At the onset of 2009 I decided I wanted to build my leadership capacity. I had grown comfortable with teaching and wanted a new challenge. So, while I love teaching, I thought I would begin to explore the next level up. I told members of my school's executive team about my interest, and they found me some things I could begin working on to enhance my leadership skills. I also began a Graduate Certificate in Educational Leadership, which I hope to turn into a Masters at a later point in time. To begin with, it was like learning a new language - all the educational leadership theory was new to me. I'd never realised how much was involved!
Things really started making sense to me when I "won" (by default!) a temporary position acting in higher duties. Initially it was supposed to be for 4 weeks, but due to changing circumstances, it continued for two terms. What an opportunity! I was so excited by the new challenges and ran on nervous energy for a good few weeks. I set out to do whatever was required, take every opportunity, even if I'd never done it before. And let me tell you, I experienced a GREAT deal of first times. I hate first times. They were mostly successful, but they just take so much out of you. On the flip side, they DO make second times much easier!
At the end of the first term, I was still chomping at the bit - keen for more, so was very glad to have it extended further. I was developing my systems, becoming more confident, finding my own ways to contribute to the executive team. When I arrived at work on my 'exec day' I wrote myself a 'to-do' list and worked my way through it. As much as possible I tried to stay a little ahead of myself so that should anything unexpected arise I wouldn't find myself drowning.
Big Picture Perspective
One of the things I really loved about the experience was that it gave me a much better understanding of the 'big picture'. Most of the time I have an excellent understanding of what I am doing in my classroom and a considerable knowledge of what is going on across my year level. In terms of the rest of the school, or my school system, I only find things out as they become important to what I'm doing in the classroom. In the exec role, however, I gained a much better understanding of how everything ties together. I came to understand a lot more of the 'why' behind what we do and how the school runs.
I loved the opportunities I had to sit down and discuss the big issues with members of the exec team. In particular, I enjoyed popping in on my acting Deputy Principal, who was also doing the Grad Cert, to share ideas and talk through some of the things we were working through. She was a great support to me, giving me guidance as I took my baby steps in leadership. I also enjoyed chatting with the other acting School Leader C (that was my role) about the things we were learning and how we were tackling things. I learnt a lot from watching her approach to things and can see some areas for my personal growth.
Connecting with Teachers
I also enjoyed getting to know teachers across the school. The nature of my varied roles this year meant that I ended up rubbing shoulders with every teacher in some capacity. I would like to build this further during future opportunities, because I didn't feel like I did this as well as I would like. I would like to support my teachers more and take time to check-in with them on how things are going.
One of my pet peeves this time was that it wasn't clear from the outset which teachers I would be writing supervisory reports for. I was given one teacher at the start of my time - for whom I feel I did a thorough job because I was aware of my responsibilities. But then another popped up about a week before the report was due, and then another at the end of the next term. The result of this was that I was writing reports for teachers I didn't actually have the opportunity to mentor or support. As I said, it was a pet peeve not a major issue of contention. I was able to write the reports based on informal observations and discussions I'd had with the teachers, but I just didn't feel I was providing them with the best learning opportunity that I could have provided.
I was a bit disappointed with how things went in terms of the projects that I was working on. I think that I may need to develop some assertiveness to ensure that my visions don't get steamrolled by others. There were also times when I felt that things may have gone a little off track. I'm still trying to determine the proper pace for introducing things - again coming back to assertiveness - in order to get the ball rolling, gain the momentum and interest of staff, but without overwhelming people.
My two big projects were the Enrichment Committee and Microsoft Peer Coaching (to include the introduction of laptop computers in Year 5/6). On the Enrichment Committee we did a lot of talking, planning and data collection. We didn't get to have a PD session for staff until Term 4, Week 8 - which at that point felt almost pointless. On the positive side, it sounds like the staff are all on board with the sort of thinking we're working through and are keen to get something started in 2010. I will probably work on some things during the holidays to springboard us into the new year.
As far as the Peer Coaching went, the laptops didn't arrive until the end of the year, and despite chasing it quite consistently, I wonder whether it would have made a difference if I'd gone up the ranks harder and faster. In terms of coaching teachers, I did bits where possible, but don't feel I really gave it enough attention. Most teachers were feeling overwhelmed trying to fit everything in as it was without adding additional pressure to integrate technology more. This is something I would like to continue to build further in 2010 regardless of whether I am on the executive team or not.
Reading and Editing Reports
Reading and Editing reports was a challenge, and possibly the closest I came to failing at something in my exec role. I had the stupid idea to 'track changes' in Word, and it proved difficult for some teachers to work with, and then also difficult when it came to printing. I also had some teachers argue for the wording that they had used rather than accepting my recommended changes, and I wasn't blunt enough to tell them that the words they used made them sound arrogant and judgemental. This wasn't in a lot of reports, but it did make me wonder who is SUPPOSED to have the final say when it comes to wording. Should I have been more assertive, or is it essentially up to the teacher to determine their choice of wording?
There were also lots of extra things that came into the role. I got to do quite a bit of data analysis looking at our NAPLAN results, ICAS results and School Satisfaction Surveys. This helped me to develop that big picture perspective and to consider the future direction of the school.
For the last few weeks I took charge of organising relief teachers (not too bad at this time of year).
I ran a few meetings and workshops for staff or parents on various things and became less nervous with this.
I did a little behaviour management - sorting out issues between students, and sometimes between students and teachers. I was quite happy with the approach I took to this - which while at times lengthy, seemed to help students to really resolve the issues.
All in all it was a great experience, but by the end of the school year, I was feeling drained. In hindsight, I wonder if it was the reports that broke my spirit, as I didn't seem to have the same energy or enthusiasm past that point. I'll learn from my mistakes this time and be better prepared next time. And maybe I'll just have to accept that this is one of the tougher parts of the job, and that I won't always please everyone!
So, what's ahead? I'm going to sit tight in my own school a little longer and continue to take up any leadership opportunities that come my way. At this stage that means more Microsoft Peer Coaching, more sitting on the School Board, more Enrichment, and contributing to the validation process through the School Improvement Cycle. There's enough there for this year even without the official title of School Leader C!