Black educators urged to embrace leadership opportunities

By Lincoln DePradine

Warren Salmon and Camille Williams-Taylor

A senior school board administrator has urged Black educators to “lean in’’ and embrace leadership opportunities when they present themselves.

“Muster the courage to lean in,’’ said Camille Williams-Taylor, director of education of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB).

She was one of the speakers at last weekend’s “Annual Provincial Conference & Annual General Meeting’’ of the Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators (ONABSE).

Theme of the event: “Educate – Innovate – Elevate.’’

Warren Salmon, president of ONABSE, said he was “very happy’’ with the outcome of the two-day conference.

“We got a great turnout, great presenters, and over 30 workshops,’’ Salmon said Saturday on the final day of the conference and AGM at OCAD University in Toronto.

Workshops covered topics such as Equitable and Inclusive Leadership; Parental and Community Involvement’; “Student Achievement; College/Career Readiness; Diverse Learners; and Mental Health and Well-Being.

Jamaica-born Williams-Taylor stressed the need for teachers and administrators to have a vision “for what kind of impact you want to make’’, and learning how to use leadership “in an effective way’’.

“Leadership without impact is useless,’’ said Williams-Taylor, who also called  on Black educators   to use ” their voice strategically so that it can be heard’’.

Williams-Taylor, who is married with three children, assumed the OCDSB director of education position in January.

“My biggest priority,’’ she said at the time, “would be the notion of all student voices being activated so they can meet their own potential as they leave us and graduate.”

The OCDSB offers a wide range of programs to 73,000 students in 143 schools.

Williams-Taylor, a graduate of the University of Manitoba and McGill University, worked three decades in the education sector in the Greater Toronto Area, before  she moved to Ottawa.

She was superintendent of equity and inclusive education at Durham District School Board. She also was a school principal and was employed with the Ontario ministry of education and York University.

Williams-Taylor, in her presentation to the ONABSE conference in Toronto, used her life experience in motivating the participants.

“A lot of the opportunities I had was because there were people who saw something in me. They gave me the opportunity but it was up to me to take it,’’ said Williams-Taylor, who also taught for two years in Winnipeg.

She related early in her career accepting an offer to work in a small northern New Brunswick town, not even knowing where she was going to live when she arrived there.

However, the move to New Brunswick became a “a change-maker’’, recalled Williams-Taylor, “because it made me decide that teaching was the thing that I wanted to do. It was the change-maker because I knew that I could manage on my own. It was the change-maker because it gave me the confidence to know that you can seize opportunity’’.

Williams-Taylor, reiterating her appeal for educator to engage and to seize opportunities, explained that “sometimes you have to jump, sometimes you have to take that chance, but more often than not, it comes out well’’.

As Williams-Taylor put it, “many of us lean back, retract, stay home because we’re worried about the capacity to take on the responsibility of leadership and manage the responsibility of family and home’’.

As part of the “leadership journey’’, Black educators must “consider the possibility’’ and should “lean in’’, even when they become “the first’’ and are alone in a career position.

“There is a challenge to being first. Being first sometimes means that there are things that we have to do strategically to navigate, so that you can stay in the game,’’ she said.

“The tipping point does not come with the first person. The tipping point actually comes with 30 per cent representation. So, when you have 30 per cent representation – of voice, identity, reality, experience – you now have a mass that can create and leverage change. But you can’t have that 30 percent without the first one.’’

Williams-Taylor said it’s also important for educators to be humble in learning and collaborating with others, and “not trying to do things alone’’.