as they are able to send their children to school, provide for their families and feel an incredible sense of hope for the future. As we conversed in a waterfront condo at New Westmnister Quay I could not help but wonder if they felt resentment for all that we have. Instead, they spoke genuinely from the heart, finding similarities between us rather than differences. Together, as a group of educators we sang, laughed and celebrated the power that comes from working together.
- Miranda meets Robin. Miranda is a grade 11 student at Thomas Haney. She has already completed two Me to We Trips (to Ghana and Kenya) so I thought I would ask her some questions before visiting the ladies from Kenya. I mentioned that some lady named Robin would be there. Miranda’s face lit up as she asked if I meant Robin Wiszowaty, author or My Maasai Life. I said yes. It turns out Robin had played a key role in Miranda’s life. Miranda experienced many health issues as a child and had to undergo numerous surgeries. In an effort to mentally escape from the hospital, Miranda read Robin’s book. Miranda credits this book as her escape from reality, as she was able to experience Robin’s journey through Kenya and imagine herself there. Knowing Robin was going to to be at Me to We night, I made a few phone calls and we were able to invite Miranda to join us for the evening. She was able to spend time with Robin, bonding over their experiences. After the evening ended, Miranda tagged a photo of the event on Facebook, labelling it ‘one of the best nights of my life’.
- Heart Mind Conference. Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend an amazing conference at UBC focussed on mindfulness, the science behind happiness, and understanding how children thrive. Some of my favour presenters included Goldie Hawn, Paul Tough and Shawn Achor. I encourage Twitter users to search the hashtag #heartmind2013 to gain a glimpse into the conference take-aways on social-emotional learning. Personally, I love the science behind happiness and the discovery that only 10% of our happiness is impacted by external factors beyond our control. When we help students train their minds to experience happiness, we help them excel in school and life. One of my favourite take away suggestions was Shawn Achor’s telephone etiquette tip….. When you are on the phone and someone asks how you are doing, make sure the first three things you say are positive. Rather than whining about busy lifestyles, stress or negative moments, we can reshape our conversations and our own happiness if we focus on the positives. Happiness has a ripple effect…. Wouldn’t you look forward to phone calls if everyone you called shared their happiness before their concerns?
- Project HELLO – I am so grateful that the students and staff at Thomas Haney have allowed me the opportunity to bring Project HELLO with me to Maple Ridge. I am also grateful that the staff and students in Coquitlam have shown an interest to continue the project. Now we have two district working together where elementary students make Christmas and Mothers’ Day cards and high school students invite the homeless to send cards reconnecting with family. This Mothers’ Day students and staff from Charles Best and Thomas Haney spent the day together on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver helping 42 people send cards to their moms. The students then made calls to search the country for mailing addresses, and successfully connected many families including a lady who had not heard from her sister in over twelve years. This year we spent part of the day with Save on Meats and Linwood House, learning how these wonderful organizations provide hope to people in this impoverished community. As an administrator, I love finding time to work with students on projects, committees and events. Sometimes our days get busy, but making time for these meaningful connections bring so much joy to the work we do.
- Professional learning community. As an administrator I am so grateful for the professional learning community that I am part of. Last Friday we hosted a team of student teachers just finishing their practicums. On Tuesday I spent the lunch hour with teachers sharing technology tips with one another. Over the past few weeks, we have welcomed educators to Thomas Haney from BC, the Yukon, and New Zealand. Next week we will welcome guests from Iceland. While these teams have travelled to Thomas Haney to learn about our self directed model, I find we gain just as much as we learn about education around the world. Who knew that Yukon follows the BC curriculum while also implementing a grade seven buffalo hunt? They described the challenges as grade sevens each have their own knives in the school gym for the buffalo skinning. Now that’s classroom management!
- IHIT Team – OK – perhaps what I love best about administration is the unpredictable nature of our jobs. It is a mix of social work, counselling, management, leadership, event planning, and police work all rolled into one. So – last week when two gentlemen appeared in my office dressed in business suits and identified themselves as members of the IHIT team, I have to admit I was intrigued. They wanted our help in their attempt to notify next of kin of a homicide victim. Luckily the tragedy didn’t impact our school community but temporarily helping the IHIT team search for a family was pretty exciting (ok – maybe it’s a bit morbid… maybe I should have been a cop :))
- Property Brothers – Forming positive relationships with school alumni always builds culture, but when Drew and Jonathan Scott from the Property Brothers (alumni from Thomas Haney) happened to swing by for a visit it was pretty exciting. Especially when they mentioned they want to find ways to give back and connect with the school community inspiring others to follow their dreams.
- Yoga – With encouragement from some of our students, I decided to try one of our school’s yoga classes. Taught by Michelle Szakos, the class was challenging yet relaxing. What I loved best was the role the students played learning to teach yoga. Ms. Szakos combined her skills as an English teacher and yoga instructor to guide students through a rejuvenating visualization exercise. What a great way to start a day! I love that our kids have so many unique course offerings!
- Selin Jessa – Selin Jessa is a grade 12 student at Charles Best who has recently won close to $300 000 in scholarship offers for her fantastic work in the sciences and leadership. She visited Thomas Haney to share her passion with science students, inspiring others with stories of her trip to Antartica, and her work with graduate students on HIV. What I loved best was the way she ended her presentation. She compared science to politics and coined science as one of the few peaceful global projects where countries share and work together for positive change. Her message applied to all disciplines encouraging others to work together with peaceful intentions.
- Staplefest – You may wonder what this is…. Really, it’s one of those ‘seeing is believing’ type of things…. It took place in Maple Ridge on Friday where students from multiple schools join together to celebrate the stapler. From staple relays, choreographed stapler dances and stapler inspired music, students celebrate together finding the ‘significance in insignificant things’. I will never look at a stapler the same way.
Sometimes I feel that I am drawn away from the daily routine to attend to moments such as these, yet I am beginning to recognize that these experiences are not distractions but rather education itself. Despite the variety in these experiences, they have a common theme. They recognize the potential we have when we connect and work together. They demonstrate how rich learning can be when we extend beyond our classroom walls. They recognize that the well being of our students should always be our priority, as education is so much more than curriculum. Tom Huffman defines education as every activity that broadens and enhances life. As a vice principal, I am loving my education. (And yes Jen, .. you should apply!)