I have been an administrator for the past eight years. In those years, the greatest lesson that I have walked away with is that our job provides consistent on the job training. However, when I began my admin career, there was no real training provided for me prior to me being hired. I always felt that there was an assumption that I was ready to jump into the pool – did anybody really know if I could swim yet?
I did feel that I was ready for this new chapter in my life but nothing really readied me as I walked into my new school. Our school district does provide a Leading the Learning program for year one VPs but this occurs after we have assumed our roles. This leadership boot camp gives us lots of information but there is still something missing from those sessions.
The question that I ask is how can we “train” prospective administrators so that not only are they ready to swim, they are ready to take on any challenge that is presented to them immediately.
If I think back to year one, I am blown away by the situations that I had to deal with and the ways that I dealt with them. Experience has obviously given me much perspective on the ways to deal with varied situations but I always look back to year one and how things might have been different.
The Surrey school district provides a multitude of opportunities for leadership and growth for teachers and leaders on the rise. The first such group was entitled Leadership Academy. This group brought teachers together to engage in conversations based on leadership and learning. However, the focus of the academy was on instructional leadership not the bare bones leadership that I so needed. I was looking for the nitty gritty things – how to handle students and staff. I was looking for scenarios that affect much of my daily life as a vice principal. In my first year, those were the things that I really needed. The role of instructional leadership was definitely important but for me, it was the role of myself as a school leader that was much more important
During a recent pro-d session, we were asked to pick a card from a table and to relate what it meant to us. I zeroed on two cards: one that had a person looking into a compact mirror and the other of a policeman. The policeman motif was one that struck with me as a VP since it was a role that has resonated with me since my first day as a VP. I started at a brand new school with an old school disciplinary based principal. My VP partner was also brand new to the role so my peer mentorship was going to be limited. It was made clear to me right from the outset that my job was to “hold the line” at the school. I was the gatekeeper, the discipline, and the “hammer”.
As I moved to my third school, I have become more self-reflective about my role. This has come with experience but I really wish that I could have had more “training” prior to assuming the role. The on the job experiences were definitely rich and no amount of role-play would have given me those.
I just believe that new administrators need to have a more concise and concrete set of background skills prior to undertaking the position. I have stumbled on three things that might work for prospective leaders.
1) Counselors that move into their jobs are required to have a set number of hours in clinical practice. They often job shadow other counselors to develop real world skills that are directly transferable. I believe that new administration should, undergo a similar regimen. Prior to applying, I would have these teachers undergo a work placement type of program where they job shadow other VPs. You can underestimate the power of these experiences. As VPs in Surrey, there is a requirement for us to have undertaken a master’s degree. This gives us the ingredients but we need more to fully develop. Often, new VPs have had department head experience yet this usually doesn’t involved students as much as dealing with the management of budgets, etc.
2) All prospective VPs should have a course in how to develop relationships. Relationships have always been the cornerstone of my practice. You cannot underestimate the power of making connections with staff and students. I believe it is the single most important factor in determining your success as a leader. Relationships, relationships, relationships.
3) A way to promote effective decision making and the steps underlying those decisions. It has to be taught decision-making should be transparent. This is something that can be taught. In my year one, we were taught the value of checklists when involved with organization. This can also be used with the decision making process. Making this a slow, discrete process will allow more reflection and success.
Those three are just some of things that I would have preferred as a first year VP. You cannot underestimate the power of a strong mentor in this whole process but without that, there are a great deal of other steps you can undertake to have a successful year one.