“Education is a people business”. There has been numerous times over the past four years that I’ve heard my husband utter this simple truth when explaining his most fundamental role as an administrator; whether interacting with teachers, support staff, Board members, students or parents, establishing a productive and foundational relationship is key. I’ve always nodded my head in support while “umm humming” my agreement. My reaction was not simply the machinations of a dutiful wife; I too realize the value of building relationships but my focus has predominately been within the domain of the classroom. I focused first on establishing rapport with my students and their parents, and met-up with colleagues as time allowed. As a Superintendent’s wife, I’ve been cognizant that my personal and professional interactions are open to a heightened level of scrutiny especially within the relatively small social circle of an international school community; I’m friendly but careful. But, I’m no longer a teacher. At least, I’m not a teacher this year I’m part of the administrative team where my primary job is working on projects that will support teachers.
This past week has been instructive, as I’ve played both a supportive (spousal) and professional (administrative) role in forging the beginnings of a relationship with staff built on transparency, a clearly articulated vision and trust, all of which were lacking prior to our arrival. For fourteen hours over a two-day period, Greg and I did back-to-back informal interviews with new and returning staff, followed by a one to two hour debrief of what we learned, areas for further consideration and an overall discussion of each of our perspectives. We had a meeting room reserved in the hotel attached to the residences at our apartment complex where the majority of the teachers live as we wanted to make it convenient and informal; we invited teaching couples to sign-up together. We ordered a morning coffee service for the waiting area, and invited whoever was in the room with us to enjoy a catered lunch as we met. My computer was plugged into a projector and at Greg’s request, I purposely set the background with a picture of our sailboat anchored at Saddlebag Island at sunset; this allowed for an easy entry point to begin each meeting. Invariably, the teacher(s) we were meeting with commented about the picture leading to a discussion of the personal “us” before seguing into our educational/work backgrounds. I was able to establish myself as a professional educator in my own right, explaining in a little more detail what my role in the school would be over the next year; curriculum development, using whole school assessment data to drive professional development around instructional practices, working on materials for accreditation revisit next spring, and participating in administrative meetings. Having the opportunity to clarify my role and professional background has alleviated any sense of ambiguity and established my position as part of the administrative team, albeit as an intern.
Since I’ve been working on teacher’s individual schedules and the middle-high school courses timetable, I was able to ask clarifying questions, suggest alterations to the teaching schedule and suggest ways to create coverage for content areas that are awaiting the arrival of two more teachers. I was struck when I noticed Greg’s ability to alter his message in terms of delivery and content; I quickly realized that similar to students, sometimes teachers need a differentiated message too. We need these teacher’s to buy-in to the direction and hard work we’re heading into this year, especially the returning staff. I too began to differentiate my introduction when I sensed it was necessary; I am gaining confidence in my interactions as I realize that I too bring a strong skill-set to the table. This is confidence that I have not always had but will be crucial for me to develop as I step into an expanding leadership role; I may not always be right but I need to build a level of confidence that will allow me to make leadership decisions.
With thoughts of how to develop my confidence and leadership skills in the back of my mind as I was reading through Curriculum Leadership: Readings for Developing Quality Education Programs by Parkay, Hass & Antcil (2010) I was struck by Daphna Oyserman’s article on “possible selves”. Oyserman (2010) describes possible selves as the following: “the term possible self has been coined to describe incorporation of future goals into self concept; possible selves are positive and negative images of the self already in a future state- the “clever” self who passed the algebra test, the “fat” self who failed to lose weight…” (p. 534). Her description goes beyond a mere “you are what to think” mentality to encompass the idea that a person can have multiple possible selves (positive and negative) that are attainable through positive-focused “self-regulated” behavior or prevention-focused behavior. A person that exhibits prevention-focused motivation is acting (self-regulating their behavior) out of fear of becoming that negative possible self. Oyserman tells us, “…first generation college students are more likely to engage in strategies to avoid feared possible selves than strategies to attain positive possible selves” (p. 543). This describes me exactly! I am a first-generation college student that has found academic success and professional success, yet my inner dialogue is still very much centered on avoiding failure. I think the key to change is two-pronged: self-awareness and the willingness to engage in some deep reflective thinking and work around the area needing improvement. I feel that recognizing that my thought process and motivation are born out of a deeply engrained inner fear of failure will have a profound impact on my ability to move consciously away from prevention-motivated strategies to strategies that support my positive possible self.
The daily opportunity to put theory into practice and feel that I am having a direct impact on the direction of the school is one way that I am supporting a positive possible self as a capable professional who’s opinions and suggestions are valued. Simple suggestions such as changing the Library to Media Center and referring to our Librarian as our Media Specialist to better support the vision of our school as a place where 21st Century skills are valued and being utilized, to suggesting a timetabled, mandatory college preparedness course for Grades 11 & 12 to support our vision of being a college preparatory school. I’ve also proposed that the school approaches character education using an Understanding by Design (UbD) approach. I envision our Grade 12 students taking a mandatory semester of Philosophy where they learn about different moral frameworks followed by a semester of Ethics where they debate, analyze, construct and evaluate moral dilemmas working at the highest levels of Blooms taxonomy. Then, we work backwards down to pre-KG, attending to the unique developmental stages that our students are at along the way. I also suggested that our Board trainer consultant that will be coming in add questions related to perceptions held by students, parents and staff as to the moral climate in the school and their feelings regarding character education to the survey he will do. While there is much work to be done sifting through the fine-details of building a character education curriculum, I am nonetheless having a direct influence on curricular decisions and building the culture and climate of the school.
This week has brought some of my biggest “ah ha” moments so far. I am learning the value of building a strong foundational relationship with staff to elicit their support to move forward in the year ahead. I have uncovered another facet of my inner self that has led to the beginnings of what will probably be a lifetime of reflection on who I am as a person, who I want to be and how to bridge the difference. Finally, I am learning that I have great ideas that are valued by my fellow professionals, and that even if I’m not in the classroom working one-on-one with students, I can still have an impact on the quality of their education and ultimately, their lives. My husband was correct education truly is a “people business”.
Oyserman, Daphna. (2010). Possible Selves: Identity-Based Motivation and School Success. In Forrest W. Parkay, Glenn Hass &, Eric J. Ancil (Eds). Curriculum Leadership: Readings for Developing Quality Educational Programs Ninth Edition (pp. 15-20). New York: Pearson.