"Remarks to Canada's Outstanding Principals, Toronto"
Thank you and good evening. I want to open by saying congratulations to each of Canada’s Outstanding Principals. It truly is an honour to be here tonight. I can’t think of a group more worthy of recognition and celebration than the best school principals from every province and territory in Canada.
Have you ever seen a school nobody seems to care about? You know the one – outdated, dirty, an air of neglect. It’s almost as if the community has turned its back. Maybe your child doesn’t go there, but someone’s child does.
What’s the difference between that sad, neglected school and the bright, clean, bustling school a few blocks over?
Why does that school’s community care?
How does that school raise the money?
Why does that school have so many programs and extracurricular activities?
How did they get a mentoring program and a community outreach program?
Why are the parents so much more involved? Why do their students achieve so much more?
Chances are both schools follow a similar curriculum. They may have a similar number of students, many from diverse cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. They probably face many of the same challenges including a shortage of good teachers and perennial budget constraints.
But there is a clear difference – What is that difference??
The difference is YOU. Your leadership makes the difference.
When introduced me, he mentioned that I am Vice-Chair of TD Bank Financial Group. TD has approximately 1000 branches across the country. You might have seen one or two of them!
The best, most successful branches tend to have a few things in common. One of them is strong leadership – managers who set goals, motivate and inspire their teams, and understand and engage the communities they serve.
We have a saying: “Leaders know their business from the ground up and the customer in.”
In every area of TD, we have expectations of our leaders. Let me talk about three of them:
1. Do They Make An Impact?
- Do they find a way to outperform, never settling for average?
- Do they focus on what matters?
- Do they own their results vs blaming others
2. Do They Build For The Future?
- Do they look for continuous improvement?
- Do they have a vision and proactively take action to implement it?
- Do they develop organizational capability?
- Do they develop tomorrow’s leaders?
3. Do They Inspire The Will To Win?
- Are they passionate about what they do and take others with them?
- Do they bring out the best in individuals and teams and make if fun?
- Do they show perseverance and resilience in bad times?
- Do they care about people?
In essence, the mark of a true leader is that they do make a difference that is clear and noticeable? Do people want to work for them?
The qualities our organization looks for in leaders are the very qualities this group of principals brings to their workplace very single day. Just as the best performers in business should be identified, encouraged and developed, so should the best among our school leaders.
That’s why we applaud the Learning Partnership and the important work they are doing to recognize and reward and support those who make the difference in our schools.
The best schools have leaders who, like you, understand what poet W.B. Yeats meant when he said, “Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.”
Leaders, like you, who set the vision for the school, focus on achievement, inspire and nurture good teachers, are always working to improve the school and the learning experience.
Leaders whose energy and commitment have such a huge impact on our kids, the reverberations of which can be felt right into adulthood. I’m almost positive that every successful person here has been in some way influenced by a devoted parent, an excellent coach, a gifted teacher or an outstanding principal.
Leaders, like you who have a passion for what you do and who share that passion with the people you work with and the community you serve. And your enthusiasm is contagious!
You understand that by engaging the community around you, you are showing that you value the community. And our experience is that the community will repay you by valuing you.
Many successful businesses understand this concept. They know they have to earn their place in the community, not just by providing a needed service but by excelling at it and by being involved.
TD is a business but we are also a neighbour. Our employees live in the very communities we serve. So what matters to our neighbours matters to us. We hold town meetings when we have changes to discuss. We ask our customers what they like and what they don/t like every day.
We understand that if we are to participate fully in the communities we serve, we must contribute to them, by being a good employer, a good business, and a good neighbour. At TD that includes supporting causes that matter to our employees and customers by encouraging volunteerism and through donations and programs like the TD Canada Scholarships for Outstanding Community Leadership, the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation, and the Children’s Miracle Network.
When we value our communities, they repay us by valuing us.
I like this quote about a great principal from author Elaine McEwan: “His door is always open, but he is seldom sitting in his office; he seems to be everywhere at once: classroom, playground, bus stop, lunch room.”
Personally, my school principal had an uncanny knack for always being right around the corner when I was doing something wrong. He was always one step ahead of me. But that’s another story
To classroom, playground, and lunchroom, I would add town hall, shopping mall, and garden wall.
In other words, the best school leaders are out in the community listening to concerns, exchanging ideas, fostering support for the school, and raising community understanding of the issues that face the school.
And when they are not out in the community, they are inviting the community in – providing adult literacy and ESL classes so parents can help their kids with homework; offering seminars on health and nutrition to help ensure the physical well-being of all students; developing mentoring programs so kids can see success in action.
Leadership in the community leads to greater parental involvement, more support for programs through fundraising and volunteerism, more opportunities to reach out to families who need help, and greater awareness of the importance of education among all stakeholders, including parents, businesses, community associations, and government.
I’ve heard principals compared to CEOs. The Learning Partnership website calls Principals “CEOs of franchised community learning businesses.” Principals like CEOs provide leadership and set the vision and the tone for the entire team. Both work toward creating competitive, high-performing organizations.
But the best CEOs don’t just limit themselves to internal matters. You will find them out in the community talking about the issues that concern their customers, employees and shareholders, using their influence and experience to effect change for their stakeholders.
Those issues might range from specific business concerns, to something as broad as the standard of living in our country. The point is, they are a voice for what matters to their community, and they know people will listen.
You too are a voice in the community. A voice -- in some cases THE voice -- for education. If you can convince your community that education is vital, that kids need mentors, that some parents need help, that extracurricular activities foster excellence, that anti-drug and anti-alcohol programs are important, that what you are doing is not just influencing what our children will know, but who they will be.
If you can do these things -- and all of you can or you wouldn’t be here -- then you’ll have furthered your primary goal: higher achievement and a better education for our kids. They are our leaders of tomorrow and you will have lit their fire.