Setting the Stage for Leadership

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Everything I am as a teacher, and all that I value as a school leader has been cultivated from my 27 years of experience in the theatre, and these values have navigated my success in my English classroom and school community for many years.   The secret ingredient to my success, that theatre has honed in me, is the intuitive skill of foresight!  Theatrical productions are successful when they are well designed, directed, and rehearsed, and that all foreseeable challenges, pitfalls, and problems are prepared for, so that in the end the show goes on and succeeds, forsaking all setbacks and managing any failures.

Essentially, to be an effective transformational leader in a school requires the same 4C (foresee) priorities that I learned from the theatre world:

4C =  Community, Commitment, Communication, and Command  

(click the link to view the Haiku Deck for 4C)

My 4C philosophy was recently reflected in this article in The Globe and Mail: “Liberal arts is the future of work, so why is Canada pushing ‘job-ready’ skills?” (May 12, 2014). This articles argues for the value of a liberal arts education to create today and tomorrow’s leaders by cultivating the same skills of transformational leadership that I garnered from my theatre arts training and experience:

people who can communicate effectively and persuasively, people who can collaborate across departments to solve problems, people with emotional intelligence who can transcend age and cultural differences and who possess the resilience to embrace failure as a learning experience.

This quotation completely resonates for me because these are my daily actions that lead my success and continual growth as a teacher, a colleague, a coordinator, and a team leader and supporter of our phenomenally successful performing arts program, and these are the same values and skills that I seek to inspire in my students and my colleagues through transformational leadership. Here I’ll explain how this transformational leadership is embodied in the 4C for school leadership – Community, Commitment, Communication, and Command:

COMMUNITY:

ubuntu-sa-innovation-summit-presentation-draft02-11-638In transformational leadership, first I seek to build unity within the community Ubuntu if you will:

“Ubuntu means people are people through other people… [it] acknowledges both the right and the responsibilities of every citizen in promoting individual and societal well-being.” (Nelson Mandela)

I purposefully work to build safe and caring Ubuntu groups that are fostered with each member of the community being recognized as a valued voice.  I begin this in the classroom by having students begin the year with a values based project that is shared and celebrated in the class: favourite quotes, credos, stories, life philosophies,and “this I believe” essays.  Getting inside the hearts and minds of the community members is the key to building this unity.

I continue to foster community building as learners with two measures of community accountability: “How are you making your learning visible?” and “How are you contributing to the learning of other?” (ETMOOC)  I have really explored this in my classroom in my blog from March titled Community and Culture in my Classroom.

Coming together for sharing and storytelling is transformational in synthesizing a group.  For example, years ago when there was great divisiveness among the women on staff, I re-introduced Girls Night, a monthly event when the women came together.  This had existed when I first came to the high school staff, and I was awed by the tight-knit nature of this group of women, but as our school grew in size and number, this event had fallen to the wayside.  By re-introducing the monthly event, and by asking the women to each take on a month that they would organize – so all the work was not falling to one person’s shoulders – we changed the attitudes, behaviours, and communications of the women.  Sitting together to laugh and share helped us to appreciate each other in a different light and this helped to unify us.  This tradition continues, although our busy lives have limited our opportunities.  In reflection, this is something I need to get back to as a priority.

In working as a community leader I let my heart lead the way.  I am blessed with an abundance of emotional intelligence and I draw upon this deep well to galvanize a team to meet goals and create visions while building motivation and trust, not just with me, but moreover with each other.  I work hard to be present with people and to care about them, their lives, and their interests.  By modelling this value, many others do likewise.  A caring community builds a family and family takes care of each other.  I cannot take care of each and every person, so in transformational leadership I empower the team with confidence to be the interconnected network for support for each other.

COMMUNICATION:

The second priority in a transformational leader is to focus on communication as a key value in a school, and one that is necessary to build and support the community.  My communication skills have developed through the balancing of both my introspective nature and my interpersonal skills.  I deeply care about people, so I consider that communication is my essential tool to motivate and support people. Fortunately, my English and Theatre Arts expertise, my critical thinking skills, and my  emotional intelligence offers me a wealth of practice and experience in honing this precious tool, as a listener, as a speaker, as a reader, and as a writer.

When communicating with people I work hard to focus on listening and being non-judgmental.  I need to understand  perspectives and concerns so that I can measure how to appropriately offer response and support.  There are many times that I have dealt with students, parents, or staff who are frustrated or angry about a situation.  First I need to let them talk, while I listen.  They need to know that I want to help them, to help them embrace resilience and learn from the challenge they are facing.  They need and deserve to be heard.  As a parent and a compassionate person, it helps give me patience and perspective in these conversations.  Then, I  offer my honesty and candour to help them understand and to help support them.  I believe in focusing on solutions, so I use communication as a tool for refocusing obstacles into opportunities, and once a vision or plan is in place, follow-up communication and accountability is key to creating positive transformation.

Communication is the heart of all we do in education.  So it is imperative that we bring our strong communication skills to the job, daily, for grand encounters such as presenting or managing crucial conversations in meetings, but especially in the small tokens of conversation, daily.   To share a kind word, validation,  feedback, and even a sincere “hello” is so important to building and maintaining relationships of trust and maintaining motivation in hard times.

COMMITMENT:

608534-56720-49I have a boundless pool of intrinsic motivation when I’m passionate about something, and I’m passionate about education, people, and in making lives better for all.  The flame burns bright in me, and I endeavour to inspire and cultivate the flame in my colleagues and my students.  But passion and inspiration result in nothing without commitment.  So, I could say that I’m passionately committed to not only offering the best of myself, my skills, and my knowledge, but I’m also passionately committed to exploring the unknown as we sit on the cusp of the 21st Century education.

On a microcosm level, I am highly committed to kids!  Individually, I look for the best in each of my students and help them shine and build their confidence – every kid counts for me.  For a class, I offer the best of designed instruction that I can to meet the needs of my students on a daily basis – both inside and outside the four walls of the classroom.  I strive to have a highly engaged classroom that is buzzing with learning; kids desire to be in my class and that is a result of my passion.  I also work hard to constantly improve my strategies for feedback and connectivity with students to help them be the best person and learner that they can be.  Although my expectations are high for myself and my students, I don’t seek compliance of commitment; rather, I seek to embed the value and motivation for commitment, and I do this through modelling it.

On a macrocosm level, I continually strive for greater perspective, awareness, experience, and knowledge to lead the charge with initiatives for Inspiring Education and Curriculum Redesign not just in the English classroom, or our theatrical productions, but for the school and organization as a whole.  For many years now I have researched and practiced innovations in teaching practices to motivate student learning and organizational growth towards 21st Century capacities.  A whole world has opened up to me with the world of blogging and virtual PLN’S (professional learning networks), and I continue to be committed to lead our growth as an innovative and transformational educational organization. I am not afraid of these changes, in fact I embrace it, and I’m committed and poised to navigate through what is uncertain and unknown.

COMMAND:

b54f6d53d910ced30459cb3812a418b2This is a highly contentious word choice for leadership, I know.  But it is the right word to describe a key priority for a leader of a school filled with leaders; in the end, I can lead those leaders and be decisive.  It is the right word for me, someone who is known as “Ms. Hunni” and all the sweetness in connotation with my name and my personality, because I can be a commanding and authoritative presence, when necessary.

My experience with proven commitment, communication, and community-building skills all contribute to my success and the respect that I have earned to be seen as a “commanding presence” in both the classroom and the the school.  It is true that in my idealized world we could all work in harmony and collaboration, filled with intrinsic motivation- where we can all hold the conch and take our turn in harmony. I firmly believe in the power of collaboration, consensus, and consultation. This unity from the community is essential in the school, but so too is the ability to make the hard decisions, to have the crucial conversations, to take the laboured actions, and to even make unpopular decisions, when necessary.  It is essential to be able to manage the multitude of foreseeable and unforeseeable issues that challenge leadership on a daily basis, and the word “command” speaks to the duty and responsibility that comes with the role.

In the  role of school leadership, we must be the role models and the risk takers for our mission and our vision for FFCA, and I know that I embody these virtues with my intuitive foresight as supported by my priorities of COMMUNITY, COMMUNICATION, COMMITMENT, and COMMAND.

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Globe and Mail Article – May 12, 2014 – http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/education/education-lab/as-canada-pushes-job-ready-skills-the-rest-of-the-world-embraces-liberal-arts/article18492798/ ETMOOC = Educational Technology Massive Open Online Course – http://etmooc.org/ Transformational Leadership – http://www.eoq.org/fileadmin/user_upload/Documents/Congress_proceedings/Turkey_2005/Proceedings/048_Stephen_Hacker.pdf

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About thehunni

I am an English teacher with FFCA Charter Academy who struts and frets her hour upon the stage. After attending the 2011 NCTE conference in Chicago, and being inspired by the likes of Penny Kittle, Jim Burke and Kelly Gallagher, I decided to embark on the journey to "practice what I preach!" So - here it goes. I'm sure this will be a process that batters and bruises, but hopefully I come out a mere bit wiser as I blog beside my students as a teacher and a learner. I try to blog some of their assignments; otherwise, I use the space to reflect on my learning and teaching!

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