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”.

An “Oxygen Mask” for the Principal

My life as an airplane passenger started at for me at five years old on the trek to visit my father in California during summer vacations. I long ago lost track of the number of flights I have taken, or the number of safety presentations that I have heard. At one point, I decided I might be a stewardess so I could fly to grand adventures for less money. The fact that you had to serve people caused me to rethink the job as a viable option, but the aspiration made me practice the safety presentation until I knew it by heart. The takeaway, “in the event of an emergency, secure the oxygen mask to your face before trying to help someone else”.

Health and Safety, and Social Emotional learning has been at the forefront of my mind, since March when the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic first impacted the British Columbia School system in a big way.  The website and the TEAMS Platform for staff was updated with many helpful links and ideas.  In my leadership role, I implemented many ideas to provide support for kids, parents, and staff.  During the summer, opportunities to address self-care were easier because there was more time.  However, now back in the midst of addressing needs of others in an emotionally charged environment with many issues to address, what are those things that make up the oxygen mask for the principal?  It is only October and the answer to the question is elusive to many of us.  I have come up with five things that I am trying to do now that school is back in session to provide that much needed “oxygen mask”.

  1.  Try to Avoid Personalizing Negative Interactions

COVID has created a highly emotionally charged environment.  You don’t have to be in a position of authority to experience overtly inappropriate reactions to events folding out around us.  Sometimes you just need to be there.  The other day I was riding my bike to work.  I most often take the seawall route because it is so pretty and a great way to start and finish the school day.  As I was about to cross the road by Granville Island, a guy in a nicely pressed pink shirt, driving a big, black SUV, stopped to unleash a string of expletives at me and the bike rider beside me, and then squealed off in front of us with his red face and a head that looked ready to explode.  The other bike rider and I shot each other perplexed looks, wished each other a good day, and carried on.  I wonder how the rest of pink shirt guy’s day went.   The only option is to recognize that this person is having difficulty coping.  Step away.  Sometimes there is a need to revisit the situation later.  Sometimes I just chalk it up to COVID stress. 

  •  Set Boundaries

My initial strategy was to try to develop plans, and back-up plans to fully inform people of upcoming changes and issues.  I would also try to trouble shoot, problem solve, and address all the requests coming my way.   I would wake up in the wee hours of the morn to strategize and send email.  I created comprehensive communication systems and broadcasted the latest information.  I created multiple ways for people to provide input into decisions.  I soon learned that I would not be able to solve all of the problems, I was overwhelming people with too much information in some cases, that not everyone wanted to be involved in all of the decisions, and that the shifting landscape caused frequent changes in information.  Plans were obsolete within hours and I was exhausted.  Now I am waiting for the reality of the situation to play out before I make plans and announce them.  I realize that I am never going to solve all of the problems, get all of the jobs completed, or make everyone happy.  I continue to have an overdeveloped work ethic and do the very best I can in a workday, but I also set boundaries about a time when work stops and starts.

  • Connect Often with Supportive Colleagues Doing the Same Work

Never underestimate the value of having people who you can trust to call.  People who you can call and cut to the chase when you’re in a hurry or to vent.  Other principals and vice principals are the only ones that can possibly understand the work you are doing on a daily basis.  They are the people that can steer you in the right direction, let you talk through your rationale, share a similar experience, problem solve, give you another perspective, tell you where to find the updated form, or just laugh with you.  I have principals that my life crosses paths with in a multiple of ways – book club, golf, personal experiences , shared friends, or perhaps BC Principals’ Vice Principals’ Association responsibilities.  We share experiences in the same schools, the same community school teams, or connections with universities.  Those conversations are invaluable because the understanding of our shared experiences and navigating in shark infested waters is pivotal right now.  These are the people who  always give you the benefit of the doubt and have your back!

  • Laugh

I recently had a high school friend on Facebook send me a message after I had posted something.  She reflected that although we have lived in different cities for many years, she can still hear the giggle and the joy in many of my posts.  On both sides of my family, I grew up laughing.   I just celebrated our 35th Wedding Anniversary.  The key to the longevity of the marriage is we can still make each other laugh.  Our kids are grown but they still life to travel with us and visits are filled with laughter.   Being able to identify the humour in even a difficult situation, often helps us to get to the other side of it.  The most common refrain in the job right now – “You can’t make this stuff up,” followed by laughter!

  • Make a date with yourself

I am currently reading, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.   Her book targets those people aspiring to become more creative.  She makes a suggestion that I think is invaluable to anyone.  It is not only giving yourself the permission to indulge yourself with a fun activity but also planning it and putting it on your calendar.  One of my goals for this year was to read 100 books.  Thanks to COVID, I’m almost there.  Reading is high on my list of dates with myself.  So is writing.  So is being by myself.  So is Book Club.  So is Happy Hour with friends.  I like the deliberate way in which Cameron talks about creating these spaces for ourselves.  I think it is an aspect of self -care, as important for principals and vice-principals, as it is for staff, parents and kids. 

The focus of my professional growth plan this year is focused on the Relational Leadership standard.  Developing inclusive and collaborative cultures with effective communication requires a focus on social-emotional learning more important now than ever before.  How people are coping with the stress of COVID-19, recognizing the inter-cultural context of our schools, and developing a sense of collective efficacy determines our effectiveness as a school community.   In March, my focus was very much trying to address the social-emotional needs of staff, students, and parents in my school community.   I was running as fast as I could, and I was exhausted.  My pivot is not to shift the focus of my work, but to integrate how I can model self-care.  I’m putting on my oxygen mask, and hopefully my school community will all benefit from it.  My fellow administrators, I’m interested in what makes up your oxygen mask?

As always, I understand that not everyone is comfortable expressing their ideas online.  I appreciate the private messages, emails, and calls.  They push my thinking and contribute to the “eureka” moments along the way.

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