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A once-in-a-career experience

It is an incredible honour to be among the Canada’s Outstanding Principals award recipients.  To be celebrated at the annual awards ceremony and participating in the executive leadership training at the Rotman School of Management revised my understanding of leadership and how I enact leadership to ensure well-being and success for students in the ways they most need it to thrive in their educational experience.  The educational and business specialists in the program challenged us to think globally in order to understand regional and local developments in our school districts and schools.  It was a ‘once-in-a-career’ experience to develop personal and leadership alliances across Canada with other school leaders who are committed to public education.

Three key ideas I continue to think about since the leadership training are: i) leadership that is based on equity and inclusion as the principal’s imperative, ii) relationships where teaming is a component of collaboration, and iii) how both approaches impact change management. 

Globalization means that even the most remote communities experience changes in demographic composition.  In jurisdictions that are more diverse, the Rotman program leaders urged us to be attuned to the needs of the socially different lived experiences of students, the community and staff, and to engage ethically in our treatment of those we service in our leadership to ensure well-being and student success. 

School leaders and district school boards rely on partnerships with stakeholders in order for students at all stages of their learning pathway to flourish.  Along with the other principal recipients, I learned the importance of teaming as a component of collaboration.  With teaming, all educational partners bring their unique knowledge, experiences, backgrounds and skills to the ongoing educational project.  Partnerships are dynamic interactions.  As leaders we value not only what our stakeholders think about the existing educational endeavors.  We also ask how it is experienced; how do you feel

This question is not to be overlooked when engaging in the change process. “The pathway to change is developed from evidence of needs, often unmet, by our students, staff and community”, we were told by one of the Rotman leaders.  I learned that questions are a tool to clarify the purpose for change and that the change design evolves from the perspective and influence of those who most stand to benefit from the outcomes.  If positive outcomes are intended for our students, then at all times, students must be at the center of our motivations with families, staff, and community wrapped around.

I was able to bring this learning back to my school.  Encircling family and community perspectives on the mental health focus at the school helped my school community understand more about what parents understood about and experienced with mental health.  Specifically, we worked with school council; community partners who were working with newcomers to the school; and community agencies to arrange an evening where school demographic data (e.g. language, race and faith) and perception data (feelings about school learning, mental health and equity) was shared in small groups facilitated by parents.  Parents talked to parents about individual family trials and triumphs – narratives (data) that were important for the school to know.  Sharing the narratives with staff and building responses into our school improvement processes as they relate to mental health was the next move.

This experience has changed how I view my role as a public educator.  The learning environments and work spaces that comprise schools today are more dynamic than ever. Principals are important public educators who reach out and partner because we want schools and the experiences students have there to be places where students see themselves, imagine and strive for their best possibilities.  The Learning Partnership’s Canada’s Outstanding Principal program reinforced for me how principals across Canada continue to work in alliance with their families and communities to create the conditions for students’ best possibilities to happen.
Donna Ford is an educator with the York Region District School Board. She supports the district as Principal of Inclusive Schools & Community Services.  Donna was a 2018 Canada’s Outstanding Principals award recipient.  Nominations are now open for the 2019 Canada's Outstanding Principals program.  This post is being shared as part of a series in celebration of National Principals' Month.