Friday, November 19, 2010

trying to take the long view

The average tenure of a teacher at most Prince George high schools looks something like a decade or more. Most teachers seek stability in their job situation and this means becoming rooted in a school community and establishing a long-term relationship with staff, students, and parents. They become the guardians of policy and programs, the historians, the practitioners, and the futurists. While the teacher's role in the classroom has seen more "adjustment" than radical change over the long term, the teacher's role in school leadership has often been difficult to nail down and has been subject to some significant change in the last 10 years.

High school administrators have seen their role change, too, in regards to the school leadership. There was perhaps a time when principals and sometimes vice-principals were embedded in the school culture and community, five or ten or more years of service with staff, students, and parents. The recent pattern has seen administrators move schools more often, a result of a change in direction from the board office, but also a reflection of demographic necessity. The retirement pool in the last few years includes many ex-teachers from the cohort that was hired in the 60s and 70s to teach the baby-boomers as they expanded our school system. With the majority of this "bump" retiring in the 2000s, administrator turnover has been high and thus movement has been a necessity. The result? It is not uncommon for our principals to be at a school for less than 4 years before moving on, and the average age of principals has steadily lowered as the retirement gap has been filled.

This trend may halt, again due to demographics, but for the moment we are in the midst of a school leadership culture that features long-term tenants and short-term landlords.

What does this mean for school communities? Assuming that the pattern is not going to change over the next few years, it means that all staff have some challenges they need to face unless they wish to practice resignation. Administrators have to develop portable skill-sets that include robust communication skills, flexible strategies, capacity for inclusion, and ability to dialogue. This is in addition to their regular and important duties related to student success & discipline, management of staff, budgets, parents, etc. This also means that teachers need to own the culture at their schools, take responsibility for program success, be proactive with staff development, and be mindful of their role in making collective efforts at student growth and sucesss work. This is in addition to their regular duties related to teaching & learning in the classroom, curriculum design, marking, etc.

Is the challenge presented by the trend any different than it has ever been? Perhaps not, but to be blunt, teachers have to realize that adminstrators are guests at their schools, 2-4 years, and that teachers have to step up to the plate and provide or share leadership on key areas that used to be outside their purview. Or they can hope for the best and simply shut out as much of the school culture as they can and focus on their classroom. I'll admit I am torn between these stances: do I make the success of the whole school (students, staff, parents, other stakeholders, the physical plant) my concern, or do I retreat into my class and try to do my best by my students. They are not often complimentary as they require different investments of time and energy. For adminstrators, there needs to be a recognition that their legacy will likely have more to do with the relationships they foster and less to do with their impact on policy, progams, and long-term impacts on school culture. These latter pursuits are hard to achieve in 2-4 years, yet positive relationships can begin immediately.

Much more could be said about "vision" and the role it plays in both teachers' investment in their schools and the ability of administrators to make a difference, but I'm not really sure that vision determines tenure. It is a great mystery to me how leaders are chosen and jobs retained in the education system. There appears to be a set of connections, relationships, and criteria at play that are outside of my capacity to understand.  I don't think these connections are actually unknowable, but I do think that peering behind the curtain to get a better understanding of local leadership structures would leave me more cynical than less.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Peace and Remembrance and the White Poppy

My daughter came home from school and asked "what does peace mean for you?" I think I told her "when you and your brother get along."
What a tough question., though. I took this as a Remembrance Day question, so that helps me frame the ideas I have.

War is hell. The veteran that spoke at my school's RD ceremony reminded us of this, the dead, the devastation. There is some glory in war, honour in service and sacrifice, but I think few would agree that war is the best way to solve problems. I think wars are an easy way out for countries who have alternatives, and I think that wars usually create more problems than they resolve. We tend to remember WWI and WWII in RD, maybe Korea and Afghanistan, and we emphasize the defense of freedom and the sacrifice of lives. WWI in particular, the origin of our Nov.11th pause, features prominently. I understand the need to remember -- as a Socials teacher most of what I do is remember -- but I think we often forget the other important stuff, like why WWI took place and what it accomplished. We need to confront the ugly past, even when the cause and consequence don't support the glorious view we take of our history. We also focus on "our wars" and are hesitant to make the connections to Rwanda, the Congo, Pakistan, etc.

Red poppy, white poppy, green or black, I think we need to invest more thought and meaning into the symbol rather than being so symbolic with our meanings. I don't think a white poppy is disrespectful, I think it is an attempt to tell a more inclusive and historically relevant story about what is important to remember. We owe it to the war dead to find ways of solving problems without resorting to war. That would be the ultimate respect born out of remembrance.