Inspired leadership?

I am about to embark on an incredible journey with some of my students. In preparation for our trip to the VIMY 100 celebration, on my own time I am taking a VIMY educators leadership course through OISE. This is my reflection on the question “What is the mission and vision of your educational institution? Does it demonstrate inspired leadership? Why or Why not?”

As I stand poised to participate in the first ever teacher strike in Nova Scotia, I will say that improvements in educational leadership could be made. Like the Canadian military, leadership in education happens at many levels. Unlike the military, leadership in education should not be one-directional. As a teacher I learn from my students everyday about what they need and I change my planning to meet their needs. However our leaders outside the school are not operating this way.

An important factor in the success of taking VIMY Ridge came from involving those at the battle front in the planning – everyone that was a part of the fight was aware of the full strategy and goal. Everyone had the same vision of what was on the line, and they were all united and inspired to fight for Canada.

In my opinion, this is not happening at the provincial level of educational leadership in Nova Scotia. Leaders at many levels are failing to unite and inspire their troops. Leadership from the EECD (Education and Early Childhood Development Department) is not happening because they are not listening to what is happening “at the front”. They are too far removed from the battle to make an effective, efficient plan. Real leaders can not be primarily concerned with political and fiscal gains, they must be concerned primarily with the well-being of their troops. That’s what will them to work harder and be successful. Without real leaders we would not have gone over that Ridge and won hill 145. Without real leaders, how will our students feel their sense of belonging and pride in Canada. If we don’t fight for them now, why will they fight for us in the future?

At a regional level the vision of the Halifax Regional School Board is “providing quality education for every child, every day.” There are some leaders there who try to improve what is happening in our classrooms. But image if the battlefield generals told the troops to collect data about the enemy movement, enemy artillery, our response to their movement, our artillery, the length of the trenches, the depth of the mud, and the weather patterns. And then, those leaders decided that the data should be collected again and reorganized. Now, maybe they did that and maybe it was useful data – but if that data was never used to make a plan or an attack – then the soldiers would be exhausted and the war would never end …or worse it would have been lost. This is what I see happening to our education system in Nova Scotia.

In our schools, our teachers are the leaders in the trenches and our students are the soldiers. We are preparing them for life (which for some of them will be quite a battle of their own). We do our best. When class sizes are reasonable and there is time to prepare and manage assessments to give quality feedback, our students learn and are successful. But the reason we are struggling in Nova Scotia is because our leaders have given us too many troops, with inadequate training. They are lacking in many skills and know there is no consequence to showing up late for the battle- or not at all. Their diversity is not a unifying factor as it was with the VIMY troops. It sets them against each other in a fight for attention. Leaders don’t want to leave anyone behind so the whole unit is weakened. The time taken to provide patience and support to the child with behaviour needs, is taken away from the academic support for the child with learning difficulties. The time spent talking and building relationships with the neglected child, is time not spent listening to the child struggling with mental health needs. We are fighting to get necessary supports in our schools so that all of these students can be cared for and learning can still take place. I believe they all want to do it and it is our job as leaders to provide the supports and training and to inspire them. Teachers as leaders want all of our troops not only ready to go over their own Ridge, but able to do it with confidence like the boys at VIMY did.

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