Context is Everything: What I learned this week – #Leadership20 Leadership 2.0 series is coming to an end and last week we looked at the last dimension of the Principal Quality Practice, Understanding and Responding to the Larger Societal Context. Tom Hierck led us through the webinar, and did an amazing job demonstrating how important context is to our role as leaders.

In short, context is everything. All schools are guided and governed through standardized means. Whether it be the school act, programs of studies, division policy or administrative procedures, or curriculum guides; it is common for a collective of schools to play by the same “rule book” of sorts. What is different is the context to what we apply these practices and procedures.

I’ve been thinking about posting to this topic for a while but couldn’t really get pen to paper (or fingers to keys) on this topic. Many ideas floating around but nothing very concrete. On Friday, I attended a conference, FNMI Cultural Awareness Workshop for Administrators. At the workshop, an amazing presenter, Kathy Breaker spelled things very simply and eloquently for me. She simply stated that you have to learn the culture of the community. We need to ask the simple questions: Who are you? Where do you come from? and What are your values?. Three simple questions, but so much information. Knowing the answers to these questions will set the foundation to creating an effective school community.

The context of Kathy’s presentation was in the context of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit learners, but also can’t be ignored at a larger societal level. Understanding context is so important for leaders. This is my third year at my current school, which is only 18km away from my previous school. Even though these two schools (and communities) are separated by a few kilometres, their context is vastly different. The key word here is different; not better or worse, just different. As leaders we can’t judge the differences, but we need to acknowledge and learn the culture and context of the communities in which our buildings reside. The worst thing we can do is to ignore the context or assume that the context is the same as our previous contexts.

In Kathy’s presentation, she also referred to the the leader as a technician. This brought an entirely new perspective of leadership to me. As leaders, we are responsible to knowing and understanding policies, procedures, and protocols that guide our practice. We are also responsible to know and understand the context and culture of our school and community. As a technician, it is our duty to ensure that the policies, procedures, and protocols work within the context and culture of our school and community. When I changed schools, I was still governed by the same school act, programs of studies, guide to education, and divisional goals, policy and administrative procedures.

As leader technicians the key is to leverage context and culture to ensure the goals of the school/division/province are met. We cannot expect to achieve goals at the expense of context, at the same time we cannot expect context to prevent goal attainment.


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