About Me

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I have been an elementary and secondary school teacher and administrator. Currently, I am a faculty member in the Faculty of Education at Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. My M.Ed. and Ph.D. had a focus on the educational and linguistic experiences of children who moved from other countries to Canada.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Critical incidents in informing our teaching and leadership practices

Over the past three years, I have completed a research study that has examined how critical incidents influence school principals. The study has specifically focused on those critical experiences that impact a principal's perspective of students with special education needs. I was delighted earlier this year to receive funding from SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada) to extend the study on a national scale.

Critical incidents are significant emotional events that effect one’s practice and perspective (Yamamoto et al, 2014). They can be either negative or positive and have significant impact on one’s current and future work (Scott, 2004). As well, critical incidents lead to ethical reflection on one’s practice (Hanhimäki & Tirri, 2009). As a result, critical incidents can provide an authentic tool to make meaning from these experiences. For more on critical incidents, consider reading this blog post by Daniel Ayres.

Before reading further, can you think of an incident that has significantly impacted your leadership practices? In what ways?

Critical incidents do not have to be major catastrophes. They can be seemingly simple things that happen in the midst of a regular day but which significantly causes us to reflect on what and how we do what we do.

One critical incident that informed my own leadership was a short conversation with a student after teaching a Grade 11 class 20 years ago. I had made a comment in class regarding poverty and made a broad generalization that those who came from privileged backgrounds would not understand the challenges of "living without." A student approached me after class and commented that, although coming from a fairly well off family, she experienced "living without" in other ways that had to deal more with emotional well-being than financial well-being. 

That short conversation was a critical incident for me; it made me re-think my preconceived ideas. It also helped shape me into a more reflective leader.

The research study I have led has led to some interesting findings, one of the most interesting of which is the profound way in which critical incidents shape leadership practices. For the participants, it was often not workshops or courses that significantly shaped their leadership dispositions. Instead, it was often critical incidents.

As you reflect on your career, what critical incidents can you identify that shaped your leadership style and perspective?


Ayres, D. (2013) Critical Incidents. Available at: http://danieljayres.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/critical-incidents.html (Accessed: November 8, 2016).

Hanhimäki, E., & Tirri, K. (2009). Education for ethically sensitive teaching in critical incidents at school. Journal of Education for Teaching, 35(2), 107-121.

Scott, A. E. (2004). Counselor development through critical incidents: A qualitative study of intern experiences during the predoctoral internship. Dissertation Abstracts International, 65, 1681A.

Yamamoto, J. K., Gardiner, M. E., & Tenuto, P. L. (2014). Emotion in leadership Secondary school administrators’ perceptions of critical incidents. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 42(2), 165-183.

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