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Mindset Matters

I now understand that my mindset or disposition is arguably the most important ingredient which has informed how I navigate success and failure as well as how I interact with the world around me.

Julia Reynen
January 31,  2020

As one of four children raised in small town Ontario southwest of Toronto, daughter of a homemaker, school teacher and HR (human resources) professional, I was raised with the understanding that anything was possible if I simply applied myself and put in the hard work. My childhood was a string of formal activities and sports such as figure skating, swimming, ballet, choir and Girl Guides. With little unstructured time outside of school, I learned from an early age the importance of time management and discipline. Sport, in particular, helped me understand the value of practice, iteration and failure in the development of my mindset and disposition toward life. In reflection upon my early years as a young athlete, I now understand that my mindset or disposition is arguably the most important ingredient which has informed how I navigate success and failure as well as how I interact with the world around me.

By the time I entered high school, I began to develop an awareness and keen interest in exploring the world while becoming knowledgeable about global affairs and human rights. I naturally gravitated toward learning opportunities that caused me to think critically, compare and contrast perspectives, as well as consider contemporary and future application of popular ideology. I devoured non-fiction and was captivated by national and international news sources, understanding it was key to consult a breadth of resources prior to forming an opinion. A young millennial caught in the middle of a “double cohort” of graduates in the early 2000s, I quickly set my sights on completing my high school education one year ahead of schedule in order to avoid an overwhelming amount of graduates vying for the same seats at Canada’s top universities. Determined to avoid the omnipresent fearful mindset of my classmates and teachers, I chose to instead funnel my energy toward positive outcomes. Setting my acceleration plan into place meant that I had to carefully select, plan and successfully complete a series of advanced academic courses during my junior and senior year in order to stay on track and graduate one year ahead of schedule. When it came time to selecting a university and program I was presented with an offer I could not decline from Queen’s University – to attend the Bader International Study Centre (BISC) in the United Kingdom!

ISP ladies celebrate together. L-R Miriam Morningstar, Kimberly Campbell, Melissa Urquhart Wing, Julia Reynen. (Bottom) Leading experiential learning in El Valle, Panama. L-R Darren Donauer, Katrina Kneebone, Julia Reynen, Janna Trontvet.

It was my time at the BISC which further broadened my perspective of the world and greatly influenced my identity as a learner and global citizen. Attending classes with individuals who represented dozens of nations and lived experiences not only pushed my thinking beyond the context and perspective of my upbringing, it also brought me curiosity and reverence for the unknown and set the stage for my future career contributing to the development of international education. Fast forward to 2009: back in Toronto, I was about to complete a bachelor of education at the Ontario Institution for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto and was once again faced with a challenge. This time it wasn’t university admissions – it was access to the job market. Amidst provincial budget cuts to education and a dismal economic forecast post the 2008 market crash, I set my sights on broader horizons. Determined to put my degree to good use I sought out and accepted a teaching position at the International School of Panama and the rest, as they say, is history…

Cash-strapped and having amassed considerable student debt over the years, I excitedly set off for tropical Panama and a world of possibilities in July of 2009. What I was met with was game changing and life altering. As a young professional living abroad, I was confronted with unique challenges and opportunities some might only ever dream of. At work I was learning the ins and outs of mapping curriculum, collaborating with colleagues and soaking up as much knowledge as I could in order to provide a rich learning experience for my students. In my personal life I was navigating living in non-English speaking countries as an unaccompanied single woman. In the early years before iPhones and Androids helped us get around with Waze or Google Maps, simply getting from A to B was a daily adventure. Finding my place within the broader community, making friends and dating was the opposite of mundane. Looking back on those years it was my infinite mindset that facilitated a successful transition from globally minded student to young professional living and working abroad. Waking up in the morning feeling grateful for the opportunity that had been provided, and hungry for what might come next… I was hooked on the world of potential I saw before me.

JIS ladies mid-week ritual in Jakarta Indonesia. L-R Jula Reynen, Paula Gaudron, Janna Tronvet, Trish Hornickel, Lauren Pool.

Mindset informed the relationships I would go on to form and the steps I would take in building my career in international education. Whether it was seeking out mentorship, collaboration or friendship I learned a lot in those years about the importance of relating to others and belonging beyond work. Being a relentless connector I sought life ties both on and off campus and the immediate comfort of the expat community. The friendships and relationships formed out of curiosity and the desire to belong and connect with like-minded individuals now span the globe and will indeed sustain a lifetime. Bonds that transcend geography, upbringing, religion, generation, industry and lifestyle are the mementos of the decade.

Panama was the perfect sandbox both personally and professionally as it afforded me a safe space to grow, learn and dream… It prepared me in many ways for what was about to come next. From one archipelago to another, Indonesia was equally hot and humid yet worlds away. The population density of Jakarta, Indonesia was immediately confronting yet not at all overwhelming – there was harmony in the capital. A sense of ebb and flow, give and take in which life “just was.” My time in Jakarta while serving Jakarta Intercultural School (JIS) was transformational for many reasons. The learning environment and access to resources I was exposed to was unparalleled – during my time in Indonesia I continued to build external community relationships while developing my career. I took on various middle level leadership roles, completed an M.Ed in Educational Leadership, received a designation of International School Leadership with the Principals’ Training Centre (PTC) while contributing to Apple’s Journey Toward Personalized Learning initiative in the region. The broader leadership team at JIS taught me the value of leading with a visionary approach and an emphasis on the importance of feedback.

Putting it all into perspective while on the trail in Jeju-do, South Korea.

For those of you close to international education, child protection and institutional transformation, you’ll appreciate that serving the JIS community throughout 2013-2017 was challenging for many reasons. Navigating such uncertain times reminded me again of the importance of mindset, relationships and cultural competence. After four years in Jakarta I found myself repositioned in Asia, this time in the self-governing province of Jeju-do, South Korea serving on the senior leadership team at a unique public-private venture. In this high context culture “reading the air” became second nature. Amidst rapid institutional change and omnipresent operational challenges it became clear that establishing and nurturing a culture of care, certainty, structure, transparency and most of all empathy was both needed and necessary in order to deliver promised learning outcomes. This posting would prove to be a great challenge to maintaining an objective outlook and overall positive mindset. As a leader I needed to dig deep and find the courage, resilience, and ability to be proactive and navigate strategically. In order to show up and be the visionary leader stakeholders needed I sought mentorship and resources. In seeking support I looked inward first and began to set aside my sometimes limiting beliefs, biases, hangups and feelings of inadequacy. Leaning into the advice of other senior leaders within and external to education as well as becoming a certified Cognitive Coach℠ provided me with a healthy framework in which to reframe the way we would approach learning in my division.

Summers of learning in Mallorca, Spain with Julia Reynen, Janna Tronvet and Tyler Morningstar.

Leadership takes practice, the ability to iterate, make mistakes, dream, succeed, celebrate and do-over. Much like an athlete prepares for competition, a leader too prepares for the “game” not necessarily to “win” but to best guide an organization and its stakeholders in striving toward its vision or as Simon Sinek describes in his new book The Infinite Game, an institution’s just cause. In this new chapter of my professional practice I am in the midst of doing exactly what I encouraged middle school students toward for a decade – learn by doing, identify what you’re passionate about and take risks! Returning to Toronto, Canada to establish my new venture Culture Innovator after a decade abroad has ticked all those boxes and then some. Throughout the past six months I have again relied heavily on the power and importance of a positive mindset. I am forever grateful for the invaluable experience international schools and education has afforded me as I, alongside many millenials, work to pivot my career toward continued growth and future success. As Founder & Principal Advisor of Culture Innovator, I support leaders across all industries navigate rapid growth and change without compromising positive workplace culture. As I work toward establishing a national and international presence I’ve begun to build partnerships rooted in education with several Canadian universities, supporting the non-profit sector as well as contributing as an advisor and thought leader to startups in southwestern Ontario. I look forward to sharing my journey with you in 2020 – why positive workplace culture matters and how we can develop courageous leadership. In the words of Dr. Brené Brown, today we need courageous leaders more than ever before.

Born in London Ontario, Canada Julia first moved abroad as an international student at the age of 18 and has since lived, worked and studied in six countries across three continents. An educator at heart, she is a millennial on a mission to positively disrupt leadership and workplace culture as we know it. As Founder & Principal Advisor of Culture Innovator, Julia supports leaders across all industries navigate rapid growth and change without compromising positive workplace culture.

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