Good-bye to the 2020-2021 School Year

What a year!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

School Leaders Who Blog

School Leaders Who Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Moral Imperative

Contemplation

The notion of a moral imperative to guide action is not a new concept. For German philosopher, Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804), human understanding of pure reason was the basis for a moral code defining subsequent action. Long before that, holy books from world religions were proposing a course of action focussed on the moral integrity of leaders who sacrificed for the betterment of others. Yet, the story of those consumed by greed and the quest for power is equally pervasive. John Dashwood’s promise to his dying father to take care of his stepmother and half-sisters, in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (1811) is quickly replaced by greed acceptable according to English law of the time. Mr. Potter in the Frank Capra movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life” released in 1946, demonstrates a more intense avarice and quest for power. Charles Dickens sent us all clear message on who we should be in his 1843 publication of A Christmas Carol. Theodore “Dr. Seuss, Giesel gave us a reminder in the 1957 publication of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Ron Howard and Jim Carrey hammered the message home in the film version released in 2000. We know better but we’re not doing better.

Over the past week, we have watched in awe as political leaders have demonstrated a popular culture apparently bereft of morals and ethics. We sat riveted to the news and witnessed example after example of people spouting the rhetoric of a moral purpose who in fact were clinging to the relics of power and privilege. It brought me right back to the 1989 when I was riveted to the television watching Chinese tanks driving over pro-democracy students in Tiananmen Square. Every social justice bone in my body believed that we were at a turning point. The Amnesty International quest to shine a light and expose injustice was playing out. We, as a collective society, would no longer be able to turn away and feign unawareness. Now people would be ready to start the work of creating a just society with a foundation of respect for human rights. I realized this was not the case when China did not even lose most favoured trading status with the United States. We are at another important point in our history. We are witnessing people ignoring COVID-19 rules designed to stop the spread of a global pandemic, perpetuating privilege, undermining the democratic process, ignoring legal obligations and fair process, and turning away from promises to family and friends. Are we looking at the fall of an empire, a failed experiment in democracy, or the possibility of reaching out to grasp the moral imperative required to create a socially just world?

I was privileged to be teaching in a Grade 6 classroom the day after U.S Congress was stormed and desecrated.  For the first hour of the day, the questions and perceptions of 11-year-old students directed the learning.  These kids wanted to talk about politics, democracy, communism, racism, anti-racism, slavery, the Civil War in the United States, Hitler’s legacy of neo-Nazis, Black Lives Matter, environmental practices, the oil and gas industry, the differences between the perception of guns in Canada and the United States, and the impact of Trump’s words.  Lots of big ideas.  When an idea began to resonate, a hand shot into the air or tentatively went up.  These kids represented what we need on a global scale.  A willingness to think.  A willingness to consider possibilities.  A willingness to think in terms of fairness and social justice.  For the kids in this room, there was no question that logical consequences are in order for poor choices.

A moral code has already been defined. Ethical requirements are articulated. Social justice has been defined and written down. The issue is how we as individuals live our lives that acknowledges a moral imperative. Individuals in leadership positions should be held to a higher standard. Trump has provided the most recent example of the power of words by a person in a leadership position to disenfranchise, to disrespect, to undermine, and to invoke violence and lawlessness of those with power, privilege and entitlement. However, it is not just people in leadership positions who are required to hold themselves to account.

As individuals, we need be hold ourselves to account for our behaviour and how we live or disregard our own moral code. I used to equate Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs with the development of morals and ethics. My assumption was that self-actualization required moral and ethical development. It required attention only after basic requirements for food, safety, love and belonging, and esteem were in place. Now I think that the metaphor of weaving better describes our moral and ethical development. The warp threads are the foundational components of who we are, and the weft threads are the experiences. It is a particularly apt metaphor for me because I use to love to weave. I just wasn’t that good at it. I would pull the weft thread tighter and tighter. The result was a piece of weaving that got narrower and narrower until someone intervened to help me loosen the threads and allow the warp threads to assume their parallel structure. The quality of the fabric was a reflection of those stationary threads and the constantly moving thread. There are many examples of people who begin their lives with a strong sense of integrity that is eroded over time.

For those of you who spend a lot of time with children, you will have noticed the quest for fairness and logical consequences for poor choices. As a principal who spends a lot of time outside on the playground with kids, there is little reticence of even the youngest students to let me know who is not playing fair, who I need to talk to, who I need time-out, or whose parents I need to phone. In conversations with students about poor choices they have made, invariably the harshest consequences come from the students. The question “How do you think that made … feel?” frequently prompts tears. Empathy is alive and well on our elementary playgrounds. As is a willingness to accept responsibility for choices.

The ability to empathize seems to dissolve into the atmosphere along with curiosity as students move through the system.  For some of us, we may be our own best whipping posts, or have reflective practices built into our lives that keep us honest.  For others, there is a quest to step away from assuming responsibility for our own poor choices.  This seems to be most common when a polarized stance is adopted.  Us and them.  An unwillingness or inability to consider another stance or position or feelings. 

To keep ourselves open to learning, we need to value pluralism and the importance of diverse voices and perspectives. It is possible to have a strong identity with commonalities and still maintain different culture or values or beliefs. As a Canadian, I am lucky to live with people from many different places, spaces, and experiences. However, that privilege brings with it a responsibility to listen and learn from the experiences of other Canadians and question a system where some voices are amplified, and others are silenced. My study of history, political science, and my father taught me to articulate my ideas loud and proud. Time, my friends and family taught me that some of my earlier conclusions and strongly articulated ideas were just wrong. It happens. Ideas change if minds are open. If you are ever wondering if you are straying from your moral compass and acting with integrity, and don’t have someone who will tell you, find a kid in elementary school. They will have no difficulty putting you back on track. If we expect moral integrity from others, we need to live it ourselves.

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 🙂

Why Blog?

Although I have not always thought of myself as a writer, I have always been one.  I have Holly Hobby diaries recording the events of my life – who I liked, where I had ridden my bike, what Nanny Keenan had cooked for Sunday dinner, what my older sister and cousin said, and who had made me mad.  My Hobbit journal details all of the food I ate, provides detailed descriptions of places, people and events as I traveled through Europe after graduating from high school.  There are many diaries and variations through-out  the years. I wrote letters to my best friends about my siblings, the chores I had to do, and how sick of watching Days of Our Lives EVERYDAY with my step-mother during bright and sunny California days.  I detailed my life for my Mom when I was away and wrote of my aspirations.

 

I understood the power of the written word at an early age.  I have letters and cards with words of love and affirmation.  My father used to write me letters from the hotel he was staying at when he was presenting at Neurosurgery conferences.  I would formulate future travel plans based on the postcards I liked best.  I have letters dripping with anger and mean-spirited intent – the dark underbelly of the acrimonious divorce of my parents.

 

As I got older, writing became a vehicle to explore my feelings and my thoughts.  In many cases, it became a coping strategy.  In the midst of family conflict, I would go sit on Ventura Beach or in The Sierras and write until long after the sun had disappeared.  I would also sit at a log on Jericho Beach or Spanish Banks and detail the gloriousness of life.  It continued to be a mechanism to facilitate coping as a wife, a mother, and a daughter watching the denouement of my parents lives.

 

An opportunity to teach practising Chinese teachers at The Fuyang Bureau of Education came up right after my Mom died.  I gave my family a gift and went off to China to document life.  I had no interest in exploring my very raw emotion.  I started my first travel blog.  I got two pieces of feedback immediately.  One came from my step-mother noting how embarrassed I must be having spelt the word “massage” wrong – an “e” rather “a” and I learned about the downside of autocorrect. The other feedback came from my good friend, Jan Wells.  She commented that she loved reading about my adventures in China, and she loved my style and skill at writing.  In fact, she kept it on her desk top and read it with the newspaper every morning.

 

As with children, a little encouragement goes a long way.  I became a diehard blogger.  Travel blogs.  Food blogs.  Blog posts instead of newsletters for parents in my schools.  And then I roomed with Rosa Fazio @Collabtime at the Vancouver Elementary Principal / Vice Principal Association Conference co-sponsored with the VSB.  Rosa introduced me to the Twittersphere.  This was my advent into connecting with like-minded professionals online.  The retweet grew into participation in TwitterChats and then developing online relationships.  Then reading articles from the people I connected with online, replaced subscriptions to professional journals.  Recommendations for professional books to read came from my online professional learning committee.  Like-minded educators in the Lower Mainland would come together at Edvents and other face to face meetings of the mind.  The desire to chew on the ideas, formulate an understanding and engage others in the conversation emerged.  I wanted a Book Club online.  This was my advent in to the professional blog.  It precipitated a different type of writing that incorporated aspects of writing for my thesis and other university course along with all of the other writing I had been doing over the course of my life .

 

Writing a professional blog may have similarities with Book Club, but there are no like-minded friends to finish the sentence for you.  You have to write down your ideas with enough context for the reader to understand your thought processes.  It requires a grasp of your topic and that you’ve had enough reflection time to fully formulate your ideas.   You need to develop the skills to consider who your audience is, and strategies of how to engage them.   Blogging also forces you to rely less on spell-check and to develop your editorial skills.  Or just come to terms with being less than perfect!

 

Many of my colleagues tell me they don’t have time to blog.  To quote Adrienne Maree Brown: “There’s always time for the right work.” Certainly not all people are writers or readers or talkers.  I am all three so for me it is the right work. Blogging allows me to reflect of what I reading, living, thinking and talking about.  It pushes the card on considering things from a different angle.  Best case scenario, someone responds with a comment, a question, or a conversation.  We all do what works for us!  Blogging makes me better.

Who are “Breakaway Learners”?

Sometimes, happenstance or serendipity, or whatever you want to call it, just happens.

Subject line in my overly full email inbox reads:  A seemingly out of the blue email from a children’ book author based in US and living at UBC
The text:   Long story short, I am a visiting scholar at UBC through March 5th and passed your school many times.  I write children’s books — which I have read to thousands of children of all ages and stages (ideal range is 2nd — 5th grades)… Seeing and being in schools and working with children of all ages and stages is what I do — and having been a university president and senior advisor to the US Department of Education, I am ever of the view that the most important education is that which occurs early…  And, for the record, I attach a photo of myself and a short bio so you can see I am legit.  

My Response:   Is there a cost attached to this great offer?

The beginning of another beautiful relationship that started online!  Karen Gross did come to University Hill Elementary School to share her stories with our students.  She captivated both teachers and students alike.  She was aware of our outdoor school and environmental focus and arrived with her newest children’s book, Lady Lucy’s Dragon Quest, a story about droughts and saving land and crops with a strong female protagonist with a collaborative approach to problem solving.  Our Korean students were thrilled that Korean students were the illustrators, who are now in college and who continue to illustrate.
2.  plasticity references the permanent change that occurs in the institution itself in response to required changes
3.  pivoting right references supporting students in their ability to make short and long term decisions that will bring abut the most favourable outcome
4.  reciprocity  that extends beyond student willingness to share ideas and commit to agreements with staff listening and responding, to institutions being responsive to the ideas and needs of their changing populations
5.  belief in self by teachers and institutions stepping away from a deficit model of education to one that builds on strengths

PechaKucha Meets Ignite Meets Edvent

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PechaKucha, Ignite and Edvent presentations have various rules to govern the format. They have one basic elements in common, to engage the audience and communicate a message within a fast paced presentation.

PechaKucha Nights (PKNs) are a Japanese innovation to allow presentations from multiple presenters throughout the night.  20 slides are shown for 20 seconds each (6 minutes and 40 seconds in total) hence the name “PechaKucha” or “chitchat”.  How To Make a Petcha Kutcha is a YouTube “meta-kutcha” created by Marcus Weaver Hightower from The University of North Dakota.  He goes through all of the essential elements to consider, including slide show suggestions in the preparation.   Rosa Fazio @collabtime used Spark Video for her Ignite at The British Columbia Principals’ Vice Principals’ Association Friday Forum which was very powerful.

Ignite sessions are similar.  20 slides are advanced at intervals of 15 seconds for a total 5 minute presentations.  The 1st Ignite took place in Seattle in 2006 and the presentation format has spread exponentially to cities all over the world to multiple disciplines.

EDvents are less formal in form for educators coming together to “chitchat” about educational issues.  The inspirational quality of the 5 minute is presentation is at a premium to stimulate educational discourse between speakers at the event.  There could be one slide,  There could be props.  There could be an adherence to pechakucha or ignite format.  There could be a theme.  I presented on a “Menu for Meaningful Learning” in keeping with the food theme at EDvent 2017 in Burnaby, British Columbia.

The challenge of all of these formats is to remove all of the extraneous detail, to make the message succinct and content engaging.  My first “EDvent” was extremely stressful.  My ability to ad lib by reading the audience was stripped away by the need to follow a well-practiced script to ensure my presentation was coordinated with the timed slides.  It was different from any other presentation I had done, albeit not quite as stressful as my 9th Grade oral report on the tomato plant.  Fortunately I was surrounded by like-minded educators who were proud of me for being brave enough to take the risk.

I have been asked to do another ignite and I’m starting to think about how to improve on my last performance.  I’ve gone to two respected colleagues who have taken the “edvent” to an art form.  Gillian Judson @perfinker responded that a good ignite session “comes from a position of engagement and connects with the heart of the listener.”  Rosa Fazio @collabtime also shared similar wisdom:  “When I write an ignite, my goal is to make a connection between the head and the heart.”   There you have it!  The aspiration to connect and inspire the listener is what dictates the power of the presentation.

On April 17th, I will be attending another Edvent 2018 #tunEDin organized by Gabriel Pillay @GabrielPillay1 with the effervescent enthusiasm of his sister, Rose Pillay @RosePillay1 aka CandyBarQueen.   I am looking forward to connecting with other colleagues in Education, being inspired by the signature EDvent format and to glean helpful hints for my next ignite session.  I hope to see you there.

 

 

The Best Version of Ourselves

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This year I have read a plethora of reasons NOT to participate in the tradition of New Year’s resolutions:  “If you can’t love yourself at 185 lbs., you can’t love yourself at 150 lbs.”  “Embrace who you are.”  “Be gentle with yourself.”  I am a believer in self care and proactive, positive change but these loud and prolific proclamations evoke the images of Mr. Scrooge and his “Humbug” response to considering the notion of goodwill toward all people during the Christmas season.

Part of family tradition with my mother included annual New Year’s Resolutions.  The pens and erasers and note paper from stockings were put to good use.  My mother, my older sister and later my sister-cousin, would compile lists of things that we were going to do in the following year.  It was a time of dreaming big and thinking through all of the possibilities.  I did learn to ski, snowboard, water ski, drive, finish a 10 km run, do a mini-triathalon, finish my MA, take the kids to the park rather than clean the house, entertain, travel and rotate between personal and professional reads.

Yes, I have also been a chronic breaker of New Year’s resolutions.  My eating habits slip and so does my exercise regime.  My love affair with diet coke re-ignites.  I don’t sleep enough and work too late.  I don’t invest enough time into human rights work.  I don’t do all of the wild and wonderful things I had planned for the new year.  But the possibility remains that I will and if I do, I will be proud of my accomplishment.

I still heartily believe that I can be a better version of myself. And so I am in the process of making both personal and professional goals for the upcoming year.  This will be the year I unfriend diet coke, eat less junk, take more stairs, stretch before I exercise, get enough sleep and maximize engagement in relationships and in online possibilities.  And yes, I believe I can do it.  At least some of it.  Hope still burns!  And in my wake of enthusiasm, I will encourage my relatives, friends, colleagues and students to join me in the pursuit of being the very best version of ourselves.  Good luck with your New Year’s resolve and accomplishments big or small along the way! Continue reading “The Best Version of Ourselves”

Why Do I Lead?

imageIt is a hectic time of year but pretty much every month in the school year is shrouded in busyness.  Getting back to school, meeting reporting deadlines, getting ready of special assemblies, celebrations and project presentations with the overarching goal of meeting the social, emotional and academic needs of our students.  In administration, you add yet another layer to the busyness.   During our recent career day sponsored by the Spirit Committee, one of the students chose “Vice Principal” as their dream job.  Of course, it begged the question.  Why?  The response was true enough: I smile a lot and laugh at my own jokes.  I spend most of the days just talking to kids and teachers and parents and people who fix stuff in the school.  I get to play everyday.  I have a whistle and lots of keys.  I get to do fun things like building the playground and garden boxes. I make rules and get to talk on the PA. What more could you want in a dream job?

I recently became part of the School Administrators Virtual Mentor Program (#SAVMP).  George Couros suggested the blog topic:  Why Do I Lead?  It has pushed me to reflect on the various types of leadership that I have experienced as a student, a teacher, a parent and an administrator.  My first memory of  leadership was in Grade 7 at David Lloyd George Elementary School in Vancouver, British Columbia.  I was running to be team captain.   I was nervous beyond belief to be up on the stage giving a speech and facing the possibility of a humiliating defeat.  My eyes flickered up from my shaking cue cards to see the front rows of primary students cheering.  Those little people believed I could be their leader.    Getting elected was thrilling but the biggest takeaway for me as a kid was that big people and little people believed my ideas mattered and wanted to talk about them with me.  My takeaway as an adult is that I want everyone in our school communities to have that experience.

Subsequent activities that I have chosen, or been co-oped to lead, have been things I have been heavily invested in, such as social justice, my children, my students and professional development.  Leaderships skills were not a precursor to assuming the leadership roles for me but were more of a by-product of the experiences themselves. Every leadership role has been a risk taking venture.  The learning has come with the grand successes or the abysmal failures or the things to consider for a later date.  Each leadership opportunity has connected me with people who pushed my thinking, made me laugh, tried my patience and allowed me to see things from a different perspective.  Each opportunity helped me to grow personally and professionally.

There are many opportunities for leadership when you work in a school.  Throughout my career, I assumed a variety of leadership roles in sports, BC teacher Federation PSA, LSA’s, professional associations and committees while teaching at the elementary school, middle school and university level.  When I was seconded to Simon Fraser University as a faculty associate, my realm of leadership possibilities broadened.  In the Faculty Associate role, I worked in several school districts with student teachers in a Kindergarten to Grade 12 module.  It provided the opportunity to engage in conversations with many administrators about their role and experience many school cultures.  The multifaceted challenges in the role of the administrator in developing a learning community was intriguing.

I have been fortunate to work with a number of strong school administrators who challenged the status quo and supported teachers with innovative teaching practices. What they all had in common was the willingness to support and trust the initiatives proposed by staff members.   We are fortunate in British Columbia to have a strong public school system.  We are also in a time of unprecedented change that requires that educators have the confidence and support structures in place to cope with the advances in technology and shifts in parenting, society and curricular expectations.  School administrators play an integral role in creating and envisioning an environment that supports the intellectual, human, and social and career development of all students.    This requires their personal investment identifying the possibilities open to us as educators.   It is inspiring to work in community to develop the background knowledge and skills required to provide the scaffolding for school communities to meet with success in the challenges of change.  Richard Gerver (2014) highlights the work of Professor Guy Claxton (2002) and his definition of the 4 R’s of Learning Power as Resilience, Resourcefulness, Reflectiveness and Reciprocity.  I lead because I want to be part of a network that supports teachers, support staff, parents and community partners in providing the very best kick at the can for our students to graduate with the background knowledge, skills, creativity, and confidence to fearlessly embrace the possibilities in their future.

 

 

Responding to Negative Feedback 

With the excitement of the holiday season comes lots of free floating stress.  In schools, the combination of report cards and Winter Concerts and overtired kids and adults can be challenging.  Festivities with family can bring a plethora of opportunities for negative feedback.  Although a season of nothing but good will and joy would be ideal, it isn’t always the reality.  I regularly receive THE MANAGEMENT TIP OF THE DAY compliments of the Harvard Business Review.  Always interesting food for thought.

December 3, 2015

Decide How You’ll React to Negative Feedback

When criticism arrives unexpectedly, remembering how you should react to it is tricky. Getting caught up in the heat of the moment can overwhelm our best intentions. Think through the reaction you want to have now, so that you’ll be ready when the time comes:

Listen carefully to what’s being said. Is the criticism of you fact or opinion? And is it accurate? What’s the intent and motive of the person giving you feedback?

Don’t get defensive. Even when your criticizer is factually wrong, saying so isn’t helpful. Listen to what the person is saying, then ask questions to make sure you understand it.

Ask for time to consider what’s been said. Doing so defuses the immediate situation, shows the person you consider the feedback important enough to be considered carefully, and gives you a chance to decide whether the criticism is true.
Adapted from “How to Handle Negative Feedback,” by Dick Grote.

The goal for the season:  Listen carefully and think long and hard before you speak 🙂  Easier said than done 🙂  Good luck.