For Family Day 2022, our two daughters joined my wife and I on a crisp walk in Lynn Canyon. This was my third visit to this forest walk with dizzying clifftop views and a suspended bridge. My last visit was thirty years ago when I hiked the same pathways on a warm summer afternoon with a beautiful woman who would become my future. The occasion before that was my first visit to the trail, and it was in the early autumn of 1981. It was also the first time I would cross the Second Narrows Bridge from behind the wheel of a car. Crossing again this past Sunday, I couldn’t help but grip tightly the steering wheel in response to memories which welled up of that first drive across.
To make clear why an uneventful drive across one of Vancouver’s many bridges sticks with me, I will have to back up further. I’ll have to back up to the point in my story when I became an adult of sixteen advanced years. In stark contrast to my daughters’ story, I was beyond eager to get both my driver’s license and my first car. My own children might have been more keen to drive had they not enjoyed mom and dad as full-time chauffeurs. As a teen, my household did not have a car much less a chauffeur. Aside from the fact that my mother was a single parent with higher priorities for her hard-earned salaries, she had never learned to drive a car. The most experience she had was driving our car home one night after a family gathering on an acreage outside of Edmonton. Most of the drive home that night was down gravel roads without traffic to dodge or weave, and my father navigated from the passenger seat. Given our circumstances, no one in my life could teach me to drive; I had to turn to a professional.
The part-time job I had helped me in two ways: it allowed me to buy all my records with a staff discount, and it allowed me to buy my driving lessons at full price. Although she rathered I not drive at all, my mother agreed I could get my license if I paid for my own lessons. I had saved more than she expected and was soon ready to take my road test, after only five formal lessons. As a bonus, the driving school allowed me to road test with the same car I’d driven in my lessons. The test was scheduled on quiet streets one Saturday morning. In less than twelve minutes, I was completing paperwork. With a little more than five hours of experience, driving around Port Coquitlam’s main drag and side streets, I was fully licensed to drive. Now I just had to save enough for a car!
It took a little time before I could afford a car of my own, but the time allowed me to log a few more hours on the road with a friend’s van. My first car was also my introduction to a clutch and a gear stick. I loved it; my mom called it a death trap. She worried that with the engine in the back, I would have no protection in a collision. Her worry and the manual transmission did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm to drive anywhere and everywhere. So, when friends proposed a drive out to Lynn Canyon, I was all in.
Navigating the drive from Port Moody to Cassiar and Hastings (long before the tunnel!) was easy enough. I had travelled the meandering curves of the Barnet Highway hundreds of times; I knew all her turns, as a passenger anyway. Even the heavy traffic heading for the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge didn’t cause my palms to sweat. Although I was turning a corner into the heaviest flow of moving vehicles I had ever encountered as a driver, I was feeling confident and controlled. I even changed lanes. Heck, I’d been watching people drive in traffic for years! It wasn’t until the final approach to the bridge, with traffic merging from the right, that my boldness faltered.
Do these lanes feel narrow to you? That truck is pretty close behind, don’t you think? Wow, it’s a long way down! Here comes the exit. I’m in the wrong lane. So many cars! I could not shift gears because I did not dare take my hands off the steering wheel. I was gripping the wheel of that VW like my life depended on it – which, in truth, it did. The bridge is only a kilometer in length, but that day it seemed a longer journey across its span.
Driving across that bridge would have been stressful for a new driver under any circumstances. The fact that I was authorized to drive a car with only basic and minimal preparation most definitely compounded the stress, the fear, and the chance I might not make the off-ramp. I really do not remember details from the crossing, like passengers, breathing, or the song playing on the 8-track. I just went with the traffic… sort of numb. Not unlike my first three years as a Vice-Principal.
While I had been watching school leaders at work for years and was armed with a literature degree and a few years of teaching, I was about as prepared to be a Vice-Principal as I was to be a new driver thirteen years earlier. Times have changed… for drivers, anyway. Some might argue that a graduated licensing program is onerous, but it gives me peace of mind as a parent and as a traveler. Perhaps with the introduction of the Management Foundation Standards pilot project, the future of leadership development in BC will evolve, too.
One year ago this month, the BCPVPA joined a partner table led by Linda Beddouche, a Director with the Ministry of Education Policy Branch, and the BCSSA President. An objective of this table is to ensure “leaders feel prepared and supported when they step into the new role.” And while the Principals and Vice-Principals of BC have “advanced leadership training and a wealth of practical experience,” we remain a jurisdiction without a “systematic strategy to identify, develop and train education leaders.” BCPVPA members attending Chapter Council last week heard Linda speak to this initiative and the hope our Association would continue to partner in its development, and furthermore, consider a larger role in its implementation.
Firefighters train firefighters. The BC Principals’ and Vice-Principals’ Association is an association whose primary work is the support and development of school leaders. When it comes to the implementation of a formalized leadership development strategy, I think it is safe to say we are interested in the driver’s seat.