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.

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”.

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. 

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

Restorative Justice Practices in Schools

Restorative justice practices were established by Indigenous communities thousands of years ago. The community sat in a circle. Each person had a chance to speak. Every other person was expected to actively listen. Then the problem was tackled by the community. The expectation was that a solution would be achieved. Sometimes the result led to healing and moving forward. Other times the collective good was served but an individual was harshly punished.

Our take-away in Western society was not surprising.  In a society that recognizes speed as a sign of intelligence, the most expeditious path was to skip the talk.  Look at the rules.  Apply the punishment.  Expedite.  This is how the prison system became firmly entrenched and the strap made it’s way into school practices until the early 1970’s .  The circle became a line.  The power of the process was lost.  Fear of punishment trumped understanding or learning from mistakes.

My friend, Latash, introduced me to a healing circle during an Indigenous Youth Exchange Program with middle school students in Coquitlam and Ottawa.  During part of the trip to Ottawa, rules were broken.  Safety was compromised.  I was the teacher in charge and ultimately responsible to the school district for navigating through the process.  Latash was the Indigenous support worker helping me to use Indigenous practices to facilitate the learning through an Indigenous lens.  We sat in a circle with all of the students and people facilitating the Ottawa side of the trip.  For me it was painful.  It was SO slow.  And yet, in the long game, it defined how I approach discipline with my kids and my students. 

Meaningful learning always takes place over time.  It is slow.  It is not sped up by fear of reprisal.  As a kid, I learned fear of an authority figure results in resentment.  As I parent, I learned early on that punishment frequently results in anger rather than reflection.  Energy was circumvented away from learning.   Learning is the focus of parents.  It is the mandate in the education system.  Our purpose in intervening with children’s behaviour is teaching them to understand that their actions have consequences.  It may be a safety risk.  It may be to help them adopt another perspective so they can empathize with the person or people they have hurt, either physically or emotionally.  All of the problems in history have emerged when people allow there wants to take first priority and they fail to see the humanity in other people.  The process of learning is a circle not a line. 

Restorative practices necessitate that families and schools work together.  Parents are not informed after the fact but part of the process in moving forward.  They are part of the process of teaching their child the difference between right and wrong, fair and unfair, kind and unkind.  It provides support for the student making the error in judgement to consider their motivation and decide who it is they want to be in the world and how they are going to get there. 

Restorative practices also provide a voice to the recipient of the problematic behaviour.  It is also their opportunity to decide who they want to be in the world and plot a path forward.  The opportunity to stand up straight, shoulders back, make eye contact and express their feelings and expectations.  When I was teaching Grade 5/6 one day, the class was noisy, and I was clearly looking exasperated.  James looked over at me and said,

“Want me to do it?”

My response,

“Go for it!”

“Excuse me… Do I look amused?” stated James emphatically, leaning back slightly, right toe forward, back foot at a right angle.

The class went silent.  From then on, students would beg to be chosen to work their magic.  For me, I watched as students replicated me exactly and achieved the intended result.  It became part of how I instructed students to express their truth.  Stand up straight.  Shoulders back.  Unafraid.  Unintimidated.  Lessons from my father, Dr. Peter Dyck, who was afraid of no one and listened to by all.  Opportunity is created within the healing circle for your voice to be heard.  How to project that voice so it is learned.

In any school that I have work in, the success of restorative practices has hinged on parents and school staff working together with the children involved.  Everyone must buy into the process.  Everyone must be focussed on learning rather than retribution.  This includes the police liaison officer at the school.  The voice of our police liaison officer has been instrumental in providing the instruction required in order to avoid the life altering impact of entering the criminal justice system.  The support of the counsellor has provided an avenue for the process of healing to continue.  Parents have provided the safety for their child to voice their feelings and move beyond poor choices.

Poor decisions are part of being human.  Learning from poor decisions is not guaranteed unless a process is designed.  Restorative justice practices from Indigenous cultures provide an avenue that incorporates reflection on past behaviour and learning.  The healing circle in Ottawa did not leave me as a popular entity on the trip.  However, everyone left the circle understanding the reasons for my decisions and the paramount concern and responsibility for student safety.  The process gave me a voice and provided a structure for students to take responsibility for their choices.  In schools, my goal is for student to reflect on their behaviour and navigate a path forward.  The best case scenario is to support  students making poor choices to make better choices in the future.  It is also to allow the recipient of poor choices to stand tall and say I deserve better and believe it.

Saving Bonnie Henry

One only has to tap into social media to witness the vilification of Bonnie Henry.  Once hailed as the heroic public health officer of British Columbia helping to flatten the curve in a world gone crazy.   Now the bullseye on the target for all that is wrong in the world.  The conduit of a year’s worth of anger and frustration with a global pandemic leads to her.   The go to place of humanity, find someone to blame. 

I do not like all of Bonnie Henry’s decisions. I look to Taiwan. All businesses are open. People are travelling and working in the country. They are having fun. The last case of COVID was a month ago. It is a society where people respond to clear direction and seem to agree with harsh punitive measures for individuals who don’t follow the rules. We champion human rights and trade unions and individual rights in British Columbia. All good measures of a healthy democratic society. But in the midst of a global pandemic, a belief in collective rights have allowed other countries to make decisions that do not appear to be possible in our society.

If all people went to Whistler and followed the protocols for skiing / snowboarding during COVID, then went home, the mountain would still be open.  If all restaurants showed the same kind of rigour in COVID practices as Rocky Mountain Flatbread in Kits, all restaurants could remain open for indoor dining.  If all businesses were as vigilant about limiting the number of customers at one time as Windsor Meats, we wouldn’t be worried about allowing shopping.  The reality is that not all people are following the designated COVID safety precautions with the same attention to the guidelines.

We have people in leadership positions needing to make difficult decisions.  Bonnie Henry is a bright, articulate woman who could find other ways to achieve fame and fortune if that was her modus operandi.  Squeezing her with vice grips does not allow her to serve us better.  Putting energy into consistently following COVID safety policy in this case allows for the collective rights of British Columbians to be served.  If this is not the case, she is put in the position of needing to make unpopular decisions that limit our range of activities.  Her goal is to limit the spread of COVID-19 and its variants for our safety as British Columbians. There are many variables such as travel from other provinces, compliance enforcement, and politics that are not under her control.

I do not envy Dr. Bonnie Henry for serving British Columbians in this leadership capacity.  Leadership in any capacity during COVID is extremely stressful and challenging.  I am grateful for her leadership. I hope she is feeling supported. I also hope she has some effective stress management practices in place. I suspect it is her only saving grace at this time.

Discovering Nora Hendrix

No rain in the forecast yesterday and an itch to do something different. The lack of variety in my COVID life is stifling. My husband and I checked out Dave Doroghy and Graeme Menzies ‘s book 111 PLACES IN VANCOUVER THAT YOU MUST NOT MISS for options. Our choice was focused by the fact that Black History Month is coming to an end. I love holidays, commemorative days, and times like this that focus our attention on learning something new. With the destination spot chosen, Nora Hendrix’s house at 827 East Georgia, we jumped on our bikes and headed east.

Mural by Ejiwa “Edge” Ebenebe

The mural at Nora Hendrix Place at 258 Union Street is on the bike route by the Dunsmuir viaduct and first catches my eye.  It is now temporary modular housing that is wheelchair accessible.  It opened in 2019, in partnership with Hogan’s Alley Society to meet the needs of Black and Indigenous Communities.  As a black community organizer, Nora Hendrix, helped establish the Fountain Chapel located at Jackson Avenue and Prior Street.  It was a branch of the African Methodist Episcopal church and an important cultural resource, a centre for gospel music, and gathering space for the Hogan’s Alley black community.  In the words of artist, Ejiwa “Edge” Ebenebe:  “Motifs of music and laughter emerge throughout the stories and memories I have encountered…” 

The was actually no person named Hogan that the community was named after.  Hogan’s Alley was the name of a comic strip about an Irish ghetto in Hell’s Kitchen, New York.  The idiomatic reference was used to describe this poor neighbourhood of Italian and black people on the edge of Chinatown in Vancouver.  A few factors brought the black population to Vancouver.  Two immigrant streams, one from Oklahoma via Alberta and one from California came to escape growing racism in the United States.   Vancouver was also the end of the line for two major train companies.  Trains traditionally provided work for black people as railway porters in the United States and this tradition was continued in Canada.  It was a good position with a uniform, travel and decent pay.  Vancouver was also a major city for entertainment.  Many performers such as Louis Armstrong, Sammy Davis Junior, Duke Ellington, Lena Horne, Mitzi Gaynor to The Cave, The Palomar, Izzy’s, Granville Street and after hours to restaurants and speak-easies.  Mami’s Chicken was one of first places to provide southern comfort food and a place where everyone was welcomed.  The tradition grew as did the speak-easy’s skirting the 1917-1920 prohibition in B.C.  Vie’s Chicken and Steak House opened in 1948 with Randy Clark’s grandfather as the greeter and his grandmother, Vie doing the work.  This is where Nora Hendrix worked as a cook and allowed Jimi access to many significant performers on his regular visits to Vancouver up until 1952.

Nora Hendrix was born in Tennessee and part of a travelling vaudeville act.  When the Seattle troupe went broke, she and her husband Ross headed to Vancouver in 1911.  They raised their three boys in Vancouver in Hogan’s Alley.  Nora lived until 100 years of age and was known to be in the crowd when Jimi Hendrix performed in the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver in 1958. 

Nora Hendrix’s House

The advent of the car culture brought with it a push for people to live in the suburbs and work in the city.  Arthur Julius Burr, a building inspector of the day reference the dilapidation and social ills of the areas as a “blight that spreads like mould across the city.”  This resulted in the clear cutting of Hogan’s Alley.  Only objections from the entire city prevented the proposed 12 lane highway being built through the city.  However, the building of the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts in 1972 obliterated the western end of Hogan’s Alley and marked the first and last black neighbourhood.  Much of the population dispersed through-out the rest of the city.

Hendrix Family home 1938-1952

The Nora Hendris’s house is well taken care of and is marked with a granite Heritage House marker with historical information.  It has obviously been renovated with a suite downstairs.  While we are checking it out, three young boys migrate towards the suite.  We wonder, if they know the significance of living in this house.  An important part of the history of the city that only recently been pulled back from remote memory back into a place of pride in our collective civic consciousness.  I’m transported back to a Whistler ski trip with my friend Karen Monteith where her older sister blasted Jimi Hendrix for the whole trip.  And this was where it all started. 

Doroghy, D. and Menzies, G. 111 PLACES IN VANCOUVER THAT YOU MUST NOT MISS @EMONS

“Secret Vancouver Return to Hogan’s Alley” – YouTube

(with Randy Clark, Vie Moore’s grandson and the Crump Twins – discovered by Duke Ellington on Granville street and credited with teaching Sammy Davis Jr., to dance)