On Becoming a Writer.Entry #1

I am a person who writes. When I was young, I wrote in a diary. Seemly nothing to say, yet revealing the people that were important, the things that happened around me, and the power plays unfolding. As an adolescent and young adult, I wrote about the things that I could not say without getting in trouble from my father, step-mother and older sister, or making my mother cry. As a young adult, I wrote to make sense of the thoughts swirling around my head and to sharpen my words to fire as defensive missiles. As an adult, I wrote as an outlet to my frustrations and to clarify my thinking.

Writing before Kits wakes up

I was never comfortable sharing my ideas.  Attempts to write stories fell short of the stories I read.  I wanted profound.  I wanted thought provoking.  In university, my most inspired writing came in the wee hours of the morn when I was pulling an all nighter.  Raising little kids and working full time did not lend itself to that kind of writing or that kind of focus. 

My first public writing was inspired by a friend and colleague at the time, Meredyth Kezar.  She was an early adopter of blogging.  I expressed to her that I feared falling down the rabbit hole into another world that would consume me.  Yet, the initiative and opportune moment came when I was teaching in China after my mother’s death.  I wanted to step outside of the events and feelings threatening to overwhelm me. I started a travel blog.  My friend, mentor and writer of books, Jan Wells, kept it on her desktop and read it with the news in the morning.  Criticism from my stepmother indicated that even she read it.  People that I didn’t know read it.  I had something to say that was of interest.

With the move into management in another school district, I was at a loss without the support and inspiration from colleagues in the other two school districts I had left behind.  I maintained my practice of inquiry and the blog became a way of posing, then exploring those questions.  Hence Inquire2Empower was born.  A newfound friend and mentor in the VSB, Rosa Fazio, catapulted me into the world of social media, with an introduction to Twitter.  The blog and the Twitter account amplified my voice and allowed me to create a Professional Learning Community of like-minded people.  I penned my own narrative that opened up other opportunities related to my passions, literacy, social justice, SEL, and learning outdoors. 

I have now been provided with another opportunity.  Time and space to focus on my writing.  My father has also provided the cabin in the woods via the Irrevocable Trust that really turned out to be irrevocable.  Now what remains is for me to evolve as a writer.  I have internalized the value of Julia Cameron’s morning pages.  I am rereading Stephen King’s memoir On Writing.  The question for me is how to evolve to a writer of books that I’d want to read.  I have no shortage of ideas for murder-mysteries, professional handbooks, and fat, sad books.  What is next? How do I begin?

King, Stephen (2000).  On Writing.  A Memoir of the Craft.  Scribner.  New York. 

Cameron, Julia (2016).  The Artist’s Way.  A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity.  25th Anniversary Edition.  A TarcherPerigee Book,  New York. 

Gratitude at the Juncture

This is not just the end of the school year for me.  It is not just an end to packing up for the move to a new site during seismic mitigation of David Livingstone Elementary School.  It is not just the end of my tenure as principal of David Livingstone Elementary School.  It is not just the end of 15 months of the daunting task of keeping our school community safe during a global pandemic.  It is not just the end of my career in the public school system in the British Columbia, Canada School system.   It is a decision that there are new opportunities to capture my imagination and focus my energy.

Spectacular bouquet. So appreciated.

A cool breeze is signaling the end of a heat wave that had the capacity to close down our schools for the first time ever in my life – in the final week of school, no less.  Many of us have had our second vaccine or we’ve booked the appointment.  Masks are now optional and people on the street are smiling and once again chatting with one another.  The fear is beginning to dissipate.  People are beginning to exhale and look forward with hope.

The COVID 19 experience has shaken us to the core.  Some people have been overwhelmed by fear.  Some people have tapped the opportunity to settle old scores or to feed their egos or exercise their power.  Some people have been unkind and unreasonable. Has this been an illustration of the worst version of themselves?  Has it been the unveiled version of themselves? Will they rue the day that they exposed this aspect of their character, perhaps to themselves?  Only they really know. 

In the midst of – yes, I’m going to use the word again – UNPRECEDENTED – stress, many people have stepped up to show the very best version of themselves.  Kindness and tenacity prevailed.  When smacked down with new demands and fears on top of old ones, many have stood up straight, shoulders back, problem solved and did what was required.

The most prevalent feeling that I have today is one of gratitude.  We made it through the school year, without locusts or flooding, until the end of the year.  In the final weeks of school, I personally witnessed so much appreciation, love, and the ability to laugh in the midst of what felt like a black comedy of the absurd at times.  Although rigorous safety protocols were not always welcomed, we managed to get through the year with only two exposures.  No school spread.   Teachers pivoted to online learning overnight despite varying degrees of comfort with technology. 

In the face of all that was thrown at us as educators, students were cared for with love, concern, and efforts to take care of their mental health and continued learning opportunities.  In turn they provided us with the delight in being together and a fresh perspective on resilience and adaptability.  And I was sent off to retirement with a plethora of treats, flowers, celebratory beverages, chocolate, and good wishes.  Colleagues even came together in shifts on the hottest day of the year, with sweat running down our backs in an unconditioned space to toast retirees.  And the party and the planning for future endeavours continues.  But first, I have slept more in the last few days than in any given week of school over the past 15 months.  And I am grateful.

Good-bye to the 2020-2021 School Year

What a year!

I had scheduled our last assembly of the year on the All Students @Livingstone TEAM to stay in keeping with our COVID cohorts that are still in place until the end on the year. For the first time in my experience, school is not in session due to the heat wave. I just can’t believe it! What a year. Looks like students will be participating in the assembly from home with a challenge to write, draw, or film their own goodbye to the 2020-2021 school year.

We are starting to emerge into a world where COVID does not control all our decisions. 

After 15 months of fear, nervousness, caution, cohorts, masks, closed drinking fountains, online meetings, and daily health screenings, we’ve learned some things. 

Rigorous safety procedures have been a drag, but they have kept us safe.  Although sometimes it’s hard to get up in the morning, we now appreciate that we LOVE school.  We’d rather be at school than self-isolating at home.  We’d rather have face to face lessons than online meetings.  We rather have the freedom to choose where we go on the playground rather than be limited to one area.  We love to play with lots of people and have the freedom to make new friends during one recess and one lunch time. 

We can resume our more familiar school life as people get their vaccinations and the threat of COVID is reduced.  Next year everyone will be back at school full time and the things we like will be back in place.  I was delighted to be able to assign students to the four buses that will be transporting students from Livingstone to South Hill next year, with their siblings.  Good riddance to cohorts!

There are some take aways from COVID that are worth holding onto.  Daily health checks are a great idea and there will even be a website and APPS for the iPhone, iPad, and android devices to remind people who are sick to stay home.  Students and adults learned how to avoid touching our faces with germy hands.  We’ve learned to wash our hands thoroughly and often.  We had an obvious decrease in colds and the flu this year.  We also learned to be flexible and appreciate that we can do things differently and still have fun.  We learned that small kindnesses and gratitude make all the difference, particularly during times of stress.  We learned that everyone deals with stress in different ways and that we all must continue to develop our tools and strategies to manage.  We learned that giving the people credit for good intentions helps us to adopt another perspective.  We learned that learning outdoors is great if you are dressed appropriately, problematic if you are not.  

I am happy to say goodbye to 15 months of COVID, but I am not happy to be saying goodbye to you.  You are a great group of people who have shown resilience, kindness, flexibility, humour, and incredible learning in the midst of a global pandemic.  You rock.  I’ll miss you.  I’ll be back to visit.  I can’t wait to return to a seismically upgraded David Livingstone complete with an elevator and a ramp to the gym to welcome all students, staff, and families no matter how they travel.  Take good care, my friends 

School Leaders Who Blog

School Leaders Who Blog

As a blogging principal, I was honoured to be featured in the June 2021 issue of the BCPVPA Principl(ed) journal.  It is interesting to read about the many reasons that school leaders choose to blog and the things that they capitalize on.  It is also interesting to ponder the responses that come into play in the decision to make our thinking transparent as leaders.  Blogging has been important pathway for me to develop my reflective practice and to create my own narrative as a school leader.

The role of the principal, particularly in the days of COVID, is threatened to be taken over by the overwhelming amounts of managerial tasks.  Although I agree that school leaders need have well developed management skills, this was not what drove my decision to become a school principal.  My strong belief is that educational change requires instructional leaders.  Instructional leaders need to be knowledgeable and current.  Being current requires strong support for the management work and a strong emphasis on the development of instructional leaders who are clear about moving their school communities forward to support, challenge and keep our students safe. 

Instructional leadership is a process, not a finite destination.  The OECD principles for educational change have continued to be solid goal posts, but the path we navigate is continually changing.  Although social emotional learning has been a part of many school plans for many years, COVID created more immediacy in focusing our attention on what our students require to be able to learn.  George Floyd’s death and the discovery on the remains of Indigenous students at a Kamloops residential school provided a powerful catalyst for creating systemic change in our schools and in our communities.  Tremendous work has been done by principals and vice principals that are aware of the issues and how to navigate a pathway forward. 

This does not happen in a void.  We encourage our students and our staff to actively engage in inquiry and take risks in their learning.  We encourage bold questions and predictions.  We also teach them to take a step back, reflect on their conclusions, and change their mind.  In his book, Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant eloquently creates a case for thinking in scientist mode so that we can remain flexible in our thinking.  This person is actively open minded and searching for reasons why we might be wrong, not for reasons why we must be right.  Revising our views based on what we learn and changing minds are considered to be acts of intellectual integrity.  Blogging allows me to step beyond my Things To Do list and assume the stance of a scientist.  

I have been cautioned and questioned about the wisdom of stating my ideas publicly.  Adam Grant describes the person who adopts the “politician” stance and acquiesces to the group in a bid for popularity at all costs.  As school leaders, our decisions cannot always appease the group.  Sometimes we are called upon to make difficult decisions that are unpopular.  Our role requires we have reflected on the issue and have develop a strong rationale for why the decision serves the greater good in our school community.  That takes time, reflection, a professional learning community to help you navigate the terrain and support from upper management. 

I feel fortunate in many ways this year.  I have colleagues and district staff on speed dial to discuss issues, problem solve and possible pathways forward.  Julie Pearce, my Director of Instruction, has the background knowledge and wisdom from years of experience to pose questions to extend my thinking and the will to support her principals.  And I have my practice of inquiry and reflection to define and redefine who I am as a school leader and what matters most.  Articulating who we are as school leaders and a willingness to rethink our positions in the face of new information are practices that are integral to establishing ourselves as leaders in the educational community.  Blogging is one pathway.

Grand, Adam (2021).  THINK AGAIN.  The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know.  New York, Viking.

Principl(ed) Vol.2, Issue 3 – June 2021 – The Journal of the BC Principals’ & Vice-Principals’ Association, “Leaders Who Blog”.

To Livingstone Grade 7’s as Your World Expands

Grade 7 Leaving in Hollywood Style

In June 2020, we tried to replicate the Grad Ceremony in an online meeting. This year we tried to create a celebration for our Grade 7 students that would capture their interest and excitement. This was my farewell speech to our David Livingstone Elementary Grade 7 students as their principal.

Students, teachers and our online viewers, welcome to Hollywood North!

You are leaving the smaller pond our elementary school and swimming into the much larger pond of secondary school.  However you are taking with you the background experience unlike anyone who has come before you.  Last year, Grade 7’s left under the haze of COVID starting in March 2020 but a year filled with fairly typical Grade 7 experiences until that point in time.  You are leaving with the previously undefined experience of fear, caution, lockdowns, expanded online learning, physical distancing, masks, cohorts, restrictions, air high fives and air hugs.  Previously uncharted terrain for your typical Grade 7 student.

As people are being vaccinated and cases of COVID lessen, there is less focus on fear and apprehension.  There is more focus on looking forward.  People are already writing books about what it has been like to live through a modern day pandemic.  But what is most significant is that YOU can write that book.  All of your experiences and the feelings could fill many volumes.  Of the 36 students leaving Grade 7, there are 36 versions of that book.  Each version carries its own truth.

I’m currently reading a book called Think Again by Adam Grant.  The subtitle – The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know.  What is most intriguing about the book, is the fact that it isn’t the smartest people who are most able to cope with adversity or change.  It is the people who are able to rethink the situation and pursue a different pathway.

Mike Lazaridis dreamed up the idea for the Blackberry as a wireless communication device for sending and receiving emails.  In middle school, he made local news for building a solar panel at the science fair and won an award for reading every science book in the public library.  In his eight grade yearbook, there is a cartoon of Mike as a mad scientist, with bolts of lightning shooting out of his head.  By 2008, his Blackberry company was worth $70 billion dollars.  By 2014, the market share had plummeted to less than 1% of smart phone users in the US.  What happened? 

In 2010, when one of Mike’s colleagues pitched the idea of sending encrypted messages. He passed.  What’s App saw the potential of text messaging to the tune of $19 billion dollars.  When the idea of typing on a glass screen rather than on the tiny keyboard emerged with thumbs.  He laughed.  Steve Jobs saw the potential.  Apple was off and running.  Clearly Mike Lazaridis was a smart guy.  He just couldn’t rethink or adopt another perspective.  He couldn’t unlearn what he already knew. 

Adam Grant talks about four approaches to the way people think and live their lives: 

  1. The first type of person digs in their heels and argues their point of view is right.  They ever question their ideas.  This type of person takes offence at other perspectives or anyone questioning their conclusions.
  2. The second type of person completely focuses is on proving others wrong.  This person focuses on discrediting rather than discovering.
  3. The third type of person will appease the audience at any cost.  This is the politician in the group.  Popularity rather than accuracy dictates their views. 
  4. The final type of person assumes scientist mode.   This person is actively open minded;  searching for reasons why we might be wrong;  not for reasons why we must be right.  Revising views is based on what is learned. Changing minds are acts of intellectual integrity for a person in scientist mode.

Intellectual curiosity and openness to new discoveries.  This is the skill set you’ve been taught since kindergarten.   This goes hand in hand with curriculum in British Columbia. All those inquiry studies.  All those questions to pursue.  All that predicting and testing hypotheses.

The COVID pandemic has certainly thrust you into the full understanding of uncertainty.  Yet, you are equipped to not only handle it but to pursue your very own version of truth.  I look forward to reading about it.  Or perhaps watching it on a screen in Hollywood, California. With that,  I wish you all of the very best as you swim off into your next pond. 

Reading Recovery Revisited

Intensive daily intervention creates readers.

This week I had the pleasure of meeting with my resource teacher and Reading Recovery teacher, Sonia Pietzsch, to review the results of the Reading Recovery intervention with our Grade 1 students.  The Vancouver School Board is one of the 64 school districts in Canada participating in this reading intervention.   David Livingstone Elementary staff support this reading intervention in our school and benefit from being part of the early intervention program in the VSB.

Marie Clay was the literacy educator from New Zealand whose work with Maori children spearheaded the Reading Recovery movement that took hold in Canada in the 1970’s.  Her work made it explicit that short term, intensive early intervention by trained literacy educators for students in Grade 1 who struggle:  

1.  reduced achievement gaps

2.  reduced the need for long-term remedial classes.

This has been substantiated with research many times over.  Reading Recovery Programs are now in Canadian, New Zealand, Denmark, the United Kingdom, and the United States, with affiliations also in the Caymen Islands, Ireland, and Malta.  The Canadian Institute of Reading Recovery has been collecting data in Canada since 1995-1996 with results from over 200,000 students.  The report notes that 100% of students in Reading Recovery make progress in the development of a literacy processing system with two positive outcomes:

  1. Participating Grade 1 students make accelerated progress and are able to benefit from classroom instruction without the need for further individual support or,
  2. Participants are identified early in school years as needing long-term or specialist support.

As anticipated, Sonia Pietzsch, reported back the results consistent with national findings for our Grade 1 students participating in Reading Recovery.  She, however, noted an additional positive outcome:

“These kids see themselves as readers and writers.  They see themselves as capable learners. With 12 – 20 weeks of individual, daily targeted instruction, we have been able to change the trajectory and student perceptions of self.” 

In the complexity of the COVID school experiences since March 2019, the good news stories matter.  Reading Recovery is certainly a good news story.  The Vancouver School Board has included another dimension to the early literacy work in the work.  This includes small group, guided reading with Kindergarten to Grade 3 students.  It also includes the tracking of our Reading Recovery students all through their primary years (K-Grade 3). Livingstone parents have also helped consolidate emerging literacy skills with PAC funds to ensure classroom libraries and levelled books to facilitate regular home reading programmes. 

Thank you, Marie Clay.  Thank you, Vancouver School Board.

Thank you, Sonia Pietzsch. 

Thank you, Livingstone staff and PAC.

Listen to the Stories

We Remember: Honouring the 215 children found in mass grave at largest school in Canadian Residential System

The policy of removing children from their homes to distance them from their families and their cultures was not the idea of one person with enough power to make it happen.  Europeans came to North American and encountered the unfamiliar.  They learned how to survive, navigate the land, extract resources, and benefit from alliances with Indigenous people before making the decision to obliterate Indigenous cultures.  It was not about moral high ground and improving the lives of the children.  It was about access to land, resources, and creating a malleable population.  The residential system was in existence for well over 100 years and many successive generations lived the trauma generation after generation.

The discovery of 215 children in a mass, unmarked grave was shocking but it was not a surprise.  Indigenous people have shared stories about their missing children since the inception of the residential system.  Their friends have known the truth for many decades.  For others, we may not have been taught about the policy to “remove the Indian from the child” and the use of the residential system to do so, when we were being educated in schools prior to 2010.  However, it is not possible for Canadians to have missed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that criss-crossed Canada for six years.  It is not possible to pretend that we did not know this happened. 

The Commission heard more than 6,000 stories from witnesses, most of whom survived the  experience of living in the schools as students.  There was wide media coverage, marches, ceremonies, healing circles, people acting as supports to traumatized Indigenous people reliving the experience.  Enduring art installations of wooden tiles were created by children in the school system demonstrating their understanding of this time when children were forcibly removed from their families.

“Children were abused, physically and sexually, and they died in the schools in numbers that would not have been tolerated in any school system anywhere in the country, or in the world.”

Honorable Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair

Dr. Marie Wilson, Commissioner

Chief Wilton Littlechild, Commissioner

June 2, 2015

Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

The Commission named it – Cultural genocide – and offered 94 recommendations for governments, churches, public institutions, and non-Indigenous Canadians to move from apology to meaningful reconciliation. 

I was very aware of this dark part of our history but I was somewhat of a loss for navigating the path to support Indigenous families and students in the wake of discovering the 215 children in Kamloops.  The image that came to my mind with the discovery of the children in a mass grave was the Holocaust.  We understand this to be a  time in which we knew people were treated with cruelty and disrespect that did not even acknowledge their humanity.  As a mother, I cannot even imagine having to live through this experience.

This is not solely an Indigenous tragedy.  It is a Canadian tragedy and a Canadian failure.  Just as Germans were well aware of Hitler’s politics, the persecution of the Jews, and their disappearance, the anti-semitism paved the way for it to happen.  People saw and treated other people like they were less than human.   Canadians voted for leaders who perpetuated residential schools for over 100 years.  Clearly, we need leaders with the moral and ethical integrity to take on difficult issues like systemic racism in a deep and meaningful way.  We have all experienced leaders only concerned with their personal advancement.  That is not what we need now. 

The people providing the leadership in the discovery of the 215 lost children, are the people suffering the most.  Not suffering a new loss but acknowledging the unthinkable.  Anyone who has lost a beloved person in their life, knows that grief does not disappear with time.  We are more able to live with it beside us, and some days it is more palpable than others.  The loss and pain exists close to the surface.

Kukpi7 Chief Rosanne Casimir spoke with such poise and grace to the press about her heart being completely broken, wanting nothing less than respect and honour for the 215 children discovered, and the end of the racism that negatively impacts Indigenous people today. 

Monique Gray Smith @ltldrum made a video to help adults have difficult conversations with students about residential schools. Jo Chrona @luudisk talks about her place between sadness and anger and the importance for us to turn towards the pain, assume the responsibility to continue learning, and engage in a collective response.  These are the people who are able to provide the stories that we most need to hear.  Listening to the stories is the beginning.  The stories provide us with guidance for how me move forward to end personal and systemic racism, and create the expectation that our Indigenous people deserve the respect and honour we expect for all families in Canada. 

Equity in Action

Racism and anti-racism has been more part of the educational conversation this year, than at any time during my time as an educator. Early on in my career, I joined Amnesty International. Participation in community groups, and Amnesty events and actions were the source of much of my learning about white privilege and the inequity of basic human rights throughout the world. I championed Human Rights Day on Dec. 10th and taught students and community members about the International Declaration of Rights and Freedoms. As a teacher in Coquitlam, I became the chair of the Coquitlam Teachers’ Association Multicultural and Anti-Racism Committee. I coordinated the CODE (Canadian Organization for Development in Education) Project Love in the district. Students wrote letters and packaged school supplies to send off to students in countries needing this support for young learners. My foundational belief was that teaching and learning about other cultures and human rights was to key to ending racism. Well, looking around today, it is fairly evident that learning about other cultures does not equate to valuing or respecting people with other ways of being.

Multiculturalism was supposed to represent a different paradigm than the “American melting pot”.  Yet, in both Canada and the United States, racism has continued to play out.  An openness to learning about other cultures can create the conditions for equity for all people despite perceived differences, but it is not a guarantee it will.  COVID has created the circumstances for all of us to come face to face with the magnitude of the problem.  Limitations on our activities ensured that many of us were riveted to the tv to witness the horror of the end of George Floyd’s life.  The words “I can’t breathe” make the racism in mainstream society palpable. 

COVID or perhaps the post Trump era has also created circumstances where the worst version of too many people have emerged.  These people are emboldened to say and act in ways that would not have been tolerated in recent history.  Overt acts of racism are reported regularly, and hate proliferates social media.  However, there is a will of people not previously involved in social justice issues to ask questions and go after finding answers.  Books, online courses, and discussion groups have popped up – all focussing on race and anti-racism.  Institutions are becoming more aware of the need for them to be involved in a solution. 

My learning journey continues but I have heard all of the advice provided throughout these different contexts to be quiet and listen, to share my ideas, to be pro-active, to check my white privilege, to own my responsibility for the problem, identify my biases, to do more, to follow the lead of people of colour, to find affinity with those who look like me…  I believe that every piece of advice provided comes with quest to make our world a more just and equitable place.  Yet, like any other scenario, there is no magic answer to create the ills of the world.  To be a part of the solution to racism and create a more equitable world, commit to taking action.  This is not a passive process.  We will need build capacity in ourselves, our colleagues, our neighbours, if our institutions are to move forward with much needed change.

The past year, I have made the following things part of my learning journey.

  1. Continue to celebrate other cultures and ways of life with families through Children’s Literature.  Explore differences and common experiences that make us human.

I believe that we have moved beyond the need for a shelf of “Multicultural Books” in every school library.  Children need to see themselves represented throughout our library collections and inquiry studies.  Educators need professional development and recommendations to support book buying that help children in understanding that they do not walk alone.  There are others with similar lives and experiences, and experience interesting opportunities.

As president of the BCLCILA – British Columbia Literacy Council of the International Literacy Association / ReadingBC @BCLiteracyCoun1 , I spearheaded a project to create a booklist of titles to support children in their social emotional learning, which includes seeing themselves represented in text.  Many of those tests, I read on my Ms. Froese Reads You Tube channel to create community in my school.

“By valuing their culture and identity, we give students the power to see themselves in their learning.”

                                                                                                            Chaunte Garrett

2. Engage widely in reading and writing about issues of race, anti-racism, and equity in order to be exposed to the pertinent issues, vocabulary, and understanding of issues of race, anti-racism, and equity. 

There is no one book to read to inform understanding or action.  Read widely to formulate your own ideas.  I have enough titles now that I am able to lend out to support others in their learning.  I Included the titles on Goodreads to open conversations and sharing with my online reading community.

Writing about your reading supports connections between all of the material you are reading.  Blogging helps me to further clarify my thinking. 

3.  Participate in professional development and discussion groups focusing on issues of race, anti-racism, and equity.  Look for techniques and tools to reduce bias and measures to determine more equitable outcomes for students.

Notice what it feels like when you are listened to, when your ideas are valued, and when you feel like you belong in the conversation.

Notice what it feels like when you hear information that you do not believe to be true, when someone makes assumptions about you, or when you feel silenced or dismissed. 

4. Find your own affinity group to engage in conversation to keep learning and fine tuning your ideas. 

Do not let anyone make decisions for you about where you belong.  Find someone or some people who you trust to have conversations about sensitive issues or ask questions.

5. Reach out to include people with different experiences or ideas to participate in conversations.

I submitted a proposal to the Human Rights Internet ( @HRI ) with a small group of social justice advocates in fall.  The purpose was to produce a documentary to facilitate conversations between people wanting to make their groups, workplace or organizations more welcoming and diverse.  We wanted to pose questions and include the perspectives of a diverse range of people in Vancouver, British Columbia with different experiences, ethnicities, and perspectives.  It seemed so much more straightforward when we started, but what a learning experience.   Formulating questions to tease out responses without directing answers took months!

The documentary will be a project over a longer period of time.  However, the open-ended questions that we have refined and the voices of people we are interviewing are fascinating.  The plan has evolved to release the unedited “voices” on You Tube each week and open up the participation in the project.  This way we are not tailoring the message to an agenda but allowing the voices to peak for themselves.

6.  Keep your eyes and mind open as to how you can support other people in their learning journey or join them to support yours.  The learning evolves as we evolve.

“We can’t teach what we don’t know, and we can’t lead where we won’t go.”

Malcolm X        

Pivot

I have a formidable work ethic. German on one side and Scottish / Irish on the other. I went from Magee Secondary School to summer French Immersion Program: to UBC; to one year at York University with written consent to transfer credits back to UBC for degree and to discover I had no idea where “back east” was in Canada; back to UBC to finish my Bachelor of Education Degree; to a diploma program while working at Spare Time Childcare Society at David Lloyd George elem. to ensure I wasn’t wasting time while looking for a job as a teacher; to working in SD34 – Abbotsford where I had done my practicum; to SD43 – Coquitlam to work closer in case my baby needed me; to Simon Fraser to expand my horizons as a Faculty Associate; to SD39 -Vancouver as a Vice Principal and then Principal. In the midst of it all, I taught summer school and worked as an online TA, a sessional instructor of the Reading Methods course at SFU and completed my Master of Arts Degree in Education.

Fortunately my passion is Education and I was able to work hard while still maintaining a focus of being there for my family.  Working part-time, and scheduling after hours professional responsibilities around the soccer, swimming et al., schedule of my kids was possible.  Certainly having a husband with his own company and a Mom who lived with us for 10 years helped.  I was able to fly off to attend International Literacy Association Conferences in New Orleans, or Brain Conferences in New York, present in San Francisco or Kelowna and teach in China. 

All threads have converged with a focus on my professional life, family and wise financial planning.  Buying back pension time from maternity leaves and 9 month contracts at SFU was difficult at the time, but part of that wise financial planning.  My mother taught my sister and me very young that you NEVER depend on anyone to provide for you.  Those messages from youth provide a lens to see the world but also a subconscious nervousness about future financial stability. 

In all fairness, security for my Mom was $20.00 in your wallet in case you needed to take a cab home.  She was left with a divorce settlement and child support that never increased after 1964 and left her existing on the edge of poverty.  Of course, my reality is very different.  And yet, even for me with a pension plan, I sent in my letter of retirement with trepidation.  My mind battled with the fearfulness in my heart. 

Many people will tell you that you know when it is time to retire. Not so for me. I love instructional leadership. I love my conversations with kids about their learning and about their lives. I love talking to parents about parenting. I love talking to teachers about possibilities for their classrooms and their careers. I love talking to Spare Time staff about the same things. I love talking to Education Assistants about Universal Design.

Certainly no one emerges out of COVID without thinking about their WHY.  Simon Sinek resonates for people considering their work lives or their personal lives.  COVID has also opened up new avenues for working and pursuing our WHY.  The other morning I woke up to Kenny Rogers.  Now this was interesting because I am not a grand country and western fan, or a gambler.  For me it is reserved for The Calgary Stampede and visiting my sister and her family in Texas. However, the lyrics came back to me from the 80’s loud and clear.

“Know when to hold’em

Know when to fold’em

Know when to walk away

And know when to run…”

I woke up laughing.  This did not evoke surprise but certainly inquiry from my husband.  He is well use to my vivid dreams, and inspiration through lyrics.  I’m am feeling particularly excited about retirement from the VSB these days.  I will ensure I leave the new principal in good shape with a thorough transition plan to ensure my Livingstone people are in good shape for our seismic mitigation move.  Now to be perfectly honest, I may knit more, and I do have my Nanny Keenan’s rocking chair.  But, I will embrace new opportunities with excitement, enthusiasm and energy. Time to publish. Time to work in new ways. Time to pivot.

“If you wait until you feel 100% ready to do something you really want, you will be waiting the rest of your life to achieve it.  Forget the past. Forget your age.  Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”

Michael Nulty

The Indigenous Acknowledgement

Ten years ago, as a vice principal at Tecumseh, I first decided to do the Indigenous acknowledgment at our school assemblies.  Day 1, I called my friend, Latash, to ask two questions. 

#1 – The correct pronunciation of Tsleil-Waututh, as I was fairly certain that I was butchering it badly.  Growing up in Vancouver, I was unaware whose ancestral lands I was living on.

#2 – I asked how he would explain “unceded” to elementary school students.  He told me it was very political and perhaps I should work on pronouncing Tsleil-Waututh first, and teaching my students that we were in fact learning on the ancestral lands of Indigenous peoples. 

Joyce Perrault teaching about the Medicine Wheel with parents at University Hill Elementary School

Today, I frequently feel a frustration with the next steps.  It seems we travel the road to equity and justice at a glacial pace.  Yet, elementary school children now, recite the Indigenous acknowledgement by heart.   They are well aware of whose ancestral lands they are working, learning and playing on.  Even the kindergarten students pronounce Tsleil-Waututh correctly.  Conversations about unceded lands are readily engage in by students because they represent a significant historical reality.  Most of all, there is an openness to concede that people living on these lands for thousands of years, know things.  Indigenous people have lots to teach us. 

Many classes participate in sharing circles, and if they are lucky it has been introduced by an Indigenous support worker who has shared the Indigenous history of the circle, the personal cultural connection to it, and perhaps Medicine Wheel teachings.  My first experience with an Indigenous talking circle was in Ottawa in the 90’s.  Latash had developed an Indigenous Exchange program between Indigenous youth in Coquitlam and Indigenous youth affiliated with a Neighbourhood House in Ottawa.  He invited me to participate as the teacher sponsor.  It was an amazing learning opportunity for me and all of the Indigenous youth involved.  I encountered history and stories and perspectives that I had been oblivious to growing up in Vancouver.   We solved problems encountered along the way.  Participation in a talking circle  – Indigenous style – was a different beast than I have experienced.   It was not the performance circle I was familiar with, where you share what you know and are subsequently judged on the merits of your contribution.  The focus was on actively listening to someone’s story and understanding what the speaker was striving to communicate.    Respect, empathy, curiosity and the value of the speaker’s perspective were the reference points.     

A right to voice an opinion is a basic tenet of democracy that was part of Indigenous cultures thousands of years ago.  If we can learn and teach children to enter the talking circle with respect for all of the people in the circle and a curiosity about stories of others, we have a structure to cultivate change.  Formulating questions drives the learning.  The discussion of “unceded lands” is not to be avoided due to political sensitivity, but pursued because it represents the truth of someone’s story.    The pitfalls of appearing “white passing” isn’t initially clear until you hear about a vital part of someone’s identity being denied.  The indignation of being denied access to precious cedar baskets for sacred ceremonies isn’t palpable until you learn that they were voluntarily turned over a museum for safe keeping and then appropriated.  It provides a lens to consider our history and how that meshes with our view of ourselves as Canadians with a social justice consciousness. 

The frequent refrain during conversations and discussions about race, is “do the work.”  We have much work to untangle truth in the history of Canada in relation to Indigenous people.  Fortunately we have a recent burgeoning of fiction and non-fiction work that provide an Indigenous lens, thanks to authors such as Richard Wagamese, Wab Kinew, Bob Joseph, Jesse Thistle, Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas and Maggie DeVries.  We also have the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and Freedoms, the Indigenous Charter and the Canadian Charter to steer us on the path to creating greater fairness and justice in our Canadian context.  As educators, we are poised to make structural change by achieving a tipping point of caring.  A caring for the people telling the story.  A caring for creating equity and justice in our school community, our province, our country.  A caring by our students, our staff, ourselves.  The Indigenous acknowledgement in an entry point but a powerful entry point.                                                                                                     

On that note, I would like to acknowledge that we work, learn and play of the unceded and ancestral lands of the Coast Salish People, the Musqueam, the Squamish, and the Tsleil-Waututh.

Indigenous Authors to help you “Do The Work”:

Maggie DeVries (2003, 2008). Missing Sarah

Bob Joseph (2018). 21 Things You May Not Know About The Indian Act – Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality

Wab Kinew (2018). Go Show The World – A Celebration of Indigenous Heroes – a picturebook

(2015, 2017). The Reason You Walk

Jesse Thistle (2019). From the Ashes

Richard Wagamese (2018). Starlight

(2016). Embers

(2014). Medicine Walk

(2012). Indian Horse

Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas (2008). Flight of the Hummingbird