Over 17 years as a qualified educator with secondary school teacher training
To this day I am unsure if I chose teaching or if teaching chose me. I have been involved in a career in education from the very onset of my transition into the labour force. I remember as a child dreaming of having lots of children, biological or adopted and owning a pre-school. To date I only have two biological children and I have spent over 17 years as a trained secondary school teacher. To give some context, both my parents were teachers and my mother went on to become a primary school principal of many years. It would appear that quite a few of her children may have been hypnotically drawn into the teaching vocation and attempting to fill her very large shoes.
Once I began teaching, I began to reflect on my experiences in order to gain a greater appreciation for how I can develop into a more effective educator. One of the early ponderings surrounding the routine of formal schooling and its effect on students who did not learn so ‘routinely.’ I then listened to the constant complaints from teachers about their dissatisfaction with the quality of the graduates from our high schools as it was felt that they lacked critical skills to analyse, critically think, work in teams, innovatively think or even think independently. Still I continued to ponder. I recall conversations with some of the highest level educators in our education system and still I heard the complaints about how our schools are developing without a real focus on teaching values and it was likened to a system shift over the years, as if to confirm that it was there before and somehow it was no longer there. I reflect on my own years as a high school principal and realize that despite the changes I implemented in the school’s program, a more comprehensive approach was needed to effect real change. I finally realized that despite who I spoke with, what literature I read or where my reflections led me, one thing was certain: the system was unlikely to change anytime soon because there was a lack of political will and frankly, no one seemed accepting enough of the fact that the system in its current state was doing our students a great disservice. No one seems to really want to do more.
I became passionate about a collaborative approach in teaching, learning and leadership. I looked at the way schools and all its stakeholders often operated as isolated silos and I realized that there was not a focused strategy to work collaboratively inside or outside the classroom. We will sprinkle our activities with group work, but we did not take the time to teach our students key elements of teambuilding to set a better platform for teaching collaborative skills. We were so focused on the benefits of a competitive spirit to drive motivation that we failed to see the students who did not show up on the start line for the race. I recall so many staffroom discussions where I listened to our teachers lament about their challenges in the classroom and though teachers would offer advice to support to each other, there just wasn’t enough time to truly prioritize working with each other to problem-solve, plan and even teach collaboratively. It was not the way and it was not encouraged. There was no place for it in tradition school programs. I then realized, no amount of professional development sessions or training programs could have the necessary impact to influence change; it had to be an all-encompassing approach for it to work. The influence and impact for and of change had to be felt from all key stakeholders in the system: principal, teachers, parents, students and their wider communities. For transformation of a school culture, it is necessary for all stakeholders to be integrally involved: school leader, faculty, students, parents and the wider communities in which they operate. This way, not just the school leader is involved in framing this change, but all constituents contribute to building a more collaborative school culture in which to set a structure in place to realize reimagined outcomes for our students and teachers.
I identify with a personal educational philosophy that every child can experience success once we determine how to do so. As a leader, I believe my role is to translate this vision into reality and as an educational leader practitioner, I believe one of the most effective ways to do this is through collaborative effort. As we open our new school, I wish to actively and purposely plan for a school culture that is collaborative from the onset. I intend to expose the teachers and staff to a process that is reflective and premised on their involvement, input and effort in the decision-making that would guide the intended culture that will be established at that school. Additionally, the parents and students’ input are being planned for at critical junctures so that they too will become part of this process. It is a journey that is expected to reap many benefits despite the challenges that will be par for the course.
As a qualified teacher with 16 years’ experience and former principal, equipped with a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting and International Business, a Master’s degree in Business Administration, a Master’s degree in Education focused in Curriculum, Pedagogy and Leadership (current), multiple training certificates and qualifications and a passion for working with people, I am excited to engage in education from this vantage point. As a reflective practitioner, the journey will always be ongoing. New knowledge, experiences and relationships shape us as we grow. Learning is lifelong and experiential learning an eternity. So, let’s to walk the next leg of life’s journey together:
Passionate. Empowered. Purposeful.
My Educational Philosophy
“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” John Dewey As an evolving educator, I have come to realize that the knowledge I have acquired is merely a reminder of how much I have yet to understand. It is on this premise that I can appreciate the role that education has played and continue to play in my life and the impact it has had on my beliefs, perceptions and practice. The ability to engage in experiential learning, develop critical thinking, purpose my educative experiences with inquiry and continually engage in reflective practice, has been an absolutely adventurous journey that has become wildly addictive. It begs the question, ‘what is life without education?’
Having taught now for almost two decades in an academically high-performing school environment, I have observed particular strategies, trends, teacher behaviours, student behaviours and systemic structures which have now shaped my evolving educational philosophy. I reflect on my changing philosophical beliefs over time and examine what inspires my growth from every experience. From the cognitivists and their views on how learning is centered around processing information and solving problems, to the constructivists who advocate for the individual construction of knowledge based on an interaction with experience; the philosophy of progressivism has had an even more far-reaching impact on me. I can agree with Dewey in his proposition that the purpose of learning is for students to experience real education actively, focused around contemporary social issues and problems which can allow them to be adequately prepared to become social change agents. Such a learning environment encourages co-operation among students, develop problem-solving and decision-making skills and teaches them to become more self-aware and expressive. Learning is therefore very individual and unique to each learner’s experience and indeed, different for each person.
Despite my classroom experience supporting the significance of the teacher elements of the teaching and learning process, I do believe in a more student-centric approach to the experiences. A focus on the student learning process places emphasis on teaching for critical, analytical and diverse thinking. Every purposeful educative experience, be it providing feedback, designing curricula, allowing opportunity for manipulation, the level of interaction built into the learning experience or the selection of active learning strategies, all have to be centrally focused – on the student and his/her learning outcomes.
I am often intrigued by the ability of a teacher to use various methods to lead to various learning outcomes and it is an exciting phenomenon when the ‘light bulb’ goes on for any one of my students. Paradoxically, the same method will not ignite all the light bulbs. The journey in discovering which purposeful activities produce which results is simultaneously intriguing and exciting. With diverse students who are continually evolving in their learning, this iterative process requires constant review and evaluation.
My experience with challenges in the classroom has caused me to research more widely, pool from more experienced educators and use my power of observation to become solution-driven. As a student, I have often felt that teachers did not take the time to foster strong teacher-student relationships which can have a meaningful impact on student motivation and ultimately student learning. As a teacher, I therefore endeavoured to ensure I dedicated sufficient time building a positive teacher-student relationship with each of my students.
Too often, we as educators have succumbed to the phenomenon of teaching to the test and superficially measure learning outcomes only in test scores. This breeds a strongly competitive environment which does not inspire positive or self-criterion referencing for self-reflection and evaluation . We have inadvertently modelled to our students that to be considered a successful student, you must achieve top ratings on examinations as the most significant indicator. We have therefore minimized and often downplayed the role of collaborative learning experiences in our approaches to the teaching and learning process. We have often celebrated competition to the detriment and development of social, emotional, analytical and critical skills and even moral and principles. I envision education as student-focused and I have grown in the knowledge and ability to be purposeful in my decisions about education to always be so centered.
My gender, race, sex, political and social identities have consciously and sub-consciously influenced my educational philosophy and how it manifests. The experience of a colonialized education has the power to propel anyone to desire to become a revolutionary change agent, let along a young, female educator. The richness of my context of educational experiences thus far has worked to create a greater awareness in me about the multiplicity of my identities, its intersectionality as Kimberlé Crenshaw puts it, and their influence on my mindset and drive. Being brought up in a system that has traditionally prized the superiority of male educators and foreign and white educators as more knowledgeable, it becomes an innate desire to want to transgress in order to alter the perceptions and expectations. Isn’t it ironic? – thinking that white, foreign male educators are more relatable to students coming from predominantly black, single-parent, matriarchal homes in a Grenadian context? It behooves us to examine this and many other colonialized overtones imbued systematically, reflect and to cause this reflection to positively impact our education system in a transformational way.
As my educational philosophy evolves, I am resolute that it will always be a philosophy of collaboration, student-focused, integration and tolerance for diversity. Despite same, the role of educational research will continue to be integral in shaping my reflection on my educational philosophy. As a committed life-long learner and reflective practitioner, I am acutely aware of the veracity of John Dewey’s quotation
“We do not learn from experience – we learn from reflecting on experience.”
My Educational Leadership Philosophy Statement
‘My personal educational philosophy is that every child can experience success; we just need to determine how. ‘We’ represents all the constituents in that child’s life that through interaction and influence, can create, guide or facilitate a path to individual success. It is on this premise that I agree with Warren G. Bennis when he states that “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” It is my vision that every child can succeed. As a leader, I must determine how to work with other stakeholders to translate this vision into an authentic reality for my students.
I believe all students, teachers, parents and communities play a significant role in educational leadership, not just the principal/head teacher. The principal’s role is to create a culture of success around each stakeholder, diligently utilizing the strengths of each to bring to bear in potent but well-measured quantities, that which when blended together as a chemical reaction, explosively and gratifyingly releases the elements of success. Heifetz & Sinder (1987) put it succinctly yet aptly, “A leader’s vision is the grain of sand in the oyster and not the pearl.” It is my duty to engage in decisive actions that bring about success for each individual who will then in turn bring about success for the collective. I am just the catalyst for connections, empowerment and the development of a community of leaders. In a nutshell; my success comes from their success.
As a believer in the philosophy of supportive leadership, whereby a leader’s job is in assisting others to accomplish their goals, specify direction and provide support to match goals (House, 1971, p. 489), I see successful schools as ones where distributed leadership is practiced and celebrated. Every teacher is a leader in his/her space and his/her actions significantly impact the success of the schools in which they serve. Every parent is also part of that community of leaders which amplifies or diminishes the culture of success that pervades the school and its environment. Even every member of staff must be part of this wider shared vision and each action taken by each constituent, in harmony with this vision of success. Collaboratively, we all learn together and from each other and can grow to succeed. Put simply, the success of any educational program is contingent on the ability of each stakeholder tasked with responsibility to deliver the educational experiences, to embrace their roles as leaders and to empower themselves to grow and develop effective thought and behaviors for engaging in effective interactions. Many of these interactions will be predicated on the success of teamwork and teambuilding, effective communication patterns, building learning communities, investing in training and development opportunities, building community awareness and advocacy and in doing so, take advantage of the synergies of positive collaborative efforts. This process done repeatedly reinforces a cycle of success and ultimately transformational change.
I envision that my students must feel that I am seeking his/her best interest always and they must develop sufficient trust in that process. When I greet a student in the hallway (and I ensure that I can happily greet each one by name), he or she must return the greeting with the knowledge that with that small gesture, it is a meeting of the minds and hearts acknowledging an underlying tenet of trust, as if to say, ‘You know I am rooting for you right!?’ Each student must feel supported by every member of the learning community. Most of all, each student must value and see his/her own contribution as integral to that culture and community. I concur with the old saying, ‘it really does take a village to raise a child.’
As a learner and educator, I must constantly embrace my need to adapt, evolve and grow my ideas, perspectives and practice as I encounter new knowledge and experiences. That’s really the beauty of learning; one can do so every single day, even leaders. I am passionate about building a collaborative school culture that values sustainable relationships with all stakeholders. As a collaborative coach, I purpose to grow in my ability to listen attentively, build relationships, encourage and empower educators and students alike to have a growth mindset and commit to continued growth and success for all.
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