Leadership Lessons from the Lunchroom

Do you ever wonder what triggers memories?  I have no doubt that somewhere in the land of Google, one would find endless links to such research.

At the end of the work day, I found myself in the kitchen, doing what so many of us are doing these days and that is scouring the cupboards for the ingredients to do some baking.  During this time of self-isolation I’ve tried my hand at a few new recipes, such as butter tarts, but I’m most comfortable revisiting past tried and true favourites.  Tonight the slightly browning bananas were calling to be transformed into Banana Oatmeal Chocolate Chip muffins.  As I started to peel them, my memory bank was flooded with an image of being at my first school as an administrator in 2004.  I was starting my career as a Vice Principal at WS Fox and I was so fortunate to be partnered with the incredible Diane DuMaresq.  Diane was a size zero in stature but larger than life in personality. She doled out advice, sometimes at a break neck speed and other times so subtly that if you blinked, you missed it.

Our school day was structured so that during our lunch break, our primary students all came to the lunchroom for the first part of the break and then as they transitioned outside, our junior students entered.  It was our responsibility to supervise in the lunchroom, along with Pam and Corinne, our wonderful Educational Assistants. I absolutely loved that routine as it allowed us to see and chat with our students each day.  It also provided me with the opportunity to learn how to hygienically open pudding cups, juice boxes and yogurt tubes.  I had to unlearn the “mom” way of doing it….smile

One day, during one of these lunch times a student asked Diane to peel their banana for them. Now, I had always peeled a banana from the stem. That was how I was taught. That was how I had watched others do it. That was how my parents did it. That was how I had taught my own children to do it.  So I watched with great interest when Diane shared with the student, that you should always peel a banana the way the experts (the monkeys) do and she proceeded to peel it from the other end.  I was shocked and of course had to go home and try it ~ and sure enough, it was much easier.  I’ve never gone back to my original way.

As I continued to follow the recipe and eventually place the muffins in the oven, I started to think about how my memory of the banana peel demonstration is connected to leadership lessons.  On the one hand, it speaks to the notion of being present in each moment ~ even during lunch times ~ and how the simplest question can lead to a meaningful change in practice.  As a new VP, I was constantly watching Diane and learning.  This was just another example of being observant.

But on a deeper level, there is something about challenging the status quo.  Yes, I realize that peeling a banana is not an earth shattering discovery. Yet, the lesson for me was about learning that sometimes there is a better way to get a job done; that the status quo could be (and let’s be honest, should be) challenged and ultimately improved upon. One of my favourite quotes is “The Most Dangerous phrase in the language is, we’ve always done it that way”.

Now, more than ever we will need to revisit, revision and rethink everything we know about our current way of “doing” school as we peel back the layers of how to recognize our graduates, virtual Kindergarten Open Houses and the re-entry plan for the fall of 2020, to name but a few.

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