Why are we dismantling education in Canada?

It is Sunday…a typical work day for me (I try to take Friday night and all day Saturday off to spend with my wife and family) and I’m ready to focus on work I need to do for the division. But instead, I’m going to spend the next 2-3 hours or more responding to the following Chief School Superintendent Role Review.

  1. REQUIRED: Submit a current organization chart that reflects the central office
    structure. Organizational charts provide a visual representation and allow positions to be
    viewed in context within the complete structure. The job evaluation process is not only an
    evaluation and analysis of the work assigned, but also includes an understanding of the
    structure in which that work is conducted.
  2. Describe the key leadership and operational accountabilities of the chief superintendent role within your jurisdiction. When describing the accountabilities, include any external versus internal focus of the position, as well as the degree of risk involved in decision-making. This list of accountabilities should be sequenced by order of importance (i.e., the most important result for which the job exists in the organization should be the first) and should reflect the regular requirements of the job and not rare occurrences (i.e. what might happen).
  3. Describe the challenges of the chief superintendent role within your jurisdiction. When describing the challenges, consider emerging and critical issues, extent of innovation required, strategic planning processes, factors that guide decision making, who is affected by those decisions and how they are affected.
  4. Describe any specialized knowledge or skills and critical behaviours required for the role to achieve results within your jurisdiction. Consider knowledge (i.e., degrees, knowledge of certain programs) and any critical behaviours (i.e., building collaborative environments, systems thinking) the superintendent is required to have.
  5. Describe the environment within which the chief superintendent operates. To understand the organizational strengths and challenges in the context in which the superintendent works, describe the operating environment, including such factors as technology and systems, people, financial, capital and funding and the governance environment.
  6. Describe the nature and purpose of the chief superintendent’s relationships. Chief superintendents do not operate or provide leadership in isolation. When describing the superintendent’s relationships, consider how the relationships are managed to deliver on outcomes (may include relationships with Alberta Education and communities).

To say I’m a little frustrated would be an understatement. But the requirement to justify my work and compensation are fairly minor compared to the lack of respect for system leaders and education as a whole in Canada. In Nova Scotia, all school boards were eliminated earlier this year and in provinces like Alberta that has publicly funded Catholic education, the cry for one publicly funded system is growing louder and much more intense.

People and governments in particular, have you noticed that Canada has one of the best educational systems in the world? Add, that those results are within a public not a private system and that we have one of the most diverse populations in the world. Don’t compare us to Finland or Singapore which has a fairly homogeneous population, look at countries that are as diverse as Canada. You would be hard pressed to find a better education system in the world. More impressive, is that Canadian systems are not content with the current status quo and are always trying to improve student experience and success. And by the way, that continuous improvement desire doesn’t come from government policy or business plans but rather internal accountability within schools and systems.

One of the first reasons that public education in Canada is so successful is our teachers. While most of us in education are always challenging our post-secondary teacher preparation programs to be even more rigorous in their training, comparatively, we are so far ahead. The teacher that a student has matters. I’m not suggesting that the sole determiner of educational success is the teacher but all things equal, excellent teaching leads to excellent student success. Secondly, leadership in schools is also a contributing factor to the success of the Canadian system. Leadership counts and the best schools are always led by top quality principals and their teams. Our provincial system has long focused on developing leaders and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Alberta is consistently at or near the top.

Great boards also contribute to our exceptional standing in the world. When they are locally elected, they understand the context of their communities and are able to set the right direction. The best boards live not in the administrative world but in the governance world. They understand their role and which sandbox they should be playing in. Throughout my years in senior administration, I witnessed the best of the best (thank you Holy Spirit) and the worst of the worst. Trustees who are single issue focused, have axes to grind or in it for their own political gain have no business being involved in the education of children. Superintendents from across the country can tell you horror stories of those trustees and boards but thankfully those cases are the exception and not the rule.

Finally, system leaders are a critical part of the fabric of excellence in Canadian schools and governments (local and provincial)  need to recognize that sooner than later. I’ve already heard confidentially from a number of my colleagues from across Canada  who will be “pulling the pin” and retiring as soon as they can. It saddens me because these people would still be able to give more to their systems after reaching their index for retirement. Unfortunately, they have become so deflated from external factors, mainly government interference, both locally and provincially, that they will just call it quits. They are going to be sorely missed in their organizations because they are not just good leaders, they are great leaders! Retirement should be an opportunity to pass on the torch rather than needing to throw it because it keeps burning you!

Governments (local, provincial and federal) do your jobs! Set your direction based on what is best for all students and then get out-of-the-way! Don’t play in my sandbox, play in your own. Education will continue to improve not because of your influence but because of those within the system. Stop with the death by reporting, excessive accountability and the irresponsible timelines for compliance information and go back to trusting the systems that have led Canada to be the best in the world!

From the Desk of the Superintendent- April 2018

Welcome to April and the winter that never seems to end! I hope that everyone had a most blessed Easter and those who could were able to spend the time with family and friends.

March was certainly a full month of learning and activities in schools and throughout the division. Highlighting the learning was our Division Wide Professional Development Day with the entire focus on our First Nations, Metis and Inuit priority. We were fortunate to have the new Assistant Deputy Minister in charge of this portfolio from Alberta Education in attendance and she was very impressed with the work we are doing to support our aboriginal students. While there is still much work to do to ensure the highest levels of learning for all, we are certainly on the right track.

At the March Board Meeting, we introduced Mrs. Sandra Cormican, a kindergarten teacher at Children of St. Martha School as our Excellence in Catholic Education Award Winner. This is an award that has been established by the Council of Catholic School Superintendents of Alberta. During my 10 years here at Holy Spirit, we’ve recognized some excellent teachers/administrators for this award and Sandra now is part of this exceptional class. We also selected our Edwin Parr winner, an award which celebrates first year teaching. Ms. Erica Barr, from Father Leonard van Tighem is our Holy Spirit representative. She will be introduced to our trustees at the April board meeting. The decision for any of these awards is most difficult because of the high quality of candidates we have in our system. Our last divisional award the Share the Mission Award, has just come out and as in past years, I’m sure we will have another strong group of candidates. For more information on the March board meeting, please click here.

The provincial budget was released at the end of March and the budget assumptions were presented to the Board of Trustees at their March meeting. The good news is that the government is committed to funding enrollment growth. Our initial forecasts show the division growing by another 2% at minimum with the majority of the increase in Lethbridge. Disappointing news from the budget however, was the lack of an announcement of a new elementary school in west Lethbridge which is the Board’s first priority in their Three Year Capital Plan. The Board has requested a meeting with our local MLA for west Lethbridge for an explanation as to why Holy Spirit was not part of the capital announcements. There was also no mention of the classroom improvement fund which provided an additional $636,000 for schools this year. We are hopeful that through provincial negotiations, that money will be allocated once again.

April will be another full month with some great professional development opportunities. A number of our staff will be attending the Agile Schools Network in Calgary, uLead conference in Banff, the First Nations, Metis and Inuit symposium in Edmonton and SPICE and Blueprints in Kananaskis. All of these events either strengthen our educational practice in our classrooms and schools or further develop our faith. Regardless of the event, the need to be a constant learner in today’s world must always be emphasized. Personally, I’ve just finished reading the book, “Coherence” by Michael Fullan and Joanne Quinn and note that much of what is espoused in the book is already taking place at various levels in our schools. The Learning Leadership Team will begin to dive deeper into these concepts through the lens of the new leadership standards in the coming months.

Three more months in this school year! While this winter hasn’t seemed to want to end, here we are with less than 12 weeks of school remaining. This next stretch will fly by quickly but it can also be emotionally and physically draining. Make sure that you continue to keep your three priorities (faith, family, job) in the right order during these next three months. Enjoy the coming of spring (hopefully) and may God continue to bless you and the work you do!

No Armed Teachers Here!

Since the tragedy in Parkland, Florida and the ensuing conversations around gun control in the United States, I’ve found myself trying to hold back on not making comments. Part of my reasoning is because I’m Canadian and in some ways probably don’t have the right to judge another country’s policies. But I’m also an educator and realistically, kids are kids no matter where they attend school and safety is safety! Plus I’m a superintendent who would automatically be part of a decision (if ever made) to arm teachers in our own division.

Let’s begin with the idiocy of the gun control argument. The head of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre made this statement following the Sandy Hook tragedy, “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.” He is pretty staunch in his beliefs that Americans should be able to bear arms and would be very willing for his organization to make schools safer. Bad guy with guns, good guy with guns, bear arms and make schools safer… I think I’ve heard more coherent statements on the kindergarten playground.

I’m not an anti-gun socialist. I have an in-law who is an avid hunter and I admire the safety precautions he takes around the storage and use of his guns.  What I have a difficult time with is the ability to purchase assault weaponry (or use it for an auction/raffle prize) or to be able to walk around with a concealed handgun! This can’t be good for the fabric of any nation and given the history of ongoing school shootings and massive killings in the US, maybe it is time to re-think some policies.

I would be naive to believe that any compromised solution exists through the political arenas.  The extremes on both the right and the left are far too ignorant to seek a compromise somewhere in the middle. Their rights blind their responsibilities! The debate around gun control is far too political and in reality touches on only the symptoms of the problem and not the root cause.

Schools and communities do have an effective tact to improve safety but it will take all politicians and the public at large to support. Every single day we have students coming into schools who are living with or in traumatic situations and experiencing some of the highest levels of anxiety and pressure in history. The stress level of our students continues to grow exponentially.

Mental health support is our greatest equalizer to this problem. Systems are currently taxed in providing support for students with the hiring of additional school or family school counselors and mental health therapists. The wait times to see, or even the available resources of pediatricians, child psychologists and psychiatrists continues to grow. Wouldn’t that be a bonus if the access to these professionals was unencumbered by where you lived or what you made? Early intervention is also a key and therefore supporting the mental health needs of children at a young age is critical. Targeting early learners is one of the best investments for building stronger communities. In order to address the growing mental health needs of our students, funding (targeted) has to be made available. It needs to be adequate, ongoing and not tied to politics. This funding is simply the right thing to do regardless of political ideology. Unfortunately, this is not going to be a quick fix so don’t expect a turnaround immediately. This solution must be thought of as generational.

It seems that politicians, the odd media star, and the public cries foul over bullying in schools all too often. Most point their fingers without ever looking at their own contributions to the issue. When was the last time any of these officials ever spent time in the shoes of teachers and administrators dealing the complexities of our classrooms and schools today? It is easy to give advice from afar, how about giving support instead!

So politicians and public in general, instead of belittling public education and complaining about teachers, administrators, schools and systems, how about stepping up to the plate with real-time funding to support children and families. The answer in my system for creating safer environments is not arming our teachers but continuing to support the ever-growing mental health needs of our students and families…period!

 

From the Desk of the Superintendent- March 2018

“You have three priorities in your life. Faith, family and then the job! Keep them in the right order as much as possible.” 

That statement is one that I share with all of our new teachers at the beginning of each school year and is one that all of us should hear more often. Wellness is a hot topic in society today and given we have just come through the February blues and some of the worst weather that I can remember, the statement has tremendous merit. Unfortunately in our “busy” society, trying to keep those three priorities first of all IN our lives and secondly in the correct order is difficult to do. And, it just doesn’t happen or remain constant without ongoing attention and intentional work.

We are in the midst of Lent and therefore faith should be front and center in our world, but is it? I think we do a tremendous job at keeping faith in the forefront to our students throughout the school year and especially during seasons like Lent. But what about our own faith. I’m a cradle Catholic and like many of us cradle Catholics, we grew up with a lot of rote memory, a little bit of knowing and very little understanding. This fact hit me again hard at our Learning Leadership Team Professional Development around Inclusive Communities. Often, what I think our faith says about an issue and what our faith truly says about an issue can be quite different. It is a great reminder to me and hopefully to all of us that although faith is a journey, it requires commitment to learn along the way.  If we truly believe that faith is our own first priority (and that of the division) than what are we doing to enhance it? We have some of the strongest innovative practitioners in our buildings because of their desire to learn more, so why not the same fervor for faith development?

Our world is pretty messed up sometimes. People are consistently searching for something out there to “settle themselves” or provide the right balance. For religious people, we’ve always had faith as that “go to.” We’ve always had scripture in front of us and prayer at our side. Yet, too often we allow the busyness of our lives to take away or minimalize our biggest rock- faith. Wellness, personal or professional has to begin with ensuring that faith is our number 1 priority!

Family needs to be our second priority for a couple of reasons. First of all, and this is so evident in my own family is that it provides us with tremendous support. We need the ones we love the most to be around us and that time needs to be intentional! Being present is the key! Just as we need them, our families need us. It sounds almost comical but if you need find time to pray, schedule it and if you need to find time to spend quality time with your family, schedule it too! It would be nice if we already had the right balance all the time so that we didn’t have to schedule faith and family time but if you don’t have enough of it, you need to schedule it until it becomes the norm.  My wife and I will celebrate 35 years of marriage this year, our children are 30 and 25 years old respectively, our little grandson is already over 2 years old and the arrival of his new baby sister is only three months away. Time flies and it is in the blink of an eye. Don’t allow yourself to miss these wonderful family opportunities because of mixed up priorities.

And now focus on the job! Some people in the business world will think I’m crazy for placing work behind faith and family. They’ll likely state that I don’t have high enough expectations for my staff or that I’m a pushover or that the organization will be consumed with lazy employees. Well those who work with me know that I’m pretty driven and have very high expectations beginning with myself. I expect high quality work and continuous improvement from everybody in the organization. While I may be seen as pretty easy to get along with and relational as a whole, I don’t have a problem drawing a line in the sand when required. I’ve also learned that lazy employees are going to be lazy no matter what framework they work in. Quite honestly to those who are lazy in our organization or any other, shame on you! In the end, I know that providing permission to set priorities properly has a more positive effect than negative.

I’m not so ignorant to understand that there are times when our priorities get out-of-order. Sometimes the job we do is overwhelming and all-consuming. But our wellness requires us to hit the reset button every so often to get us back to what is most important. Don’t be afraid to take a step back, breathe and find your bearings so that faith, family and the job are re-ordered porperly! God Bless!

Style vs. Substance

Next week I’ll be part of an interview committee for a principal position in our division. Part of our process is the inclusion of multiple stakeholders who provide me with feedback on each potential candidate. Before we begin, I always provide the committee with a reminder to listen carefully to the answers and don’t get lost in the style of those being interviewed. “Did the candidate provide an answer to the question asked or did the candidate side step the question?” “Did the candidate provide concrete examples of actions taken or simply state what he/she would do if given the opportunity.” I’m looking for evidence not platitude, because often the best predictor of future performance is past performance. With that mentality, I’m hoping that committee members, including myself can see through the “style guy!” 

But what about when attending conferences and listening to keynote or other presentations? Does the same thinking apply? I would like to believe that intelligent conference attenders (we all believe we are) would be able to recognize the difference between rhetoric and research. However, after just returning from an international conference, I’m not sure we all get the style vs. substance paradigm simply based on the level of applause given or not!

Since our paths just crossed in the airport today, I’ll give you a personal example. The first time I listened to Canadian education guru, Michael Fullan, his presentation was dry. But his message was so powerful. He rocked me with the topic and in many ways he was instrumental the re-engagement of my own learning journey. Had I just focused on his style, I may have missed his critical messaging, the true substance of his talk. I’ve continued to follow Dr. Fullan throughout my career and have had the good fortune to hear him speak many times now. The “wow” factor doesn’t come from his style, which has improved steadily but rather in the content of his presentation.

I do understand the allure of the charismatic presenters. They typically say what we want to hear and use emotions with great ease. It is hard not to “fall in love” with the message because most often, they are tugging at our heart-strings. They make us laugh one moment and cry the next and most importantly they make us feel good about ourselves. They are simply affirming because they say exactly what we want to hear. But if we desire to be on an improvement journey, that keynote needs to push us beyond just feeling good about ourselves.

This is where substance has to come into play. This is where no matter how good we are feeling from the speaker’s talk, there needs to be that little push to go beyond what we’ve always done. I’m all for being affirmed at conferences on practices that are known to be tried and true. That affirmation tells me how far I, or my organization has come to this point. But that, is only one part of a true reflective evaluation. You must also be aware of how much farther you need to go along the journey and that will only occur if there are some challenges provided from the stylish and substance filled speaker.

It is not necessarily commonplace to find many high style and deep substance speakers at a conference because that ability is quite rare! But when you do, you should be walking out of the presentation feeling pretty good but also feeling challenged to take your practice up another notch. Default to substance if you have to choose because superficial talks will only promote false beliefs and when it comes to improvement, deep learning and serious reflection are required.

Ode to Support Staff

The following blog post was published in the Lethbridge Herald on February 21, 2018.

It is difficult not to automatically think about teachers when we talk about schools or education. In past articles, I’ve written about the importance of our school leaders and, just recently, about the unseen life of teachers. But our school systems do not run as effectively and efficiently as they do with only the certificated staff. Support staff (i.e. non-teachers/school administrators) make up between 40-50% of a school jurisdiction’s staffing population. I cringe every time we have guest speakers addressing our entire staff at division events who mistakenly refer to only teachers in the crowd because they’re missing acknowledging a large group of people who are instrumental to the running of this system.

When I began my career, a wise mentor told me to “make friends” with the school secretary (now called various names) and the custodian. What I learned very quickly was the impact both the front office staff and the caretaking team have on the overall culture of a school. In many instances they are the first contact for parents and students and their influence, with a pleasant greeting or a big smile, goes a long way to make the school environment even more welcoming. Those are just two groups within our support staff who are highly visible, yet their impact is often unseen by the public.

Another group within our support staff that provides tremendous benefit are those who work directly with children, students and parents. This may mean one on one interventions or leading small group activities. It may be supporting our First Nations, Metis or Inuit culture or meeting with parents to discuss mental health, attendance or possibly speech language strategies. Many of these caring individuals assist children and students facing multiple challenges. Sometimes they provide a kind word, or redirection of behaviour or support for opportunities that, without their presence, might be highly unlikely. Regardless, their approach is always delivered with much compassion.

The final group provide more support to the entire system as opposed to individual students and parents. They are sometimes forgotten because they are in central office, but their work is nonetheless invaluable. With a budget of over 60 million dollars, it is extremely important that you have capable people looking after the functions of payroll, human resources, business services and finance. Let’s not forget about the contributions of those in the departments of technology and maintenance. And while not direct employees of the division, bus drivers play a valuable role in transporting our students safely to and from school.

The bottom line is that, for school systems to perform at the highest levels, a strong support staff is required. Their impact is critical and should be recognized, even if they are seldom seen front and center.

Psychological Safety

A couple of weeks ago, during a conversation with an executive coach I was re-introduced to the term “psychological safety.” I had not thought much about the term previous from a leader’s perspective but after the talk I realized the importance. As I further reflected, I realized how much psychological safety is connected to high performing organizations.

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Most organizations, but especially educational organizations are constantly seeking to continuously improve. Improvement is not typically about doing the same thing better, it is more often about tweaking your processes or radically shifting your practice.

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Improvement is about becoming both more efficient and effective and ultimately more innovative and creative. But how do you create a culture of improvement if you haven’t first created a culture of trust? How can you ask your staff to be bold without them feeling psychological safety?

Innovation originates from individuals stepping outside the typical boundaries. While there are some “jobs” that require employees to stay strictly within the boundaries, most allow more flexibility. In education, where we are constantly looking to improve the experience of our students, out of the box thinking and doing are required. This doesn’t mean a “free for all” because research still needs to be a guiding principle. But without a culture that allows for “failing forward” and “learning fast” our classrooms and overall systems will continue to practice insanity.

Each time we ask or promote staff to “do things differently” we are asking them to move from the comfortable to the uncomfortable, from a place of competence to a place of incompetence. Few of us like to the feeling of uneasiness when we are faced with a new situation or learning a new skill, but it makes it much easier if a safety net is provided. That net is psychological safety!

We know too much today about the importance of trust in an organization. Now leaders need to extend that trust to highlight psychological safety for employees so they may step up and out, be bold and free and make the differences required!

 

From the Desk of the Superintendent- February 2018

Last Thursday, my dad underwent open heart surgery at the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary. They cracked his chest open (I still shudder at that thought) and replaced two of his heart values. He was in ICU until late Saturday afternoon and then he walked on his own to the “step down” unit. On Tuesday, he was discharged after he passed all of his tests including walking up and down flights of stairs and drove back (as a passenger) to Medicine Hat with my mom and our son, Jordan. I’m grateful for the surgeon, Dr. Kent and his team and most thankful for the care my father experienced at the hospital especially from the nurses in ICU. But what has this to do with education?

We have an expectation in the medical field that practice is always evolving. None of us would be very impressed if our doctors relied on procedures that were outdated or used old technology that increased patient suffering and/or recovery time. Given that dad was out of the hospital in six days, I’m pretty confident that Dr. Kent used the latest methods that were soundly grounded in research. So why do so many in the general public want an improvement in the education system yet are unwilling to accept any changes in practice because, “That’s not how I learned it when I went to school!” We accept it wholeheartedly in the medical profession but fight it tooth and nail in the education profession!

I’m proud of many things that occur in our school division but one that sticks out the most is our willingness as a division to continually improve. It doesn’t seem to matter whether it is in business practices or classroom pedagogy, maintenance or leadership, we’ve developed a culture of improvement. Our system believes in moving forward, trying new things in order to get better at whatever we do. Even though we have tightly aligned priorities, we’ve created a freedom within the context of each of our schools to move outside the box in our thinking and in our doing. I’m honoured to visit classrooms on a fairly regular basis (one of the best parts of the job) and watch innovative practices from teachers who are going beyond, trying new and learning forward. It is exciting to watch and necessary to counter the ill-informed public who want to improve education without changing anything! Please don’t ever stop that willingness to evolve! 

The beginning of February is the start of the second half of the school year, semester 2 or quarter 3 depending on where you are in the division. It also marks the month that we begin the season of Lent, the 40 days (not including Sundays) that prepare us for the death and resurrection of Jesus. Christian faiths around the world know it as a time of prayer and repentance, fasting and abstinence. It is a journey where we reflect on how we might become the best version of ourselves and the person that God has called us to be.

It is not an easy journey and so as Matthew Kelly says, “Be gentle with yourself.” Strive to find time to pray, time to give and time to fast during this Lenten season. And may God bless you in your Lenten journey!

 

The unseen life of a teacher

Once a week, the Lethbridge Herald publishes a column written by a superintendent of one of five school jurisdictions in the Lethbridge area. This week’s column is authored by Chris Smeaton, Superintendent for Holy Spirit Catholic School Division and was published on January 17, 2018. CASS thanks the Lethbridge Herald for permission to post this article on our website.

Unfortunately, there are some in society who believe they know exactly what teachers do simply because they attended school. Their view may even be more skewed depending on their own experiences as a student, be it compliant, challenging or somewhere in between. The fact is that what students (or ex-students) see in their classrooms is only a part of the art and science of teaching.

I would suggest that teaching is a calling because, quite clearly, not everybody can or wants to shape the lives of children every day. The complexity of our classrooms continues to grow and the mandate of education expands on a yearly basis. Often what has been a home or community responsibility in the past has fallen into the laps of educators. This statement is not meant to elicit sympathy for the teaching profession or forward a victim mentality, but rather acknowledge the multifaceted role of today’s teacher.

One of the aspects of teachers as professionals that is not seen on a day to day basis is a commitment to continuous improvement. Beyond a specialized skill set, professionals, athletic, artistic or educational, all seek to get better. We would like to believe that this continuous improvement is limited to professional development days organized by schools or divisions in the yearly calendar, and while those can provide excellent learning, improvement is, or at least should be, an almost daily occurrence.

Teachers are constantly reviewing assessment data, reflecting on their own practice and searching for strategies that engage all students in their classrooms. There are many sleepless nights when teachers can’t seem to find the right strategy to assist a struggling student. Some are enrolled in graduate programs and others are engaged in online learning. Professional conversations, engaging in action research and book studies are just some further activities that teachers do invisibly, away from the classroom.  

We all know there is a level of mediocrity in all professions. Teaching is no exception. As an employer, it would be naive of me not to realize that skill level and competence varies and that not every teacher is as committed to professional development as they should be.  My message to those in education who do not believe and, more importantly, do not engage in continually improving practice is, “Shame on you!” Fortunately, locally, in Alberta and throughout Canada, the majority of teachers believe in their professional responsibility of continuous improvement.

So, the next time you hear somebody talk about the life of a teacher, don’t focus on what you see in the classroom or the perceived holidays. Instead, remember the role they play in shaping our future generations, managing complex classrooms and accepting the responsibility of caring for and supporting somebody else’s children! And, alongside all of these activities, think about their desire to continuously improve their practice in order to enhance every student’s success, part of the unseen life of a teacher.

Do you know your leaders’ future plans?

About this time every year, I hold my future plan meetings with all of our system and school leaders. It is a practice that I initiated about five years ago. There is no doubt that it is time-consuming with almost 40 administrators and meetings lasting between 30-60 minutes but it continues to provide great dividends. I ask the same set of questions each year:

  1. What are your 1, 3, & 5 year plans and where would you like to be when you retire?
  2. What are three schools you would be like to work at if transferred?
  3. Who are three other administrators you would like to work with?

I want to tackle the last two questions to begin with. Although we are a small system (15 schools) of which 6 are rural, the transferring of school leaders is a common practice. In the perfect world, associate principals would move between the three and five year mark while principals would inherit a new school experience every seven years. Are there exceptions to this rule, absolutely! Retirements occur, vacancies happen and families change which all impact when and where to move particular administrators. Moving administrators for the sake of moving them is not all that helpful for morale or system and school improvement. That is why, the first question I ask regarding future plans is so vital to this exercise.

Growing more leaders has to be a main focus of any senior administrator. By listening closely to future plans and aspirations I’m better able to support the growth of each of our leaders. This is especially important when looking at their final position (what position they want to retire from) and working backwards. Part of my role has to be to facilitate getting the experiences and providing the background necessary to achieve their preferred position. Sometimes that is within the system but in other instances it requires them to take a position outside. I’ve had three very talented in-house leaders leave for promotions elsewhere and while many may argue that those are losses, I’m proud that those opportunities were taken because those same individuals may come back one day into my position.

But there is an important factor that needs to be addressed prior to having successful future plan meetings. Quite simply, a strong relationship has to be developed so that your administrators can trust you in the conversation and know that you are as equally concerned with their professional/personal growth as with system improvement. And that relationship has to be authentic enough to engage in tough conversations when needed. Future plans are not fluff!

The process I began five years ago provided some great insights. But today, with even a stronger culture of trust, the conversations are more telling. I’m blessed that my administrators “shoot from the hip” when we meet. I’m told potential retirement dates and impending baby plans which assists me in putting the ever changing jigsaw puzzle together. I will retire in the coming years and this process should assist in maintaining strength in our system and school leadership well beyond my departure.