We closed out our 5 years in Ghana last week. I knew Ghana would be a place that I would live in my lifetime. It took me 25 years of overseas living before I got there but my childhood introduction to Ghana in 1965 (as a 10 year old) was influential in my life. My brother, a Canadian University Services Overseas (CUSO) volunteer, spent two years teaching in Ghana in the mid-1960’s. His letters, written on the iconic blue aerograms that folded into envelopes with writing along the edges to maximize the message, recalled his experiences in the tropics of West Africa. Ghana was destiny.
The end of our time was not unlike other partings. For international educators the rhythm of each June is similar. Our wrapping up was, as expected, bittersweet. Multiple good-byes, emotions around farewells, the steeling of oneself to manage loss, and the consideration of the impact people have on one another all provided opportunities for careful thought and introspection. As a school Principal whose work is by definition exercising leadership, it is natural to wonder about one’s impact. How have I contributed to the improvement of the experiences for students, teachers, parents, and colleagues? What defines my “body of work” over 5 years and how do I measure influence or impact?
We all hope to “leave a mark” or, more importantly, help an organization, or a school community, or the people you work closely with become stronger and improve. Feeling a sense of efficacy, a sense that you can positively impact others, is essential as an educator – teachers and administrators alike. However, it’s tricky to discern and measure one’s impact. It’s particularly tricky when one is in the midst of the drama, politics, and emotions of the day to day. But, it’s interesting to take time at the end of a stretch to consider, to listen, to reflect, and to seek perspective. It is natural to give such consideration when one has come to the end of one’s time in a school community.
The thoughtful written and spoken comments from colleagues, parents, and students in recent weeks were heartwarming and positive. (I admit, however, noone really wanted to “rain on my parade” as I was leaving so the naysayers and critics probably kept pretty quiet!!) I am hugely grateful to so many for taking the time to communicate with me as I closed out the school year and my time at LCS.
What I found most interesting and revealing were references to specific moments, actions, conversations that were shared in the past several years which left an impression. Our lives are, in so many ways, a series of unrelated moments with others and the potential of those moments to build impressions which create lifelong memories should never be underestimated. Parents referred to conversations in social settings, students referred to moments of interactions on the school walkway, teachers referred to moments of written feedback after visiting a classroom, and staff referred to a singular compliment, or act of kindness, offered in passing. Moments that made impressions, perhaps it touched an emotion as memories are often solidified through emotions. It is clear that I, and most likely others, regularly underestimate the power of words and the impressionable power of a singular moment. As a way of understanding the elusive “body of work”, I can grab a hold of the tangible comments expressed and recognize that the collection of individual moments represent influence and leadership.
Ghana has been a rich experience. I so enjoyed my time at LCS. The community, the students, the faculty, the staff were truly good to work with and to be around. I continue to be impressed and in awe of the commitment to, and importance of, person to person “respect” that rests in Ghanaian culture. Respecting one another as equals, despite class differences, is an important element of Ghanaian culture. It is a welcoming and friendly culture that is vibrant and embracing. As I was exiting Ghana, I experienced a moment of my own that will remain with me forever. There was emotion in the air as I approached the immigration officer for my final passport stamp (as we know, immigration officers can be a surly lot).
“When are you returning?” She asked.
“I’m not returning, I’m leaving after 5 years”. I responded.
“I am sad, you are leaving and not returning to Ghana”. She said.
The friendly exchange went on and, yes, it is that kind of exchange that I have come to truly enjoy and respect with Ghanaians! My moments in Ghana have impacted me without doubt. I am hopeful, and confident, that my moments with so many in the LCS community have supported learning, growing, and maturing for the adults and students that I have worked with over the years.