As parents and educators, we know there’s a balance when working with those who may depend upon us. We want to be their friends, but that’s not our only role. There is a boundary — the hardest one to find — between being a friend and being an effective role model and guide.
The same is true with Boards and governance. It’s not necessarily about being liked, it’s about being effective.
While my most recent experience is as a Trustee with the West Vancouver Board of Education, my comments are applicable to Boards in general. I also don’t claim to have answers nor have I conducted exhaustive research; these are personal reflections.
It may be important for Boards and the senior teams they work with to have their goals and objectives align, but this doesn’t always mean their interests are the same. So while mutual support and consideration are essential ingredients for long-term success, there has to be an acknowledgement that consensus is not the same as agreement. Opposition and conflict are not always signs of dysfunction and elements of both can lead to better decision-making because conformity and complacency, in my opinion, are greater dangers.
A quick Google search turned up this provocative article from the Harvard Business Review which points to weaknesses in our notions about teams and stresses the importance of asking questions. I always find it perplexing that we stress the importance of critical thinking skills in twenty-first century learning and yet have trouble with the actual application of such skills in the workplace. To me, a successful Board is one which makes its safe for questions to be asked (easy questions, tough questions, ridiculous questions, any kind of question) because that is a Board which values knowing over guessing, inquiry over a lack of curiousity, and due diligence over acceptance.
Perhaps the most challenging part of being on any Board today is the way in which information circulates. Correspondence is rarely two ways — it’s multi-directional — and the speed at which we communicate has accelerated. It’s so important to get a good grasp on how communications and correspondence will be managed, but it’s also critical, in my opinion, to recognize that managing the process of being responsive is not about shutting down voices. It then becomes an issue of how to set up an effective system which is timely, efficient, and allows for diversity in who speaks on what and when. The tendency, as we can see in federal and provincial politics, is to centralize the message and if you’re like me, you can see that it works, but at a cost to democratic representation.
Boards also need to know more than what they are told they need to know. As is true in education, it’s not about spoon feeding content, but about engagement and broadening horizons. It’s also important to remember who makes up a Board’s constituency. In a complex field such as education for example, it’s not just about the Trustees around the table nor the team in the School Board office nor the administration group in a school, it’s about all of these and it’s also about parents, students, employees, teachers, the community, and more.
It’s not easy being on a Board just as it’s not easy being a parent or an educator. And it’s never about finding the easy way of doing things.
It’s about recognizing boundaries and making sure they never turn into un-traversable moats.
Three years ago, I put my name forward as a candidate in the 2011 municipal elections. I ran for the position of Trustee on the West Vancouver Board of Education and was honoured when voters in this community elected me to serve in that capacity.
My foray into electioneering also marked my social media debut outside the comfort zone of Facebook.
I dove into Twitter, a platform with which I’ve become very comfortable and which is now a part of how I absorb, consume, and contribute to media on a daily basis. It has also allowed me to create an invaluable network of connections.
After a long time of saying, “I would like to start a blog,” the election also spurred me to start one which I called The Comfort of Why. The best explanation for this title can be found in the speech I made at the first all-candidates’ meeting in 2011 where I said:
I take great comfort in the question why. As long as I’m asking why, I’m thinking, I’m reflecting, I’m challenging. I am looking for answers rather than assuming I have all the answers. I’m seeking information rather than dictating the way that things ought to be perceived.
To me, this questioning is not about undermining a system and disregarding the work that’s been done. It’s about validating what you believe, being responsive and strategic — making changes when they’re needed, when they’re necessary, and making them at the right time.
My first blog entry was posted on October 19, 2011, and it was comprised almost entirely of questions including this one:
Consider, too, that the BC Ministry of Education is pushing the concept of “personalized learning in the 21st century”. Why? What does it mean?
My position at the time, in regard to this particular question, was as follows:
Well, I want to be at the table to make sure that if there’s an overhaul of the system it’s done well and it’s done right. That it’s implemented in a way which benefits all students.
After three years of being at the table, I still feel this is a valid question and one that is not being addressed at a provincial level.
I still want to have this conversation. In fact, I feel we must have this conversation if we are to continue to offer our children the best opportunities to learn, to grow, and to find their way in the world.
While I recognize the valuable work that our Board has done in the past three years, in collaboration with the District Leadership Team, our education partners, our educators, and all our employees, I will not be seeking reelection in 2014.
There are a number of factors, but let me focus on three key points.
First, West Vancouver is a community with such depth of talent and with many actively engaged residents who are passionate about education. The deadline for nominations is tomorrow and already seven candidates have filed their papers which means we will have a dynamic and substantive campaign featuring a diverse range of opinions from individuals who all have much to offer.
Second, the most recent job action was very instructive and there are many lessons to be learned in how it played out. One of the most significant learning outcomes for me was to recognize that in order to move the provincial government into action on education, we need much greater direct engagement from the public. That citizens’ voice has to be galvanized if we want to ensure that education is a prominent, if not THE, election issue in 2017.
Finally, education in British Columbia has become such a polarized — and polarizing issue — that what we don’t talk about is education. This discussion — the conversation I’ve always said I wanted to see happen — has been drowned out by criticisms and accusations, by duelling press conferences and media soundbites, by job actions and political posturing.
It’s time that we, as citizens and voters, speak up and get what we want for our children, our society, and our future.
I have some ideas on how we might do just that.
Watch for Part 2.
I’m very pleased to be back at Simon Fraser University (SFU) this term as a Teaching Assistant (TA) with the Department of English. I am leading two tutorial sections for English 104W – “Introduction to Prose Genres: Digital Perspectives on Canada’s Media History and Messaging as a Prose Genre” with Dr. Paul Matthew St. Pierre.
For those of you who follow me on Twitter or on Facebook, you may guess why I’m particularly excited about being a part of this course. Given how much time I currently spend on social media, the course is a way to consider my online practice in a historical and cultural context.
I anticipate that the course content will support what I’m doing, it’ll challenge what I think, and it’ll motivate me to ensure my social media activities are pursued in an even more thoughtful manner. With three lectures done already, I foresee that Dr. St. Pierre may be setting the stage for us to consider our time on social media as “work” within the digital sphere and electronic devices as the tools by which we complete that work.
To think of my time online as work adds a whole new dimension to my role as a digital citizen.
Aside from grounding my social media use in this context, I’m really excited about having the opportunity to work with undergraduate students again.
It’s not because of the marking, which is likely my least favourite aspect of the job, although assessment is important in the university environment.
It’s not for the office I get to use since it’s remarkable how infrequently students stop by to visit.
It’s not for the authority which the position bestows upon me although it’s wonderful to be able to think about the tutorial sessions as “my classes” and those enrolled as “my students”.
It’s because as I work with the students I feel — I hope — I’m making a contribution to their learning. From exhorting them to look up words in a dictionary, to pushing them to care about writing, to asking them to see beyond the words on the page (or on the screen), I’m trying to show them that they have agency in this world.
I want them to know that their agency will be based on their ability to read, reflect, think, challenge, analyze, and communicate. It doesn’t matter what their career aspirations may be, it doesn’t matter which field of work they intend to pursue, it doesn’t matter what subjects they may wish to study, these are the abilities which will serve them well in any career, in any field, in any subject area.
That is, I want them to value learning, I want them to value thinking, and I want them to know that the ability to fully realize their potential depends on their ability to focus on more than just their grades and to look beyond the message no matter the form.
And in working with them, I recognize that I value my work as a TA because it allows me to do the same with regard to my own agency.
It allows me to recognize the following:
- I’m not so much a person who accepts as I am someone who questions.
- I’m not so much a teacher as I am a student.
- I’m not so much a person who imparts knowledge as I am a learner.
Author’s Note: I’m sad to report that FUB passed away on May 27, 2014. The world is a dimmer, duller place without him.
There is a man I know.
His name is Robert.
Or as we like to call him FUB – Funny Uncle Bob.
Funny because he is witty and bright. Even in a serious discussion with Bob, there will come a point when you find yourself laughing. Maybe a chuckle, but more often than not a belly laugh, a laugh from the heart.
Bright because he is a spark. He creates, he paints, he draws, he writes. He is an artist, an inspiration, a giver, a friend, a husband, a father, a grandfather.
He’s not actually my uncle, but the dearest and closest of family friends. If I were to ask my parents, I’m sure they would recall the moment when they first met Bob and his wife Carol. For me, and I think for my sisters, it’s as if Bob has always been there. There is no first moment, there just is.
In 2010 my parents received the Ramon John Hnatyshyn Award for Voluntarism in the Performing Arts. Each recipient of a Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards is allotted a number of tickets to the events held for honourees. The number in our group exceeded the limit because my father lobbied to ensure he could include Bob and Carol.
Our four days in Ottawa were magical. From evenings in the bar, to Question Period in the House, to receptions and galas, Bob’s wry gaze, Bob’s singular perspective, Bob’s irreverence enhanced and enlivened every moment.
Bob’s generosity of spirit has spilled over into his interactions with my son who is an emerging artist. During a visit to Hornby Island in 2008, we went on walks together and we would sketch en plein air to capture the golden aura of Helliwell Park and the shimmering blue of the ocean. I was even required to join in and put pencil to paper!
Bob also sat down with my son indoors and they drew together in the creative stillness of common purpose. It was mentorship of a seven year-old to show what it means to observe as an artist, to be diligently aware of your surroundings, and how to express what you’ve seen for others to experience.
This past summer, my mother, my son, and I went out to visit Bob and Carol at their home. It was an opportunity for my son to see Bob’s studio, to have a look at Bob’s world, the world of a successful artist. My son was whisked away upon arrival and when the two rejoined us for lunch, my son was clutching canvases, drawing paper, and pens. Gifts from one artist to another with the most priceless one being the encouragement to do.
That’s Bob and he has decided to discontinue chemotherapy. He is at home with his family and he is embraced within a circle of love which extends beyond the boundaries of time and place.
His name is Robert.
There is a man I know.
And thus it shall be forever.
Today the BC Supreme Court released a decision which finds changes made to the collective agreement with teachers in British Columbia, specifically those around class size and composition, unconstitutional. In addition, the court awarded the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) $2 million in damages which the provincial government must now pay.
That’s what I should probably talk about today given my role in BC’s public education system, but there are too many unknowns at this point, including the government’s response, and I don’t have enough details for an informed comment.
Not that I have answers to the other topic which I’ve been pondering.
George Bernard Shaw famously said, “Youth is wasted on the young” and we often hear the phrase, “If I only knew then what I know now.”
In a similar vein, I’ve thought of this: there is no undo/redo.
Computer programs have undo/redo, commands that allow us to zip back and forth in our work or our game to the point before we made an error or made a choice which we no longer support or chose a path which has not led us to the desired outcome.
In life, however, there is no undo/redo. As much as people advocate for a philosophy of “no regrets” I think that’s simplistic and difficult to apply in our own lives.
Because if we are honest with ourselves, there are regrets. We recognize points along the way where we made choices which were not good ones or decisions which didn’t play out the way we hoped they might or where we passed up an opportunity which, with hindsight, we think may have worked out better although there’s never any guarantee it would have.
I also think the idea of living in the moment, while it has merits, is not the answer either because we are not creatures of the moment: we have a past that has shaped us and we have a future which beguiles us.
The question becomes how to reconcile ourselves with our choices and with their outcomes.
It’s difficult to do when we hit those bumps in the road where each and every decision is up for evaluation. Where the “what-if” game becomes the one haunting us in the present. Where our confidence and our understanding of who we are takes on the metaphorical aspect of a cannibal rat ghost ship.
And we’re lucky if we find our way before circumstances intervene to make a situation worse or to take the journey along life’s path out of our control.
And while there is no undo/redo, there is try which puts me at odds with Yoda, the Jedi Master in Star Wars. With deference to the green sage, sometimes all we can count on is try.
Because without try, there is no possibility of change.
And change, according to ancient philosophies, is the only constant.