October 8, 2021 Message to Members
“Cream and sugar?”
The very first group of students I stood before as a teacher – or nearly a teacher – was an English 12 class at Maple Ridge Secondary School. The class belonged to a master teacher named Mike Josiah, and I was remarkably fortunate that he agreed to mentor a student teacher from SFU. On this first occasion, when I stepped forward as a teacher, I didn’t feel much like Mr. Danyluk. I had just celebrated my twenty-second birthday; most of the students in that class were seventeen.
After I’d been ‘teaching’ for about 10 minutes, a hand went up among the students. I didn’t know any student names, so I simply paused my lesson, made eye contact, and said, “Yes?” The boy lowered his hand and said, “Who are you?” Good question.
Exactly one year later, fully certified and barely twenty-three years old, I was teaching my Grade 10 English class. Again, a hand went up among the students; it belonged to Shane. When I called upon Shane, he asked with complete and candid sincerity, “You get zits? How old are you anyway?” It took everything in me not to be childish in my response.
In the case of each question, I felt a creeping sense of transparency overtake me. It was as if I were see-through, my insecurities clearly on display. Otherwise, how could they have known? I felt a momentary flash of that same transparency – an exposure of my shortcomings – when I read an early morning email from a BCPVPA member which popped up in my inbox this week. The email was short and simple, stating: “Is everything okay? We are here if you ever want to chat.” What? How did this member tune in to my self-doubt?
In the first week of school last September, I started to send very brief messages to school leaders when they first issued exposure notifications to their communities. Although I encouraged our Principals and Vice-Principals not to reply, but to spend their valuable time on higher priorities, a great many school leaders fired back a response. They shared with me insight into their experiences with the start-up, with notifications, and with anything demanding their time and attention. Thanks to the time they gifted me, I gathered an understanding of our members’ day-to-day challenges, and I felt equipped to communicate those challenges at every opportunity.
Despite a direct exchange with more than a thousand of our members, our spring survey surfaced this lighthouse for me (lighthouse = something to watch out for, pay attention to):
“… I delete the [BCPVPA] emails without reading them because I am overwhelmed with real work… and don't feel they align with the realistic nature of my day.”
The survey elicited hundreds of comments, offering both positive and critical feedback from participants. But this one comment served to inspire me to double my efforts to connect with our members, first to understand and better represent their day-to-day realities, and second to foster a sense of meaningful membership in the Association. As October begins, I am critical of my own progress on these two fronts.
In 2020, exposure notifications served as a vehicle for me to open an exchange with our members. September 2021 saw a shift in this process in the sector. I am not advocating for a return to last year’s process as a means to my messaging, nor am I advocating for our members to add ‘update the President’ to their to-do lists – those lists are long enough! What I wish to do is make myself visible, a question asked this week of our newest school leaders.
This week, our participants in Essentials for New School Leaders (ENSL) from July attended the first of three extension webinars for this school year. In each webinar, our Professional Learning and Development team leads our ENSL participants in reflections on their leadership journey, through the lens of the BCPVPA Leadership Standards. This first webinar provoked reflection on the relational domain of leadership, with one question being “How have you made yourself visible in the school?” I was invited to join this webinar, and to listen in on the conversations. In response to that question, I heard our members talk about being out there, among their school community and in their spaces. Point taken.
Although tentative and delicate, I’ve noted there is a developing comfort with meeting face-to- face. Twice in September, I was very grateful for invitations to meet with BCPVPA members in person at their schools. Each opportunity was powerful for me, both in impact and insight. In addition, I am beginning to mark dates on the calendar for upcoming Chapter visits, the hopeful default being an in-person meeting. Of course, a virtual option is prepared in the wings should a pivot be desired or required.
After reading that early morning email from a member a bit more closely, I discovered it had been intended for someone else, mistakenly sent my way thanks to predictive text technology. I believe in serendipity, and I welcomed the unexpected opportunity to connect. Know that if, in your busy days, you find time to intentionally send me an email – maybe with a question, a comment, or a concern – you can expect a reply. Don’t be surprised if I offer to bring coffee for a visit. Let me know if you prefer tea.