After an excellent all day session of discussion and review of district and school plans and goals, the principals, assistant superintendent and superintendent of School District #46 (Sunshine Coast) climbed into two 31 foot Nootka canoes in Pender Harbour on the beautiful Sunshine Coast. We were joined by elder Barb Higgins of the Sechelt First Nation who told us stories of the values, culture and history of the region as we paddled. We were guided on our trip by Ed Hill and Fred Stark, former RCMP officers, who taught us not just about how to paddle in such extraordinary craft, but how to work as a team, how to share leadership, how to mentor and how to be in harmony with others to accomplish a task. When we returned to shore two hours later we assembled in a traditional circle and shared our appreciation for the experience, and we celebrated our success.
We learned some key lessons on our journey along the coast that can be tied directly to our work of motivating, encouraging and supporting staff and students in our schools.
- There is no room in the canoe for negative energy. If just one person in the canoe is negative it can be felt immediately by the whole group. Interpersonal conflict, bad feelings towards others, anger or frustration will slow the canoe. A leader needs to be sensitive to these conflicts and support their resolution so that the team is functioning well again. A high degree of empathy for others is required to respect where everyone is on his or her personal journey as well as the journey of the group.
- Our leader watched from the stern, scanning for dangers well in front of the canoe, changing direction as appropriate to avoid major obstacles. He knew our general direction, had checked the weather ahead of time and steered our canoes to our destination. His use of data (GPS!) and knowledge of the waters helped us to understand how to best move forward as a team.
- At times we came to narrow and shallow areas. Barnacle encrusted rocks seemed to emerge from the ocean floor threatening to damage the canoe. The paddler in the bow became the leader. She watched closely for the dangers, moved with the support of just a couple of other paddlers so that our speed forward was not too great and adjusted moment by moment to ensure that we carefully advanced, but the canoe kept moving. Her constant and positive communication with her partner in the stern of the canoe ensured that all paddlers knew what was required and how we can support her leadership at that time.
- In education we all show leadership. At different times we are in the stern, the bow, or providing the collective strength in the middle to move us all forward: all of us have opportunities to show leadership and commitment to learning and all can choose to work together in a positive way.
- In the canoe, a wide range of paddling experience came together from different backgrounds. Those of us with less experience brought enthusiasm and a desire to learn. Those with experience and skill taught us and encouraged us to continue and to take on leadership positions as our skills developed. Throughout our journey there was laughter, encouragement and support for each other. Constant communication kept the paddles moving in harmony.
As we begin this school year we can look forward to sharing leadership opportunities to support student learning. With an optimistic approach to any trials or challenges that may come along, we will provide the education that all of our students deserve.