BCPVPA Essentials for New School Leaders in the COVID-19 World

I emerged from the school year, emotionally and physically exhausted, yet, unable to exit the hamster wheel momentum.  Meetings, staffing, interviewing, hiring, report cards, ordering, repairs, reports, the seismic process, shuffling furniture, more meetings, and online communication were merely addendums to the priority work of dealing with student safety, student learning, staff imperatives and parental concerns.  The COVID-19 pandemic has added an immediacy to the work of school vice principals and principals.  There is no room for error.  There are not enough hours in the day.  There is more need than ever to have the support of colleagues who understand the work.  The British Columbia Principal Vice Principal Association ,BCPVP, rose to the occasion with the pivot of the traditional Short Course that is offered to VP’s and P’s new to the role.  BCPVPA Essentials for New School Leaders ran from July 6-9, 2020 and involved 62 participants,  15 facilitators and power presenters and panelists from all over British Columbia.  It was nothing less than inspirational, and exceeded all expectations.

The foundational documents for Short Course are the Revised BCPVPA Leadership Standards For Principals and Vice Principals in British Columbia (2020) and the BCPVPA Leadership Planning Guide (2020).  I was honoured to work on the revision of both documents with groups of very capable and respected administrators.  The documents have been well received and highly praised.  The challenge of the Essentials for New School Leaders course this summer was doing it online and bringing a greater depth of understanding to the work without overwhelming people already feeling trepidation about the significant demands of the work in the COVID-19 world.  The purpose was not to replace the breadth of the traditional Short Course offering but pivot to a format to meet the immediate needs of new school leaders.

My question going into the Essentials course was:  How can we develop a sense of community and facilitate meaningful engagement online?  I have attended many meetings and facilitated many online meetings and conferences online over the past months that have been filled with good information but was tedious and had not captured the imagination of the group.  I personally have not been successful in engaging the group during too many of the meetings I facilitated.  I have participated in groups where I regret having talked and feel judged.  I have felt the looming pressure of having my responses recorded.  Although I have a well-developed social media network, it has been developed over many years, punctuated with face2face meetings. 

Throughout the Essentials course, I discovered that yes within four mornings, both a sense of community and meaningful dialogue was in fact possible.   Special thanks to the participants in my anchor group, Kelsey Birch (SD48), Mehan Olynyk (SD42), Brian Davidson (SD27), Susanne Wakeham (SD59), and Devin Atkins (SD33).  They took the risks to participate in the dialogue, engaged with the course content, and supported other group members and myself in our learning journeys.  Each small group  was assigned to a group with a facilitator.  We met first thing in the morning, after the last session and throughout the morning to discuss the content from readings, speakers and panel discussions.  After working with them all week, I am definitely looking forward to the time when we can meet f2f, and I’m committed to staying connected this year.  I am also proud that they are administrators in our system.

Another strength of the Essentials course was the amazing list of speakers.  The themes for presentations were framed around each of the Domains in Leadership Standards in the document: Ethical Leadership; Instructional Leadership; Relational Leadership; and Organizational Leadership.  The depth in considering each of the topics came from the provocations by speakers and panelists about the standards in each of the domains.  The inspiration came from not only the speakers but also the response, discussion and connections by participants.  Dr. Mark Edward (UBC), provided an amazing synthesis or the work of the day and sent off participants to reflect in their district groups and online via Better Educate – Collaborate.

The final aspect of the course was invisible therefore could easily be overlooked. Elizabeth Bell and Jessica Antosz, of the BCPVPA Professional Development Committee, can be credited for their impeccable organization. Facilitators were trained and debriefed daily. The course outline was reviewed daily and timed to the minute. The principles of learning came to life due to the selection of the speakers and panelists. Amorie Kruger had us ZOOMing in and out of breakout and large group sessions like clockwork. Participants and facilitators magically were placed in groups, then given timed warnings to return to the group. Paige was also there to support. Shawn Lockhart and Kirsten Rezansoff provided the structures and support so new leaders could develop their professional portfolios, network, and create PGP’s on the Better Educate platform in collaboration with other principals and vice principals in British Columbia.

My only recommendations for changes were in my own facilitation.  Yeah, rather than using every second in break-out, I could avoid an abrupt cut by ending the discussion at a natural break rather than use every second available.  Tech issues for me only emerged when I was on the wrong home network.  I was always wondering whether I was striking the right balance  between facilitator, mentor, and colleague roles.  Daily debriefing with the ProD Committee and other facilitators fed my professional learning with good conversation and directions for future learning. 

Margaret Paxton is both a valued VSB colleague and one of the facilitators of the Essentials Course this summer.  In one of our online facilitator meetings, she talked about the importance of sharing the possibility and joy of the leadership work we do.  That is what was passed on to both participants and facilitators this July.  BCPVPA president, Darren Danyluk, also sent us off with a clear message that self-care is NOT selfish.  As principals and Vice Principals, we have done an amazing job of our Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry’s imperative to Be Calm and Be Safe.  Now is our chance to include ourselves in the Be Kind.  My hamster wheel has slowed down.  I should be able to jump off by the end of the week!  Happy summer. 

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