Keys to a Rocket Ship

Sketch note by @andCreative

If someone were to hand you keys to a rocketship where would you go? How far would you go? Would you go?


Chances in life, to go, to learn and to change are those rocketship keys.  Someone handed me rocketship keys three and half years ago. She took a chance on me when, I am as certain as I am able to be, no one else would have taken it.  She saw past and through and beside. She has an uncanny ability to see into people, to understand them in a way they do not understand themselves. It is a rare gift to be able to do that, even more rare to be able to hand it back and in doing so create wide open space between you and the moon for your rocket ship.


I am not everyone’s cup of tea.  I am rammy, relentless, divergent and may even be described as difficult to lasso.  That was never her intention. There were no reigns. When I asked for 5 minutes of her time, she gave me more.  When I asked to take chances with learning and take a new path, she made me #sitbeside her and think about my why.  She made me spiral back and helped me to deeply understand a system. How do I bring myself to a system of education and continue to change and to learn and to spiral?  A leader believes. A leader listens and in the softest way with such precise intention, nudges you to reconsider your place.


She has faith.  35 years in education and she has never lost an ounce.  Her faith in students and her wish to be with them in learning when she visits schools is her purpose – her why.  Her faith in educators, her faith in parents and her faith in schools will not change when she shuts her office door for the last time.  


Colinda Clyne asked me if I thought about what I did every day and if I considered the impact on the next three generations.  I have only begun to. I believe Cathy has an innate understanding about impact and ripples. I think she knows the decisions she has made – many hard, the learning and direction of our system and the why have long and wide implications. Her legacy is about opportunities.  I was new. I had no idea. She gave me time, people to learn beside and when the time came for her step out of the room and hand me the marker she just did. She knew just how much time I needed.


I watched her speak last in meetings for 3 years.  LAST. She saw the smartest person in the room as the room.  The room she gave her team to push and to pull and the time to get there was special.  Knowledge building was why she hired each of us. You knew she was ready to weigh in and to unravel all of the threads when she leaned forward, took off her glasses and tilted her head.  She has a way of summarizing, contextualizing and asking a question in the same sentence like no human I had ever heard. She captured every perspective and handed them back.

When you are ready, you are ready and she stands beside you. She is unwavering, calm, strong and positive.   She listens to your stories, holds you up when you take a hit and makes the bad things feels less bad. She learns beside you in the mess and you are never alone.


I am going to miss her.  I am one of many who will feel a deep sense of loss.  The irony that I am returning to my Board from the Ministry and will be a vice principal sitting in a leadership meeting for the first time next month… one month after she retires is not lost on me.  She took a chance on me – a doozy – and I was seconded to CODE through the Ministry and then came back home to be a vice principal in a school with students and educators – she knew I always would.


She made me rethink leadership.  Andrea and I and The Beast believe in #sitbeside before all else.  But it is more than that. Actually giving it over means you believe, you trust and you get out of not only your own way but out of the way of the people around you.  Being beside means your mouth to ear ratio is always far more ears than mouth. You have to hand over the keys to the rocketship. You also have to sit in the back more than you sit in the front.  Leadership is a soul searching, brain checking, heart stopping trust in those around you. You brought them together, for them to succeed, it must be about them.


I am not sure how many people would have bet on me full circle.  Cathy did. She did so with grace and faith. She handed me the keys to a rocket ship and I believe I have made her proud.  I will consider the next three generations as Colinda calls on me to but I will also consider the need to be strong, calm and positive, unwavering in my faith in children to learn and that my role is beside.  I will consider the faith she had in me and that she continues to have and how I pay that faith forward. I will reach out for my 5 minutes now and then. I will need them, not just to check in but to recalibrate and to let her know – I am not ready get out of the rocketship just yet and the invitation for her and anyone else who wants to take it for a spin is wide open.


5am, the wind is howling:


A: There are a lot of rocket ships.  Cathy is a remarkable human being. I’m reading your description of her way.  Holds you up, never alone, every perspective… she has changed everything.  I’m thinking about how much this matters in the everyday. I am so fortunate to still have a bit of everyday as a possibility, for another week or two anyway.


K: I reread this morning as I have not revisited the words since I started my new job.  I am thinking about the space. The space can be filled with noise. The doing. There is a tendency to want to run – literally and figuratively.  You can hear the starting gun. I have been beside many school administrators and brought them with me. But the space and the strong, calm and positive could be elusive if I didn’t grasp them.  She always spoke last, never in a hurry. As if the person who was about to speak may hold the key and we had to wait. That would be easy to forget in the din, the emails, the phone, the doorbell and the walkie talkie.  But it must not be. If we leave the space or let it get filled up it is just doing every single day and I fear the feeling would be swallowed up.


A: Leadership is a soul searching, brain checking, heart stopping trust in those around you.  You brought them together, for them to succeed, it must be about them.  The space about the humans in it – not the jobs to be done.  Cathy is there, honestly sometimes out of nowhere, asking. It’s an innocuous “how’s it going?” but not at all.  The conversation that follows means we are. It’s us and our team and our culture that matters.


K:  “Team” is complicated.  The moving parts and the perspectives within.  Honour, focus, #sitbeside, purpose, autonomy and equity… “the space is about the humans in it – not the jobs to be done.”  I am thinking about the trust; the trust we beg our educators to have in our students. I think adults are even harder. We are a stubborn, puffy bunch.  But we are the humans in it. She told me that administration is the most humbling work on the planet. It can bring me to your knees humbling but not as to break me but as I am in it minute to minute it is the lean in.  You cannot push against it. The openness we beg educators to bring to the #sitbeside is where the humble lives. The culture is that. The minute the front and the answers matter more than the humans, they know it. It all speeds up.


A:  Mutual respect, empathy and listening among the puffy.  I agree with you, team is very complicated and it is hard to give it over and trust.  I was chatting with a friend that was embarking on a giant project. He was challenged by a number of barriers that didn’t actually, from my perspective, get in the way of his work.  He would not forge ahead. I asked him about why he was doing the project because I knew that he really wasn’t doing it for himself. It is for the benefit of a lot of people.


K:  Pressure and urgency and purpose are a giant tangle.  I think about the pressure from the top and the coloured boxes we need to “fix.”  But we also have figured out that the story and the humans, “the a lot of people” are the most compelling why.  We can default back to a million different reasons not to listen but to forge ahead and people will follow because they must, but compliance is level 2 disaster.  Ego is the profound opposite of empathy. How we remember that day to day is beyond me. The need to fix and sort is like a magnet. You can catch yourself at any minute of any day leaning away and simply doing.  Trust may be the single hardest feeling to convey. It has layers and meaning and deep implications. To give the keys over also means you have to take your eyes off the road, keep your fingers off of the GPS and perhaps take another path.  No room for ego. The “benefit of a lot of people” depends on it.

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