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What I've Learned So Far...

This August will mark five years since my appointment as Vice Principal. I think it's fitting that I'm starting at a new school (even though I've worked with the principal at my previous school). As much as I will miss my previous school community, especially the kids, I'm glad this next stop on my journey has taken me to a new geographic locale within the school board. No doubt, I will need to learn, un-learn and possibly re-learn because no two schools are alike and most certainly, the admin team I'm working with is not what I am accustomed to. That all said, here is what I have learned (in by no means an exhaustive listing) in this role so far, and in no particular order of significance or importance:

1. One of my main roles is that of an advocate.
    ... of the student who is struggling in a mainstream setting and needs access to any number of
        resources to achieve some sense of stability ...
    ... of the teacher who wants to take instructional risks and try new things in his or her classroom ...
    ... of the principal whose vision is rooted in what is best for students, even if not all staff can see
        it at the moment ...

2. If the root of decision-making isn't centred on what is best for kids, there is no decision to be made.

3. I must model for staff what I hope to see in classrooms.
    ... be it in my witness to my Catholic faith ...
    ... be it in the understanding of current pedagogy ...
    ... be it the use of technology ...
    ... be it the manner in which I speak ...
    ... be it the manner in which I dress ...

4. It may not always be easy to support the Principal, but it must be done so publicly in order to uphold his/her position within the school. There is always a time and place for "discussion".

5. Establishing trust and building positive relationships is an on-going priority. Teachers won't share
the good work they are doing and won't seek out your support to try new things if they don't see an ally in you.

6. One makes better decisions in understanding the culture of the school and the people who make up
its community. This doesn't imply complacency at all. It simply means that an Administrator has more appreciation for age-old adages such as, "Timing is everything."

7. School community members have more respect for Administrators who "show up".  In managing the school's social media accounts, it was the perfect opportunity to attend events and visit classrooms to share what was happening on a day-to-day basis. I got to know staff and students better. Parents appreciated access to photos and information about the what was going on at school. I also found that there was a great sense of pride from both staff and students when I was present,
especially to document what was taking place.

8. Despite the "title", I am still a teacher. My primary concern is the daily delivery of authentic and     relevant curriculum. Much of conversations with teachers centres on what teachers do: help kids, deliver lessons, integrate technology in pedagogically sound ways, assessment and evaluation, conflict resolution, etc. Even though I am a VP, I still "do curriculum" - I co-plan, co-teach and co-debrief. I am invited to deliver lessons from time to time and I find ways to teach lessons, especially around OSSLT time. Admittedly, I still miss teaching so this is a great way to get my "fix" but again, I need to model what I hope to see in classrooms. I need to demonstrate for teachers what to expect on their performance appraisals. I have to establish the standard. I found that the conversations have evolved from relating to similar situations to mentoring teachers and guiding them in their own decision making.

9. Leave work at work. Early on in my first year, I learned not to take any work home with me. My little family needs 100% of me once I'm home and I can't give them my all if I continue to be distracted by work. The reality is that in this role, we are witnesses to wonderful successes, but also have a front-row seat to a lot of tragedy. For the sake of self-preservation, there must be a separation of work and home life in order to begin the next day refreshed and ready to face the next set of challenges. Admittedly, before bed, I will clear email  because my own anal retentiveness prefers an clean in-box.

10. You need to be able to trust your team. You have to have trust with the Principal and other VP(s) for goals to be met and work to get done. There must be an appreciation that the way you do your job will affect the way others do theirs, and vice versa. There must be openness and accountability. In times of need and stress, you have to have the assurance that you can lean on your partners and they on you.

11. Teachers appreciate a VP who doesn't put on "airs". In saying "good-bye" to staff this year as we parted in June, the one comment that constantly shared with me was the appreciation for the fact that I don't operate under any pretension and that despite my sometimes "colourful" language, they appreciated that they could always rely on me to be real.

12. Being connected in crucial. I value the online PLN that I have become a part of so that I can share in the various experiences of  administrators who are doing the same job at the same time as I am. I have gained some valuable insight and wonderful PD that isn't always readily available. I have also come to appreciate the importance of reciprocation. Sharing my own experiences and being open to others' comments has caused me to become more open minded. I have also been able to find great resources that I have been able to share with staff at my school. I am active on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterst, Instagram and Blogger.

13. No one likes nor appreciates the "bull in a china shop" approach. Change must be intentional, timely and rooted in a specific need that everyone understands.

14. Key allies on staff: the teacher-librarian, the department head of Special Education and Guidance. These individuals have the best sense of "the big picture". They provide services to the greatest number of kids and generally have their fingers on the "pulse" of the community.

15. Show gratitude daily to admin. assistants and custodians. They are the right-hand of the school Administration in keeping a school running in an orderly fashion and they should know it.

16. Keeping up with current research is a must. In order to maintain any integrity as the school's 'curriculum leader', it is important to engage in regular professional reading or attend workshops and courses. Department heads are also curriculum leaders but they need to SEE the importance in engaging in regular research and PD. For example, this summer I am completing an online course to become a Level One Google certified teacher, I have read The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros and The Digital Leader by Eric Sheninger. I have a lot of ideas for the upcoming year as a result and I feel that I can better support staff and students with the new knowledge I have acquired. Life-long learning is a virtue that must be modeled and then shared so that staff feel encouraged to do the same.

17. Any parent that has been a "challenge" over the year is experiencing pain of some sort. I have learned to stop taking the odd parental lamb basting so personally. When all the the protocol is followed to the letter and all the right steps have been taken, residual anger is usually a product of frustration with the situation. I will admit that I have dealt with some pretty unreasonable individuals over the years but I can count them on one hand, thankfully. Most parents are grateful for your time and care for their kids.

18. Kids who aren't getting what they need at home need to get "it" at school and the VP is usually the one to provide. I have acted as a surrogate mother. I have helped to get gift cards to grocery stores and financial aid for uniforms. I have gotten kids access to community resources to better their home life. I have made gut-wrenching calls to the Children's Aid Society and York Regional Police. Sometimes, it has to be done and it has to be you.

19. Learning names is important. A person's name is the most basic aspect of one's identity. People feel validated and are far more likely to engage in more conversation with you if you demonstrate an interest in who they are.

20. Always say hello to whomever you pass by in the hallway. People need to know that you notice them and when you greet them with a sincere smile, they see that you care. The next time you encounter that individual it is far more likely that they will acknowledge you first, at least in my experience. This is important to me, especially in a high school where there is such a misconception that students often become "a number". Kids (and adults) need to know that they are part of large community who cares.

I'm not entirely sure that this is all. I'm sure that once I post this, more will come to mind. I can say now that I am no longer the "reluctant administrator". I'm pretty sure I am where God has intended me to be and my work is truly my ministry. I am a Catholic educator so my faith informs everything I do and believe.

I received a letter from a teacher the other day, who reaffirmed a lot of what I have learned since becoming a Vice Principal and I thought I would share it, not for a pat on the back, but as an illustration that teachers and administrators can form some pretty powerful relationships, despite the perceived dynamics or the overshadowing of union politics. I just want anyone considering transitioning into this role to know that .


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