Terry Fox in Times of Covid-19

I paused when I considered the annual Terry Fox School Run this year. This surprised me. I have both a personal and professional connection to the run. I am old enough to have the memory of the kid dipping his toe in the Atlantic, starting on his lonely run, then capturing the imagination of a country. I no longer have enough fingers and toes to count the number of community and school runs that I have participated in. Terry Fox defined my identity as a Canadian. Yet, I faltered. My job as a school principal is to ensure safety.

Inspired by Terry Fox

I am a big fan of a party.  That is what Terry Fox Runs have become.  The crowds flocking to runs do not capitalize on the gut-wrenching sadness of cancer, they ride high on the belief that every person has the capacity to take risks and do great things.  They are fun.  We do make a difference. The Terry Fox Foundation has raised over $800 million dollars towards cancer research. There is a cure for the type of cancer that Terry had. The Terry Fox Run was my first of many 10 K runs.  Someone told me towards the end of the run that I had good form.  In every run since, when I’m sure I have to stop, I straighten up and am buoyed up to finish. 

I have well developed organizational skills and the desire to engage the whole school community during Annual Terry Fox School Runs.  Last year, the music was pumping, the kids were energized, the gigantic Terry Fox flag flying, and families and neighbours flocked to the school to cheer us on.  Kids were proud of the distance they ran and the money they were able to fundraise for cancer research.  Terry Fox inspired them.  COVID-19 caused me to balk.  How could this be done following the required COVID-19 guidelines? 

I am very grateful to my staff for providing the impetus for the run this year.  Matt Carruthers brought it up at a staff meeting and the date was set. He provided the schedule for running in learning groups/ cohorts, and the crew to distribute and collect cones.  Staff led the charge in their classrooms with lessons and inspiration about Terry Fox.   I set up the online donations site and sent the letter home explaining how the Terry Fox Run would look different at Livingstone Elementary in times of COVID.  My heart held more trepidation than enthusiasm. 

I started run day with a talk about Terry Fox.  My heart fills with pride when I talk about who we have self-selected as a Canadian hero.  Who had a more valid reason to feel sorry for himself and to feel really angry?  The kid had lost his leg to cancer.  Yet, that was not what defined him.  He set a goal to raise $1.00 from every Canadian to go towards cancer research.   Done by February 1st of 1981.  Yet that was not what defined him.  He is defined by perseverance.   He was not always the best at things that he loved, like basketball.  It didn’t stop him from loving the game and trying to improve.  He is defined by empathy and sympathy.  He experienced the ravages of cancer and its impact on other kids in the hospital with him.  He didn’t let adversity immobilize him.  He was able to think of how he could make the lives of other people better.  He was willing to do something really hard.  And in the process, he captured our imaginations and gave us hope.  He defined heroism in a very Canadian way.

On the Livingstone run day, the gigantic flag and the cones were in place. Most families respected my request to participate via our Twitter feed @LivingstoneVSB on the school website. The Spare Time Treehouse Preschoolers led off the run on the gravel field first thing in the morning. The final learning group / cohort was still running according to schedule at 2:30 pm. Ms. Janze’s class had inspirational chalk messages of encouragement on the sidewalk. Kids were laughing and having fun. They were setting personal goals of how many laps they would do. As we progressed through the day, the donations to the Livingstone School Run continued to roll in. At last check, we were at $2,814.95. Precious dollars we are able to contribute to cancer research when donations to charities are down due to the global pandemic.

In times of COVID-19, there are many disappointments and challenges to maintaining a positive outlook.  Terry Fox is perhaps our very best example in Canada, of how adversity does not have to conquer.  The #beliketerry and #tryliketerry capture how it is possible to move beyond sadness and anger to strengthen community and make a positive impact in a world that needs it.  And my heart soars 🙂

School Leadership In Times of COVID-19

“Dear Carrie…this rock reminds me of you. Beautiful, solid, sage and determined to retain its core – no matter the force.” #gratitude #inspiration Elena Photo of Hoodoos in Alberta, B.C.

I have a particular penchant for instructional leadership.   In my history as a teacher, the principals and vice-principals who fed my enthusiasm to learn and supported me in all kinds of wild and wonderful projects and inquiries, were the ones who empowered me.  I was encouraged to try, celebrate grand feats, and laugh about things that did not go exactly as planned.  I embraced leadership early in my career but resisted school administration for a long time because I loved teaching.  However, once I finished my secondment as a Faculty Associate at Simon Fraser University, I had discovered the perhaps the joy of empowering adult learners in the education system. I can write a good grant and secure funds.  I can collaborate on an inquiry and ensure I can inform practice with current and inspirational educational research.  I can help find and support opportunities for my staff to pursue their passions.  I can build in structures of support and promote the work being done.  However in the midst of a global pandemic, everything else pales in comparison to the need for principals, vice-principals, and school staff to peel back to our core purpose – that is our ethic of care. As demonstrated by Nel Noddings (1929 – ), caring and relationship are the most fundamental aspects of education. It is just as relevant to our adult learners in the education system as it is to our students.

Supporting our school staff during a pandemic is fraught with challenges. How do we support teachers, in as Parker Palmer (1997) frames it, to maintain their “love of learners, learning, and the teaching life” in the face of so many demands, expectations, and concerns for their own families? Shared food via treat day and pot- luck lunches, gatherings, and staffroom meetings have been the language of appreciation, acknowledgment, and comraderie in school culture.    Online meetings are too often reminiscent of the Twilight Zone with the “Is anyone out there?” being met with incomprehensible silence.  Striving for bandwidth results in posted icons and silenced mics.    Tough crowd to read! Challenging environment to truly respond with an ethic of care.

I wrapped up my professional growth plan in July.  I was so disappointed with the cancellation of the trip to work on instructional leadership with colleagues in Nisga’a with Tara Zielinski from West Van, Kathleen Barter from North Van, and Elizabeth Bell from BCPVPA was cancelled. I continue to believe that instructional leadership needs to have a driving force in our education system to support our students developing a voice and the skills required in a changing world.  I continue to believe that collective efficacy is our best bet at facilitating meaningful change in our education system. For that reason I will continue in my work facilitating The Essentials for New School Leaders course continuing throughout the year and a VSB Inquiry group. But for now, the primary driving force in the education system must be focused on relational leadership.  At this time our success in mitigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic with our students, parents, staff, and our community partners are the determinants of the strength of our school system to achieve it’s core purpose.

I believe there are some things we can do to make a difference and to make people feel cared for. I’ve got it down to five key things that are achievable.

1. Vigilant Health & Safety Practices

In June the district average of return to school was about 33%. Just over 50% of students returned to my school site.  I am the daughter of a retired neurosurgeon, so I have grown up with a “safety first” consciousness.  By the end of June, I realized that perhaps I had been a bit too rigorous in controlling numbers of students on the playground.  We have four very large play areas.  I could lighten up.  I have heard from staff that they need to feel safe. The established protocols are for them as much as students. My Operating engineers and custodial staff have been amazing in taking on the increased work load and working with me to ensure we are following the established healthy routines. I’ve heard from my parent community that they appreciated how seriously we are taking the COVID-19 preventative measures.  This September, about 90% of our students returned to school.  We have trust from our parent and student community. The parent community is being very respectful of requests to maintain 2 metres of physical distance from other people’s children so we can limit the contacts of our learning groups / cohorts during the beginning and end of the day.

2. the Spirit of Servant-Leadership

Nel Noddings frames “receptive attention” as an essential characteristic of a caring encounter. Shane Safir frames the conditions to adopt the stance of a “listening leader”. Margaret Wheatley points out that “(s)uccessful organizations, including the military, have learned that the higher the risk, the more necessary it is to engage everyone’s commitment and intelligence”. (The Spirit of Servant Leadership 2011, p. 172). All of them are getting at the importance of demonstrating care and finding out what people need. I have done a lot of listening. I have asked a lot of questions. I have heard that teachers need to feel safe at school. I have heard that too much information is provided, and too little information is provided. That the message needs to be consistent. That I am trusted to make the hard decisions and that is why I am the one getting paid the “big bucks”. That some people want to be fully involved in decision making. That some people are just so tired or worried. That some people are overwhelmed or frustrated. That some people need more tech, more resources, and … The big learning for me has been that I’m not going to be able to solve all of the problems, prevent messaging from changing, or make everything better. All I can do is listen, show that I care, and be responsive to achievable requests.

“We can’t restore sanity to the world, but we can remain sane and available. We can still aspire to be of service whenever need summons us. We can still focus our energy on working for good people and good causes.” Margaret Wheatley. Perseverence page 25

3. Effective Communication

The only constant in our schools right now is that things will change.  Another truth is that some people find the quantity of information daunting.  Some staff requested a Sunday Night Week at a Glance with key information. For others, they want access to the original document being cited and the references.  I have discovered some ways to provide information that I find helpful.

Email

Outlook – For incoming information to be shared, email makes it easy to forward information, particularly if a group send has been set up.  It is also the easiest way to track conversation threads. 

MyEdBC – this is the easiest way to contact families quickly and easily.  It also allows me to keep classroom teachers apprised of what is going out to parents. 

Office 365 Platform:

  • TEAMS

The Vancouver School Board has adopted this platform to communicate with staff and students.  My experience tells me the information is most accessible if the name of the TEAM channel is descriptive enough for staff to access what they are looking for.  Each channel allows you to pin up to three documents to the top of the FILES section within that channel for ease of access.  The Livingstone Staff Classroom also allows staff to access information from committee meetings and participate in decision making to the extent they desire.

The Vancouver School District has just created an “All Livingstone Student” Classroom (group of all students in the school).  My intended purpose was to provide an online Health & Safety Orientation to those students not yet attending.  However, it is turning out to be a great way to reach out to students in a way that emailed letters to students and video Tweets have not. 

There is also a TEAM for District initiatives, information, learning and meetings.

  • SWAY  

I love this format of presenting information because it allows you to share a great deal of information in a highly visual way.  In Spring, one Kindergarten teacher went on Maternity leave, another retired and the final teacher had not yet been hired.  It allowed me to provide a virtual tour to our new Kindergarten students.   It also allowed me to provide a Health & Safety Orientation that could be referenced by students and is now my standard newsletter format.

  • FORMS

Forms provides templates for you to secure information about opinions.  It has been used by the VSB to solicit parent information.  I also used it to secure intake information from our Kindergarten families and information from teachers about their thoughts and requests.  This method of getting feedback enabled me to involve staff in decision making when we shifted to an online platform in March. 

Livingstone Elementary School Website

Never has it been more important to have an up to date website.  I’ve gotten better at providing links to sources that regularly date their information like the Vancouver School Board.  The VSB has also gotten good at fanning out pertinent information directly to school websites. 

Twitter

I am still a big fan of Twitter both to share good news stories and interesting information.  It is linked directly on to our school website, so families do not need to have a Twitter account to access information.  The biggest challenge is making students aware of whether they have permission to have their picture on the school website.  Parents need to understand that they have every right to decide if they want to sign the school media release form or not.  They need encouragement to share their reasoning even with our youngest students.

PAC Facebook

I have not set up a school Facebook account.  However, the Livingstone PAC has set up a very active fb site.   Good communication with parents will help you to stay apprised of the issues and concerns of the school community, so you can attend to them directly.

4. Continue to tap into the Joy of Learning

The other day I got feedback from a parent that was unexpected but also very much appreciated.  She thanked me for not forgetting the fun.  She noticed the efforts to provide “friendly” reminders of two metres without making them scary – butterfly nets with ribbons, one pool noodles plus part of another pool noodle to make it exactly two metres, pinwheels with ribbon, and plastic parachute men from the dollar store.  She appreciated the four hours of taping by Mr. Froese to make perfect roadways in the hallways to direct students and the moose crossing signs to keep people on their route – all featured in the sway presentations.  She also noted the increased opportunities for outdoor learning and inquiry projects.

I have spoken before of how my daily quest for joy usually takes me to the playground.  I have assigned two school wide assignments via SWAY and on the ALL Livingstone Students TEAMS classroom.  Students can keep track in their student planner and they can form a springboard for future student learning. They have been great ways to stimulate the conversation and focus social-emotional learning, positive mental health and literacy development.

Gratitude Log – This assignment is to focus attention on the things that are good in the world.  It is an effort to have students slow down and pay attention to what is happening around them. 

Reading Log – I’m a big believer that if you don’t like to read, you haven’t met the right author or the right book. It all begins with a conversation about what you’re reading. Reading relationships are instrumental in developing new perspectives and comprehension skills.

5. Take Care of Each Other:

Back when I was a Resource teacher at Maple Creek Middle School, one of my colleagues, Wayne Rogers, nicknamed me the Tazmanian Devil.  I have a long established history of walking quickly and getting things done.  It did not work for me on the wet hallway the other day.  I went down hard, jumped up in embarassment, and left school to nurse my twisted knee, strained ankle and possibly fractured scaphoid.  The physiotherapist ordered me home to apply heat and rest.  One of my teachers sent me a text ordering me to stop working.  Her assessment was that I work too hard, I needed to binge watch Netflix, eat buttered popcorn, and she followed up with a list of excellent binge-worthy possibilities.  Good advice.  Knee and ankle are fine.  Wrist braced.  Perhaps the biggest take away is we all need to take care of each other.

Ray Ferch, Shann, & Spears, Larry C. eds.(2011). The Spirit of Servant-Leadership. Paulist Press, New York.

Wheatley, Margaret (2010). Perseverence. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., San Francisco.

I always love the conversations and written feedback that come out of these blog posts. Please respond with the things you are trying. I’m still looking for the magic bullet to make everything better 🙂

Seeking Out Joy

Bhangra Joy with Gurdeep Pandher

The first tweet @GurdeepPandher that I saw was from his little cabin in the Yukon.  His bhangra dancing with abandon filled my heart with joy.  For those of you that know me well, this will not surprise you.  Dancing with abandon always fills my heart with joy.  And so, I retweeted.  And I have continued to retweet as he has danced his way around Canada through the COVID-19 pandemic.  He’s danced in Nova Scotia, in Ottawa, with the Canadian Armed Forces, and to bagpipe music. The list goes on. And every time he dances, he makes me smile.

I am on the Board of Directors for Wild About Vancouver.  Gurdeep has inspired the dream of people dancing their favourite dances outdoors throughout the Lower Mainland of Vancouver and tweeting it out @WildAboutVan.   It would be brilliant.  I am also back at school as principal of David Livingstone Elementary School. He has inspired the notion of teaching kids dances that they can do outside at recess and lunch. Socially distanced joy. Not a bad plan!

I went to Gurdeep’s website and was able to purchase and download music for bhangra dancing and sign up for an online dance class.  AND I was able to do my first class this morning and talk to Gurdeep.  He is just as lovely in person (which means on ZOOM in the COVID-19 world) as he is in his tweets.  His direction:

Stand up straight and engage your core.

Shoulders back.

Chin up.

Express joy in your face, and happiness in your heart and soul, with a smile.

This is certainly one pathway to mental health and physical fitness. I certainly need more practice to coordinate moving my arms and legs in sync with the hops but then … joy on the playground and around the Lower Mainland. Thanks, Gurdeep!

Check out his site ( gurdeep.ca) and join the celebration and opportunity to, as Gurdeep puts it – “Have some fun in the chaos.”

The COVID-19 Office

The Human Rights Work Continues

One positive change that could emerge from the COVID-19 global pandemic is the change in how  we do our work.  People working at home have been exposed to a whole new reality. To work, it is not necessary to be sitting in front of a computer 24/7.  Flexibility in work schedules is allowing people to schedule their days to attend to physical and mental health, as well as get the work done. 

On the common deck of my condo in Kits, my neighbour has run a power cord from the hall and set up the laptop screen to increase visibility of the screen.  He asks if I’m okay with his choice of music.  He is studying to be a pilot.  Sometimes I find him on the deck working as a personal trainer with one of his clients.  He has taught me that to explore angles on the laptop screen and shade it with a shirt to create a visor in order to increase screen visibility.  When I tilt back my reclining chair back, I can see the screen as well as the ocean and the mountains.

Down at Jericho Beach, I watch as the young women beside me tentatively step into the ocean and quickly decide it is just too chilly today.  The phone rings, and one of the young women shifts gears.  She effectively negotiates her business call and makes the commitment to draw up a proposal and have it to her client tomorrow.  As she chats, her friend takes out her computer and gets some work done.  There are no hurt feelings or resentment for not giving her friend her undivided attention.  The social contract allows and expects these disruptions.

I frequently give my son a hard time for not giving his father and I his undivided attention when he comes for dinner or for a bike ride.  And yet, at the same time I’m incredibly proud at how well he is doing with his business.  Clients around the world are paying the bills, manufacturing product or ready to work collaboratively.  Communication cannot be limited to a 9-5 context if you are being responsive to needs.  The phone rings or the text comes through and my son  seamlessly slides into business mode, negotiates the call and rejoins us.  

My cousin has an office job.  Working at home started when COVID-19 hit Vancouver in Spring.  It has just been extended until January.  She has adjusted to the reality that some days includes far more work that other.  She always meets the expectations of what needs to be done in a day.  For the employer, no work space, office furniture, phones, supplies or daily cleaning are required.   The employer has got to have noted the obvious benefits of reduced costs. 

In British Columbia, schools were closed after Spring Break to everyone but principals, vice principals, operating engineers and trades people.  I went into my office first thing in the morning, stood at my desk for hours on end, absorbing all of the new information possible, attending online meetings, planning and problem solving.  I turned my head to pick up the phone and left my office to attend to very specific tasks.  The intense stress exacerbated the muscle strain.  Two things happened to change things up for me.  Nearly all meetings were online so there was less need to dress in my regular work attire.  We were also given direction to leave the school by 3:30 pm to allow the deep cleaning of the school.  This allowed me to ride my bike to school and get some exercise, and some perspective as I rode home along the seawall.  Some phone calls I navigated en-route, and people got use to some huffing and puffing when I reached hills.  Sometimes I just stopped to focus on the situation.  I also stopped to do video-tweets for the students at my school.  It was a refreshing and much needed break.  I was still available for work.

Initially I thought perhaps Millennials were just better at pivoting during this new  reality than Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers.  And yet Alex Neve,  Canadian Human Rights Activist and Secretary General of Amnesty International, popped up on Facebook with his office set-up in the forest.  It seems to be that people with their own businesses or more job autonomy have been the blade runners in defining these new realities.   Granted some jobs lend themselves to more flexibility.  When schools opened on a voluntary and part time basis in British Columbia in June, educators certainly needed to be onsite more frequently.  However in July when I was facilitating a course for BCPVPA, I transitioned to a work space in my dining room.   Now I have expanded my options.  The side deck or front deck in the shade with the birds, or the common deck with the mountains, ocean and sunshine are working just fine.  This could be the upside of COVID-19 

The Best or Worst Versions of Ourselves?

With the advent of the COVID-19 global pandemic, we are witnessing extreme versions of people. Some people take Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry’s advice to “Be Kind” to heart. We see examples of people choosing to be the best version of themselves and acting with generosity and kindness. Then there are the other people who unleash a nastiness and vitriol that we only saw hints of in past interactions. The ongoing conversation has become, do difficult times reveal the actual predisposition of a person or does it reveal of lack of coping skills?

What do people see when they look at you?

Since the beginning of civilization, there are examples of people who seek out those opportunities to dominate others.  The motivations have ranged from selfishness, jealousy, insecurity, entitlement, sadism or fear of losing power.   We have historical relics such as the pyramids, the Great Wall of China, concentration camps and the documentation of slavery, as glaring examples of this.  With COVID-19, there are increased reports of family breakdown, abuse, separation, divorce, racism, and volatility in the community.   Last week, a Kitsilano resident assumed the responsibility for aggressively questioning people on the beach, where they were from and ordering them home to their own neighbourhood.  There is no shortage of examples of outrageous, opportunistic, and perhaps Machiavellian behaviour to warrant responses of anger, depression and dismay. 

Yet, the friendliness and kindness is palpable on a daily basis.  There are so many examples of generosity and kindness in person and online that have the capacity to fill our heart with gratitude.  The smiles, the friendly conversation, inspirational stories, and the commiserating over lines at stores are daily occurrences.  The 7 o’clock salute to thank health care workers has expanded from pots and pans to include percussion instruments, car and boat horns, sirens, and in some cases full bands.  In their lives, did these people receive good character education with an emphasis on moral justice, integrity, and kindness from friends, families, or teachers? 

In my heart of heart, I don’t believe in truly bad people who go out into the world with a mission to make other people miserable.  And yes, good people have bad days.  However, all of us are called on to make choices and are responsible for those choices.  The COVID-19 global pandemic will be one of those times when the measuring stick comes out to judge where we were as a civilization in 2020.  History will hold out the examples of the human capacity for greatness, or like Margaret Wheatley points out, the very clear indicators of the fall of yet another civilization.  We will be held responsible for how we raised up the voices of those in need of help and encouragement, and how we responded on a societal or individual level.   

Grade 7 Zooming Away Ceremony 2020

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COVID-19 can prevent the face to face event but not the celebration.  A speech to Grade 7 students leaving elementary school to start secondary school.

My name is Ms. Carrie Froese, the very proud principal of David Livingstone Elementary School.   I am honoured to be addressing our Grade 7 graduates and their guests tonight.  This has been a year of change like no other.  The COVID-19 Pandemic has changed how you have experienced school. It has changed how you socialize with your peers.  It has changed how you connect with your family.  It has changed how others interact with you.  The Prime Minister has addressed Grade 7 students directly in a speech as you graduate from elementary school and move on to secondary school.  A first!  You are witnessing a tipping point where masses of people want to address the racism and discrimination in our systems of policing, health care and community life.  You are seeing the backlash, as people wanting to hold tight to their preferred position or privilege, demonstrate blatant and deplorable racism.   Then there is you.  In the midst of it all.  In a position to make real and meaningful change a reality.

You have heard me ask many times, who do you want to be in the world?  Your power is in the things that you do and the things that you say.  Many of you have already discovered that power.  Early in the year, I was approached by group of Grade 7 students.   They politely told me that when I said “Good morning, boys and girls” in the morning message, it did not make everyone feel welcome.  They were able to identify the language was not inclusive and had the potential to make students feel “outside” of the group.  They hung in there with me through slips of habit, to change my language to make everyone in the school feel welcome with a “Good Morning Livingstone School Community”.  Little shift.  Big difference in creating an inclusive and welcoming space.

Anna identified two things at the beginning of the year;  A love of graphic novels by students in the school;  A lack of graphic novels in the Livingstone library.  Her initial goal was to “educate me” about the merits of graphic novels.  I was sent home with homework and a fresh set of eyes.  Her goal grew to include sharing her passion with other educators, parents, and students by presenting on a panel session sponsored by the BC Literacy Council.  Her efforts resulted in a growing collection of graphic novels in the Livingstone Library and a nice connection with the librarian at Tupper who also shares her passion.  We discovered that Tupper has the most well-developed collection of graphic novels of any school in the Vancouver School Board when the Tupper librarian attended the session.

Christa and Miki wondered about the Black Lives Matter movement, the horrific images on social media, and the subsequent protests taking place. They took the time to ask questions, and followed their learning to embrace questions about the multiple perspectives that exist in history.  Our history.  They learned about the historical and present day discrimination faced by our Indigenous people and other communities of colour in our own backyard.  Then they looked for ways to use their voices to speak up for needed change by sharing their learning with peers, signing petitions, advocating for donations and setting out to discover a path forward.

Fundraising for the Yukon Trip took on a life of its own, as students in Division 1 and 2 set their sights a trip of a lifetime to the Yukon to learn about food security, Indigenous people and the northern environment.  Then just when the funds were almost in place – the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the possibility.  To say it is a drag is an understatement.  However, students have been able to pivot and make spending decisions that indicate:

  • the aspiration to benefit as many people as possible in the school community
  • a gratitude for the Essential Service Workers during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • gratitude and support for the Project Chef in-residence program and the powerful learning we experienced this year
  • A concern for people who are struggling to put food on the table
  • A desire to eradicate racism and discrimination

That is a strong voice filled with care, empathy, generosity and kindness that makes all of us proud.   As you move on to secondary school, never underestimate the power of a clear, kind voice.  Not laughing at a racist or sexist or homophobic joke.  Naming behaviour for what it is.  Supporting a targeted person.  All those things have power.  And when we act collectively, it is possible to change our society to embrace kindness and implement basic human rights for all people.  As Margaret Mead says, ““Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

You have the power to choose who you want to be in the world.  Be kind.  Be curious.  Ask questions.  Read to experience different places and glean new perspectives and knowledge.  Write to fine tune your thinking and share your ideas.  You have the power to change the world .  I feel very confident that you will.  I am so glad that our paths crossed.

Congratulations and best of luck as your next chapter unfolds at Secondary School.

A Pandemic Possibility of Courage and New Growth

My Apple watch buzzed on my wrist and I looked down.  Premier John Horgan announces kids back in school on June 1st.  Before I have a chance to react, my Apple watch buzzes again.  The breathe icon pops up on my watch reminding me.  In through your nose.  Out through your mouth.  If this pandemic has taught me nothing else, it has taught me to be ready to pivot.  Our only constant in this time, is that things will change.  The trick is finding a way to navigate the change in the midst of big emotion all around.

I jumped out of bed on Saturday morning on high alert.  Things to be done.  What deadlines had I missed?  What was absolutely essential to accomplish before 8 am?  The forecast was for rain but no rain yet.  Every Vancouverite can appreciate the pressure to optimize this opportunity.  It was now late enough to rally my husband and go for a walk.

Walking the seawall before the crowds descend never gets old.  The constancy of the waves and the mountains. Breathing in the sea air.  Stopping to notice.  The cherry blossoms are done.  The dogwoods are in full glory. The realization that  poppies come in many colours.  More people staying home, have resulted in a new boldness from our birds.  The Canadian geese with their many babies don’t even bother to get out of the way.  Their honk is louder and closer.  The blue herons pause longer before even looking in your direction.  The crows fly closer to your head.   Only the seagulls are put out with the reduced human consumption of fish and chips which directly impacts their diet.

On the route back home on the rough stone of the seawall, between Second Beach and English Bay, a beautiful array of carved serpentine stones.  The Metis artist, Jock Langlois, has taken shelter under a beach bush, because he too could smell the approaching rain.  Jock left his job in the corporate world many years ago to become a street artist.  He embraced the power of desire, faith and action to reveal the beautiful messages hidden in stone.  The image of the bear jumped out to me first.  For my husband it was the eagle.  Then the most obvious image on this overcast day, the raindrop.  The eagle messenger.  The bear of courage.  The raindrop of new growth.   All rolled up in one inspirational piece of art.

Inspiration is just like learning.  You need to be ready to identify it.  Ready to receive it.  Ready to learn from it.  Jock Langlois was able to hand me a message of courage and the possibility of  new growth.  Thanks to the teaching of my mother, emergency cash was tucked ready between my phone and it’s case.

There is so much change and fear wrapped around the COVID-19 times.   How do we step forward with courage and look for the learning that will help us to grow as individuals and communities?  The pause to reflect on what will feed inspiration and innovation.  The willingness to embrace possibilities is what will feed the community.  We will change as a result of this global pandemic.  Walking in fear tends to result in stagnancy or ugliness.  Being courageous and stepping forward together as problem solvers promises new learning and the possibility of better pathways in our future.

Thanks, Jock.  I’m glad our pathways crossed yesterday.  I am happy to have your art as a reminder of the incredible beauty in our midst and the enduring message of courage for new growth.  Check out his story and his art.

Metis man discusses life after quitting job to carve

ZOOMing Out or ZOOMing In

The phone call, texting and FaceTime remain as permanent fixtures in the COVID-19 context.  Wait time for smart phone orders have substantially increased due to overwhelming demand.  At work and at home, the COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated online platforms to replace face to face communication of small and large groups.  ZOOM took an early lead in the group meeting due to the ease of use.  Security requirements provided a stumbling block early in the game but they quickly pivoted to remedy the problem.  The culture of ZOOM is now the reference point for online communication of groups.  The Ministry of Education in British Columbia purchased it for all educators in British Columbia.  The Canadian Government is also using it for meetings.  How this culture of online meetings endures post COVID-19 will be interesting to watch.

There are days when I can’t bear the thought of another online meeting.  The Vancouver School Board has invested and is committed to the TEAMS platform.  In the name of good communication, there are TEAMS meetings with the District Management Team, our school staff, the Health and Safety Committee, the Finance Committee, the Tech Committee, School Based Team, Articulation with the Secondary School and any other group who might want to connect online.  In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the barrage of information is so overwhelming, that these meetings are required to focus attention on the most pertinent facts in our school context.  In what seemed like overnight, teachers also set up their classrooms to connect on TEAMS classroom and ensure a continuity of learning.  As a school principal, part of the job description is knowing and supporting what is going on in classrooms.  More online meetings.

I believe in post COVID-19 days, we will become much more demanding about what we expect from online communication.  No camera on your computer.  It’s obsolete.  Get a new one.  Not enough bandwidth – get it!  Can’t facilitate interaction. Switch to a platform that can.  Use is not intuitive.  New platform required.  Not a good use of the precious time that exists – don’t have the meeting.  Send an email.   One of the best decisions of the Vancouver School Board has been to upgrade obsolete technology.  Yes, I feel a certain ruthlessness is in order to cull the online frustrations and the sheer quantity of online interactions.

We will also need to think ahead to the situations that online communication serves.  Specific information to focus attention on in the COVID-19 context can be effectively delivered using an online platform, especially when there is a recording where information can be reviewed.  However it would not be my first choice.  The presenter is not able to read the audience or keep up with reading the “chat” on the sidebar.  I feel like I’m talking into an abyss when I’m chairing these meetings.  A slide deck presentation or powerpoint meeting lends itself to disengagement.  On a platform that necessitates all participants to turn off microphones and videos to allow conductivity, disengagement is too easy.  Participants are logged in as attending and then free to clean the desk, answer the quick question of the visiting tradesperson, or deal with a multitude of other pressing issues.   If engagement is key, the online option is not ideal.  The time spent moving back and forth into another room for discussion does not feel like the best use of time.

Some things just don’t feel good online.  Book Club will never be replaced by the online option.  The fluid conversation that emerges in a person to person context can’t be mirrored online.  The spontaneity of the conversation is stifled by the unmuting and polite turn taking of the online conversation.  The over layering of response and affirmation is missing.  Perhaps this takes time.  I recently was part of a Kindergarten Show and Tell session.  The teacher has been amazed how the interaction between students has changed over time.  However my vote in the future will be for face to face social clubs.

Cocktail hour on-line with the girls may become a permanent fixture.  Online will never replace the getting dressed up, going to a great restaurant, ordering vastly overpriced wine or drinks with names, and just catching up.   That is an institution to be revered.  However the online purge allow for the exhale.  The “let me tell you all about the woes of my world”.  The sympathetic online hug.  The empathetic and affirmative sharing.  And the laughter.  The cathartic release can be shared over miles.  Fit into small spaces.  Allow you to avoid rush hour.  Make you feel supported.  It has a place.

Yoga studio closures have had a huge impact.  My Semperviva monthly fee was taken from the bank and within days, all four sites disappeared.  My coveted points evaporated never to be traded in for that bolster to replace the one I lost.  It has been the smaller studios who most easily pivoted.    I discovered my temporary Office Admin. Assistant, Alex, was amazing with her accounting AND a yoga instructor offering online yoga classes through the Ocean and Crow, a small studio on Commercial Drive.  A great online class.  Nikki even includes a Spotify playlist to enhance the experience.  Now if I nod off to sleep during Yin yoga at the end of the night, I am so much closer to my bed!  This has enduring possibilities.

Iconic Ron Zalko Gym, which has been a permanent fixture in Kits, closed its doors as per Health regulations.  Nothing.  My upstairs neighbour invited me to her ZOOM fitness classes.  Great high energy classes.  The only problem is it’s too easy to turn off the video and opt out of the hard parts.  I clearly need the public shaming of the group in order to keep going.  In Taiwan, the gyms have stayed open through out COVID-19.  My daughter has her temperature taken with the no touch thermometer on her way in and everyone wipes down equipment as they go along.  I would love to see this happen in Vancouver.  Fingers crossed that the owners are giving Ron Zalko a break on his rent so the gym can open up soon.   Clearly I need the motivation.

What will be most enduring will be the opening up of possibilities.  Illness.  Visiting sick relatives in far away lands.  Reporting to school sick.  All of these have been issues to surmount in the school system.  I learned as a neophyte teacher that it was way more work to prepare for a “Guest” (aka replacement) teacher, than to just go to work when I was sick.  In our society, it has also been framed as a badge of honour to do whatever it takes to get the job done in the face of adversity.  A zero policy for sickness in the workplace or classroom, will change how we do school.  Bottom line, if you are sick, you stay home.  Continuing to use of online platforms will help to address these issues.  Teachers will be able to ensure the continuity of learning in the classroom.  Students will be able to engage in learning when they are not physically present.

Marking the occasion or the event while not physically present will perhaps be the most significant shift.  Even without the COVID-19 pandemic, I would not have been able to personally attend my niece, Mallory’s, graduation in Veterinary Medicine at Oklahamo State University.  It is just after Spring Break and Staffing time in the school system in Vancouver, British Columbia.  But it is a big deal.  My sister sent me that invitation with the magic link.  I could sign on.  Wait with rapt attention for her name and pic to flash on the screen.  Have my moment.  Bond with Ian, my tech guy who happened to be on site to see my eyes well up with tears.  Grab the screen shot.  Feel like a very good auntie.  Feel included in the event.

As we move into the post – COVID-19 world, we will have an increased array of how we communicate and connect.  We will have higher expectations for online platforms and different perspectives when considering purposes and options for meetings, participation in school, and celebrations.  This opens up new possibilities for not only for work meetings, but also for graduations, weddings, christenings and other significant events.  What I do know for sure is that face to face adds a depth to human interactions that online communication will never parallel.  However we will have “next best” options in our toolkit.

 

 

 

Noticing Details

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What makes a person notice?  What makes one person look out the window in the morning and see rain and another person look out the window and notice the exceptionally red breast of the robin trying to pull the long, stretchy worm out of the ground?  Or the difference in the appearance of the cherry blossoms in spring as you travel east through Vancouver?  Or the difference between happy chirping and the sound of going to war to protect young from predators?  Why does the curiosity of the very young diminish as some people grow older but emerge as artistic creation or scientific discovery or unbridled joy in others?

Noticing comes easily to preschoolers.  A short walk can take hours because it is punctuated with countless numbers of studies of rocks, branches, bugs, and wonderings.  I have recently framed a study of birds to hone the observational skills of Kindergarten to Grade 7 students while they are doing “SchoolAtHome” during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Teaching kids to be observers in a face-to-face context is nothing less than joyful.  Discovery is exciting, whether you are making the discovery or watching the “eureka” moment in child.  Of course I speak with the perspective of a long time educator.  In the early years of school, all we need to do is take kids outside and give them time.  To look.  To listen. To smell. To touch.  To note changes over time.  Adding a few open-ended questions sends them deeper into their observational studies.  More focused attention from the obvious to minute detail evolves when you teach older children to use a ruler, a magnifying glass, a set of binoculars, a camera or an iPad with picture and video capacity and provide a format for observations.  Encouragement to make anecdotal notes with drawings of observations unleashes creativity.

When I was little girl, I lived close to Jericho Beach by a big vacant lot.  I called it “The Baking Lot”.  It made sense because all of the neighbourhood kids went to make mud pies and squish in the mud.  We rescued our rubber boots when they were sucked off our feet.   We caught tadpoles, frogs, butterflies and bugs.  We braved stings to capture bees and wasps in glass bottles so we could study them close up. We ventured further afield to the beach and created habitats for our collected crabs to live in.  We built castles that were gobbled by insatiable waves.  Our curiosity was never satisfied and our attention to detail was ever present.

When all of the older kids went off to school, Gordon, John and I were left behind to continue our explorations under the supervision of their mother.  This opened up another world of discovery to me.  The world of “boy” toys.  Growing up in the 60’s with an older sister limited my world to dolls, and fancy dresses.  Now I was able to explore the world of Hot Wheels and pedal cars.  Outdoor observations were assisted with Tonka Trucks as we excavated the land for new bug habitats in the backyard.  We got very dirty and it was all very acceptable and even encouraged.

John and I both emerged into adulthood, still curious and still friends with the unconditional acceptance of tight knit families.  In fact for many years, my kids thought we were related.  John’s curiosity took him into a fascination with antiquity, a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Classical Studies and a Diploma in Fine Arts.  My curiosity pushed me to try new things like snow skiing, water skiing, snowboarding, canoeing, hiking, biking, travel, meeting new people and developing interesting relationships.   I emerged with a Bachelor of Education Degree, a Master of Arts Degree in Education with continued diplomas and credentials in language, Special Education, leadership and management.

Both John and I continue to be friends.  Our differences are more readily apparent than our similarities.  He fits the typical mold of an introvert.  I fit the typical mold of an extrovert.  Both of us are voracious readers and lovers of language.  We are definitely mourning the loss of Bard on the Beach this season due to the COVID-19 restriction on large gatherings.  John’s thinking is clarified through listening, reading, art and the lens of a camera.  His understanding of the world is most often communicated in cartoons, paintings and photographs.  My thoughts are formed through listening, reading, writing, talking (to myself, to a series of family dogs, to kids, to adults) and through writing.  My thinking is expressed through language.   Yet our biggest similarity is that both of us continue to  notice.  There is no doubt that asking questions has led both of us down paths to find the answers that matter to us.  It has been important to our learning but it has also been important to how we experience joy in our lives.  Noticing details changes how we experience the world.

Our paths have recently converged once again.  His fancy new camera has focused his attention on capturing the solar system, birds, flowers, the ocean – everything nature.  His mode of communicating his learning – posting the images on Facebook with the name of each bird and observations.  I have channeled his learning into the challenge of teaching observational skills to students online, entice kids to go outside daily for physically distanced activity, and help them to experience joy and gratitude during this tumultuous time.  He has indulged me with setting up a Twitter account @JStCPatrick to tweet out his posts on birds so I can retweet them @LivingstoneVSB and Wild About Vancouver @WildAboutVan.  I hope the sounds, scenes and details about our local birds will pique the interest of my students at Livingstone Elementary.  And of course, I am thinking this may be a future book that John and I co-author.

We all have opportunities to take a closer look.  When we pause to do it, often that is when the discoveries and experiences that mattered most in our lives happen.  It requires a concerted effort to invest the time and create the space to notice the details.  It guarantees learning, joy in the experience and a sense of gratitude for all that is amazing.  For John and I, it has made all the difference.

 

 

 

Maintaining Principal Communication with Kids During “School At Home”

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 A smile.  “Good morning” at the door or the school.  “Hi” in the hallway.  Chatting on the playground.  Working together in the school garden.  Navigating through conflict.  Teaching calm down strategies, conflict resolution skills, and perhaps kindness. Supporting budding leaders in their ventures.  Visiting classrooms to talk with students about their learning.  These are some of the ways that principals and vice-principals develop relationships and communicate with students.  It may serve as an invitation to other conversations.  It may establish a welcoming tone in the school. So what do principals do when a global pandemic keeps all of the students at home?

At this time of COVID-19 more than ever, we want to re-assure students of the constants in their lives.  They still belong to a school community that cares about them.  We have a number of strategies to keep ourselves safe and healthy.  Teachers are doing a great job of reaching out to re-establish strong classroom connections and provide learning opportunities at home.  Teachers are communicating via email, phone, text, and online.  On line platform such as Teams Classroom, My BluePrint, and Showbie are allowing students to access lessons, assignments, and opportunities at my school.  Support materials are being provided to support students.

My quest as a school principal is to find ways to make students feel part of their larger school community.  Can it be done?  I’m a confirmed optimist, so I believe it can.  The “Together We’re Better” has become a tagline.  However, the tagline emerges from an essential truth.  At difficult times, we need to come together to support one another.  For some students, it may be one part of a well-developed support network.  For other students, it will be a lifeline.  I want every child to have at least one adult who they are comfortable to reach out too.  I am trying some things that I hope will make a difference.

  1. Video-tweeting a message everyday while students are not able to come to school to learn.   Our school Twitter feed @LivingstoneVSB is a link on the school website so it can easily be accessed by students without a Twitter account.
  2. Sending weekly newsletters to students when I send home the newsletter to parents / guardians.  This week I shared a recipe from my maternal grand-mother and the story that makes it special.  See sample below.

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    Nanny Keenan as a girl in Brandon, Manitoba
  3. Sharing some activities and opportunities that can be adapted from Kindergarten to Grade 7 on the Livingstone school website.  I am hoping it will provide some areas of common experience, much like when we have a school assembly or program.
  4. Providing links and opportunities for online activities and resources from our community partners. The entire school participated in the Project Chef In-Residence Program this year.  It was a highly enjoyable learning experience that left Chef Barb and her talented foodie crew, near and dear to our hearts.  Yoga Buggy provided a program through a partnership agreement with our Tupper Community School Team to introduce students to yoga and support our goal of developing greater mindfulness.  Yoga Buggy then provided a program for our Grade 1,2, and 3 classrooms.  I am hoping that the familiarity and the background knowledge developed in programs like these will allow students to try the learning opportunities on these links at home.

I’m making the commitment to take risks and try some new things outside of my comfort zone.  This is exactly what we asking teachers, students and parents to do.  I have a few ideas in mind, but I’m hoping this blog will bring me some new ideas to try.  Two things I love about blogging:  It helps me to clarify my thinking about what matters most and it always precipitates conversation.  I’m always open to the conversations that push my thinking and provide other possibilities.   I hope to hear from you.

Stay safe.  Be gentle with yourself. 

 Addendum:  Most recent letter to students:

Friday, April 17, 2020

Dear Livingstone Students,

Week 3 of #SchoolAtHome or #HomeAtSchool – depending on your perspective.  The sunshine has been glorious this week.  We have almost broken the record for the most sunny days in April in over 100 years!  Great for our ability to get outside and enjoy some activity outside.  For many of us, it is one of our “Dozen Ways to Feel #Joy” during this tumultuous time of COVID-19!

Students have been learning with teachers, parents and siblings in some interesting new ways.   Many of you have shared that you have been enjoying baking.  Me, too.  #Joy I’m going to share my Nanny Keenan’s recipe for Oatcakes.  Nanny was my Mom’s mother.  She was born in Brandon, Manitoba but her Mom, my great-grandmother, was born in Scotland.  Oatcakes are a very Scottish treat.  I spent lots of time with my Nanny Keenan.  As soon as I’d walk in the door with my Mom or my aunts, she’d get us to put on the kettle for a “cuppa” tea.  Oatcakes are perfect for a tea party.

Nanny Keenan’s Oatcakes

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Ingredients:

1 cup flour

2 cups quick oats

½ cup sugar

¾ cup shortening

Salt

¼ cup shortening with ½ teaspoon baking soda

Optional – a handful of brown sugar and a bit of cinnamon   ( I tried this variation after I had some amazing oatcakes on a biking trip on Prince Edward Island.)

Directions:

  1. Mix all the ingredients together.
  2. Sprinkle flour on a cutting board, then roll out the dough with a rolling pin dusted with flour. You can decide if you want them thinner or thicker.
  3. My Nanny Keenan cut the pieces in triangles so she would use all of the dough the first time. Sometimes I roll out the dough and use a cup to cut circles.  I think they look fancier.  Then you have to roll out the dough a second time to use the remaining dough.  Nanny Keenan hated waste so she ALWAYS cut triangles.
  4. Bake from 8-12 minutes until golden brown.

Go to the School Website to see today’s video-tweet @LIvingstoneVSB of Miranda and what she’s been baking. Yum.  Enjoy.

I would love to have stories, pictures of your work, and any thoughts about what would be fun learning activities for your peers.  Let me know if you are okay with me posting your work on the school Twitter feed @LivingstoneVSB and the school website.  I would love to hear from you.  I miss you.

From,

 

Ms. Froese