Advice to a New Administrator – 3 years later


I was just re-reading a post that I wrote three years ago entitled, Advice to a New Administrator. This is the bit on which I have received the most hits since I began blogging. After I wrote that piece, I moved to a different high school within the same school district. Now…as I begin to bid farewell to this school <big sigh>, I have some thoughts running through my head and I feel that I need to add to my original post. I could go and edit the original post but I believe that a blog should serve as a journal. It is interesting to see how I have grown as an administrator with a different experience. I look forward to my change for next year as I will be working at a K-9 school. This is a little bit out of my comfort zone having worked in high schools for the past 19 years.

Anyway, here are my additions to my advice…

Relationships are definitely the most crucial thing for any administrator. Positive relationships built on trust…not only with students and staff but with everyone with whom you work…bus drivers, custodians, maintenance workers, contractors, the list goes on. No…I didn’t forget about PARENTS. Your relationships with parents are paramount! These people are trusting you with their children. I know, as a dad, that this is not an easy thing to do. If you build positive relationships with parents, those hard-to-make phone calls are not as difficult. I had a parent say to me the other day, “I don’t necessarily agree with you, but I trust that you are doing what is right for all involved.” Powerful!

Show people that they matter -just as Bill Ferriter talks about in this post, take the time to look into the eyes of the people that you are dealing with…they matter. As I mentioned in my original post, administrators get interrupted many times throughout the day. If someone comes into your office…even if you are working on something that has a deadline…stop what you are doing, look them in the eyes, and LISTEN to what they are telling you. You can tell so much from looking someone in the eyes…anxiety, fear, anger, peace, etc. Learn the names of the kids in your school and find out what kinds of things they like. Get to know your staff…find out the names of their children, where they grew up, etc. I guess another way to give this advice is to simply say, “be there…and care”

Try not to solve people’s problems for them – Help and support students and teachers that come to you with problems. If you solve problems for people – which is very easy to do – they can blame you if the advice you give them blows up in their face. Also, having people solve their own problems works to build leadership capacity and confidence.

Enjoy time spent with kids – they grow up so fast! I can’t believe that the kids that I met as grade 10 students when I first came to this school are graduating already…where has the time gone? We all entered the field of education because we enjoy working with and inspiring young people…never lose focus of that! Some of my students refer to me as their “school dad” and I think that is an honour. I guess in many ways, I am like a dad here at school. Wow…I have a lot of kids!

Communication – let people know what is going on. More importantly, tell people the reasons why decisions are made. People like to be informed…especially parents.

Take time to breathe – sometimes you have to take time to yourself…whether you go for a run, a workout, or into a student/staff common area to hang out and to laugh. Reflection is the key to learning and growing. Spend time in quiet reflection – blogging and journaling are great ways to record your thoughts and the things your have learned. Don’t feel bad for spending quiet time alone – you deserve it.

There are very few emergencies in education – I can only think of a few things in my entire career that needed to be dealt with immediately…and those situations involved student safety or medical emergencies. Most things that we deal with as administrators can definitely wait. Take time to make the right decision…the decision that is best for all involved.

Health trumps education – in terms of priorities, health (mental and physical) is far more important than education. We have had many situations in which students have had to take some time away from school to get their health in check. In these situations, try not to talk about school – instead talk about getting the student some help. If a student is not well – school will be a struggle.

Share – share your experiences with others…as I am doing through this post. Find a great article…tweet it! Have some teachers who are doing amazing things in their classrooms?  Get them to share it at a staff meeting. Work with other teachers…share ideas…do some team teaching. We will all get better if we collaborate and share.

Never stop learning – you work in an environment where you are one of the lead learners. It is important for educational leaders to model lifelong learning. We live in a world where there is so much to know and so much to learn. It is absolutely impossible to know everything but you should have a pretty good idea of where to access the information that you need. Find out who your experts are in your building and use them as a resource. For example, I have learned so much about autism from some of my colleagues over the past three years.

Step outside of your comfort zone – if you do what is comfortable, you will never grow and learn…and your job will get old. Try something that is new and different – you will be amazed at how refreshing it is. Yeah, your brain will hurt at first but you will be better for it.

And last but certainly not least…in fact, VERY IMPORTANT…

Trust teachers – teachers care about their kids and they will always do what is best for them. Many tasks are labelled as “admin tasks” and I don’t understand why. Teachers are extremely capable of doing many of these tasks. In fact, they are honoured when you ask them to do something…they feel empowered. Wouldn’t you have been flattered when you were teaching if an admin asked you to do something that you thought was an “admin duty”? Need some insight into a situation? Ask the teachers involved. Teachers know their stuff and can give you tons of insight. We had a situation here recently which was solved by going to the teachers involved and asking, “What do you see as the solution”. Empower the teachers in your building to be leaders! Don’t be afraid to give up the power.

Well, that’s all I have for today. I hope this was helpful. Please feel free to leave a comment.



How do you want to be remembered?


In my role as a high school Assistant Principal, I am also a grade coordinator. I met my “class” almost three years ago when they started grade 10. These kids (almost 300 of them) are now in grade 12 and they will be graduating this month. Over the course of the last three years, I have asked students many times (individually and at student assemblies), “How do you want to be remembered when you leave this high school?” I go on to explain to them that they are in charge of how they will be remembered by their attitude and their actions.

Now, as I leave this high school as an administrator (yes…the phone rang and I am moving to a different school), it is time for me to answer the question, “How do I want to be remembered?”

  • I want to be remembered as an educational leader who trusted teachers, empowered them to be better, and gave them opportunities to lead.
  • I want to be remembered as a technology leader who showed teachers (and students) that technology does not have to be scary. Hopefully, I was able to show that technology is a tool which helps us to learn.
  • I want to be remembered as a guy who had positive relationships with the entire school community…students, parents, staff, custodians, maintenance employees, contractors, bus drivers, neighbours, alumni, etc.
  • I want to be remembered as a leader who had vision and values.
  • I want to be remembered as a guy who was easy to talk to and was approachable.
  • I want to be remembered as a guy who “got things done”.
  • I want to be remembered as an administrator who could help learners of all ages solve their problems without jumping in and solving the problem for them.
  • Most importantly, I want to be remembered as a guy who cared about kids.

I guess it is only fair that I answer my own question. How do you want to be remembered at your school?

Yes George, School Counsellors Do Have A Hashtag

Wow…my re-tweet triggered a great blog post!

Counsellor Talk : Creative Collaborative Connections

Thanks to @hatcherelli I saw this post today and it got me to thinking about the many times I have seen this kind of post! There has been hashtags for school counsellors for a very long time, but many are not aware of them.

The longest standing hashtag for school counsellors is #scchat, a great place for school counsellors to gather. Thanks to @ecmmason and @sch_counselor this is a great place to share and learn.

After our time in ETMOOC  @EHordyskiLuong and I tried to get Canadian School Counsellors to join in using the hashtag #CSCchat. We know you are out there school counsellors and we still want you to join in using all the school counsellor hashtags. It is the best PD ever …

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Eight Characters

At our last Assistant Principals’ PD session, we had the opportunity to talk about and reflect on the Eight Characters of Catholic Education. Throughout my career as a Catholic educator, I have always enjoyed conversations and reflections around the eight characters.

After the session, I read through the handout that we were given and I created the following Haiku Deck. In creating the deck, I included the phrase (for each character) that had the most impact on me.

8 characters

Please click on the image to take you to my Haiku Deck.

More on Collaboration

I experienced an overwhelming response to my posts (here and here and here) about collaboration in schools. From my thinking and from the comments of others, I have come up with the following list of essential ingredients for collaboration in schools. When I say this, I am referring to collaboration of all learners (staff and students). I tried to write the following items so that they could be applied to students and staff.

Thanks to Maureen, Bruce and Shawan for their comments.

1. Adults as the lead learners – It is so important for adults to model good collaboration. As educators, we all must understand what it means to collaborate and how collaboration is different from group work and delegation. We must model good collaboration for our students and our fellow colleagues. Administrators must model the collaboration process for their staff. If you want your teachers to collaborate, you must show them how.

2. Shared vision – when a group is collaborating, each member must understand where the project is going and they must also understand how the piece that they are working on fits into the project, as a whole. Each member of the group should be able to speak about the project and each of its parts…even though they may not have worked directly on a certain part.

3. Trust – each member of the group must trust that their fellow group members will take an active role and will produce their best work. Members must also trust in their own abilities as contributing members of a team.

4. Time – effective collaboration takes time. If we want our students to collaborate, we must first teach them how and then give them time. As teachers, we need to spend time together, debriefing and discussing. This doesn’t mean that we have to have meeting after meeting, just for the sake of a meeting. It is important to meet when there are things that need to be discussed and tweaked. I used to team team with a colleague and we spent many hours planning and discussing. By doing this, we felt that we gave our students the best mathematical experience ever.

5. Flexibility – collaborating is more than just cooperating. We can’t just divide up the work and set everybody free.

When you work in an interdependent way you have to listen, accommodate and adapt to others’ but when you merely cooperate all you have to do is avoid overlap while you continue to work independently on your portion of the task. (Bruce Beairsto)

Reacting to the feedback from others is essential. This may even involve tweaking the direction of the project. The feedback that I received on my original posts definitely had an effect on this post and presented some things that I had not thought of.

6. Roles – each group member must understand their role and feel that their contribution is valuable to the project. Roles should be assigned according to people’s strengths and willingness. Group members must understand how their role fits into the entire project. In a true collaboration, I would be not only to describe my own role but also the roles of others. Recently, we collaborated at my school to host a 50 year anniversary of our school. We all knew what our own jobs were and we knew what other people were doing, as well.

7. Commitment – Each member of a group must be committed to the project and be prepared to see it through to the end. Commitment is different than consensus.

8. Shared Leadership – Just like geese flying in formation, there are times when you need to lead and times when you need to follow the lead of others. This goes back to the “trust” ingredient above.

9. Willingness to fail – Take a risk. Try something. If it doesn’t work, pick up the pieces…debrief…and start again. Making mistakes is how we learn.

Did I miss anything?

True collaboration is a very important skill and it is something that I believe that we need to teach to our students…both directly and by example. We need to develop learning activities which will force kids to collaborate. Why? Any time that I have been involved in a collaboration effort, the learning has been more powerful. Also, it is great to work as a team. You can’t be good at everything, but you can certainly draw on the strengths of others.

Great Compliment

I was on the phone with a parent yesterday. At the end of our conversation, she told me that she was really pleased with the experience that her son was having at our school. She said, “You guys have a good thing going over there.” I asked her to be more specific…not because I wanted her to say more nice things (maybe I did)…but because I wanted the feedback about what was working for her child. She said, “You have teachers that care about kids and establish great relationships with them.” Wow…that is the greatest compliment ever! She went on to say that her son seeks extra help from his teachers and they are available and always willing to help.

To me, that is what it is all about….making connections and forming positive relationships with kids. Our teachers certainly go Above and Beyond. I think this is what George is talking about in his post.

We are doing great work in our schools. At our district-wide PD (#ecsdtransform), many examples of 21C learning were presented. In all of the examples, teachers had formed connections and created positive learning relationships with their students. Teaching is a hard job and it keeps getting more difficult. Let’s all try to remember why we do it…for the kids! Ten years from now, our students aren’t going to remember the awesome Math lesson but they will remember the relationships that they had with great teachers.

Consensus vs. Commitment

When you are trying to make a decision at your school,  do you ever get frustrated because you cannot come to a consensus on a certain issue? You sit and talk about an issue and the conversation goes around and around and, as a result, nothing is decided and you end up tabling the issue until the next meeting.

Sometimes, there are situations where you will never achieve consensus. At this point, you need to rely on people’s commitment. I like to use the following analogy. The game of basketball (the best game on Earth) has many rules. Some of these rules make no sense to me but I make a commitment to play, coach and referee by the rules because I understand that games need to have rules. A lack of rules would result in a chaotic game.

In a school, if people are commited to the mission,vision and goals of the school, they will commit to certain decisions when there is no consensus. People need to feel that they have been heard and they need to have trust for their colleagues and the school leaders. We cannot take it personally when a colleague disagrees with us. We need to commit to decisions which are in the best interest of our school’s vision and goals. In a nutshell, if it is good for kids and their learning, it is the best decision.

Who would not commit to doing what is best for kids and their learning? Does any of this make sense?