A Serendipitous Connection of Two Paths

As many of my family and friends know, I’m a self-professed “Chick Flick” fan. There are a handful of movies that I’ve watched so many times that I can recite each line (which tends to annoy anyone who ventures into the family room while I’m enjoying one of my favourites). One of my best “gotta watch it whenever it is playing” movies is Serendipity with John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale.  I think that it was shortly after my fifth or sixth viewing of that movie that the word Serendipity either chose me or I chose as my word. I use it on a regular basis to describe the indescribable, yet meant to be fortunes that tend to occur in my life. My friends tend to use is it in Twitter messages when they want to get my attention. Case in point ~ last Tuesday a friend sent this DM, “Found your boat” ~ The Serendipity Princess”.  My serendipitous reply, “Look at my latest Amazon purchase and next summer read”.  So with great anticipation on the following morning, with a cup of tea on the arm of the deck chair, I cracked the spine of Allyson Apsey’s, The Path to Serendipity.  Within minutes it became clear that this was not going to be a passive, cursory read for me.  With mechanical pencil in hand, my notes quickly decorated the margins or any other available space.  As someone who “reads with a pencil” I appreciated the blank pages at the end of each chapter.  At times, my notes needed a different platform to percolate, so my newest journal adorned the other arm of the deck chair.  It wasn’t until the ninth step along the pathway that I realized of all of the journals that I have on the go, that today I chose this one, along with an encouraging message from a fellow educator.


As the sun made its way from the dock, to the front deck, the side deck and finally to the point facing the east, I continued to follow Apsey’s path making endless connections to her work as a passionate educator. Other than the occasional refreshing dip in the lake and replenishing my ice tea, I didn’t stop until the final page. It is evident that within her 15 year career as a school administrator, Apsey has learned through trial/error and experience, some of the secrets that one can only hope that others will learn from ~ and hopefully early on in their career.  At times, her turn of phrase reminded me of the best part of me ~ the part that I try to model on a regular basis.  We all know the right words and how to use them. The key is to remember them in the heat of the moment, when things aren’t going the way we had envisioned them. I smiled as so many of the pages reflected not only my current path, but my current “resting spot”. Leadership is indeed a journey ~ and at times a long hard journey ~ but we must remember to stop along the way to rest, relax and reflect. It is during those times that our creativity blossoms.

I was hooked (my ode to Dave Burgess, my favourite pirate) within minutes of the Forward. You’ve gotta love it when the guy responsible for Kid President starts out by making connections to Michael Jackson and his iconic moonwalk during Motown’s 25th Anniversary special.  Just a month ago, I took my mom and daughter to see Motown, the Broadway show ~ which begins and ends with that very same moment in history. One might call this early connection to the book, Serendipitous.  Then not more than two pages into the actual book, Apsey states, “Homework, don’t get me started”. I love this author already ~ we are kindred spirits. The topic of homework is one that is currently at the forefront of my thinking in terms of truly supporting our students and making the most of their time in our learning environments. I’ve been reading, posting and justifying oodles of tweets about this topic for the past several months.

I appreciated Apsey’s honesty in sharing that it was Danielle Steele’s Zoya that helped her get through History in College.  Until now, I’m pretty sure that I’ve hidden the fact that Danielle Steele was my #summerread long before we used hashtags to itemize our thinking and sharing.  These days, thanks to my PLN of literacy experts my summer reads are somewhat different. But I’m sure that my years of Steele and Kranz have also impacted my leadership journey ~ just not sure exactly how!

Although I connected to each step along the Path2Serendipty, I continue to find the Communication Balance the most precarious step for leaders. I love how Apsey encourages her readers to stop sandwiching feedback between positives.  This chapter had me stop and think about whose emotions truly matter. Newsflash ~ not mine, but the receiver of the information.  In my margin notes, I had written about how I had made a huge communication error in my first year as a principal.  Instead of stepping up to the plate and asking a staff member to reflect on her attire, I shared that another staff member had brought it to my attention. We had tears, upset, anger and misplaced accusations.  In my effort to soften the message, I created a terrible situation which to this day continues to remind me of what “not to do”.  On the other end of the balance scale, I’ve witnessed leaders who cut to the core without any regard for how the message will be received ~ to the point of tears and causing educators to question their ability.  I often wonder why leaders take such an approach. Is it a power play? Do they truly believe that their message will be heeded and acted upon with such an approach? Balance is the key!

Like Apsey, I know that many of my thoughts, actions, ideas and invaluable resources are shaped by my global PLN. Many an article on Twitter has caused me to stop and reflect, “How might that work at SAC or within TVDSB?” Posting a controversial article, quote or statement opens the door to rich dialogue which forces me to justify and sometimes change my original thinking.  I’m always evolving as an educator ~ my core stays the same ~ but the many pathways leading to it change, evolve and strengthen with each new experience, new acquaintance, new book, etc.

Similarly to Aspey, George Couros has had an impact on my path to becoming a connected educator. Innovator’s Mindset is our current staff mentor text at SAC and we’ve invited him to speak in Thames Valley on a couple of occasions to both system leaders and our Learning Support Services staff. We use his visuals and quotes when meeting potential SAC Crew members during the interview process. (Crew ~ Yes, that’s what we affectionately call ourselves. So you can just imagine my ear to ear grin when Apsey recalls arriving at Quincy Elementary and receiving a welcome message from the Q-crew! ~ can I get another “Serendipitous”!!) I often tease George that years ago, when he was presenting at BITT, I actually left his session early to beat the traffic back to London. A mistake which probably slowed my trajectory towards being a connected educator by a few months.

Although my readership for my blog pales in comparison to Allyson’s “Serendipity in Education” I’ve been making my leadership journey visible within the posts of “Leadership, Learning and Life” for the past 8 years.  What started as a deeper way to connect with the school community of Wilfrid Jury instead of the traditional newsletter

has become a landing spot for reflection on just about anything ~ including this latest post which tries to capture my strong connection to “The Path to Serendipity”.

“Life is not merely a series of meaningless accidents or coincidences ~ but rather, it’s a tapestry of events that culminate in an exquisite sublime plan” ~ from the movie Serendipity.

2 thoughts on “A Serendipitous Connection of Two Paths

  1. What a “connected blog”. Connecting stories from the distance past, connecting thoughts and feelings from a life of leadership and mentoring. Connecting people to each other and in many cases to themselves. Connecting teachers to students and students to teachers and sometimes when those under your leadership find themselves in a labyrinthine journey of confusion and stress – connection them back to the true purpose they became teachers in the first place. So many, whether they realize it and can (or will) acknowledge it, can point to a time when under your leadership they reached a cross-road and picking the right fork, the right way for them (not always the easiest) was due to something you said, wrote or shared.
    I think many who know you, were surprised that in the final years of your career as an educator you chose to leave a leadership role in the corporate world of education and go back to a school as a principal. Many who get promoted to those senior levels of leadership say “Oh I miss the kids!” and yet get them into a private conversation and you soon realize they really didn’t like that daily routine of student issues, parent phone calls, teacher management, building management, curriculum leadership, reading report cards, mentoring young teachers who “didn’t have a clue” and being in that role where you get calls and miss-understandings from those you are leading and orders to finish this report or that survey from those in leadership above you. Often being a principal can be a no-win situation. (Look at the number that go out on stress leaves each year – and retired principals have to be brought in to cover the void) But no – you challenged yourself to go back and set-up a brand new school, with all that entails – and for the most part, in the bulk of the first year, with no admin support.

    Like the author of the book you read, Allyson Apsey (who is a working principal) you too can speak and write from that real “in the trenches” experience. I think that’s why so many of us also follow Pernille Ripp (grade 7 teacher and founder of the Global Read Aloud) Amy Fast (high school VP) Jennifer Casa-Todd (teacher-librarian in Aurora) and so many others who are with you “in those trenches”.

    Your words, whether spoken at a staff meeting or in those many 1:1 meetings (because your door is never closed) or written (as in this blog) or hand-written letters you send to your staff, are from a heart of knowledge and caring.

    I sometimes feel sad for the new young teachers who have you as their principal and leader early in their career. Not that this isn’t the best experience they’ll ever have, but that from this point on it’s down hill people! They’ll never get another one quite like you, I’m sure! It’s teachers who have had many experiences and different placements that truly can appreciate the the power of your leadership as they smile and settle back thinking …”Ah, this is what good school leadership, looks and feels like!!” And as one teacher was overheard in the halls of your building recently, “Hey …I love this place! I’m retiring here!” ….and I have little doubt she will. Happy contented supportive staff are the best ones to have around and you’ve got an entire building full of them. It will be a very exciting year.

  2. Another thought provoking post, Sue. You’ve got such a strong voice that pours through in your writing every time. I found myself smirking as I sensed each serendipitous connection come on. Fun!
    Your insatiable desire to learn and grow is inspiring, and the transparency of your process benefits your readership. Thanks for always KEEPING IT REAL! (My new fave slogan since the Google Hangout with Tara Martin. Her book, BE REAL, is in my Indigo cart).

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