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Stories from CAELI: Navigating with Confidence

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Mar 09, 2015

In our Stories from CAELI series, Community Arts Education Leadership Institute (CAELI) alumni share their insights from their own CAELI experiences. Our second post comes from Sue Elliott, currently the director of education at the Seattle Opera in Seattle, WA; and soon to transition to a new position as director of teacher certification at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, Canada. Sue is a member of the CAELI Class of 2014. You can read our first post from José Ochoa, executive and artistic director of the Chicago High School for the Arts, here and hear more from Sue and José on our upcoming Application Orientation Webinar, March 10 at 1:00PM ET. Register.


Why did you decide to apply to CAELI?

Seattle Opera was in the midst of a major leadership transition and the search for a permanent home. My role at the Opera included designing and leading a ten-fold expansion of learning and engagement programming. I hoped CAELI could help me effectively navigate the many, and concurrent, challenges in those endeavors.
Describe an “aha” moment you experienced during your seven months of CAELI:
There were so many "a-ha" moments during the CAELI experience (and they continue post-CAELI), but one of the most powerful was exploring communication challenges with Phil McArthur during the week-long residency at Bryn Mawr.  It was a blindingly bright lightbulb moment that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.  In his concept of “Creating Productive Conversations,” Phil defines “advocating” as “stating your view” and “inquiry” as “asking questions.” He teaches that when a leader balances advocacy and inquiry equally, the resulting conversations support mutual discovery, understanding, and learning. I discovered that my communications are fairly well-balanced between advocacy and inquiry.  However, two cohort members helped me realize that, though balanced, I unload too much information at any given time. So any attempt at honest inquiry on my part is always overwhelmed by rather passionate advocacy, akin to rhetorical questions during a lawyer’s opening statement in a high-stakes jury trial. I was answering all my own questions without allowing room for anyone else. This helped me understand how to improve my communication style and, like other lessons from many CAELI “a-ha” moments, there’s still room to grow.
How would you say your participation in CAELI has impacted you and your organization?
During the onsite process at Bryn Mar I received an incredible amount of information in a very concentrated period of time. The information I received about myself and my leadership through the 360 feedback process, the Myers Briggs personality test, and the work with Ronnie Brooks around core values, was a lot to process and work with. So the most transformative part of the process for me was taking all those new tools and then working with the executive coach post-institute to figure out how to put those lessons into action on a daily basis. Through CAELI, I was able to work with Mary Parish for a four month period during which I got to constantly try new things. This experimentation with professional support transformed me in several ways, but most importantly, helped me dramatically increase my effectiveness as leader of a staff team that had doubled in number in less than a year and also helped me navigate with confidence the transition to a new job in a different company.
What does being a part of our network of CAELI alumni mean to you?
It means I have a safe, supportive place where I can turn at any time of the day or night for advice, a kind ear, and a strong shoulder or two. The cheerleaders I now have on my virtual sidelines are of tremendous value!
What is unique about CAELI compared to other professional development opportunities you’ve had?
The 2014 cohort is both incredibly close and incredibly diverse. When I need to look to a colleague for insight and support, there's always someone who can help.
Is there anything else you feel a prospective applicant should know or consider before applying?
Early on at the institute I nicknamed the onsite process “The Reckoning.” This was primarily the result of a very small exercise we did with Ronnie Brooks during which she had us calculate all the remaining waking hours in our lives and then contemplate what we wanted to do with those hours. That exercise has contextualized every choice I’ve made since I left Bryn Mawr. I have always been about the work and I’m a high achiever. Even though I have some very good professional relationships, I’ve been less about the people. Because of CAELI, I realized that needed to change for me to continue to develop professionally and for me to take on increasing leadership roles. And I know my team has felt the change for the better.
CAELI can help at any point in an applicant's career, since the experience is so personalized. But it may result in major personal and professional changes, so I would advise applicants to ensure they're ready to tackle difficult issues, think deeply, and be open to dramatic change.
The deadline to apply to CAELI is April 9, 5:00PM ET. Click here to learn more and here  to register for our upcoming Application Orientation Webinar (March 10, 1:00PM ET).
Pictured Above: Students designing scenery for Mozart’s The Magic Flute at the Seattle Opera

This resource brought to you by the National Guild for Community Arts Education.