French Culture Goes Beyond the Language

I still remember the phone call just two years ago, “Lori Daelick, we would like you to be the principal of École Connaught Community School.” My quick retort, “Interesting, but you know I don’t speak French, right?” ended in a supportive conversation leading me to believe that I was going to École Connaught for a reason. 

The anticipation of an incredible leadership opportunity started to replace the initial fear of inadequacy. I wanted nothing more than to create excellence in outcomes for both the French Immersion and English streams within our school. As I navigated my way through building my immersion philosophy without having the language myself, I gleaned some key ‘take-aways’ and ‘insight questions’ to support a vibrant immersion culture.

  1. Start from a place of need. I believe this is central to the work of any leader. Outcomes rise when we examine our current practice and move forward with purpose. A visioning session that elicits the compelling why of the collective group and opens the team to what compels me as a leader is a profitable way to start the school year. I think it is critical to ask reflective questions such as: Why do we do what we do? What are our “Key Beliefs” as a team? What are we pretending not to know? (I call this, ‘What is the Elephant in the Room?’.) How do we want our school to feel? What do we need to be successful? How will we know we are successful? This helped to define the work and atmosphere within the school. Reflect back to the start of the year was the knowledge gained visible throughout the year?
  2. Feedback is a Gift. Expertise lies among the team, yet often in the education we find closed classrooms and teachers’ main collaboration taking place in the staffroom. I think magic happens when you create a culture of trust and a structure for feedback within classrooms. When these key pieces are in place, you can utilize the knowledge of the team to build expertise at the ground level where it counts. This was essential as an English speaking principal in an immersion setting. Do you feel feedback is a gift? What role does feedback play in creating a culture of success?
  3. Kindle Synergy and Celebration. My ultimate goal is creating a building with a pulse of its own. A place that feels so good that staff, students, and guests want to keep coming back. This happens when synergy is sparked by passion, joy, and success coming together. We celebrate with outlandish actions that keep our kids craving more. It may mean cavorting the halls in a Sponge Bob costume or taking time to tweet out ‘bump ups’ in language learning or catching and celebrating French conversations outside of the classroom. We celebrate often! I also believe we need to celebrate each other – when our gifts are nourished, they grow. Part of working at Connaught means you come ready to find the gifts in others! We want visitors to feel our interconnectedness and our sense of purpose. What is the next ‘big game’ you can play to bring joy to the halls and act as a catalyst to learning?
  4. Raise the bar on results. Key to our culture is learning excellence. Regardless of language, effective teaching practice requires us to put student success central to our work and develop teaching practices that respond to individual needs. Our key belief ‘all students can learn at high levels’ is essential, especially in the early years of immersion. I love hearing stories of a once struggling French learner coming out on the top of his/her class. How do you know all French learners are progressing throughout the year? What creative ways do you have to encourage struggling French learners to stick with it?
  5. Excellence is found in the details. My stellar team stuck with me as I took risks with French. I believe it was the many bouts of laughter, sometimes at my expense, that helped my team understand I am trying. My team has shared the importance of adding language to the little things, allocating French resources, advocating for French experiences, partaking in French celebrations, encouraging French conversation, and learning alongside the students – even if it meant being a contestant in the “Are You Smarter than an Immersion Fifth Grader?” game. Where do you show up with excellence within your school culture? Think of one detail you may be missing (ie: a morning chalk message waiting on the sidewalk) that articulates excellence. Now act on that detail.

I often repute culture as ‘achievement regarded collectively’. In closing, it would be remiss not to mention the powerhouse correlate of the Connaught culture, distributed leadership. As an immersion principal I often felt vulnerable, but by exposing this with an openness to learn and a call for leadership, I have been surprised in the best possible way. Our team consistently brings their gifts to the table…and our students love to be the leaders in my French education! In fact, our young leaders love French and our staff love their jobs. They make our motto “Community of Excellence” so tangible.

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dimanche 17 décembre 2017