On Leaping: Administration, Doubt, and Educational Leadership

While I have been quietly exploring the possibilities of entering the ranks of my district’s pool of administrators since the winter, I am pleased to announce this week that as of July 1st, 2019 I will begin working as a Vice Principal at Centennial Secondary School, in Coquitlam, BC. 


There is an often (though not always) unspoken skepticism and uneasiness that surrounds the movement of teachers into administration – something that can come across as an educational version of “selling out,” or an implication that one has gone against the cause. And while I am sure that there are many who are genuine in their well-wishing about my appointment this week as a local VP, there are those whose gentle sarcasm (or even directness) belies a lack of faith in the pursuit of leadership within the institutions of our schools beyond the classroom. It has been something I have been thinking about as the news has been made public, and will likely continue to discuss with my colleagues in admin, but also with my colleagues and friends who are teachers, parents, and others working with young people in and around schools.

I wonder if this sense of doubt is healthy, and whether it may be a natural part of the bond which makes us ask that our leaders prove themselves to us. Or if it is something which brings with it something worse.

I also wonder if this just isn’t all in my head right now, and if it might not be something I’m thinking about once I begin to forge relationships with my new colleagues.

Perhaps even more than an aspersion I would cast on any of my congratulators this week, the feeling of unease about good teachers moving away from the classroom is a sentiment I recognize and recall in myself in a none-too-distant past. And yet even so, having spent the last year assembling the thinking and conversation that has led to my own move into administration, it is a difficult notion for me to articulate now. Whether my past doubts about the role of administrator were based in skepticism of some I had seen pursue it, the sense that some collegial loyalty had been betrayed during one of the last decade’s many labour disputes, or a more plain lack of awareness of how my school operated beyond my narrow view of my own classroom and students, it is difficult to say now; and indeed, perhaps it was an unstable mix of the three.

Of course, it is natural to want good teachers to be in classrooms, and to stay in classrooms. And there may be more than a bit of unhealthy ambition that reveals itself in classrooms that become platforms for teachers’ books, keynote speeches, and Twitter followers.

But do not we also want there to be good teachers and managers at the administrative level? Addressing student discipline? Staffing? Helping direct and shape school culture and mission?

From the Classroom, to the School, to the System 

In the years before I left Gleneagle, I spent increasing time embracing work beyond my classroom: I pursued professional development, collaboration, and mentorship opportunities; joined committees, volunteered for staff roles and leadership; completed a Master’s degree. I enjoyed teaching, and still feel that much of my best work in planning and assessment occurred in these years when I was seeking new challenges around the school. But I was also intrigued by the educational relationships and interactions that were taking place out in the hallways and in meetings between departments, administrators, counsellors, and youth workers. In the ecosystem of the school and its surrounding community, I was beginning to see the skills that those who could bring success and culture to these institutions and communities brought, as well as see something of them in myself.

When I moved to Simon Fraser University and the teacher-education program there, the opportunity to move beyond classroom (and even school) teaching proved formative in that I was fortunate to work in many schools, across several districts. I saw how different buildings, and different staffs, and different leaders responded to their unique communities. I worked with newer teachers, those just entering the profession, as well as established veterans and many in between, and talked about what made learning, schools, and education meaningful, powerful, engaging, and right. As I return to the district, I’ve come away with a sense of what I might lend, and what I might need to cultivate in myself to be a successful administrator in this new role.

Teaching, by another Name

In many ways, it is not as much of a sequential step as it may seem, and even more of a completely new role. And in this perhaps, I have been  prepared by my time at SFU; if at first, I believed the role of Faculty Associate was to teach, just to older students, I found myself over time much better suited to its demands the more I thought of the work as something different almost entirely.

Certainly, in teacher education, the objectives are similar: we are trying to bring about educational ends, to be sure. However, because of the multiple layers and relationships in the work, each compounding in the reflexive development of unique critical, professional lenses, there was often more than only teaching going on.

What I mean to say is only that in carrying out my duties as an FA, while I did occasionally get to teach, I was also concerned with many other responsibilities that were new to me, and uniquely positioned in and around classrooms: developing professional development opportunities and delivering in-services in a variety of settings and around emergent topics and ideas; recruiting and enlisting willing mentors in the student-teacher process; massaging relationships between student-teachers, mentors, students, and administrators; and ultimately being relegated to the side-stage to observe, suggest, and support that which would make others’ teaching better.

I missed teaching while I was a Faculty Advisor. I missed being ‘a person in a place,’ as I had been in a school and in my own classroom. But there was a different satisfaction in creating the  conditions for success and engagement in a range of classrooms, as someone working in the background. And it is this sense of other-directedness that invites me to go beyond my own classroom, and support the development of a school’s classrooms, hallways, and community connections.

I am excited to be a person in a place again, and for the work and relationships that will arise in this new place, with these new people. There is a sense of what lies ahead to ask of me the synthesis of that which has preceded, and I am eager for it to begin.

Which it does, on July 1st.