Maintaining Principal Communication with Kids During “School At Home”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe.  Be gentle with yourself. 

 Addendum:  Most recent letter to students:

Friday, April 17, 2020

Dear Livingstone Students,

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

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

Nanny Keenan’s Oatcakes

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Ingredients:

1 cup flour

2 cups quick oats

½ cup sugar

¾ cup shortening

Salt

¼ cup shortening with ½ teaspoon baking soda

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

Directions:

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

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

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

From,

 

Ms. Froese

“It Takes An Entire Village to Raise a Child”

This has long been a favorite quote of mine that is beautifully depicted by George E. Miller II in my office. In my early years as an underemployed teacher, I worked in an out-of-school care centre in the basement of a school in Vancouver. This is where I first learned the importance of community in the life of a child and it took a firm place in my educational philosophy.   Hillary Clinton popularized this old African teaching into mainstream consciousness.  It is assumed in many aspects of school but not always overtly.  On Thursday, June 4th, it was positively radiant during the community build of our long-awaited playground. Our school in on the South Slope of East Vancouver. Many new Canadians have made their home here and demonstrate a work ethos and commitment to ensuring their children have the opportunities for a better life with all of the advantages we have in Canada.  Money is hard-earned and expenditures are carefully considered.

In September, our rapidly decomposing wooden playground structure finally had to be removed from the school grounds due to safety concerns.   This was not a surprise but a huge concern.   The quest to replace the playground took on a renewed intensity because it left a huge gap in during and after school hours activity. Our playground has always been a place where families gravitate to before and after school. Groups came together to dance, participate in Tai-Chi and exercise while the kids play on the playground.  Almost 500 children attend elementary school, Cantonese and Mandarin after school classes and preschool programs on site.  Teachers used the playground as one way to ensure students are getting the minimum requirement of 30 minutes of daily physical activity.  The parents and students in our community have been our main funders of the playground.  Most of the money has come from hot lunch sales spearheaded and organized by PAC president, Sirtaj Ali, and two walk-a-thons organized and facilitated by PAC member, Susan Biln.  Student leaders organized a Movie Night and raised over $600.00. Casino funds, small grants, an RBC work party by volunteers and direct donations from neighbours and staff provided the additional funds required.

PAC and school administration chose Habitat to supply the playground equipment due to their reputation for service and durability of the product. Jeff Musson from Habitat stepped forward to provide options within our price range and planning considerations. Murray Stewart and the VSB grounds crew stepped up with the background of all of the logistical knowledge, support required to make the project happen. Overwaitea stepped forward to provide the people power required for a community build.

On our build day, the weather cooperated and over 36 Overwaitea volunteers, the PAC president, VSB staff and the Habitat staff converged on the school grounds to make this playground a reality. Before school, kids were stomping on cardboard packaging and putting it in the cardboard recycling bin. By recess, they watched in amazement as the poles were placed in holes and the structure started to appear before their eyes. By 2:30 pm, they were watching as the cement truck was dumping cement into a convoy line of wheelbarrows. As the cement was shoveled in the holes, I heard one little girl summarize the situation for her peers: “The cement means that we get to keep it.”

   

The school coming together with the community to make the playground a reality was one part of the equation. The most significant sense of community came from the actual people involved in the project. They were up early and doing tough manual labour in the heat of the day. There were no complaints or begrudging the work. There was pure joy in doing something that mattered so much. The fascination and excitement of the kids was paralleled by the delight of Overwaitea volunteers and Habitat staff.   They talked to the kids, responded to cheers and expressions of thanks from kids and adults alike with smiles, laughter and enthusiasm. At the end of the day, we were all exhausted but also filled with a sense of euphoria that comes with making a big different in your little part of the world. The VSB grounds crew continued to bring the playground project to completion with surfacing and final touches. We are now ready for our safety check and we are getting ready to celebrate and play.

Special heartfelt thanks to all of PAC members, Overwaitea volunteers, VSB staff, Habitat staff and business community supporters who put their heart and soul into making the playground a reality and showing all of us “IT TAKES AN ENTIRE VILLAGE  TO RAISE A CHILD.”