Editor’s Notebook

December 5, 2017
Gordon Thomas

Parting Shots

Last spring, my friend and colleague Brian Andrais asked me to prepare and deliver a seminar on leadership at Summer Conference, the annual retreat held in Banff for members of the Alberta Teachers’ Association who serve in volunteer leadership positions across the organization.

Brian noted that, since I’m due to retire in early 2018, it would be my last Summer Conference and he suggested that it would be great to hear me on the subject of leadership. Upon hearing this request, I was immediately struck with the notion that Brian must be utterly desperate to fill the program. After all, what did I know about leadership?

Well, when I sat down to start putting some thoughts on paper, I found I had no shortage of ideas. Upon reflection, I realized that I’d started gathering thoughts on leadership when I was still an education student back in the mid-1970s. Then came several formative years as a classroom teacher and almost 34 years at the ATA, during which time I worked under a number of accomplished leaders and spent more than 19 years in leadership roles myself. All this experience, I realized, allowed me to accumulate an extensive collection of beliefs and practices related to leadership—I just hadn’t spent much time thinking about it.

While I was delivering the seminar, I noted with interest that the gathered teachers were actually listening and acting as if they were learning something (still got the old pedagogy chops, I guess). Then when it came time to choose a theme for this issue of the ATA Magazine, it occurred to me that the ATA has had a whole stable of experienced leaders head off to retirement in recent years who probably have a lot of insight that would be valuable to their still-working colleagues.

I thought it might be wise to tap into this knowledge before its various possessors decided to change their cellphone numbers and disappear to unspecified beaches, so I contacted a handful of these outstanding individuals and requested that they put their thoughts to paper to share with their teaching colleagues. I’m happy to report that they did as I asked and bammo! we have a magazine containing wisdom and insights gathered over the course of nearly 70 years of leadership at the ATA. I want to express my sincere thanks to these six retired executive secretaries, associate executive secretaries and assistant executive secretaries for sharing of themselves in this way.

One of the common themes that you’ll notice throughout this publication is the idea that anyone can be a leader and that many high-level leaders start out without harbouring any leadership aspirations at all. As is the case with most transitions, leadership begins with one step and is a journey more than it is a destination. And teachers, as leaders of their classrooms, are particularly well positioned to transition into other leadership roles.

I must say that this entire process of reflecting on, assembling and presenting of leadership perspectives to colleagues has been an extremely satisfying endeavour that I am glad to have conducted before I retire. It’s especially gratifying to think that these efforts may help some of the developing leaders who will no doubt someday populate the upper ranks of Association staff and elected positions, as well as senior positions in school boards, faculties of education and government.

This is my last issue as editor and before signing off I want to acknowledge the men and women who work so very hard to produce a first rate magazine for Alberta’s teaching profession. It’s been an enormous honour to work with the very best in the industry. I especially want to acknowledge associate editors with whom I’ve worked, Raymond Gariepy (now retired) and Cory Hare, who themselves demonstrate the best of leadership every day in their roles.

The ATA Magazine turns 100 years old in just a few more issues and will continue to chronicle the professional realities and aspirations of Alberta’s teachers. I’ll be reading and I hope you will too.