Coach or Critic

“Perseverance” is the Character Trait for the month of October across our school district. A teacher recently made a presentation at a school assembly where he talked about perseverance and showed a video called “Fail Harder“. The narrator in the video speaks about people he meets on his quest to become a better basketball player as either a coach or a critic. This got me thinking about my role as an elementary school principal.  Am I a coach or a critic?

In this role, my colleagues and I are often questioned whether or not we are acting as a manager or a leader.  I think most of us would agree that there are times when we are both.  I am a manager when I am managing the use of the school facility, managing schedules, managing the timetable and flow of the day.  I am a leader when talking with staff and students about curriculum, being involved in instruction and assessment in classrooms, being involved in setting the tone and morale for all in the school.  But in doing so, am I a coach or a critic?

The word coach as a verb means to give instruction or advice to in the capacity of a coach; instruct. A critic is a person who judges, evaluates or criticizes and the verb critique means to review or analyze critically.  The term coach has been used to define specific roles in schools lately; instructional coach, literacy coach.  Staff in these roles are expected to help improve the quality and precision of instruction to improve student achievement.  A school administrator is often giving feedback to staff of all departments, students of all ages, visitors of all types as they interact with our school.  Some feedback is more precise while some is more general.  But does my feedback coach the recipient to improve, to reflect on their actions / practice, to ‘fail harder’ for the sake of growth, does it inspire a growth mindset?  Or does my feedback critique the individual, deflate their motivation, cause them to resent my actions and give up?

When I think about the feedback I have received and how I have received it, some if it is definitely more meaningful than others and some of it has had a greater impact on my life than others.  So what makes the difference?  I think it is the relationship between the giver and the receiver of the feedback that makes the difference.  Is it a trusting relationship built on mutual respect and understanding or is it a hierarchical relationship built on position and authority?

It all comes down to relationships.  In order to have a positive impact on others, I need to make sure I have first earned their trust and respect.  If I have not yet had the opportunity to build the relationship to that level, I need to be careful not to critique.

Please share your thoughts with me on this subject.  I am curious to know what you think.


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Everyday Heroes Among Us

Two events have created the conditions that have me writing my very first blog post today.

I was born and raised in the city of Ottawa. The terrorist threats in our nation’s capital on October 22nd, 2014 were of grave concern to me.  As I watched the news coverage and followed information on Twitter, my heart began to race for the safety and security of all involved.  Watching the news coverage and seeing the images of fully armed police, military and security personnel racing around the city in places I regularly visited in my youth upset me a great deal.  My mind was flooded with memories of me in my 20’s while attending the University of Ottawa, grabbing food at a local food truck and sitting on the lawn of parliament hill to eat while I enjoyed a beautiful fall day, admiring the grandeur of the parliament buildings and reflecting on what it means to me to be a Canadian.  As the day progressed, I found myself walking the halls of my school, popping in and out of classrooms ensuring everyone was safe and happy and ensuring exit doors were properly locked.  While on supervision duty on the school yard I was regularly scanning the perimeter of the yard trying to ensure no one was around who shouldn’t be and ensuring there were no threats to the safety of anyone in my care.  All of this was a very unsettling feeling for me.

The second event that took place on October 22nd was something I was not directly involved in.  My school district had arranged for a professional activity day with George Couros.  I was not able to attend this day, but kept in contact with what was going on through text messages and twitter feeds from colleagues who were in attendance.  My colleagues were challenging my thinking about the role of technology in schools and how it can enhance our monitoring, tracking and progress along the journey of learning.  It reminded me of a quote from Dead Poets Society:

Dead Poets Society

This lead me to look at my feelings about what was going on in Ottawa in a different way.  I paid attention to a student who went to help a classmate who was making a plasticine figure for a diorama and how she complimented him on the great job he was doing in a kind and supportive way with no provocation whatsoever.  I congratulated a student who came to tell me about a problem they had in gym class and how they appropriately handled the situation.  I received a thoughtful and caring text from a colleague who knows that my family still lives in Ottawa and asking me if I knew they were safe and that she was thinking of me in my family as the situation in Ottawa continued to unfold.  Later that night I saw a story on the news about the Sergeant At Arms for the Canadian Parliament, Kevin Vickers, who acted with such bravery in the face of danger.

So, I am thinking today of the everyday heroes among us.  The students who have overcome great challenges to simply come to school today and know they will face things they are not expecting, but do so with a smile and an open mind.  The parents who are struggling to make ends meet, all the while making sure their children have everything they need to live a happy, safe life with an open heart.  My colleagues who are worried about ill parents and siblings and still managing to come to work and do the best job that they can, making a difference in the lives of so many people.

The answer to all of our questions lie in the everyday heroes among us.  We don’t have to look very far to get what we need.  We don’t have to question whether or not it is okay to be proud to be a Canadian.  I am proud of who I am today.  That is all in thanks to everyone who has joined me in my journey through life and helped be the person I am today.  This journey is not a solitary one, but one with a crowd of family, friends and people I have met along the way.

~ Ken

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