All posts by Lisa Neale

Leading School Operations

Learning with others in many different ways is what brings about growth and reflection titlethat is not only powerful, it is energizing.  It is my privilege and honour to spend time learning alongside with aspiring leaders in formal and informal ways.  One formal way is as an instructor for OPC’s Principal’s Qualification Program.  This past weekend, we spent time learning about School Operations.  The focus was to understand the legislation and policies that are in place that impact how a school runs.  Sound exciting?  Your initial response may be “no”. Sounds straight-forward but to the contrary it is very complex. Digging deeper and looking at school operations through the lens of a leader makes one realize that it’s about mindset, influence and resiliency.  

We began in a way that involved a collaborative inquiry approach with this guiding slide:   


As a practicing principal who moved to a new school this past September, I share that aspiring leaders and transitioning leaders alike must always keep School Operations as an ongoing area of focus.  School Operations are the underpinning to maintaining a safe and healthy environment.  

Guiding questions:  
How does a leader give purpose and meaning to policies and procedures they are duty bound to implement?  

How does a leader communicate school operations to staff and students

in ways that explicitly make connections to how they support teaching and learning?

How does a leader promote collective responsibility and accountability for respecting school operations?  

Why are these questions important to ask?  It is important that staff understand the intent and the why connected to rules, routines and day to day expectations. Ask yourself each and everyday:   

  • Is the school safe?
  • Does the school have structures in place that support creating an effective teaching and learning environment?  
  • How do students and staff know how the school operates on a day to day basis with predictability so that teaching and learning can happen?  

My colleague, Gerry Smith, while presenting with a focus on Health and Safety to participants made these relevant points:

  • Mindset matters.  You set the parameters for things to be safe from an operational stance.  It is your responsibility to ensure your school runs day to day with a focus on safety and routine.
  • gerry-pqpAlways remember it is about protecting everyone – students, staff and members of the community.  Legislation, policy & procedures are there for a very good reason.  Make sure you know why and that it happens.  Your level of preparedness is key.
  • Exercise your influence and talk out loud sharing the whys of structures and procedures and how they support the teaching and learning. Mention as needed how they are grounded in legislation and policy.  No one can opt out.    
  • Know yourself.  Be prepared.  Things will go wrong.  Everyone is watching how you respond.  How you respond sets the tone.   

How does a principal / vice-principal bring School Operations to life with meaning:

  • Humanize it. Give school operations meaning by making connections to how they impact teaching and learning and keep people safe and secure.
  • Be knowledgeable. Find time to read policies, procedures and operationalize them in ways that make sense in your school.  Know where to go to know.
  • Communication is crucial.  Many ways are needed.  E.g.  staff handbook, memos, bulletin boards, schedules, calendars, announcements, signage, website, 1:1 reminders, group shares, assemblies, class presentations
  • Be open to concerns and questions. Say thank you when they are voiced and most importantly, follow up with actionables.
  • Pay close attention during inspections and plant improvements.  Ask questions and seek advice.  Check in daily with your caretaker.  
  • Be present.   See your school operations in action.  Be out on the playground. Be out and about during the start of the day and the end of the day. Notice what is going well and where operational improvements might be made.  Ask questions.  Be visible.  Note and respond to areas of concern connected to safety, supervision and security in a timely way.

Don’t lose sight of knowing who you are in relations to your personal leadership resources.  Know thyself.  Be self-aware of how you respond in crisis or conflict situations.  Consult with system supports.   Be sure to pose questions and debrief with a mentor about how they navigate situations.  Process is your friend.  Access checklists. Stay low on the ladder and observe.  Listen. Take notes. Ask questions.  And listen again.

Follow up post coming soon:
How do you cope as a school leader when things go wrong?

Lisa Neale, Principal – HWDSB

The Power of Telling Stories

Be sure to listen to them.  Be sure to read them.  Be sure to write them.  Be sure to draw them.  Be sure to tell them.  Stories.  Stories matter.  The more the better.  

As an educator, I often reflect on how important sharing our stories may help others.  Students may see us in a different light and learn from us in ways that go beyond knowing us as an educator.  Colleagues see us in ways that acknowledge who we are as people. Think about it.  Our stories not only define us, they bring us closer together as humans.  

Why do we tell stories?  We tell stories to others to learn more about ourselves through self-reflection. Brian McDonald writes, “Stories teach us how to live.” (Invisible Ink: A Practical Guide to Building Stories That Resonate).  It’s not only the visible ink, the words that we read or hear but it’s the invisible ink underneath the words.  The invisible ink is what you cannot see; it is what you feel and think.

Stories are important because they define us.  Stories can and do overlap. I recently watched a Ted Talk entitled, “The Danger of A Single Story” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In her Ted Talk, she cautions us to be wary of the single story.  In fact, she tells us to reject the single story.  Why?  The reason is simple.  Hearing only a single story about a person or a country fosters misunderstanding.  We must always engage in multiple narratives.

It is important to own your story.  Telling a story, especially one that is challenging, is courageous.  

Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution by Brene Brown

As Brene Brown shares in her book, Rising Strong, one of my most recent reads,
We are the authors of our lives. We write our own daring endings.
Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.”

Why do I share this quote with you?  I will tell you why.  You want to be the authors of your story.  Believe me, someone else telling your story is not what you want to happen.

So, think about it. Think about writing your story.  
A story that is interesting, meaningful and one you want to tell!  How?  

  • Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable – it’s the greatest measure of courage – it means you are brave and are showing up and engaging in life

Being vulnerable means that If you are going to put yourself out there and experience life to the fullest — you will experience sadness. Being vulnerable means you are open to taking risks, trying new things, and ready to experience failure.  Being vulnerable means being courageous!  

And guess what?  It’s ok. It’s ok to fall.  When you fall, you get back up, you dust yourself off, learn the most and as Brene Brown says, “rising strong after a fall is how we cultivate wholeheartedness in our lives; it’s the process that teaches us the most about who we are.”
After a fall, I don’t know about you but that’s when my best learning happens, when deep reflection happens and a more profound understanding about myself and others happens.  I call these falls “teachable moments.”

So how do you own your story?  I like how Brene Brown nails it down in 3 ways:  

  • Be you – walk into your own story
  • Be all in – write & own your own story
  • Fall. Get up. Write a new ending and change how you engage in the world!

Remember: there is choice in how we tell our stories. There are so many creative ways to tell and share stories on social media nowadays.  Think about it.  You can share your words, images, sound and video. This is powerful. The power of story is everywhere.

A friend of mine, Debbie Donsky, shares her stories openly on her blog and she illustrates how life is a mixture of how we learn, how we create, how we connect and how we reflect connected to the many roles we play.  Her stories inspire, provoke and are real.  You should read them.  

Sharing a story with colleagues.

How do I tell stories? I tell stories visually and sometimes include short text.  Instagram is big for me – professionally and personally. Why? Think of the idiom, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Images tell stories. By adding in text with the image, each post is a short form novel and the series of posts in turn create a meaningful story that is told over time.

I wonder out loud with you as an educator:  

  • How are we providing opportunities for students to tell their stories?  
  • How are we responding to the stories of our students?  
  • How are we ensuring that students engage in many stories?   

Sharing a story is social.  We humans like the social because that how we learn, grow and reflect.

I am always ready for a story. How about you?

Lisa Neale, Principal – HWDSB