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Of Leaders and Lunch Money

Posted by on in Education Leadership
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We only have a few days left.  Every day we're counting down, using our ten frames: 18, 17, 16 days left. 
Some kids are getting a little clingy, wanting to be attached to us all the time and I wonder whether, for some, summer will bring happy days of outside play, sticky fingers, and wet bathing suits or whether they will long for the first day of school in September.  We send them out into the void at this time of year and, while for teachers (and probably most students) the countdown fills us with heady anticipation, there are always a few students who give me pause, who make me wonder about changing the school calendar, and for whom I wish I could provide more than the ten months we're allotted.

This year, I'm feeling even more nostalgic as I'm also counting down the last few days of my career as a classroom teacher, for the time being at least.  Over the next four years I'll be in a leadership role, spearheading and championing Arts Education in our region.  While I'm unbelievably excited about this opportunity, I'm also a little, as Mike Myers used to say, verklempt.  There is something powerful about being a classroom teacher; you are so close to the action.  You get to know the kids so well and are able to respond to their needs with such immediacy that you can really make change.  You don't have to look at big data sets to know what your students need;  they're yours, by the time the data is processed, you've already made your move. 

There is positional power in leadership roles.  There is the power of influence, of building relationships, of cultivating curiosity and commitment among teachers.  You can build a team of passionate individuals who are invested in shifting the paradigm.  You have the ability to make big changes; I've seen it happen.  There is the advantage of being slightly apart from the fray, allowing you some space and time to think about the issues without having to worry about collecting pizza money or wiping noses.  But there isn't the ability to turn on a dime, to decide that no, we won't be doing that today because the kids are engrossed in their work so we're going to stick with that.  The maneuverability and responsiveness of a classroom teacher are unparalleled.  The intimacy of a classroom, the ragged messiness of it, is both the reason why teaching is so exhausting and why its so rewarding. 

And I'm watching it walk away.

Every day, every square on the ten frame, brings me a little closer to the innevitable goodbye.

I often hear from my colleagues that they would "never want to go into administration" and they express bewilderment that I do.  What is that all about?  What is it about leadership that turns so many people off?  Is it the paperwork?  The us versus them dynamic?  The workload? The responsibility?

Then I look at my friends who are doctors, who teach in medical schools, supervise residents, and administer programs all the while continuing to see patients.  They don't leave the front lines when they move up.  They continue being in contact with the nitty gritty work of their profession while still looking at the big picture.  We in education could learn a lot from this model. 

I don't think it has to be and either/or dichotomy, in spite of our fondness for them.

But for the time being that's what it is and that's the road I'm walking - no more lunch money and runny noses but also no more amazing moments of a child who writes her name for the first time or discovers a robin's egg on the ground and wants to know why it's blue. 

It will be someone else who has the priviledge of witnessing those moments. 

I will miss them; I'll even miss organizing the lunch money... a little.


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Emily Caruso Parnell is the Kindergarten Program Consultant in the Rainbow District School Board in Northern Ontario. Since beginning her teaching career in 2001, she has taught all grades from Kindergarten to Grade 12. She has taught in public, private, and independent schools. Emily is also a dance educator who holds an MA in Dance from the University of North Carolina Greensboro as well as a Bachelor of Education from the University of New Brunswick, an HBA from York University and is a Registered Teacher of the Royal Academy of Dance. Emily is also a student in the Ed.D program in Distance Education at Athabasca University. 

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Guest Thursday, 27 June 2019