Talking heads;Interview;Ian Adamson

26th June 1998 at 01:00
Name: Ian Adamson Age: 48 Years of headship: 12 School: Streetsville Secondary School (3rd headship) Location: Mississauga, Ontario, Canada Description: Multi-cultural high school, 1,60O students aged 13 to 2O, 97 teachers

Did you always want to be a head?

I went into teaching by accident. I was brought up in England and did political science and economics at university. My second teaching practice was at Countesthorpe, in Leicestershire and I started my career there in the department of studies of the individual and the group. It was an innovative school then.

After four years I foolishly quit and moved to Berlin. I travelled a lot and after a year I joined the rest of my family, who had emigrated to Canada.

I worked with juvenile delinquents. It was great. You could do anything you wanted as long as you got the kids involved and motivated. I became head of department and for the last seven years I was either acting principal or vice-principal.

I became principal of a regular secondary school with a strong academic tradition and 1,300 children. It was the first time I had ever taught in a "normal" school.

After five years I moved to the School Board office (local education authority) as school services officer for 184 schools. Although I enjoyed it and learned a huge amount, I missed kids and applied to return to a school. They sent me to Streetsville.

How would you describe your style of headship?

Collaborative, a good listener, but also firm. Some decisions I make myself but I explain why. I tell staff everything through our weekly staff bulletin. Staff meetings are for professional development, not admin.

I allow teachers a lot of independence but have clear expectations. I involve kids a lot in what I do and believe in organising the curriculum around them. I have always worked where you teach the kids, not the course.

I am good with people and not afraid to change my mind, nor to admit I am wrong. I have taken pastoral responsibility for the incoming year group so I get to know them.

What are the most important aspects of a head's job?

Being honest, fair and firm. If you do not have that integrity teachers will not respect you and be willing to change. It is important to have good relations with the unions. A lot of staff use that as a touchstone.

What do you enjoy about your job?

The contact with people and the ability to make my own decisions. I enjoy the interaction with kids and the variety.

What do you not enjoy?

The amount of criticism and misinformation about education. Schools are blamed for every ill of society. Plus the paperwork, lack of funding and political interference What are the most difficult things you do?

Staying on top of everything and taking time for myself. The biggest challenge from a professional, as opposed to a personal, perspective is keeping the staff and school focused on the school's goals.

Who or what most influenced your approach?

Being at Countesthorpe with Michael Armstrong, who was my head of department. Ken Leithwood's work on planned changed. The principal's course I did and my work on effective leadership. Andy Hargreaves, who moved here from the UK. He is refreshing and non-aligned. Plus working with others and seeing the way to and not to do things.

How effective or useful is your school board?

I work for the Peel Board, the largest public school board in Canada. It is excellent. The board has instigated a process called School Success Planning, which is teacherparentstudent data based in a collaborative context. Each school has a plan.

What differed from your expectations?

I could not believe the deference and how important people thought you were just because you were principal. It astounded me. I am protected by secretarial staff and people do things for me. As a principal you must never underestimate the impact you have. People watch your every move.

What keeps you sane?

I have an active young family and a partner who understands my job. Humour, good people to work and laugh with. Remembering that there is another world out there and getting away from it all, especially in summer.

If you were Minister for Education...?

I would listen to teachers, be consultative and collaborative, and reinstate kindergartens.

How would you like to be remembered?

For kids to think I was someone that had made a difference for them.

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