Re-Energized Through Networking

This week I had the distinct privilege to attend the OPSAO New Superintendent Orientation Session in Toronto.  I walked into this conference feeling exhausted and I left two days later feeling exhilarated. Why?  Let me explain!

  • Practicing What We Preach/Modelling for Those Within Our Sphere of Influence     Day two of the conference opened with the Deputy Minister of Education, George Zegarac, and six Assistant Deputy Ministers ( Janine Griffore, Cathy Montreuil, Nancy Matthews, Gabriel Sekaly, Mary Jean Gallagher and John Malloy) speaking with us. Now, this alone is not unusual as we are often addressed by these individuals at conferences. However on this particular day, these Ontario Leaders modelled for us what I believe they are trying to achieve in this province – true engagement with stakeholders and active listening.  Each of these incredibly busy leaders took 25 minutes to sit at each one of seven different tables with new superintendents (5-7 of us at each table) to discuss the amazing work in this province.  They shared the vision, their celebrations, and the current “challenges”. They gave us voice as they asked for our thoughts, questions and wonderings. They did not judge but were open to our thinking.  I left that session feeling like I had a deeper understanding of my leadership work and the direction of this province, and with a huge amount of admiration for these leaders for investing this mentoring time in us.  Upon reflection, I realized that our province is beginning to model the type of leadership that they wish for every one of us (regardless of our role) to exhibit within our particular sphere of influence.  Our Conditions for Learning (relationship building and risk taking) were at work!
  • The Importance of Norms   Several of the experienced Superintendents posed questions to us about the operational norms that we have established with those with whom we work (Senior Administration, Principals).  They challenged us to think about formal agreements with regards to items linked to time management (how and when do we book meetings), expectations (what meetings need to be attended and by whom), responsibilities (who does what in the district, what our jobs are so that we “stay out of others’ jobs” but also know what others are doing, our organizational structure and how we honour each other’s roles and knowledge), and communication.  I quickly realized that while we have a number of norms for collaboration in learning, additional conversation to formalize some of the ways that we operate may be in order. This was exciting for me as a “new” superintendent, and I wondered if our new principals might be feeling a bit of the same! It reminded me of my blog from last week about merging instructional leadership and management, as norms are a critical piece in this.
  • Thinking about MY Impact      Steven Katz challenged us about the impact of our school visits and truly made me think about how “leaders who believe their major role is to evaluate their impact are amongst the most effective” (Katz, IEL Presentation, October, 2015). He reminded us that “you do the work by learning the work!” This truly helped me to feel re-energized about my visits to schools as they have, to date, focused on the Principal’s Problem of Practice and the evidence of the impact of the Principal on the improvement agenda of the school. Much work is necessary however I have a renewed sense of the importance of these visits; they provide the structure for conversations that explore the impact of the principal through the lens of evidence, the fostering of Our Conditions for Learning, and an opportunity to me to engage in the true instructional agenda of the superintendent (which is my passion).
  • Understanding the Generational Groups     Dr. Karyn Gordon (@DrKarynGordon), relationship, career and parenting expert, challenged us to understand the various “generations” in terms of their culture, the context in which they live, and thus, why people from each generation behave the way that they do.  WOW!  She truly helped me to understand not only the students with whom we work, but the adults as well.  My understanding of self was also enhanced; I am a Gen X’er, whose group has been characterized by 2 recessions, the onset of AIDs, many independent latchkey kids as their moms worked full time, and who sometimes struggle to find work.  We are thus an independent, resourceful and well-educated group, who work hard but strive to find work-life balance and will thus leave work at 5:00 pm to be with family.  Dr. Karyn used humour and a fast paced presentation style to bring us to a point where we were all following her on Twitter and asking for more!  My learning – we need to understand the context from which our learners come if we are ever going to understand their motivation.

Finally, the time spent not only with my formal mentor, but also with trusted colleagues who share a similar level of responsibility was hugely beneficial.  My learning – I need to make time to network more with my colleagues. I often don’t feel that I have time to attend a conference for my own learning. This has been the wrong approach for me.

Until next week…what practices are you engaging in that limit your own learning?  What changes can you make?

3 responses

  1. I think the hard balance for some (myself included) is that of meeting timelines while modeling the true art of listening. There are many things going on during the day and often it seems like we will never get to the end of our list. Giving oneself the permission to say that this is an essential part of the leadership approach. We spend time on what we value. Developing our conditions for learning by modeling that we value each opinion, and each contribution is key to developing inclusive environments.


    1. Such great points Shelley. This is definitely one of the tensions that we feel as leaders. Awareness is the first step! Thanks for posting!


  2. It is always good to have an opportunity to be re-energized by our colleagues and hearing what is happening in other parts of the province. I think one of the most exciting pieces is that these types of sessions allow for us to reflect, rethink and perhaps remove practices that we have engaged in the past.


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