Mary talks about her family and background, and some of the positions she’s held during her forty years as a professional educator (after an early change of career plans) (2:22)
Why Mary chose education for her new career (8:50)
Mary’s serendipitous path from teacher to administrator, by way of grant writing and a higher-up with a good eye for talent (10:20)
Some of the challenges of those early days when moving from teaching to administration (15:23)
Some of the most important challenges Mary faced in the journey from teacher to admin, and how she dealt with them (17:30)
Some of the lessons Mary learned in those early days and how those lessons have shaped her into the administrator she is today (24:03)
Mary shares a story about one of the many students on whom she had a huge impact (29:00)
What new and aspiring administrators can do to stand out during the hiring process and it’s so vitally important to be completely honest and authentic when interviewing (32:50)
The best leadership advice Mary ever received – invest in your teachers and staff (40:00)
The importance of discovering the unique strengths of each of your teachers (41:15)
Two important book recommendations from Mary (42:00)
Webinars and podcasts can be great tools for administrators (45:10)
Mary’s favorite educational quote (46:52)
Advice to administrators for working with students (48:30)
Advice to administrators for working with teachers (49:55)
How to help get everyone onboard when it comes to your vision for the school (51:00)
Some lessons Mary learned during her time in Amsterdam (52:48)
If Mary had a time machine, and could go back and talk to her younger self when she was first becoming a school admin, here’s the advice she would give herself (57:22)
Books mentioned in this episode
Connect with Mary Canole
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Educators Lead Ep. 27
Show notes: http://www.educatorslead.com/marycanole/
Welcome to educators lead where we interview leaders in education to offer inspiration and practical advice to help launch educators into the next level of leadership. I’m your host Jay Willis and I want to thank you for subscribing to our show.
Intro: Dr. Mary Canole is in her 40th year in public education. She has taught at both the middle and high school levels in Rhode Island and has served as the director of the Newport Area Career and Technical Center. Mary later became the director of instruction in grants and then superintendent of Newport public schools a small urban school district. Mary has also served as director of progressive support and intervention at the Rhode Island Department of Education and is in 1980 Milken Award recipient. That’s just a brief introduction Mary. But tell us a little bit more about yourself.
Mary Canole: Well Jay first and foremost I am married to a wonderful man named John who also is an educator and he’s the school principal and he has supported me and all of my educational leadership endeavors up to this point in time. We just celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary last past July so I think that’s a good thing. And we have two children. Our daughter Kate is a middle school English and reading teacher and our son John is a director of integrated marketing and Social media for Meeting Street School and that’s a school for children with very severe disabilities in Rhode Island Interestingly our son said he was never going to go into education after all the dinner table education talk. But not only does he work in school but he married a high school math teacher so there you go. But just a little bit about my path. I received my undergraduate degree from Syracuse University of a masters in human development from the University of Rhode Island. My educational leadership masters is from Rhode Island College and I completed my doctoral degrees from John Snell University in educational leadership. So I like to go to school.
Jay Willis: Yeah. So tell us tell us something interesting about yourself that maybe most people would now.
Mary Canole: Well. The funny thing is I never intended to go into education. I went to Syracuse University and I was there to study Fashion Design. I was very much into textiles and clothing and until probably second semester freshman year and realized that I didn’t have the drawing skills necessary to really make a fashion career choice work. So I became a family and consumer science teacher and I taught at middle level for about 6 years and then went to the high school level and you know this was probably early 80’s. And at that point of course it started the demise of you know things like industrial tech and also family and consumer science programs.
So I was moved to an alternative High school in Newport. At first I thought I was you know sent to God knows where – this was a very small school with children with lots and lots of issues but what I found working there was that it was the most fabulous education experience I could have ever wanted in my career. And what I learned from my work there was that we were really like a family in that school and we did whatever it took to make sure that each and every student was successful and was put back on track in able to go back to their sending high school and graduate. I think then just the whole notion of what student centered education can be became clear to me.
After that I was asked to develop and run a vocational Assessment Center for the Newport area career and tech center and it was an opportunity for high school students to kind of figure out what their career goals are, and the position was really unique. It was not something that a lot of the Rhode Island Career tech centers were offering. So my feasibility was raised somewhat and because of that we had a new superintendent in our district and he asked me to serve as a leader in one of the action teams for his strategic planning process and of course. That provided me even more opportunity in the district and ultimately I was asked to serve as the interim principal of the Newport career in tech center and then ultimately I became a full time principal.
Well after serving as a principal for 7 years. I became the district’s director of instructional grants as you noted in my introduction and later superintendent of schools and then after serving as superintendent for about 4 years. I was asked by the commissioner of education. To work with him at the Rhode Island Department of Education and set up a new office. It was the office of progressive support and intervention which worked with underperforming schools and districts. And it was due to the work that me and my leadership team had the success we had in Newport turning around several of our underperforming schools. So it was a great opportunity to kind of look at all levels of education. I retired from Rhode Island Department of Ed in 2008 and since then I’ve been working as an educational consultant with the Council of Chiefs state school officers in Washington D.C. and the fun thing was we just developed both the professional educational leadership standard 2015. And also the work that I facilitated was standards for Principal Supervisors. So it was a lot of fun to really go to even a higher Policy level. But what I enjoy most right now is working with New York City leadership Academy in the Wallace Foundation, with their network of urban school districts that are working on developing a principal pipeline. And each and every day I am blown away by the support that they’re putting in place for principals that were certainly nonexistent several years ago. So it’s kind of great learning experience for me
Jay Willis: so I’m going to backtrack just a little bit because this is fascinating to me what caused you to make the transition. So talking about I guess the point at which you made the decision to move into education because you were in textiles and design and then you figured out that you weren’t very good at drawing. I can relate to that completely – you should see some of my chicken scratches in the corner. But. So obviously that kind of prompted you to look at other options. As far as career paths but what caused you to choose education.
Mary Canole: Well I always love school and I always loved being around children. So I thought I had already had a sampling of teaching. I certainly Had a real interest in the home and at that time of course it was a nutrition and child development studies and all of that so it seemed like a good fit for me and I had a lot of opportunity . I actually studied in Amsterdam then afterwards when I’m at Syracuse and it was all related to Child Development at that time. So yeah it’s funny how you start out on a certain path and for whatever happened you learn more about yourself and you make other decisions and after 40 years I think clearly I was on the right path.
Jay Willis: Yeah. So what point did you make the decision to move into school leadership was it kind of the point where you had to decide about it or was it really that point when somebody Invited you to become the interim principal or had you kind of thought about it before that.
Mary Canole: Well actually there was no decision on my part initially. It just kind of happened the opportunity presented itself to me and I think we call it nowadays when we look at Recruiting great educators and teachers and leaders. We call it being tapped and I was actually tapped. I was teaching at the Newport alternative school for those of you have a knowledge about alternative settings probably on the lower level of the food chain for budgetary funding in the school district. So I had to learn how to write grants In order to support my program. And I got very good at it to the point where I used to get really annoyed when I wouldn’t get funded. Because I got funded almost all the time. But because of that I think it was a skill set that got noticed and strengthened my visibility In the District and because of that the current principal of that Career and Technical Center where we were asked me if I would consider writing a grant to put in place this vocational Assessment center in our school district.
So that was kind of the starting point. So grant writings is a very important skill for an educational leader… I want to point out it certainly launched me and once we got funded then I served as the coordinator that assessment center. That principal kind of took me under his wing. He was a mentor to me , involved me in a lot of leadership work that was going on in the big career and technical school. And he ultimately encouraged me to get my administrative credential. So it’s just interesting how you may not think that you want to do something but when somebody presents it and tells you about it and you realize that. It’s a match for your skill that you kind of go after it and that’s what happened to me.
Jay Willis: Yeah. So how did you overcome because I’m sure there’s lots of people that kind of are in this situation. Some who take that path and others who don’t so what was it I guess that caused you to feel…I mean what was kind of the internal conversation that you had that caused you to actually take that step and have the confidence to say you know what, “yeah, I think this is a good direction for me to go”?
Mary Canole: Well first of all I really appreciated the leadership of this individual who openened up this possibility to me. He was certainly a role model and you get taken with somebody when they instill the confidence in you. When they have confidence that they can say to you, “You would make a great leader. Because these things that I’ve noticed in you – the way you do things, the way you interact with people, you know how collaborative you are”, and I think then it was like “wow.” Sometimes I think when you’re so used to teaching or you’re so used to delivering for your students you sometimes don’t step back and say “gee is there any other contribution I can make?” You know to support kids other day and then being in the classroom and when he did this for me it really kind of got my wheels turning and gave me a new vision of what I wanted to work towards.
Jay Willis: Yeah that’s neat. And he story seems like in so many cases that there’s kind of like this one person, at least my own life that was an encouragement to me that maybe believed or saw something in me and believed in me. When maybe I didn’t necessarily believe in myself or I hadn’t been aware of that thing before. That kind of helped shape the person that I ended up becoming you know. Yeah. So I guess along the journey then as you were taking classes in. You know with the family, and just busy teaching in all the different things that you’re kind of…tell us I guess about the journey and some of the struggles that you went through as you were preparing to move into school leadership.
Mary Canole: Well certainly it wasn’t a picnic working all day taking courses that night. My husband was also going to his administrative credential at that time and of course at that point. Our children were -one was in middle school and one was just beginning high school. So we had kind of a family studies sessions at night. Our kids learned first and foremost that if Mom and Dad had to do school work they did too so we were kind of all in it together so that was kind of… You know we still look back on that now and we say you know I think our children gt a lot of their habits through us because well they didn’t really have an option you know. So I mean most of it’s been for the good. But the other thing was I think we were able to make our course work do-able because you know when there’s administrative program there’s always project and assignments and if you make it relevant to the to the work that you do on a day to day basis, you’re kind of killing two birds with one stone. Since I knew something about technology and what our school didn’t have at the time was a technology plan, so what I did was work with folks in my school to develop a plan and that became my project for that particular course so everything was relevant to and If it wasn’t for the school it was that the district and again. By taking the courses in doing these projects I was having value and contributing to the district Improvement at the same time.
Jay Willis: Yeah. So what we’re some of the greatest lessons that you feel as though you learned through the journey and through you know just all the challenges you faced as you were moving from teacher to administrator.
Mary Canole: Well. I was hired in ‘91 after I finish my course work as the principal director of the career and technical center. And Rhode Island was kind of particular at that time I would say. In that we had 9 regional career in technical schools in the state and a lot them were directed by males. So I have this distinction of being a first female principal director of a career and technical center and when I entered the group. It was a group of older men, very veteran, had kind of come up the ranks as being career and technical teachers to many and came right from industry and It was kind of a foreign environment for me. But what I knew I wanted to be recognized as an educational leaders the first female over time… Their leadership style was very different from mine. And I just had to get acclimated to the group. I had to learn and really appreciate where they were coming from. Get accustomed to their leadership style and once I you know kind of dealt with them on their level. So to speak. Then I could present my ideas and get respected for them and the interesting thing was about 16 months after I came on as director. Almost all of those directors retired at some point during that 16 months time. So a brand new cohort that make up the current technical director principals came into Rhode Island and it was just fabulous, all kind of shaping a brand new vision for the Career and technical delivery system in Rhode Island.
Jay Willis: So I guess. Especially speaking to our female audience who might find themselves in a situation similar to that. How did you overcome some of those challenges because I’m sure there are just some difficulties with that? And then what advice would you have them.
Mary Canole: Well again I think I started out being a really good listener. And really trying to capitalize on the areas that I agreed with them in and not you know go after Areas that I thought needed improvement. And being a great listener I was able Then to eventually present ideas That got them reflecting on what they thought worked well in the And what areas needed to change. You know I think one of the things I learned was that. You really get to choose who you work with so you need to find the positives in everyone in build on them. And once you do that you build a relationship. So you don’t have to agree with everything that they’re promoting or everything that they’re suggesting to do and they will actually listen to new ideas and actually make some change over time. And The other thing was I Probably have a much more collaborative work style than a lot of the veteran directors had I think the new ones coming on board were much more collaborative. But it was a different area for us and you have to work for the system that you put in before you can change it and I think that’s why I was able to stay true to myself. But not accept the status quo.
Jay Willis: You know and that really is great advice for anybody. I would say one of the consistent themes for a lot of the guests that have been in the podcast so far is just, “Learn to listen”. Because I know. Especially when you get when you first get into the position you know you have all these ideas of how you think things could be better and. A lot of them. You know what I’ve asked people what is going to be one of the biggest mistakes or one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned a lot of people who kind of just jumped in and started making a bunch of changes before first kind of listening and figuring out OK like. Let’s figure out why these things are already in place in like what’s the value of them. And so instead of just me coming in implementing all these change before I really have an understanding of. Of why it’s even. You know why certain things happen the way they do here. Like the biggest takeaway I get from that is really like go in, especially to something new where you’re like the new guy on the block, new woman on the block, and just listen. And like just kind of get a feel for how things are and get to know the people because it’s really the relationships that are going to help you work together. Toward the common goal. Instead of feeling like everybody else. Maybe. Would feel like you’re kind of stepping on their toes or bulldozing over them with your ideas.
Mary Canole: Yeah and you really have to be respectful of their culture. You know that culture is going on long before you got there and you know they had certain successes and you have to see what the ingredients were to the successes that they had had in the past so you can build on those going forward. And I agree for many times people coming in it’s like OK let’s start with a blank sheet of paper and I would never suggest doing that.
Jay Willis: Yeah. So how do you think some of the lessons that you learned as you were making that transition and maybe even sort of some lessons you learned. As a first or second year administrator. How kind of things have you learned from that and how has that shapes you. As a leader. As leader that you are today.
Mary Canole: Well. It’s important to realize your own strengths and weaknesses and you have to understand that you are doing the best job you possibly can. But you are going to make mistakes. And I think you have to be able to accept that in yourself you don’t learn and you don’t grow without in any mistakes. As upsetting as they are to you it does show your humanness and it does I’ve never shied away from showing my vulnerability. If I didn’t know something I would let people know that. But also tell them that I would do everything I could to learn more to be able to have that that knowledge base to make decisions going forward. The only thing I’ve learned was the fact that every person you work with wants to be recognized for something And they want to be thanked and this isn’t the principal ship but a super intendant when I first moved into my office. One of the custodians did a fresh coat of paint on the office for me. Which was not something I asked. And I wrote him a thank you note and the man came into me and basically. His eyes were welled up and said, “You know Dr Canole nobody has ever thanked me for any of my work.” And so people need to know that they’re respected and that they’re valued and that what they do contributes to the good of that school or that district. So that was a key lesson. I think another lesson is the fact that you’re never done – you’ve got to be the lead learner in your district or in your school. And if you want to make sure you support your teacher and your staff with ongoing professional learning, you’ve got to be a part that. They’ve got to see you learn and grow to see you developing new skills and knowledge. You know we’re all in it together and we’re just never done. And what’s good today may not be good tomorrow. So you’re always on that journey together.
Jay Willis: So what are some ways you feel as though you’re continuing to grow?
Mary Canole: Well right now I’m part of this learning community with the Wallace Foundation and New York City Leadership Academy. And as much as I am not in a district anymore I do support their work and we’re struggling with problems of practice…you know, principals are getting burned out rapidly, after just a year or 2 in that job because the job is so big. And they don’t have the supports necessary from their district to be able to do the job what they are asked to do you know sometimes they have so many managerial tasks on their plate that they can’t even find the time to get into their classrooms to give the support that their teachers need. So the work I am doing right now or expanding because it’s changing district practice s so that they become more of a support system for their school leaders vs. Just like a compliant system where all they’re doing is say no. You know, “Principal, did you get your bunch of this and did you get all these teacher evaluations done?” Right now it’s more about let’s get the principals into the classroom where they belong. Because they are our first priority to be shaping and supporting the practice of their teacher in the classroom so there by Kids are getting what they need
Jay Willis: Empower the teachers that’s great. So you’ve been in education for a while. I’m sure you have some amazing stories and the one you already shared I thought was just very powerful the man who painted your office before you came in and just kind of the neat recognition that you gave him that he appreciated but like take as I guess to one of maybe your best stories Of the biggest impact you’ve had a chance to be a part of.
Mary Canole: Well. I’m going to say this and first it’s probably going to sound self-serving but I think you’ll see that it it’s not about that as much as…as you said in my introduction I was named as a Milken National Educator and that was back in 1998 and that was a fabulous tribute. I mean you know the Milken Foundation is just so generous to educators that they recognize but it really wasn’t that as much as a visit I got. A visitor came to my office after I received that award and the visitor happened to be a former graduate of the career and technical center where I was when I received that award. And this was a young lady who had gotten pregnant right before her senior year and because of that she missed quite a bit of school she was in enrolled in her health careers program and wanted to go in to further her education. And in the health field she wasn’t quite sure whether it was nursing or another occupation. But she missed so much school that by the time she came back I think it was maybe 4th quarter and then she had been able to keep up with her academic subjects but not with the career and technical program because it involved internship hours and lots of projects. At that time I gathered her teachers of that program together and said “you know, she is not going to fall through the cracks – she is going to graduate. And we’re going to do whatever we can to help her.” So we developed a plan for her. We actually got her an internship at Newport hospital for that summer. And she did in fact graduate the end of August. You know a few months after her graduating class but she graduated. So in she comes that a couple of days after the interim receipt that Milken award. And she have a bouquet of flowers she had a note and the note til this day still gets me basically said. “Dr. Canole this is so well deserved and I just want you to know that I would never graduate without your help” and to me the measure of whether you are at the school district level or the classroom level is your impact on kids.” And this is one story where I can say that what I did it on behalf of the kids worked and to me that’s the measure of leadership. It doesn’t matter, “Yeah I raised a lot of money and grant writing” or “You know I opened a new school.” But it’s what the kids took away from my efforts. And to me that’s what Educational Leadership is all
Jay Willis: Yeah, you made an incredible impact on that young woman’s life. That’s such a neat story. So I have a question that came in from one of our listeners and you have just a wide range of experience bad you’ve been in education for a while I’m looking forward to hearing your response to this but what you would say what could in and an aspiring school administrator do to help themselves stand out during the application process?
Mary Canole: Well I think first and foremost they need to be able to demonstrate or show products or artifacts of their work. Perhaps they show a video clip of them assessing a lesson and actually getting feedback on a colleague about how that lesson might be able to improve or what were the great points of the lesson. I think you could show a grant that you funded. I mean I think the bottom line is to show the thing that stands out. They could discuss maybe a professional group that they belong to that kind of reinforce a notion that they are continuous learners, their course work might be done And I think they need to be able to demonstrate where they are going to go above and beyond, what leadership roles have they taken on as a teacher that prepare them on to be good solid candidate for a school administration job.
Jay Willis: Yeah. You know I love about your story of what kind of brought you into administration is that I know a lot of people are thinking well you know what. What’s like the magic thing that I need to do to get that job that I want but the message that I get from your story. Is that if you just focus on you. Like if you just focus on making yourself better and growing as a person that you will eventually. As you’re growing as a person and as a leader you’ll eventually kind of like what you said get tapped? Where somebody is just going to notice and acknowledge that you know this this person’s got some leadership skills. So I think that the main focus if you’re really focusing on building yourself up and developing those attributes that make a great leader that maybe the application process isn’t quite as difficult. If you know if you’re doing that because. Because people are just going to notice those qualities that stand out about you.
Mary Canole: Yeah I agree Jay and another thing too is I firmly believe that if it meant to be it will be. And you know sometimes it takes several different interview to go through or many different job they can see before your selected and on a lot of times it’s not because you’re not good enough. But it’s because you’re not there right match and I think it’s all about finding the right leader for a particular school. What does that school need at this point in time? You might have fit perfectly a few years back. But right now because of different conditions in that school they’re looking for someone that can do this type of work. You know there’s so much in a principals plate that you can’t always be excellent at everything. So you need to be excellent at those things that school really needs at that time when they go to hire somebody.
Jay Willis: That’s another kind of consistent message that I’m hearing from a lot of guests – “just be authentic.” Because if you’re not authentic and they hire you based on you not being sincere and authentic then everybody’s going to be disappointed – you’re going to be disappointed and they’re going to disappointed. Whereas if you’re just authentic you might not get the job but at least it’s like when you do get that position now everybody’s going to be happy because they get what they’re looking for you get what you’re looking for. Versus you know trying to try to be something that you’re not.
Mary Canole: Right. And I suppose a better advice would be, if you’re applying for all different types of schools whether they are suburban or rural or urban, if you have not had experience in that setting you better make sure that you understand that culture. And you need to find ways to get acclimated to that culture. I think many times programs do a disservice to our principals by not giving or their aspiring principals by not giving them experience in the various settings. And If you want to go to an urban setting, you have got to make a very strong connection with not only the families but that community. If you’re going to be worth your salt in that school. And you’ve got to understand the issues of poverty, and how they can’t be looked at as a barrier to learning. So there is so much, depending on the particular context of that school, that they need to know about in order to come across as somebody that is prepared to lead in that environment.
Jay Willis: So how would you suggest an aspiring administrator gets that experience? Would you suggest them actually just trying to take a teaching position for a couple years at a school like that?
Mary: Yeah I think too that the prep programs need to not just go to the school systems that it’s easy to place student teachers in. But they really need to partner with the some of the poorer school districts as well as you know those that are very affluent. To me I would be rating the promise of a particular program that I was looking at as to what type of experience is… what are they going to get me and I don’t have experiences in leading schools with children with special needs enrolled. Or what about students with non-English speaking students? These are all things that if you’re not prepared for you can’t support the student population. You need to be able to be armed with the strategies necessary to make certain that staff do everything they can to ensure that every child will be successful.
Jay Willis: Yeah. OK I’m going to transition into some rapid fire questions if you’re ready for those?
Mary Canole: Oh! OK Lightning Round
Jay Willis: Yeah that’s right. So what would you say is the best leadership advice you’ve ever received.
Mary Canole: “Invest in your teachers and staff”, I think. And I said it already but everyone needs to have support to continue to grow. If anybody ever feels like they’re dead ended in whatever job they have in your school or their district. Certainly they’re not going to be effective over time. You’ve got to keep them excited you gotta keep them growing. And you’ve got to paint the horizon for them that they have the opportunity to do things with more responsibility. That’s how you go about involving teachers in leadership. Distributing the leadership in a school is so important. They may not ever want to leave their classroom of students. But they can be teacher leaders and they can facilitate model classrooms where they are teaching their colleagues and to me that’s essential.
Jay Willis: Right. What would you say was your biggest strengths as a school administrator?
Mary Canole: I think it was really looking for the unique strengths of an individual and to really recognize how they can contribute to the school in their own special way and once you recognize it. You kind of use them or implement them in particular situations where they can continue to grow and help others who are in the skill sets that they have.
Jay Willis: Is there a book or two that have been influential for you that you’d recommend for other school leaders?
Mary Canole: Yeah I mean when I was the principal and. Even as a superintendent. I tried to build a community of learning within my school or district. And I used the book “Change Leadership” . It’s a few years old it was put out by Harvard. But it’s a practical guide to transforming our schools; that’s the full title: “Change Leadership: A Practical Guide to Transforming Our Schools.” It was written by like Tony Wagner and Bob Keegan and there are many others that contributed to the book. It had a lot of self-assessment in there and it took a look at how well you were improving instruction in your school and it allowed you to have conversations with your staff. Because it was based on, let’s find out what we’re doing well, and whatever it is that we need to improve. And once you make the case that you’re doing certain things well and people are like okay we want to continue doing well if you wanted to keep doing well then we have to look at the things that need improvement. And here are some ways that we can move forward and then you build an improvement plan based on the conversations. So that’s about it. you know I’ve got sticky notes and it’s marked up to death but it’s a book that I used in so many of my various roles and I would highly recommend that to people. The other book is Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen.
This is from a Harvard Negotiation Project and by the way in our school district we were fortunate. I live in Newport Rhode Island we have a Naval War College. One year we had a particularly bad negotiation situation with our teachers and after it was all over, we had striking, everything. So after it was over naval war college basically said, “Come with us; we’re going to teach you how to do interest based negotiation.” And this book lets you have the types of conversations you need to have to come to consensus about what matters most & what both sides can agree on. So that was helpful. As a teacher And as a as a superintendent. A book I would greatly recommend.
Jay Willis: Yeah. I have to check that one out because in any leadership position there are plenty of opportunities for those difficult conversations for sure. So is there at technology tool like an app or software that you’d recommend to other school leaders.
Mary Canole: Well I try my best to keep up with technology and I think the thing I use the most in actually it’s something that you’re using right now, Jay. It’s the whole notion of webcasts or podcast or webinars. And I would conduct meetings sometimes I don’t lead groups of super intendants In Rhode Island it was a collaborative in current group. And sometimes we would meet virtually vs. in person we did both we think both are important. But it was an opportunity to continue a conversation between meetings and it was also an opportunity to honor people’s time. On very busy people with my principals, you know, didn’t want to leave their buildings. They might be able to stay in their office. For 45 minute webinar where we can all get on the line and talk a little bit Or we keep after school and again they could stay in their office and be available If parents can enter or whatever. And then if they got interrupted they could always go back because it’s recorded. So I think a lot of that and I think it’s an opportunity to do professional learning. So that would be my big app I guess. You know it’s called an app I don’t know.
Jay Willis: Well it’s a tool for sure technology tool so that’s good that works. So what would you say is your favorite educational quote?
Mary Canole: Well it’s funny when I when I got the job as superintendent I had a female friend that brought me in this path. And I’m a big tea drinker I don’t like coffee so I drink tea all the time. So there’s a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt. That said as “A woman is like a tea bag. You never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water” and I think it’s the same for school leader. If you were to know ahead of time all of the difficult situations that you would be encountering in this role you probably wouldn’t go into it. But over time as you reflect back on the strength that you demonstrate in these areas where it’s needed most. It just you know don’t mess with my kids. I was dead set on ensuring the equity for all children in my school and in my district. And if you’re telling me I’m going to lose funding for them then I am going to fight you on it. If you tell me you’re going to take away a service for them that they need, I am going to fight you on it. So your strength comes from your beliefs systems. And so anyway. Teabags can be quite strong. Even in hot water.
Jay Willis: So what advice would you have for a school administrator working with the students that they serve?
Mary Canole: Well. I think I have alluded to this already and You need to spend time In all different settings and you need to get to know what makes that community tick in an urban school system in a rural or in a suburban and you need to be credible with them. So you have to understand what their struggles are you have to understand their belief system. And you have to honor and respect on what they hold dear in their life. So you are constantly learning about the people that you are supporting whether it’s that child and whether you know they need food to go home with on a weekend or whether that parent is totally school phobic. Because they had a bad experience when they were growing up in a school. And you have to learn to listen, you have to go in their homes you have to do all of these things that familiarize yourself with them and then and gives them the opportunity to know they trust you.
Jay Willis: Along those lines what would you say is the biggest piece of advice you’d have for an administrator working with the teachers in the building.
Mary Canole: I think first and foremost you have to be yourself. If you’re trying to fake it they’re going to see it. And if you’re trying to be somebody you’re not they’re going to call you on it and I think you have to depend on others to lead with you I think my message to my staff was. “Look. We have a lot of things that we’re doing well. But we can do better and our children depend on us each and every day. To be able to give them what they need to be successful and to really support their learning.“ So it’s just I think it’s being genuine Jay. I think you’ve got to believe it. If they’re going to believe it and work with you. You know we all need the same vision of what you want for your kids.
Jay Willis: Yeah. So what advice would you have for helping to get everybody on the same page as far as that vision goes?
Mary Canole: Well I think first and foremost you need to have a conversation about what you believe as a faculty what’s important to you and what your hopes are for the future. You know if you have that blank sheet of paper and you could design the school that you wanted. What would it look like? What would the kids be doing what would the teachers all be doing? And how do you hold that up to them and say “Alright, how do we stack up against our vision? Are we even close? And if we’re not what do we have to do to get there? What do you have to give up for us to get there what I have to give up and then what do we have to do?” So you know just really taking the time on school improvement planning is huge. And maybe the state wants me to create this plan or an investor want me to create this plan. You’ve got to live the plan and you’ve got to keep revisiting it. To determine whether or not you’re making progress towards the type of school that you want to be and what’s your data showing you. Are the kids getting what they need to really perform and learn?
Jay Willis: Good stuff. So I have a question I’m throwing out here just because it’s I’m very curious what are some things that you learned from your experience in Amsterdam.
Mary Canole: Oh wow. Very family centered and again. When I was there I lived with the family and actually I went into the school it was obviously an early childhood setting they had very young children in this family and you know just the involvement of the parents was terrific! And that some of the variations they had for the children’s learning. It was just I suppose different from the United States. In a way that it almost seemed like the ideal but again. I only stayed for a semester. You know what I mean right now I don’t know what it would look like if I had gone into an elementary school or middle or high school. But I did get the impression that there was so much joy in this learning environment And I think that was an important takeaway.
Jay Willis: Yes I was but that was my follow up to that was how you think that has shaped you and your career in education that experience.
Mary Canole: Well I think. You know it’s funny because back to my original roots where I was aspiring fashion designer. I like who create the vision and I wanted to do it with other people. And I like to move forward in creating something. Now it’s creating Positive learning environments so when I saw these samples and learning environments whether I was in Amsterdam or whether I was doing School visits in my career and able to go into lots and lots of schools conduct school visits. And really see what schools do well. There are so many practices that don’t take a lot of effort. That make a difference for kids whether it might be a morning meeting to start their day whether it’s a pledge in the morning to what they believe as a student in that school. I mean there are so many things there’s student advisories that we put in place to support our kids. If we do it with their best interest then tell us that we’re not doing it right if it’s not working for them. But we have to keep always personalizing everything we do for that student.
Jay Willis: Yeah and all those little things make a difference and it’s just really about being proactive. You know not just kind of drifting but being intentional about it
Mary Canole: Yeah and you can’t do it alone. I mean. You need to involve yourself in a network of leaders, other educators, where you can share your practice, you can dump your problems of practice on the table with them in a very safe and supportive group. Get yourself a mentor. Get yourself a sounding board. Because learning is social and you can’t just read it in a book you’ve got to talk to others about all of the aspects of your work so you can. Try out new thinking and actually you know move forward.
Jay Willis: So if a listener wanted to connect with you after the podcast what’s the best way to do that?
Mary Canole: Well I’m on Twitter. But I don’t tweet a whole lot. I think probably the best thing would be to give my email which I’m happy to give which is mcanole(at)cox.net
Jay Willis: So last question. If you had a time machine and you could hop in it. And go back to the point in time when you made the decision to go into school leadership and you could give your younger self some advice. What advice would you give?
Mary Canole: Well it’s interesting. My time as a principle was probably the best. I think there’s always this moment of time where you just like in looking back you would have wished you could have frozen it. Because of the individuals that you work with and the team that you had. The success you had in that stage. And I think the advice I would have given myself with at that time I probably didn’t know how good I have it and that we were doing such great things. But I was so focused on well what else can we do that I probably didn’t always enjoy the moment. Because I just kept thinking it’s going to get better and better. And I’m not saying that’s bad at all. But you got to spend some time smelling the roses too. Not only that – congratulate your teachers and your leadership team members. But you’ve got to say you know what I’m doing well and that always saying. I’m not doing enough. You’ve got to be able to recognize that you’re doing well.
Jay Willis: I love that. Live in the present that’s a message I have to continually remind myself. Because I know and especially as a leader because you’re constantly. You’re ambitious right and so you’re always looking for what can I do next. How can I grow to learn and so you’re in you’re setting goals for yourself. And so there’s this balance though between. Being ambitious and trying to accomplish new things but then also living in the present and saying like look I need to look around once in a while and just acknowledge how great I have it and appreciate that in not constantly just be wishing I were in a different point in time or. Are wishing are you to in this goal or that goal. But just enjoy where I am. This has been a great interview Edu-Leaders. For the show notes of today’s show and other resources visit educatorslead.com and type the word Mary into the search tool to find her show notes. Mary thank you for sharing your journey with us today.
Mary Canole: Thank you Jay and clearly I said it before I’ll say it again I really appreciate what you’re doing for aspiring and continuing leaders. It’s so important for them to hear other stories so that they can find strength in that and have the perseverance to continue on their own journeys.
Jay Willis: Thank you Mary I appreciate the kind words. So that wraps up another episode of educators lead.
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Educators Lead is a podcast created to help launch educators into the next level of leadership. This show is for you if you are interested in educational leadership as an assistant principal, principal, superintendent, teacher or someone who hopes to be a school leader one day. Educators Lead offers inspiration and practical advice to help you lead more effectively. Jay Willis interviews school leaders three days a week to discuss why and when these educators made the decision to move into school leadership, challenges along the journey, and stories that made it all worthwhile. Educators Lead is a great resource for any educator looking to make a greater impact.
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