You teach your children some fashion sense
And they fashion some of their own
- Gordon Downie

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Confession: Looking Back to Look Forward

This May, at the age of 42, I experienced a classic "loss of innocence." I remember learning about this motif in grade 10 English and relating it to first encounters with love, alcohol, loss and sexuality. I never imagined that I would relate it to my professional life.

I worked for Red Deer Public Schools for twenty years - eight as a classroom teacher, twelve as a vice principal. I worked in elementary schools and middle schools that serve a diverse cross-section of our community. Two years ago, I made a conscious decision to prepare myself to become a principal and lead my own school. Opportunities were scarce in our jurisdiction, so I decided to actively pursue this goal and let people know how interested I was in this goal.

For twenty years, I worked hard for Red Deer Public Schools. By working hard, I mean teaching, coaching, clubs, field trips, drama productions, organizing tournaments, working on conference and convention committees, supervising school events, planning school wide activities, fielding phone calls from people (including trustees phoning on behalf of their children) who need to get into the building, driving the bus, cleaning the bus, maintaining the bus, planning school retreats, planning admin retreats, organizing professional development for teachers and administrators, chairing committees, attending school board meetings, to name a few things.

I do what I do because I love it. I know that the students, parents, and staff I have worked with appreciate what I have done. I have boxes of cards, drawings, notes and gifts from people who have shown their appreciation. I call it my "Attaboy" collection and I keep it in my office for the days when I start to lose sight of the good that comes from being an educator. I hold these things close to my heart and will always do so.

It has been six months since I decided to pursue opportunities outside of Red Deer. It is no secret that I was pissed off about leaving. I was unsuccessful in a competition for a principal position and I really struggled with how things turned out. I applied and interviewed for a position at a dual track french immersion elementary school. I felt very prepared for my interview. I spent hours gathering my thoughts, talking to colleagues, and getting myself ready to convince everyone in my interview that I was the best choice for the position - principal of a K-5 dual track french immersion school in north Red Deer. I finished my interview and felt like I had communicated enough about my beliefs and demonstrated my passion for what I do.

The successful candidate was given a position in a K-8 school - a position completely different from the one we applied and interviewed for. It was frustrating for me because my entire background as a teacher and administrator is at the K-8 level. Earlier in the school year, I lost another competition for a district administrator position. In both of these competitions, I believed I was the best candidate for the position. I understand that there is a bigger picture and I concede that I did not deliver my best performance at the interview. Ultimately, however, the cumulative effect left me disillusioned with the school district I had given everything to for twenty years. In a word, I was heartbroken.

It took my a long time to get my bearings and I am thankful that members of our senior admin came to provide me feedback about my interview and the process in general. However, the more I thought about it, the more I was confused. My experience and background would have served me well in the position they filled. According to the feedback I received, I was well prepared for the interview and I provided thoughtful answers. Somehow, though, I was unable to communicate who I really am and what I bring to a school.

The students, parents, and staff in the schools I worked at knew me. They knew I would be a capable principal. They were shocked when I didn't get the position. 

I could say that I was not bitter about leaving Red Deer. I could say that I understood the decisions. I could say these things, but I would be lying. I received a great deal of supportive feedback from my colleagues. It was equally humbling, gratifying and aggravating that the people I worked with and knew me best could not believe I was passed over for a position I was ready to take.

Fortunately, opportunity has an odd way of unveiling itself. In my case, when one door closed, another swung wide open. A K-12 school in an adjacent school division needed a principal. The school was located in a community that is a short drive from my home and I decided to pursue this opportunity. As most of you already know, I was successful in this competition.

I have been given an amazing opportunity. The work I get to do in Delburne is markedly different that the work I would have done anywhere in Red Deer Public. We have fantastic students and the school is at the heart of the community. It is a beautiful facility. Our staff are proud, committed to the school, and dedicated to providing the best possible opportunities for our students. Had I remained in Red Deer, I would not have considered working in a high school. Today, I get to teach high school Biology. I left university with aspirations to be a high school teacher and I have finally realized my dream.

Working in a rural community is equally demanding and rewarding. I am consulted about community decisions and agencies on a regular basis. It is not unusual to have the mayor or village CAO in the school. People who attended school in Delburne are deservedly proud of their roots. I feel very good about the work I have done so far and I look forward to solidifying my position in the community. I have received very positive feedback from students, staff and parents so far. I am optimistic and excited about the direction we are headed.

For the people who really know who I am and the way I approach the work I do, I don't think it will come as a surprise...


  1. You've been away a long time! Good to see you back on your log. You've been through a frustrating time with RDPSD. I'm not sure if the board members should be on the hiring committee. You've been through this run around before. Your first year here they almost let you go because of a numbers game. You wee the top U of A education graduate and they almost cut you loose. Write about that one some day!

  2. I forgot one thing in my comment. Did you have socks on for your interview????

  3. Thanks for the comments, Keith. I really enjoyed my time in RDPSD - the people I worked with were amazing. I know that being a principal is political - I just never wanted to play that game. It's too bad that simply working hard and being good at your job is not enough.