Let’s start conversations on fine examples of leadership in our university community

Dear members of the University community / Boozhoo / Aanii / Kwe kwe,

In today’s blog posting (which I originally drafted in January but put off for a while), I thought of sharing some thoughts on the visit of a great educator on campus, convey my appreciation for a great initiative undertaken by faculty, talk about needs that are specific to our region, give you an example of an organization that succeeded in making huge improvements in student success and invite you to watch a 7 minute webcast on transformation leadership which I have found to be very inspiring. I will do so in fewer than 1,100 words, promised!

I was delighted to welcome on the Sudbury campus in January a very dear friend of mine, Dr. Avis Glaze, former Chief Student Achievement Officer of Ontario and CEO of the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat. A former school board administrator, she has taught at all levels of the K-12 education system, in rural and urban areas, in public and Catholic schools, and at the elementary, secondary, community college and university levels. In the mid ‘90s, she served on Ontario’s Royal Commission on Learning (the Bégin-Caplan Commission) which lead to significant changes in Ontario’s education system (elimination of grade 13, creation of the Education Quality and Accountability Office (I served on its board from 1997 to 2005), Ontario’s College of Teachers, implementation of French-language education governance, etc)

As former colleagues in the Ontario Ministry of Education, we have done several webcasts together on a wide range of topics including aboriginal education, character education, aménagement linguistique and pédagogie culturelle for French-language schools, boys literacy and school effectiveness.

Avis was in town to attend two events, including the “Reading Rocks the North 2010 Conference”, held at the School of Education. I would like to commend the 20-member organizing committee chaired by Dr. Jan Buley for taking on such an endeavour.  Over 30 workshops were planned between 7 pm and 10 pm on a Friday evening (now that’s commitment to education!)

As a university, it is our duty not only to provide outstanding research-based teacher education and continued learning programs, but also to disseminate the knowledge arising from evidence-based high-yield strategies to enhance students’ literacy and numeracy skills. This conference was an excellent example of creating an opportunity for students to further engage in their discipline, which is one of our four key goals.

It also advances another of our key goals: being responsive to the communities we serve.

Why?  In all but one of the 12 district school boards in Northeastern Ontario, the proportion of grade 6 students achieving the provincial standard in reading and grade 10 students being successful on the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test is below the provincial average.

Improving student achievement and closing gaps in student outcomes is possible. In less than six years, the school district in Ottawa where I first served as school board trustee, board chair and eventually chief administrative officer went from being #20 out of 72 school boards in 2001 to #1 on provincial assessments – and still remains today.

How did educators in this school board do it?  A few things come to mind:

  • They focussed on a limited number of clear measurable goals commonly understood across the system;
  • They set targets for improvement;
  • They monitored on a regular basis with ongoing reporting;
  • They reallocated resources internally from lower to higher priority areas, including by making very tough decisions such as 25 school closures in four months;
  • They created self-directed teams to share effective practices where evidence showed that they had a positive impact on the articulated goals and targets;
  • They planned for staff training “in context” (i.e. in the job environment as opposed to conferences which are proven to be not very effective).

I would suggest that these “winning conditions” observed in that school board apply in other kinds of organizations, including universities.

If you haven’t had an opportunity to hear Avis speak, I encourage you to watch this 7 minute webcast on transformational leadership. While the intended audience for this presentation was leaders from the K-12 system, I am sure that you will concur that Avis describes very eloquently the kind of leadership we are looking towards in the organizations in which we serve and the kind of leaders we can all be in our roles – irrespective of the nature of our job within our university community – irrespective of whether you are a student or not. Let me know what you think.

If you are a student, why not talk with your friends about the kind of leaders you are and aspire to be – not as “leaders of tomorrow” (which is an expression that I hate because it assumes that Canadian youth don’t or can’t exercise leadership now) but rather as “leaders of today”? Why not ask for feedback and explore with your friends how you can exercise leadership in your classroom, on campus and in the community?

If you are a faculty member or staff, why not ask yourself what you can do to exercise more or a different form of leadership in helping make Laurentian the best university it can be? Each of us is a leader in some way and can develop his or her leadership skills. Why not ask your peers to give you feedback on situations where you really showed leadership and on situations where they thought you could have “stepped up” a little bit more or been more constructive in making your department or the university an even better place?

I look forward to hearing about the stories that resulted from these conversations.

Each of us can make Laurentian an ever better place to learn and work. That’s what leadership is all about!

Finally, I would like to seize this opportunity to commend Dr. John Lundy for his leadership in the development of the Accord on Indigenous Education on behalf of the Association of Canadian Deans of Education (ACDE).  This development generated national recognition for our university in publications such as Maclean’s and the Globe and Mail.  Most importantly, as pointed out by a representative of the Assembly of First Nations, it helps “move the goalposts” for indigenous education.

As usual, I welcome comments and questions on the topics discussed in my blog postings, or any other matter that may be of concern to you. My email is: dominicgiroux@laurentian.ca

You can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Merci/Thank you/Miigwech