BCPVPA: Leading a Culture of Learning

(from the left) – Carrie Froese – Vancouver SD, Tara Zielinski- West Vancouver SD, Ellen Roberts- BCPVPA, and Kathleen Barter – North Vancouver SD

The British Columbia Principal Vice-Principal Association Team recently presented the Leading a Culture of Learning standard of the Instructional Leadership domain in the newly updated BCPVPA Standards of Leadership.

Screen Shot 2019-10-27 at 8.14.25 AM.png

The book by Gary Keller with Papasan, Jay – The One Thing:  The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, provided an organizing frame for the three sessions that North Vancouver administrators rotated through.  Participants were challenged to define one thing that would most impact student achievement to take away as a focus in their schools at the end of each session.  We could not have asked for participants who were more engaged throughout all of the sessions.  This sli.do word cloud represents some of “The One Thing” commitments NOVA administrators are incorporating into their work.

Screen Shot 2019-10-27 at 8.20.38 AM.png

As promised, the sources listed below include the links for ease of access.  These are some of the key sources that informed our thinking as we created the sessions presented.

Breakspear, Simon. (2017).  Learning Sprints and the Clarifying Canvas

Dewitt, Peter (2017). Collaborative Leadership:  Six Influences That Matter Most.  Thousand Oaks, CA:  Corwin / Learning Forward.

Donohoo, Jenni (2017).  Collective Efficacy:  How Educators’ Beliefs Impact Student Learning.  Corwin / learningforward / Ontario Principals’ Council, Thousand Oaks, CA.

Erikson, Lynn:  A Quick Guide to Concept-Based Learning and Curriculum

Concept Based Education  https://www.rubicon.com/concept-based-learning-curriculum/

Fullan, Michael. (2018).  Nuance:  Why Some Leaders Succeed and Others Fail.  Corwin.

Gawande, Atul (2009).  The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. Henry Holt and Company.

Hargreaves, A., & O’Connor, Michael (2018).  Collaborative Professionalism:  When Teaching Together Means Learning For All.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Hattie, John (2012).  Visible Learning for Teachers:  Maximizing impact of learning.  New York, NY: Routledge.


Katz, S., Earl Earl, L., & Ben Jaafar, S. (2009).  Building and connecting learning communities:  The power of networks for school improvement, Thousand Oaks, CA., Corwin.

McTighe, Jay & Curtis, Greg (2015).  Leading Modern Learning – A Blueprint for Vision-Driven Schools.  Solution Tree.

Parker, Kathryn, Boudett, Elizabeth, & Murnane, Richard J. Eds. (2013). Data Wise, Revised and Expanded Edition: A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Assessment Results to Improve Teaching and Learning , Harvard Education Press. Cambridge.

Robinson, Viviane (2013) Five Facets




Sinek, Simon (2009). Start with why — how great leaders inspire action | Simon Sinek | TEDxPugetSound https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4ZoJKF_VuA

Wiseman, Liz, Allen, Lois, & Foster, Elise (2013).  The Multiplier Effect – Tapping the Genius Inside Our Schools.  Thousand Oaks, CA.: Corwin Press.



7 Habits +1 to Empower


Betty Boult was the keeper of the knowledge when it came to Stephen Covey and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People when I first started teaching in Abbotsford.  She had done the facilitators training and she facilitated with flair.  We had animated discussions and were committed to engaging with the ideas and doing the work to complete the workbook meticulously.  I can still play out some conversations that resonated and remember my queries around some of the habits.  Those were the days when “sharpening the saw” was just a part of daily life and took much less deliberate effort.   Saying “no” was not yet part of my repertoire and everything was a priority.   These were the days before children and my husband was working just as hard to start his business.  The advantage of professional development in Abbotsford was that it was a small enough district that we all did pro-d together.  Therefore, the things we learned and ideas we were thinking about, were discussed in the staffroom, as staff socials and the ideas frequently referenced.  I think in this way, many of the ideas were incorporated into who I was.

I recently finished reading Stephen Covey’s (2008)  The Leader in Me:  How Schools and Parents Around the World Are Inspiring Greatness, One Child at a Time.  In this book, the learning is focused on children in K-5, middle and secondary schools, in the United States (the main focus), Singapore, Canada and Japan.  The power is that it that the ideas are introduced and developed with entire school populations.  Students are taught public speaking and acknowledged for their strengths and encouraged to assume responsibility for leadership tasks within the school.

I remember shortly after my Covey training, I was asked to do the goodbye tribute to my mentor, Joan Fuller, at her retirement function.  Public speaking had never been in my comfort zone.  Memories of tomato seeds bouncing out of my hand during my 9th grade oral report haunted me.  Boring topic.  Questionable choice to be holding the smallest of all seeds for an oral report in front of the class.  Terrifying teacher who was known to roll her eyes. Nothing good came out of it and I carried a lingering fear of public speaking.  However, I loved Joan and had a vested interest in making her retirement special.  I was terrified.  I was over prepared and tripped over my words.  I was glued to my cue cards.  My vocal chords constricted.  My legs shook.  I blushed.  And yet, I lived through it.  Everyone clapped and smiled.  Joan was delighted and cried.  And there were no tomato seeds.  I drank the Kool-Aid and was excessively proactive and had a passion for professional development.  I found myself more and more speaking in front of audiences,  in both my professional life and involvement in personal passions.  Yes, I was one of the lives that was changed because I had come to understand I had something worthwhile to say.

Covey is frequently referenced but I wonder how many people really understand the ideas and have integrated them into their lives and then regularly revisited.  There is a tremendous amount to be learned that directly correlates with empowering, not only adults but children too.

For those of you who need a quick recap of the habits:

  • Habit 1:  Be Proactive
    • Take initiative
  • Habit 2:  Begin with the End in Mind
    • Set goals
  • Habit 3:  Put First Things First
    • Prioritize and only do the most important things
  • Habit 4:  Think Win-Win
    • Getting what you want while considering others
  • Habit 5:  Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
  • Habit 6:  Synergize
    • work well with others to accomplish a task
  • Habit 7:  Sharpen the Saw
    • Eat well, exercise, get enough sleep
  • Habit 8 (added in 2004):  Find Your Voice and Help Others Find Theirs –
    • Identify gifts.  Optimize them.  Develop them.

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.


The Art of Mentorship

I have been very fortunate to have four mentors who have been instrumental in helping my to define my values as an educator. They gave me opportunities, asked questions, and provided me the positive reinforcement to engage in change at key junctures of my career. They did not set out to fit me into a mold of how they wanted me to be.   Each of these people continue to demonstrate genuine interest in other people, a thirst to learn, and know how to laugh.

Jack Corbett was my very first principal when I was hired as a teacher in Abbotsford.   As an unemployed teacher after graduation, I worked at Spare Time Fun Centre in David Lloyd Elementary School (where I attended gr.3-7), completed a diploma program in English Education at UBC and longed for my own classroom. I was delighted to finally be hired to teach Grade 2 in Abbotsford (SD 34), where I had done my practicum. I was embraced the staff at Dormick Park Primary School. Jack had infinite respect for the staff and the momentum we created with our enthusiasm. When we came to him with an idea, Jack responded with all the support he had in his power to provide. When we did the egg drop to teach scientific method, he enlisted his friend with the helicopter to drop the eggs. He supported our efforts with the Writing Process and brought in the primary consultant, Jacquie Taylor, to support us when we showed interest in reading strategies. He covered our classes so we could observe in each other’s classes and create our binder of reading strategies with adaptations that was worthy of publication.

Jack also loved to engage in the discussion. He would attend professional development with staff and we would have great staff room discussions. He invited me to my first staff trek to a LOMCIRA (Lower Mainland Council of the International Reading Association) Meeting at Schou Centre in Burnaby, which would become a foundational part of my personal professional development. We regularly engaged in practical and philosophical discussions. Classes had been divided into homogeneous groups. Basal readers were used by the teacher before me. Standardized tests were used to measure student achievement in reading. We would discuss these issues, leave articles in each other’s boxes, and continued the debate. Jack also demonstrated that changing your mind reflected learning not being wrong. I was given the opportunity to fine tune my ideas through discussion and research and the support to try new practices in my classroom to test my ideas.

I started teaching in Coquitlam (SD 43) after giving birth to my son so I’d be closer to home. I chaired the Primary Association and had many opportunities for rich professional development through BCTF and the district and to teach at a variety of grades in a number professional capacities.  Maureen Dockendorf put out a call for teachers interested in doing action / teacher research. I had completed my MA in reading doing qualitative research with my kindergarten students to explore repeated readings.   However Maureen was able to use her extensive background with inquiry learning to model how to refine our own questions within our current classroom context and develop an action plan to guide our professional development We met in school after hours and learned collaboratively through the inquiry process. Her passion for the process, willingness to engage in the dialogue and ask questions was invaluable. The process of reporting out was not only a sharing of our learning but an opportunity to ask questions of our colleagues and consider possible applications of their learning. Her mentorship empowered me to take risks in my learning and to make changes in my classroom based on personal research, classroom data and the things I knew to be true.

Bruce Carabine hired me as team leader of Student Services when SD 43 was given a Ministry grant to renovate Hillcrest Elementary School and reopen as Hillcrest Middle School.   When you walked through the door of the school or met him in the community, you could always expect the same warmth and respect from this principal, whether you were a student, parent, colleague, trades person or superintendent.   He does a wicked session on developing memory using a variety of skills which he regularly demonstrates by remembering EVERYONE’S name. Bruce lived the concept of distributed leadership. The leadership of students, custodial staff, teachers, special education assistants, team leaders and trades people was recognized and responded to with equal appreciation. To use his analogy, he “conducted the orchestra of capable leaders”.   He invited input into decisions and would defer to the will of the group and the vice principal, Mrs. McTavish (who was actually a mannequin designated with this responsibility by staff ). We laughed a lot and learned a lot.

Gary Little was on the committee that hired me as a vice principal in Vancouver (SD39). In the interview, he wanted to see the professional portfolio I had assembled as a faculty associate, and expressed genuine interest in my prior teaching and learning experiences in other districts, and through my participation in The International Reading Association and Amnesty International.  Cecil Scott, a building engineer at one of my schools, told me the story of Gary joining him at lunch several times just to chat, before he finally discovered he was actually the new principal of the secondary school. I was fortunate to have Gary as an Area supervisor in my first assignment as a vice principal in the VSB. Gary is an avid reader and we had good conversations about books, school goals, and personal goals. He was instrumental during these conversations and VP meetings in pushing my thinking. What were are my non-negotiables? Was this an issue I want to die on the mountain for? He helped me to define professional goals from the stance of an administrator and define measurement tools to make the process personally meaningful, as well as demonstrate professional accountability.

Recently on Facebook, there has been a “feeling the gratitude” movement that has been embraced by several of my friends. Perhaps I’m riding the wave J I feel very grateful for having crossed paths with these people. However it also speaks more generally as to how people grow and learn. I really appreciate that these mentors have helped to crystalize some of the things that are near and dear to my heart. When we treat people like they have come to the table with things of value to share and the encouragement to take risks in their learning, ask questions and pursue answers, we create a climate for learning and unbridled possibility. I aspire to approach all of my students, parents, colleagues, family and friends like this.  Thank you Jack, Maureen, Bruce and Gary.