A fascinating behind-closed-doors look at the true-life experiences of an elementary school principal, based in Southern Ontario, Canada, and serving a student body of approximately 600 sometimes overwhelmingly-needy students.
An instructional leadership champion, longing to support widespread changes in teaching practices that will facilitate critical thinking, interactive learning, and a new student-driven learning experience, as the author begins the year at the helm of a new school, she chronicles her challenges, experiences, crises and successes, – on the way, “for the love of learning”, to a new beginning.
Her journey, perhaps unsurprisingly after all, is as captivating, inspirational and sometimes heartbreaking as any story centering on the practical realities of educational policy and outcomes would be expected to be, particularly when looking at the author’s own incredibly culturally-diverse student base, peppered with a large contingent of students with special needs, including those struggling with emotional challenges.
With infinite patience and a warmly compassionate (and always professional) approach, the author painstakingly builds relationships with the most visibly-suffering children, (allowing them to hide in cardboard forts constructed in her office, beat her at backgammon, drink tea, hear stories, and color with markers) as well as those entering their teenage years – many of whom just want an opportunity to bond, to feel safe, and to know someone is there to be counted on.
Part “Mom”, part counselor, and all compassionate professional, it is these relationships, and the genuine need to support and nurture a safe and happy learning experience that the author must fall back on, as she is faced with sixty-hour work weeks in a highly unionized environment, teeming with never-ending administrative duties, and insufferable bureaucracy, which cannot help but raise an acknowledged sense of loneliness, and ultimately, hidden but persistent fears of ineffectiveness.
Forced to manage mediocrity as well as excellence in the teaching staff, the author finds herself drawing the line at allowing for blatant disdainful incompetence, choosing to focus her efforts on the big important (and interrelated) questions, including:
What makes a good teacher?
How to foster “best-teacher-ever” feeling?
How to develop a passion for learning? (In both teachers and students)
How to facilitate students doing more work, teachers doing less lecturing?
I enjoyed this story tremendously, rich with professional and personal insights every parent of school-age children (or indeed, anyone interested in educational policy or people) will find difficult to put down.
A great big thank you to the publisher for an ARC of this book. All thoughts presented are my own.