One of the most nerve wracking things that I had to do this year was the opening day talk to a truly progressive and amazing school division; my own. I have been so inspired by so many people that I have connected with in Parkland School Division over the past six years that I have worked there and I know that the leadership that I have been contact with, present, past, and even future, have had such an influence on my learning and the work that I have done. If not for moving to Parkland several years ago, I doubt that I would have still be in education. Leadership is so important and crucial to the success of teachers and I learned that by actually connecting with people that encouraged and fostered my growth.
Yet here I was addressing those people that have inspired me during this time. Not just the “leaders”, but so many teachers that I watch who do amazing things, secretaries that go way beyond their job description, custodians that not only keep the schools clean, but work side-by-side with kids and give them a place they love to be. There were so many people there that I look up to and so many more people a lot smarter than I am that would have done an amazing job, yet here I was standing on the stage.
In the past, we have had speakers come from the outside to talk to us and give us some inspiration, yet this year there was a decision to keep everything for our first day “in house”. As my Deputy Superintendent told me (paraphrased), it was important that the people that were talking about leading change on opening day, were actually there to support that growth. It was something that many districts would not even think of doing. The whole “prophet in your own land” idea (in no way am I saying that I or anyone in our district would consider ourselves “prophets”; just using the saying) often leads us to the misconception that the only way to push thinking is to bring someone in from the outside. Yet they often do not know the context of the work that you are trying to do or stay long enough to see some of their words through. This year, it was important that with the focus on a new mission and vision, our district had people (not just me, but others as well) speak to these priorities.
So there I was talking to my district. Nervous and sweaty (literally). Feeling like I was going to vomit (maybe more figuratively). I have talked to many educators over the last few years but there is a fear when it is people you can see everyday; there is no running away.
Before I started though, I remember something that my oldest brother (the brother who is not in education but is an amazing speaker) told me. He had said the following:
“The most powerful word in the english language is your name.”
I thought about that over and over again and how I could personalize this presentation to not only share where we believed our mission to go, but to actually talk about many people in the audience who inspired my own learning. People that have taught me things over the years and are the people that are going to be responsible for the continued and furthered success of our school division. I felt that the ability to talk about where we are going and personalize it to the audience made the talk a success. If you ever watch Sir Ken Robinson speak, you can see that he speaks for a certain amount of time to just build rapport with his audience. A great thing to do but does he truly know anyone in that audience, and even if he does, will he see him the next day?
We also have this false notion that the people we work closely with don’t want to hear from their colleagues. As if they would have nothing valuable to say. Yet, these are the people that can show how much they truly value the work of others that they connect with. I saw this appreciation through the tweets coming through that day and from many of the comments I heard after.
— Lisa Aronyk (@laronyk) August 29, 2012
Now this is not to say that there is no value of bringing in speakers from outside of our schools because I think having these different perspectives can have great value to our learning. I have been speaking to schools often and I hope that they see value. What I do want to note is that this is not the only way to do this. There are so many great people in your own organization that you can learn from. We have to truly not only recognize these minds, but give them the opportunity to share their expertise with many others. It would be foolish not to. When I started as Principal at Forest Green School, our entire focus for staff professional development was to build upon the leadership and expertise that existed within that school. No outside speakers. No outside professional development. Just our staff sharing their learning with each other. It helped move our school forward and ensured that our learning was always relevant to our needs and the needs of our students.
Let’s start thinking of how we can tap into those within our own schools and give them an audience they already know. Great leaders will help to foster a culture where they continuously develop other great leaders. If we focus on giving our own people a voice, that will definitely move your culture one step further.