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On Leadership

September 18, 2016

This school year, I began a new position as Vice Principal. It is a position I’ve held before, albeit in a different school in a different system. During my previous time as a VP, I felt I was ready for the challenges that I would face. I was excited and eager to begin the role. What I recognize now, 7 years later, is that I was not anywhere near ready.

I am currently one of two VPs and one of three administrators in a school of 630 students in a small city in South Eastern Alberta. Our community is somewhat unique in small town Alberta. We have a beef processing plant on the edge of town that has brought in many workers from abroad. Our community is very diverse which brings benefits and challenges. Our school reflects that make up with approximately a 32% ELL population. Of those students approximately 15% are refugees. I feel very lucky to be an administrator in this building. The difference for me now, is that I feel much more ready than I did 7 years ago.

If I am honest, when I was first an administrator, I was enamoured by a title. At that point, I had spent ten years in the school. My responsibility in the school continued to increase through Department Head positions and as a Director of a large international studies program. As such, I believed the next logical step was into administration. As I look back now, I realize that the motivation to lead was selfish – I wanted more responsibility. As a result, I did an OK job. I managed the schedules of the students and staff. I dealt with issues of behaviour among the students. I conducted staff meetings and worked with parents who were concerned. But, I was not a leader.

Nine years later, I look at my role in a much different way. I feel I am a part of something much bigger than myself. Our school is an amazing place filled with dedicated staff. Our students are diverse and have a lot to teach me. This is a building where I want to be a leader. I want to help create an environment where we (the adults and students) share a desire to improve what we do. Not because what we are doing isn’t good enough but because we can always do better. I want to be a part of a culture of inclusion where students and staff feel they can contribute in meaningful ways.

I won’t pretend that I have the answers as to how this goal will be achieved. I have an idea and a starting point. My starting point is to listen to the voices of the building. I have a vision for where I would like to see us go. But, the first step, is understanding where we are. That will take some time.

Thanks for spending a few moments reading my thoughts. All the best,

Sean

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6 Comments
  1. Darren permalink

    There is a clarity to your writing that both inspires and educates. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Gerry Varty permalink

    Thanks for sharing, Sean. I’m sure many of us can relate to your thoughts here…

    The leadership journey is always situational – you deal with unknowns as they arise, knowing that sometimes the answers arrive later. It’s almost as if new situations open you up to thinking differently, and that makes the answers accessible. The situation provides context for understanding.. what doesn’t kill us really does make us stronger!

    I look forward to hearing more from you as your year unfolds and you reflect on new experiences … conversation is how we evolve the ideas that shape us.

    • Thanks, Gerry. Leadership is definitely a journey. I’m also looking at it as a mindset. The next step is how to encourage others to follow. But I will save that for another post:)

  3. Like many of who enter administration, my ideas about leadership were very much driven by my own desires and wanting to be able to ‘make change’ in what I perceived to be a system that needed my touch to change. Now, after working as an administrator for 13 years in a number of schools and communities, my view has changed. I am no longer trying to drive my vision but, instead, wanting to help others around me achieve their visions, to support, nurture, develop and to advise at times. I no longer see myself as having answers, only more questions and hoping to work with others on a journey to learning those. I agree there is a mindset that one needs as a leader and that is where the work of Liz Wiseman, Todd Henry, Cal Newport, Sunni Brown, C. Otto Sharmer, Simon Sinek, Jay Samit, Tim Brown have helped me to see beyond the educational leadership bubble in particular and the educational jargon/discussion/debates in general and focus more deeply on the context of supporting and helping others through leadership.

    I thank you for sharing your journey. As always, I hope you continue to share and continue the conversations as they are important.

    • Kelly,
      I appreciate your feedback. I learned a while ago that having a network of people is very important. I encourage my teachers and my students to develop these networks to help them achieve their goals.

      Thank you for being a part of my network! It is very helpful to have the thoughts of educators like yourself to push my own thinking!

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