As a young man, I believed I knew what it was to be a teacher. I had just spent thirteen years of my life, five hours each day, in the company of teachers. Didn’t I have a front row seat to the work of an educator, and wasn’t I well versed in the look and feel of effective practice? I certainly had my opinions on poor teaching. Furthermore, I was the eldest of seven and had been educating my siblings since grade four. My decision to become a teacher, and the subsequent practicum experience, taught me that there is knowing something… and then, there is knowing something. You could say that teaching ‘happened to me’ over those twenty weeks, as I worked harder than I ever could have imagined to be a good teacher.
Discovery and learning never ceased, and I did gain confidence in the role. Teaching was never easy, but I developed the callouses, collected quality tools, and honed my skills year after year. And, all the while, I worked with Principals and Vice-Principals, often shoulder to shoulder as we served our students and communities. I witnessed up close the work of Vice-Principals: I saw them dealing with student conflicts; I saw them balancing the demands of both the office and the classroom; I saw them working as part of a functional leadership team – and, on occasion, as part of a dysfunctional leadership team. Without arrogance, I believed that I understood the work of a Vice-Principal when I first applied to a vacant posting. I expected there would be discovery and learning, but nothing compared to the crucible of my early years of teaching. Wrong again.
Oh, the tales I could share to chronicle the depth and breadth of the learning as the Vice-Principal ‘happened to me.’ The declaration, “You can’t make this stuff up!” serves to summarize. Some recollections bring a smile, even a belly laugh; some bring a tear. All of it brings humility. But not so humble that I didn’t once more assume an insight I hadn’t yet earned.
While on my fourth Principal, after two districts and two schools, I actually had the gall to tell this Principal that our jobs weren’t terribly different. My senior partners to this point in my career had been seasoned mentors. This Principal was my age, with similar experience, and we had competed for the job he successfully landed. His advantages had been two years as a Principal elsewhere, and a member on the interview panel who wanted to have us both leading the school. Even during the interview panel as competitors, the chemistry that would later seal our partnership was evident. So, it was with good humour that he accepted my analysis of our complementary roles, simply giving me a knowing Cheshire Cat smile.
It wasn’t long afterward that his departure would result in the Principal ‘happening to me.’ My first few years as a Principal stack up squarely against my initial years as a teacher when it comes to the learning curve and the cognitive and physical demands. However, life experience and a hard-won resiliency that was unavailable to a young man of twenty-three made the difference. And though it took a while, I had learned some lessons. In my campaign to serve the members of our Association as president, I understood and accepted that I did not know what I did not know.
That’s not to say I had no insight to the role played by the president of a professional association, ours in particular. In 2019, I had been a member of the BCPVPA for more than twenty years, serving as both Chapter Rep and Chapter President for many years. I understood that our president traveled the province, meeting with members in their own communities, and that it was the president’s responsibility to gather and voice the experiences of our members. It would be the president who would represent the kaleidoscope of member experiences to our partners, government, and the public. Having served as a director on the Board, I understood the president would chair meetings of the Board and Chapter Council. As a director, I had participated in the development and articulation of the BCPVPA’s Strategic Plan, so I understood our collective objectives and aspirations. On election day, I knew as much as could be known, ahead of the happening.
As I approach the end of my first year, and as we are selecting a successor, the presidency continues to happen to me. After filling bookshelves with volumes I’ve read and volumes I’ve recorded, after joining wise and astute company at various tables, after mastering the acronyms which abound, and after meeting virtually with a third of our chapters, I’ve come to understand that the role happens one act at a time, each a part of a larger story.
While repeated in established patterns, each presidential term is unique. The list of duties for the president of the BC Principals’ & Vice-Principals’ Association serves as a useful scaffold around which the job is fleshed out organically, shaped by the players and the staging of its time. And while the times ahead are yet unscripted, I’m going to keep a few notes for my successor in the wings. Congratulations, President-Elect Brian Leonard!