And it has been tremendously engaging so far.
But there are downsides to trading in suburban classroom life for an office job in downtown Toronto... the fact that I haven't had a chance to blog since I returned from PEI at the end of August and started my new job is one indicator that it's not entirely the land of milk and honey I've entered (though admittedly, it's a pretty sweet gig so far).
Here, finally, is an update of Month One in the wonderful world of civil service...
The People are Awesome
Unlike some of the unsavoury creatures Harry meets at the MoM, the good folks at the Ministry of Ed -- at least the ones I've met to date -- are pretty wonderful people. Everyone is very friendly and welcoming, and although I miss some of my old chums, I've already shared many laughs with new friends, and can see deep connections forming with some of my new colleagues over the coming months/years.
Turns out she's pretty great, though, a smart, insightful lady, with views on assessment and foci on social justice surprisingly aligned with my own.
And, hey, she's got a dog! So what's not to love?!
Okay, I don't actually have an office, it's more of cubicle, really, and unlike a "real" cubicle, it's actually a pod of four semi-cubicles with a round table in the middle. This set-up really facilitates professional dialogue, which underpins our work. In many ways, it is the work. But with so many talkers and thinkers and busy bees, it can also be a HUGE distraction!
Heck, I even can see out of a nearby window. (Granted, it doesn't open, but there is some natural light, and -- unlike what my friends in classrooms in my old Board are enduring -- the temperature is under 38 degrees Celsius!)
TTC: The Sweaty, Crowded Way
While I must confess to appreciating my air-conditioned new digs, the downside is that I have traded in my somewhat circuitous but rarely crowded route through two transit systems for a lengthy if more direct subway ride to and from Toronto's core on a notoriously HOT and overcrowded subway.
And while that might be a charming tourist memory from the 30-cent subway rides in Buenos Aires, having to live that nightmare on my daily commute is not so fun.
It's driven me to cycle in more than I originally intended, which is in itself a harrowing experience; Toronto cycle infrastructure, while considerably more creative and insightfully planned than that I experienced in Mississauga, is not nearly enough to keep up with the demand of the many bike commuters in the city's core.
Also, there's a problem with the bike lane on Harbourd, where I am sorely tempted, each time I turn from Bathurst, to stop for a doughnut at Krispy Kreme right there on the corner!
A few more highlights from this first month...
Being yelled at by Homophobes
Well, it wasn't really directed at me specifically, but when I set up the voicemail on my phone on my first day of work, I found an old message from several months earlier (perhaps left for my predecessor), which played for me automatically when I logged into my voicemail.
An irate parent was yelling angrily and at great length into the phone, making hostile and homophobic remarks about "the gay curriculum", and insulting our premier by attacking her personal identity.
While not directed at me specifically, I could not help but take it personally. It was quite a jarring experience on my first day at a new job.
Process, process, process
As a die-hard task master forever focused on getting the job done, I have found this to be one of the greatest challenges in my new job!
A former EO whom I recently called to get some history on a project I'd inherited mused that when she'd first come to the Ministry many moons ago, she had had grandiose visions of changing this and that, and of getting documents and supporting resources into the hands of classroom teachers expeditiously.
A few weeks in the big machine soon cured her of such fantastical hallucinations.
Having done my research on several fronts before accepting this gig, I was a trifle more prepared for the endless reams of paperwork that come with most government jobs: Although it's driving me at least as nuts as I knew it would, I'm surprisingly zen about it.
Actually, while it probably sounds ridiculous to people on the "outside", for those of us who've had a chance to experience the vastness of the Ministry of Education first hand, one soon comes to see that there is good reason for the endless memos, issue notes and multi-layer approval process that seem to accompany everything from a project as small as creating the slide deck for a meeting to something on a grander scale like contracting a supplier to produce a video series about a new curriculum resource.
In an organization that is charged with stewarding taxpayer money, and about which outsiders already complain that the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing, it's important that as many people as possible lend eyes to a project before it goes "live", and that even more people are kept in the loop as it's all unfolding. As one of my new colleagues likes to say,"the learning curve is vertical"!
Global competencies are hot both within the education sector and the business world these days. While not everyone agrees yet about the finer points of which skills and habits of mind specifically are needed by those who will navigate the world of tomorrow, one competency that most if not all stakeholders agree on is collaboration.
But how do you collaborate effectively when booking an inter-branch consultation requires a multilevel approval memo? Isn't it just easier to work within one's own unit and "get the job done"?
Fortunately, the powers that be seem to be promoting a vision of collaboration, and we minions have been tasked with finding creative ways to make that happen within the constraints of a large, procedure-oriented organization. As a group of newcomers, our little team has taken it upon themselves to chat up not only each other, but everyone we come across in the halls and at various meetings we attend. This cross-pollination is facilitated by our manager, also new, who encourages us to reach out to others as appropriate.
These informal meetings help us to gather information about what's happening in other units, and to sprinkle our own messages into the ears of others as they go about their work.
Balancing authenticity and fun with professionalism and caution is a juggling act I am having to learn quickly, as are several of my new colleagues.
Perhaps the best part of the job so far is the particular group of people I most immediately work with: In our unit, 5 of the 7 of us are new! And our manager has been with the unit less than 6 months! So we are truly co-learning, in every sense of the word.
We're a motley crew; we all keep marveling at how very different we are in terms of personality, experience and strengths/skill set, and yet how aligned we seem to be in our philosophy, passion and desire to do well for children and teachers in classrooms.
As one of my new colleagues remarked earlier this week...
I'm also missing the students a little, meeting many new and interesting people, working as hard as I ever was, and learning new skills and concepts almost daily!
P.S. Don't expect many blog posts about what's happening in my new role: Sorry!
Since most of the work I'm involved in is "in progress", I'm often not at liberty to discuss much of what I do with those outside of my immediate workspace. What that means is that this blog will likely become historical archive, or possibly, take on a greater role as family scrapbook, outlining experiences and reflections about my travels, my children and my flying. Maybe.