Parenting is one of the most challenging tasks that a person will take on in life. It is not work for the faint of heart and it not for the person requiring unconditional acceptance and appreciation along the way. Love alone is not enough. However, it does guarantees your child a safe context to test the boundaries and unleash his or her frustrations. Even the most skilled and highly educated in child psychology can be tested beyond any previous limits.
With the advent of brain scanning technology, we have learned that our experiences continue to change our brains throughout our lives. We have learned that parents and educators can be instrumental in helping children to process new information. We have also learned how harsh and punitive discipline strategies of the past are not helpful in raising students that are best equipped to cope with changes or stresses in their lives. We have also learned that complete permissiveness does not either.
Daniel Siegel’s book, written with Tina Payne Bryson, The Whole-Brain Child, gives a nice synopsis of how the brain works to integrate new information and some strategies to ensure your child is learning appropriate boundaries alone the way. It provides a number of strategies to help parents support their child in “taming big emotions.” It also helps with the next steps of going back when your child has their emotions under control to revisit and redirect if necessary. The book provides scaffolding with refrigerator notes and scripted conversations to help parents.
I can speak to the power of encouraging children to tell their story. I have used this extensively with my own children and my students over the years. “The right side of our brain processes our emotions and autobiographical memories, but our left side is what makes sense of these feelings and recollections”( p. 28). In fear inducting situations, it allows children (and adults) to name it and tame it. In dealing with disappointment, it gives that child an understanding of wants, needs and resilience. In dealing with conflict, it is the first step in learning empathy and conflict resolution strategies.
Siegel and Payne Bryson also do a nice job in their discussion of nurturing relationships. In my role as an educator, parents often want advice on how to navigate relationships between their children. My kids are now grown and have a particularly good relationship. Even their friends comment on it. My conclusion was that three things contributed to this growing up.
There is an expectation that you will treat your sibling with respect and kindness.
When you have a fight, you calm down first then take responsibility for your behaviour and agree on a pathway forward.
Parents do not play favourites and have the same expectations for both kids.
However, Siegel and Payne Bryson brought up another factor that resonated with me. “Recent studies have found that the best predictor for good relationships later in life is how much fun the kids have together when they’re young”(p. 133). As a family, we had lots of beach time, park time, biking time, and ski / snowboard time. We also regularly trekked down to California or Europe in summer to visit family. My husband and I loved these times because sibling bickering slowed down to a minimum during the pursuit of adventure. Our kids had lots of fun time together and they are the fabric of the revisited stories when we’re laughing together. Makes sense.
COVID has added yet another layer of complexity. Kids are experiencing lots of big emotions and the role of parents is more important than ever. Now that my kids are grown, occasionally I even get to hear about the things I did well as a parent. It just may take a few decades to hear the appreciation for your efforts 🤗. Very best of luck in navigating these muddy waters.
Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. (2011). The Whole Brian Child. 12 Revolutionary Strategies To Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind. Bantam Books, New York.
Enthusiastic by nature, I became a school principal because of my steadfast belief that high quality instruction drives student success. I am a product of the school system I went through in Vancouver, British Columbia. My children are successful products of the school system in Coquitlam, British Columbia, a suburb of Vancouver. However personal experience and research through organizations such as the OECD, or a long list of individuals such as John Hattie, Michael Fullan, Peter DeWitt, Andy Hargreaves, Angela Duckworth, Carole Dweck, Linda Kaser, Judy Halbert, Jenni Donohoo, et al., we know we can do better. When I think of the old African saying “We know better, so we do better”, I also ways hear the voice of Rosa Fazio, my friend and mentor from my days as a vice-principal at Norma Rose Point Elementary and Middle School. It is one of her favourite sayings and represents why British Columbia is a leader in implementing educational change. It represents an ability to consider the options and pivot. COVID-19 has necessitated that responsiveness to the needs of our school communities. The research during school shut-downs and natural disasters speaks to the significance of specific and deliberate instruction in social emotional learning. The challenge is to create a sense of belonging for students not attending face to face programs, not crossing cohort groups, not participating the whole school activities that we’ve always incorporated into school life to build community.
As a lover of books, my go to place is to turn to reading. Books have provided vicarious experiences, new learning, escape, a reflection of myself and new ways of thinking of the world or very specific situations. They have also provided another way to connect with my friends and colleagues. They created warm family memories and provoked conversations with my children that never emerge with the question “How was school today?” The read alouds of the Harry Potter series alone stimulated some of our best family conversations about belonging, friendship, loyalty, sadness, fears, death, bravery, and risk. It was natural response to turn to how we could use books to nurture a sense of belonging with the students in Livingstone Elementary School.
At the outset of the year, in my continued role as President of the British Columbia Literacy Council of the Literacy Association – BCLCILA- a literacy group that you join for the duration of your career in education, I floated the idea of asking members to contribute titles to a Social-Emotional booklist. It seemed fairly easy-peasy and something that would naturally evolve. Julie Pearce, another friend and mentor, notes that I always make a point, then go off in a wide circle, before bringing it all back to the point. This past year has felt like the big circle as I’ve tried to define the best selection of books for a SOCIAL EMOTIONAL LEARNING CHILDREN’S LITERATURE BOOKLIST. The fact that I got relatively few contributions submitted online, I believe this represents something larger than me overthinking almost everything.
A few weeks ago, by chance more than planning, I ended up assuming the role of librarian for a few days in my school. After the lesson in humility, as I tried to navigate the new library system, I had a chance to talk to kids about their book selections through my mask and plexi-glass barrier. I also had a chance to peruse the recent purchases by the actual librarian, Marvin Muress, also a BCLCILA member. I chose many titles to read for my YouTube channel, Ms. Froese Reads, another attempt to build community by bringing our students together for online story time, provoke discussions, and highlights great Children’s literature selections for home libraries. I chose many more titles to add the BCLCILA list.
I added the selections to the list and went back to consider some of my other titles and how they fit. My Reading Challenge on my Goodreads account was helpful to access the book titles. It took me back to a conversation with Anna, a Grade 7 student at Livingstone Elementary School when I came to the school as principal in 2019. She challenged me to take the time to consider why kids liked graphic novels and put together a list of must reads. Most of these books were about identity, coping with adversity, and retellings of historical events. They belonged on the list. After adding many of these titles, I realized my categories for sorting the books didn’t quite fit. More circles of possibility to pursue.
Yesterday, I started to write this blog post and ended up writing about race. In the process, I picked up Tessa McWatt’s (2019) book, Shame on Me – An Anatomy of Race and Belonging. The author helped me pinpoint what I really want to accomplish. I do not want to create a booklist of didactic texts that provide instruction of how to identify feelings and self-regulate during COVID-19. I want to create a safe haven where all students feel a sense of belonging to their school community. I have come up with the following categories to provide titles to help explore issues of identity and belonging. I want to avoid the trap of creating a sense of “other”. If we shelve books as multi-cultural or Indigenous, aren’t we in fact assuming they are outside of our school community. I want to include books that make us laugh, use our imaginations, and explore ways of coping with and myriad of feelings and adversity.
I decided on the following categories:
Self-Regulation and Mindfulness
Challenge and Resilience
Wisdom from Ancestors
They are laden with what my notions of the things we need to develop in order to cope. They provide many ways of belonging. I’m curious about how they will work. I would love to hear your thoughts.
I have included the Creating Belonging Through Children’s Literature list below. It is a work in progress. Please follow this link if you would like to contribute your book suggestions. I encourage you to join the International Literacy Association. I joined my first year as a teacher because my principal, Jack Corbett in SD #34 told it’s what we do here at Dormick Park Primary School. I have never regretted it and my appreciation of books as a way to move mountains has increased exponentially.
Creating Belonging Through Children’s Literature
A List Compiled by members of BCLCILA
The British Columbia Literacy Council of the International Literacy Association
Adderson, Caroline, Qin Leng (Illustrations (2014). Norman Speak!
This picturebook encourages us to consider how we judge intelligence and how we support those we love. Perceptions of the adopted family dog shift when they discover at the dog understands Chinese and inspires the family to sign up for Chinese lessons..
Ho, Joanna, with Illustrations by Ho, Dung (2021). Eyes That Kiss in the Corners. Harper Collins Publishers.
A beautiful story that “I have eyes that kiss in the corner and glow like warm tea.” The refrain throughout the book as the little girl celebrates the eyes that she has i common with her Mom, her Amah, and her sister’s. Dung Ho was born and raised in Vietnam and studied graphic design at the Hue Arts University. Her illustrations speak as loudly as the text. A book of celebration of Asian eyes.
Kinew, Wab with illustrations by Joe Morse (2018). Go Show the World: A Celebration of Indigenous Heroes. Tundra Books.
Written as a celebration of thirteen modern day and historic Indigenous heroes. Inspirational people for all readers to emulate. Beautiful text written as a rap song by Wab Kinew. Beautiful realistic illustrations that look like photographs at first glance.
Literary Awards USBBY Outstanding International Book list for 2019.
“We are a people who matter.” Inspired by President Barack Obama’s Of Thee I Sing, Go Show the World is a tribute to historic and modern-day Indigenous heroes, featuring important figures such as Tecumseh, Sacagawea and former NASA astronaut John Herrington.
Khan, Rukhsana (2010) Illustrator – Sophie Blackall. Big Red Lollipop. Viking.
The author, Rukhsana Khan, was born in Pakistan and immigrated to Canada as a pre-schooler. A charming story of two young girls navigating the rules of their new cultural traditions and helping their mother to understand. All this while navigating their relationship as sisters. Great story. A recent addition to the BCLCILA list of SEL books. Also selected as a read aloud on the YouTube channel featuring Ms. Froese Reads.
Levitan, Sonia with illustrations by Wijngaard (1996). A Piece of Home. Dial Books for Young Readers.
This picturebook shares the experience of little boy’s immigration and experience of leaving Russia to be with extended family in Santa Monica, California. The two cousins discover they are united by a special reminder of Russia.
Martinez-Neal, Juana (2018). Alma and How She Got Her Name. Candlewick Press.
Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela gains a new appreciation of her very long name, once her father explains the story behind each name. This book has been selected for Ms. Froese Reads on YouTube and the BCLCILA SEL Booklist.
Parr, Todd (2016) Be Who You Are. Megan Tingley Books, Little, Brown and Company.
The bright colourful illustrations beckon the reader to live out loud and claim his/her/their own identity.
Muhammad, Ibtihaj with Ali, S.K. / Art by Aly, Hatem (2019). The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family. Little, Brown and Company.
This picturebook by Olympic Medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad with S.K. Ali tells the story of two girls on the first day of school. For the older sister is 6th grade, it is a celebration of the first day of wearing hijab. The younger sister tries to me sense of identity as a Muslim and the sometimes hurtful response of others. Beautiful illustrations by Hatem Aly captures the strength of purpose represented by hijab and the darkness that comes from those intolerant of difference.
Mantchev, Lisa (2020). The Perfectly Perfect Wish. Simon & Schuster.
This story is a new twist on common theme of what would you wish for if you had 1 wish. As the little girl dreams of her wants, and talks with her friends, the needs of her friends come shining through. This book teaches that self-awareness of everything you have to be grateful for helps you to be empathetic to others who may not be as fortunate. The girl wishes that her friends’ wishes come true and highlights that giving helps others and also enriches your own life.
McCloud, Carol, Messing, David (Illustrator) (2014 – 7th printing). Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids. Ferne Press.
Through simple prose and vivid illustrations, this heartwarming book encourages positive behaviour as children see how rewarding it is to express daily kindness, appreciation, and love. Bucket filling and dipping are effective metaphors for understanding the effects of our actions and words on the well being of others and ourselves.
Mora, Oge (2019). Saturday. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
A great story of disappointment, self regulation, resilience, and the love between a mother and daughter. Included on the SEL list being collated by the British Columbia Literacy Council of the ILA. Also a selection for the Ms. Froese Reads YouTube channel.
Woodson, Jacqueline (2018). The Day You Begin. Nancy Paulsen Books.
When you begin anything new and no none knows who you are, it can be difficult. This books highlights the internal struggle that often occurs when someone enters a situation for the first time and searches for belonging. Sometimes all it takes is someone to make a connection with you that helps normalize being different. This book is an excellent resource for representing all children whether it be looks or feelings and to know that they are not alone. (Note: This book is strong in both the belonging theme and the representation theme and is suitable for primary and 4-5).)
Zietlow Miller, Pat, Hill, Jen (Illustrator). (2018). Be Kind. Roaring Book Press.
When Tanisha spilled her grape juice all over her dress at school, her friend considers what kindness looks like and the impact it has. A good book to faciliate this conversation with pre-school and primary aged children.
Beckwith, Kathy with illustrations by Lyon, Lea (2005). Playing War. Tilbury House Publishers.
Sameer opts out of playing war with his new neighbourhood friends. They start to understand when he explains his experiences with war. The child appropriate illustration of why playing war not a game.
Forchuk Skrypuch, Marsha with Tuan Ho with art by Brian Deines (2016). Adrift at Sea. Pajama Press.
This picturebook is set in 1981 when then 6 year old Tuan, his mother, and two of his siblings set out to escape civil unrest in Vietnam to make the dangerous journey to reunite with his father and older sister in Canada. Tuan, now a father with a wife and two children of his own, is a practicing physiotherapist with a clinic of his own. The art by Brian Deines captures the vivid colour of Southeast Asia, and the blurred lines of memory.
Lindstrom, Carole, Goade, Michaela (Illustrator). We Are Water Protectors. Roaring Books Press.
The first Caldecott medal winner of an Indigenous author. A beautiful call to action to protect our water from harm and corruption. Amazing, bold, illustrations by Michaela Goade.
Literary Awards: Caldecott Medal Winner
Ruurs, Margriet with art by Nizar Ali Badr (2016). Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey. Orca Book Publishers.
A great book about the journey of a family’s journey as refugees from the Middle East. Amazing artwork done photographs of made artwork of stones by Syrian artist, Nizar Ali Badr. Text in English and Arabic. Most recent addition to the BC Literacy Council of ILA Booklist.
Literacy Awards: Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Prize Nominee (2017)
Wisdom from Ancestors:
Bouchard, David with paintings by Zhong-Yang Huang (1997). The Great Race.
A little girl, her grandmother, and twelve animal cut-outs recreate the origins of the Chinese zodiac in this picturebook. Beautiful paintings by Canadian-Chinese artist, Zhong-Yang Huang. A favourite book of mine to revisit during Lunar New Year.
Richie, Scot (2015). P’eska and the First Salmon Ceremony. Groundwood Books.
Scot Richie sets the story one thousand years ago and bases it on archeological evidence. The glossary, letter from Chief William Charlie, and added information about the Sts’ailes People bring depth to the text. HIstory unfolds around the Harrison River in British Columbia.
Vickers, Roy Henry with Budd, Robert with illustrations by Vickers, Roy Henry (2014). Cloudwalker. Harbour Publishing.
On British Columbia’s northwest coast lies the Sacred Headwaters–the source of three of British Columbia’s largest salmon-bearing rivers. This ancient legend and the art of Roy Henry Vickers bring the Indigenous teaching about the need to care for our sources of water to life. Beautiful.
Alexander, Kwame with art by Sweet, Melissa (2019). How To Read A Book. Harper Collins Publishers.
Melissa Sweet’s bright and enticing artwork draw you into this picturebook. Kwame Alexander poetry bring the sensory aspect of reading to light. For some, reading is a firm part of identity. For some an opportunity for new adventures. For others a comfort. For many of us, all of the above. This book teases out and delights in the possibilities.
Bates, Amy and Bates, Juniper (2018). The Big Umbrella. Simon Schuster / Paula Wiseman Books.
When the big umbrella by the door opens wide, there is room for everyone. A mother-daughter collaboration was inspired by sharing an umbrella in a rainstorm. A recent addition to the the BC Literacy Council of the International Literacy Association booklist of Social-Emotional Booklist.
Bailey, Linda with illustrations by Bill Slavin (2003). Stanley’s Party. Kids Can Press.
It all started when usually obedient Stanley craws up on the couch, something forbidden by his people. It triggers a series of events that culminates in a party that dogs are still talking about. A fun book for anyone who has ever contemplated what their dog does all day. Illustrations by Bill Slavin add to the festivity of the text.
Emily folded, doodled, and snipped to create a chain of very unique paper dolls that are linked together in friendship. Her idea spreads to school and throughout the world via social media. The book includes a stencil to create a paper doll chain and the Marta Alvarez Miguens’s illustration inspire paper dolls of many abilities and ethnicities.
Intermediate / Middle School:
Craft, Jerry (2020). Class Act (New Kid #2). Quill Tree Books.
Jordan Banks is back at the very prestigious private school for Grade 8. This time the story focuses on his friend Drew, also a black student at the school and his quest to maintain his identity and have mutual acceptance of his friends.
Craft, Jerry (2019). New Kid. Harper Collins Publisher.
Jordan Banks loves to draw cartoons. His dream is to attend art school. His Mom is very much in favour of his enrolling in a very prestigious private school across town where he is one of the few black students. Jordan struggles with fittiCraft ng into his new school and keeping his neighbourhood friends as well as keeping his identity.
Emerson, Marcus (2012). Diary of a Sixth Grade Ninja. Create Space.
This book would have great appeal for intermediate students who like graphic novels and are navigating life in upper intermediate / middle school. Funny. Nice relationship between new boy at school and his cousin.
Parker, Kate T. (2017). Strong is the New Pretty: A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves. Workman Publishing Company.
An amazing collection of photographs of girls being girls. The photographs are accompanied with quotes explaining the perceptions and strength of the girls.
“Strong girls never lose. They only learn, and come back stronger.”
Kylie, age 12
“I have always experienced the most immediate sense of strength when claiming my own personal freedom.”
Fiona, age 18
Peirce, Lincoln (2019). Big Nate Hug It Out! Andrews McMeel Publishing.
My students insisted that the Big Nate series is a must for any graphic novel collection. Kids relate to the perspective of Nate, both the outrageous and funny. It reminds me of how I loved Dennis the Menace in the newspaper comics when I was a kid.
Sixth grade is no picnic for Nate Wright. His pal Francis won’t stop bombarding him with useless trivia. A wild pitch knocks him out of a ballgame and into the emergency room. And the only thing standing between Nate and summer school is a study session with the worst possible tutor: his too-obnoxious-for-words arch enemy, Gina. But a chance encounter on an amusement park ride could change everything. Meanwhile, the troubles are piling up in this hilarious new collection of Big Nate comics, and there may be only one thing for Nate to do: HUG IT OUT! In this brand-new collection of comics from the New York Times bestselling series Big Nate, everyone’s favorite sixth-grade prankster is back for more hilarious misadventures — and even a little romance! (less)
Telgemeier, Raina (2014) Sisters. Scholastic.
Weeks, Sara, Gita Varadarajan (2016). Save Me A Seat. Scholastic.
Grade 5 brings many changing and complex relationships to navigate. Ravi comes from India and struggles to be seen as intelligent due to his accent and cultural experience that is different from his peers in a school in the US. Joe is also misunderstood and underestimated from an auditory processing disability. This is a great story for students to develop empathy and understanding.
Kwame, Alexander (2014). The Crossover. Houghton Mifflin.
Kwame Alexander writes a series of poems about 12 year old twins, Josh and Jordan Bell. The poetry mirrors the game. The game is a metaphor for life. They are awesome on the court but need to navigate relationships off the basketball court too.
Alexander, Kwame , Rand Hess, Mary (2018). Swing. Blink.
Another amazing poetic masterpiece by Kwame Alexander. A likeable kid navigating through adolescence. An older brother returns from war having done his patriotic duty. Clearly suffering from PTSD. Clearly having proved himself as a patriotic American. Yet it is not enough to stave off the racism that is rampant in the United States.
Alexander, Kwame (2018). Rebound. HMH Books for Young Readers.
I LOVED this book. It made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me appreciate the power of literature in helping us make sense of our lives. Kwame Alexander tells a story through poetry and makes the pain of loss palpable. Love of a supportive family and friendship helps Charlie learn to rebound on and off the basketball court.
Colfer, Eoin, Donkin, Andrew, Rigano, Giovanni (Illustrat0r) (2018). Illegal.
This graphic novel follows the perilous journey of Ebo from Ghana, to Europe in search of a better life and reunion with his family. It challenges the notion that any human being can be illegal and explores the plight of immigrants in search of new beginnings with a more promising future.
2019 Excellence in Graphic Literature Award
Gold Medal Award 2019 by Parents’ Choice Foundation
Palacio, R.J., (2019). White Bird. Knopf Books for Young Readers.
The graphic novel format allows the depth of the realities of Hitler’s Nazi Germany to be exposed via pictures and text. Auggie’s bully from Wonder is given depth through the story of his Grandmere’s experience and loss as a young Jewish girl in Vichy France during World War II. The afterword, author’s note, glossary, suggested readings and resources for further study, make it a credible source for further learning. The grandson FaceTiming with his Grandmere grounds the relevance of the story in the present.
August Pullman does not want his facial difference to prevent him from being treated like any other kid in Grade 5. A must read for ALL middle school kids! Great way to consider perspective of students who look different and reflect on your own reactions.
Raina Telgemeier is a highly recommended graphic novelist, by my upper intermediate students. We can’t keep her books on the shelf in our school library. This author has been able to tap into the integrated use of pictures and text to allow stories about mental health issues that are not often talked about, and yet experienced. In this book she shares her experience with anxiety, a therapist, and the reactions of her friends, family and teachers. The author’s note at the end provides a pathway forward and underlines the importance of talking about your feelings. Great graphic novel.
Yahgulanaas, Michael Nicoll (2009). Red: A Haida Manga. Douglas McIntyre.
Classic Haida visual art is morphed with the Japanese manga in the book. It tells a classic Haida legend that warns of the danger of the rage of revenge. The artwork is amazing. Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas creates his storyboard with overlying Indigenous image. The first time I read this graphic novel, I didn’t understand the genre. Coming back, I’m amazed with the Indigenous voice in a very original art form.
Yahgulanaas, Michael Nicoll (2017). War of the Blink. Locarno Press.
This story unfolds in the newly emerging Haida manga style based on the original Japanese manga. The imagery of the Haida culture has as much of role in telling the story as does the text. A graphic novel about war and peace. It explores the bravery required to make peace. An earlier version of the artwork was displayed at the Vancouver Art Gallery a part of the groundbreaking exhibition “Raven Travelling.
Self-Regulation and Mindfulness:
Challenge and Resilience:
Wisdom from Ancestors:
Educators and Adults
Self-Regulation and Mindfulness:
Carrington, Judy (2019). Kids These Days. Friesen Press.
This book is more for educators working with students than it is for students. This book is about connecting with students and how Emotional Regulation works and why it’s the key to changing the world.
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.
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:
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.
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 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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.”
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
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?
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.