Take the Day

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As we continue to plow through this incredible blip of a year, perhaps you’ve hit this (almost!) halfway point and realized that even though things have been difficult, the silver linings are starting to show themselves. Perhaps attendance has improved for some of your at-risk students; maybe certain things have come to light that now obviously need to change moving forward in terms of school structures. When it comes to silver linings, they can look very different depending on your outlook or situation. For us; one thing I have noticed that students are spending more time outdoors, and less time on their phones at lunch–they are having conversations instead of exchanging snaps (well, less snaps anyway). I do realize that for some of my colleagues–difficult is an understatement. In some jurisdictions, working has literally been equal to risking your health and well-being daily. I do not want to gloss over this very true reality. There can’t be guarantees during a pandemic, where this virus creeps through communities and can turn up anywhere. One that I want to focus on revolves around the spotlight on not only mental health, but also on personal health during this pandemic. Peoples concern surrounding their personal health has skyrocketed, either through a new commitment to staying active, eating well and/or getting outside more or by simply avoiding getting sick.

In my position, taking care of oneself is talked about, encouraged, #hashtagged, etc. but in actuality often doesn’t come to fruition. In the last two years alone, I’ve worked with bronchitis, torn rotator cuffs, sinus infections, and so on. Obviously since last March, anything that would include symptoms related to health checks would certainly have kept me at home. And yet. The prevailing feeling of inadequacy when away from work continues. We are at an interesting intersection, generationally, in our industry. The old guard, “retired with 373 sick days remaining” badge of honour prevails. It is hard to reconcile that with the message of “take a day.”

But, we don’t (take a day). Certainly not often, unless we are bedridden–it is unwritten that time away is not appreciated. Why does it feel this way? How does that unwritten message still rise to top, despite the self-care and wellness dialogues that we are embracing and partaking in time and time again? I can definitively say that one main reason (at least from my perspective) is that it isn’t modelled nearly as much as it should be. It’s one thing to openly encourage days to work from home, or stay away but it’s an entirely different story when I actively see those in positions above me doing just that. I am grateful for my leaders; they are fantastic. Have I ever seen them take a day away, even when it is clear they are lagging?

I can’t justify taking a day when I am feeling burnt out; when I could, in theory, come to work. Not when I don’t see others in my position doing the same thing. Maybe it’s just me; and my direct contacts. If that’s the case; fantastic. I highly doubt it though. As more younger individuals move into educational leadership, burn out is going to become a very real thing. This job isn’t a promotion; it’s a career change. It is a choice to move into a position where you are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If something happens, you are there to pick up the phone or attend that meeting. You cut short your vacation, walk away from family movie night. And if that is the expectation; then we need to have more physical health//mental health self-care modelled or the revolving door will continue to spin when it comes to this job; right now, it’s just not sustainable. So, whether you are new or experienced–at the top of management or like me, trucking away in the smaller office–when you just need to, take the day.

And I will try to model that for you.

Don’t call me baby

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Something has been on my mind lately has been the perception of others when it comes to my physical appearance in comparison to the trajectory of my career. You see, I am younger, but not overly young. I do; however, have a youthful appearance. I am on the short side, and have long hair with nary a grey in sight (thank you genetics!). I typically always dress professionally; and avoid wearing a hoodie at work even if it is a spirit day of some sort (as it makes me look like I’m closer in age to our 10th graders than my colleagues). But what’s been troubling me a lot lately is this: even if I am younger than expected for my role, even if I look youthful on any given day…it actually bugs the heck out of me to have others comment on it.

“You’re a baby,” is a common phrase I hear when discussing historical elements of education, or even things occurred 5 years ago. “You were probably still in high school then!” is another favourite. Even if I was, it doesn’t mean its okay to comment on my age. I don’t go around calling my colleagues with grey hair geriatrics, so the double standard is somewhat perplexing. I am more than my age, certainly more than my appearance. While it does happen occasionally; I know that typically my male counterparts don’t need to constantly defend themselves to colleagues or peers when it comes to their youth and/or appearance–despite the fact we are actually close in age.

Some context…

Before I go on, I just want to be clear: I am incredible proud of my successes. My path to my current role was anything but a straight line; and if I’m honest with myself, some of the challenges along the way were related to my age and, in part–my gender vs. the hours of time I put into broadening my “district profile”. I think that one crucial choice I made to get to where I am now was to move on–and find opportunities outside of my comfort zone. While it was difficult to make the transition, recognizing the toxicity of waiting to be seen vs. the benefit of a fresh start has been absolutely key.

That doesn’t mean that some elements of those challenges haven’t followed me. In a lot of the situations or conversations I’ve been in where my age or youthful appearance has become a topic of conversation, I’ve laughed along with the joke. I shouldn’t have to laugh at my own expense, or in some cases be unfairly judged for being a younger leader.

Here’s the thing though; someone, or in my case, a lovely group of someones recognized that my education, skills, abilities, personality and experience was a fit for my position. I wasn’t arbitrarily placed, I was vetted through processes and then selected. This means something, it means that my age wasn’t a factor. My appearance wasn’t a factor. Don’t get me wrong, I know that I still have much to learn, and I love that about my career. It has so many opportunities for growth and mentorship; however, I shouldn’t have to work harder to prove myself as being just as worthy as peers that “look the part.” I shouldn’t have to self-deprecate when it comes to my youth–and neither should anyone else who have put in the time and work to get to a place of leadership.

So, please don’t call me a baby. Please treat me as you would anyone else in a leadership position. Judge me by my work ethic, my compassion and my enthusiasm for education.

*This post is not directed at anyone specifically; and is a culmination of events and conversations that I’ve been a part of for the last 5+ years. While there are times that are appropriate to discuss age and appearance, it shouldn’t be the default joke. The best part of being so young is that I know I have a long career ahead of me, and lots of time to achieve all of my professional goals.

The Year I Quit

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During recent months, as life in the education sector has changed dramatically, I have found myself reflecting upon my job; my career, as a whole.  I’ve been an educator since about 2008–and an administrator since mid-2017.  Some days, working with teenagers and youth are thankless; exhausting, annoying.  Other days as filled with kindness, hope and cheer.  I’ve come to understand that this job will always have an abundance of highs and lows; but I didn’t always understand or accept that.

In the spring of 2011 I made the decision that teaching wasn’t necessarily for me.  I’d been in the same school for 2 years, taught Computer Science and Math–had multiple “preps” per course (Programming 11/12, Marketing 11/12, etc.) and I was done.  I had also been surplussed and laid off the year before (and had gotten back my full job before the start of the new school year) and I knew that the coming deadline for staffing would likely mean another surplus and lay-off.  I didn’t feel supported, I didn’t feel that I was “in love” with teaching.  So I did my research, and I took a leave for the next school year.  My administrator at the time wasn’t surprised when I broke the news; he knew that while I did a good job teaching my courses and promoted our computer science program, I was burnt out.  Physically, emotionally and mentally.  I packed up my office, stored my resources and instead of surpluses, my school absorbed my FTE (job).

I was free.  Free to look for other options, to move out to the city.  And so I did.  I worked as a freelance graphic designer, I volunteered.  I interviewed for non-profit jobs that suited my interests…but didn’t commit to a new position.  By winter, my finances began to dry out and a administrator friend at my fiancees’ school joked about having me in to TOC (substitute) for him; and that is how I ended up returning pseudo early from my leave to TOC for the last 4 months of the school year.  Let me tell you; being a TOC when you are used to being full-time in the classroom can be completely gratifying.  It is humbling when it comes to classroom management but gratifying when it comes to just being in a school, conversing with young people and other educators. I moved school to school, had the chance to meet other educators and students in a variety of grades.  It gave me some time to enjoy being in and around the education system, it allowed me perspective.  Unscheduled, open time with students and the classroom refuelled me in a way that professional development hadn’t in the past.  It gave me the inspiration to recommit to my career, and to make plans going forward to complete my Masters’ in Educational Leadership to achieve my original goal of administration and human resources.

Don’t be afraid if you lose your passion.  Either you are going to be a teacher, or you aren’t.  Maybe you’ll find your way back to the classroom; or maybe you won’t.  You’ll find your passion again, or maybe a new one will rise to the surface.  Is it hard to “give up” a full time position?  Absolutely.  But it will be infinitely more difficult to stick to a job for 30+ years when there are so many options available.   Maybe it means looking for another teaching position, or moving grades (even from senior secondary down to primary!).   I wanted to share this story because I know that it is hard to quit or take a break from something you thought was where you were supposed be.  I also know that I was lucky to have had the chance to realize that despite its ups and downs, education is where I want to be; and I know without a doubt that if I hadn’t had the chance to take time away from it all, I wouldn’t be who and where I am today.

 

 

What PINK SHIRT DAY really means to me

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PINK SHIRT DAY is today across BC, and really across Canada and the world at this point.  It is an important day to highlight the very serious issue facing people of all ages–bullying, harassment, cyber-bullying, and people just.not.being.kind.  To me, it means something a little bit different.

PINK SHIRT DAY was a grassroots movement started in 2007 by a 17 year old boy in eastern Canada–all in support of another student who was harassed for wearing a pink shirt to school.  By recognizing, organizing and executing the first “pink shirt day” to take a stand of the injustice of bullying, this student is just one example of how young people CAN make a HUGE difference in society and their communities.

To often we forget that students like this young boy were the “firestarters” for change in their communities, as movements like PINK SHIRT DAY become more commercialized and take on a life of their own.  PINK SHIRT DAY is just one of many examples of how students (OUR STUDENTS!) want to have the opportunity to change the world, whether it be through social activism, entrepreneurship or even a mix of both.  The question is, how can we promote and support students in a way that helps them make these big ideas into reality?

I might be bias, because of the role I play with Career Education; but honestly, the endeavour that is Pink Shirt Day is an amazing example of what a Capstone project could be! For those outside of BC; our graduating students are required to create a project of their choosing to demonstrate their passion, their learning or even create something new. In a lot of ways, this project is a way for us to help students learn more about ways they personally can, have and will impact their world. The heart of Career Education, and really, BC’s Core Competencies is to give students the opportunity (and for some, the excuse) to jumpstart their big ideas, to move forward with their plans to change the world.  Some great examples are the Youth Philanthropy Initiative, the Socialpreneurship Project, STEM, project-based learning, MakerSpaces.  School-based programs, such as the partnership and trades programs, IB, leadership, social justice–there are too many to name.  They are all opportunities to connect into WHO students want to be in the world, which will hopefully lead them to WHAT they want to be.

So, remember–PINK SHIRT DAY has its own special message; however, never forget it all start out with some kid who wanted to make a difference. 

Status quo, or status no?

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“It’s always been done this way.”

This sentiment is one of the biggest “icebergs” that I’ve encountered in my career as an educator–for such a small little statement, sometimes underneath it is laden with deep emotions–happiness, complacency, pride, disengagement, frustration, nostalgia…the list could go on.  Sometimes the status quo is an essential tool to school culture, but determining when to change the way things are done is a lesson that I think all school leaders are constantly trying to learn. One important factor to consider when addressing status quo is whether something is just an unwritten rule or if it is a deeply entrenched tradition.  Obviously, some basic research and sleuthing may be needed to determine as such. There are three big questions that leaders could look to ask when it comes to the status quo  before entertaining a change to the status quo or reworking a tradition.

  1.  Is it habit, policy or tradition?  Oftentimes, we mistake habit for tradition.  Just because something is done regularly doesn’t necessarily make it a tradition.  Habits, or what we might refer to as routines in education, certainly can turn into traditions but there are important factors that need to be in place for them to do so.  These factors include people, motivation and time.  If these factors aren’t present, then either something isn’t really a TRUE tradition, or it isn’t one that is likely to be sustained much longer.   What if you encounter something that hasn’t been around long enough to be considered a tradition, BUT it has certainly become a well-developed routine or habit (status quo)? If that is the case, then you have to ask whether it has the potential to be a positive and perpetuated tradition, or if it might be better changed and/or modified.
  2. Who and how?  This is actually very important when it comes to the longevity and sustainability of traditions.  Who perpetuates the tradition and how they do it is very important to whether a tradition continues.  Traditions only “live” if there are people to continue them, and that requires meaningful sharing and passing on to all who are meant to participate.  For example, if a tradition began with a staff in the early 1990s, and that staff continued it forward until the mid-2000s but did not see fit to bring newer staff members into the tradition, then as the original staff left or retired the tradition would cease.  Alternatively, if that same staff shared the tradition with each new staff member as they arrived, there would be a higher likelihood of the tradition surviving.   The way in which the tradition is shared is also important for buy-in.  Simply stating, “this is how its done” won’t foster motivation from newer staff who are meant to take up and continue a tradition–there has to be some semblance of mentorship involved, time dedicated for the sharing and then active participation in a tradition.  This is where I feel a lot of traditions in schools especially fall short as those who are engrained with traditional are often loath to let others “take up the torch,” for fear of losing out on some unsaid power.  Depending on the who and how, some traditions naturally see their end; however, expediting that end might be an option depending on the ratio of willing participants to casual observers.
  3. When and why?  As previously discussed, traditions often begin out of habit (routine) or policy.  When looking at whether a tradition has run its course, it is important to learn not only about how deeply embedded a tradition is amongst current staff (and students) but also how and why it came into being.  Traditions do have a way of outliving their usefulness, depending on why they began in the first place; however, if the “who” and “how” of a tradition is alive and well, that may not matter.  A staff survey regarding their knowledge and feelings about certain traditions might be a good start in order to determine whether a new option or “retirement” will be well received.

Changing traditions or letting them go isn’t for the faint of heart nor is it something that should be taken lightly.  The status quo is some instances is the very glue that is holding everything together; whereas in other cases it has staled culture and created divides.  Finding a way to balance change while respecting true tradition is the juggling act that a leader must learn to take part in, and unfortunately there isn’t a manual for how to do it successfully–every organization, every group of people, and every instance of status quo or tradition will vary.

If there was one tradition or unwritten piece of “status quo” in your organization that you could change, what would it be?