Monday, 5 September 2022

Sharing Our Stories


It is "Back to School" Eve. After over 30 years in education, the feelings of excitement and apprehension are pretty familiar. It's an incredible responsibility to help support a student's journey to success. And an amazing privilege. So it is no wonder that so many of us experience this mix of emotions in the days that lead up to the start of a school year.

But this year is also a bit different for me. For the first time, I am embarking on this journey in the role of Principal. So perhaps a wee bit heavier on the apprehensive side than most years...

Although I am in a different role, my core beliefs remain the same. Relationships are foundational. Trust and transparency through the sharing of our stories is essential. 

The quote by Richard Wagamese has guided my own personal journey. It is a reminder to me to take the time to learn the stories of others. If we can ensure that our students, families and staff feel connected, feel like they belong, then learning and growth will happen. 

Connections before content. 

I know there is an almost overwhelming sense of urgency as we start the school year. So much to accomplish. So many "to do" lists. I am feeling this even more now than in previous years. But  I am reminding myself to slow down, to take the time to listen. 

And I have no doubt that together, "we will change the world, one story at a time."

Friday, 11 March 2022

Gratitude for the Positives

 My last blog post was in June 2021. That is an indication of the kind of year it has been. 

Dare I say, unprecedented?

With the easing of COVID restrictions in BC, and the removal of masks on the horizon, I am finally allowing myself to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Because it's been pretty darn dark at times.

I read somewhere that the human brain likes to focus on the negative. It's our "comfy place". However with conscious effort, we can shift to a focus on the positives. This a key component of resilience.

As George Couros says, "We need to make the positive so loud that the negative becomes almost impossible to hear." I have this on a poster on the wall of my office. 

To be honest, I haven't always done a great job of this over the past two years. I haven't always been my "best self" at work, or at home. 

But fortunately, I have not gone through this journey alone. 

At home, I have a loving family who inspires and supports me, especially in those moments when I have lost faith in myself. 

At work, I have an incredible staff who have come up with creative, innovative and flexible ways to support students' academic, social and emotional growth. It has reinforced what I have always known to be true: every single individual in a school community plays a role in supporting a student's success.

So I am taking this moment to pause amidst the craziness to say a heartfelt thank you.

Thank you to our office staff who are unfailingly kind, patient and professional to every single person who walks through the doors of our school - students and adults alike. 

Thank you to our support staff who work tirelessly with students, adapting to individual needs, strengths, challenges and stories. 

Thank you to our teaching staff who have moved mountains to connect with students and families through the ever changing Covid landscape. They have adapted, pivoted, flexed and adjusted...all this with incredible empathy and compassion. 

Thank you to our custodial staff who go to great lengths to ensure that our buildings are safe and welcoming for students and staff.

Thank you to my Admin partners who share the load, share the laughs, and occasionally share some colourful language behind closed doors. 

Thank you to our district staff who do their best to understand and support our individual school contexts and needs. 

Thank you to our families who trust us with their most precious possession, their children.

And finally, thank you to our students who almost always have patiently and respectfully complied with all of our endless protocols and procedures to ensure that we have been able to keep schools open and safe. With minimal grumbling and eye rolls.

YOU make it all worthwhile.

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

The Gifts of Covid - A Year (and a bit) In Review

I would bet that when most folks look back over the past year and a half, they don't use the word "gift" in association. For a multitude of reasons, it has been hard. Understatement. 

But, I would also bet that many folks look back over the last year and a half with appreciation and gratitude for the multitude of little things that without a global pandemic might not have happened...

The *gifts of Covid. 

For me, it has been less about new understandings, and more about a greater appreciation for those things that I had already identified as essential to a successful school community. 

As we move through the last few days of this school year, here are just a few of those:

1. Change is an opportunity. 

We have been given the gift of disruption. An opportunity to pause, reflect and revisit structures, approaches, procedures and policies. 

2. Clear communication is essential.

In times of uncertainty, there is no such thing as 'over communication'. Even if the response is simply, "I don't know, but I'll find out." Repetition, transparency and consistency are all important aspects of clear communication. 

3. Everyone has a story.

Adults and children alike carry their stories with them. Understanding context takes time, trust and patience. 

4. Intention is important but/and others' perspective matters.

While we may act with the best of intentions, if these actions are not perceived as supportive/constructive/inclusive/collaborative, then that is what matters. The ability to listen, reflect and adjust accordingly is important. 

Wishing everyone a restful and safe summer. Here's to no masks and less sanitizing in September!

*With great appreciation to my colleague and friend Tina Pierik who coined this phrase!

Wednesday, 10 March 2021

School is So Much More

Here goes the understatement of the century...

The last year has been tough. During a pandemic, everything takes longer. And is more difficult. Tasks that at one time came as naturally as breathing now involve intentional, mindful, painfully slow consideration and planning. 

So it's no wonder that we are all exhausted. And impatient. And ready for it all to end. 

But in the midst of the many obstacles, there have been SO many more moments of gratitude. And appreciation. And new-found joy. In the simple things. The things we used to take for granted. 

The most profound of these moments comes from a greater appreciation for all that schools do. 

Yesterday I watched kids playing volleyball in the gym. They were distanced, the equipment had been sanitized and they were wearing masks. And it brought tears to my eyes. Because kids were laughing. And joyful. And for many, participating in something that "pre-Covid", they might not have. For these kids, it was a connection. A place to belong. A distraction from many months of trudging through protocols and procedures. 

If asked, most people might say that the primary purpose of schools is to "educate" students. But what I have come to appreciate more deeply in the past year is that our purpose is so much more

School is connection and belonging, safety and nourishment, stability and inspiration. 

School is so much more.


Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Learning in a Pandemic: Connections Over Content

Trauma informed education. Social-emotional learning. Empathy based instruction. These are all practices that have increased in prominence as the conversation continues around what education should look like during a pandemic. Indeed, if you were to walk into a school in most parts of BC today, things would likely look quite different. And yet, I would suggest that they don't look quite different enough.

The reality is that many of these differences are more reflective of new provincial health protocols rather than significant shifts in education. In part, I would argue that this is due to our innately human desire to "get back to normal". We crave familiar routines and structures. As such, some educators are struggling to deliver "pre-COVID" content to "post-COVID" students. Many parents are also feeling the pressure to get their children "caught up" as a result of missed time in the classroom. In both scenarios, students are the focus of this increased stress and anxiety. 

With the very best of intentions, we are essentially "punishing" students during a pandemic. 

By struggling to squeeze the same pre-COVID content into a school day that for the most part is structured significantly different, we are exhausting ourselves. And our students. And it worries me. Because with a somewhat heavy heart, I've come to realize that we're in this for the long haul. Even if a vaccine was to be introduced tomorrow, the impact of the last ten months will permeate our society for years to come. It would be an impossible task to attempt to compensate for all that we have lost. 

And so, we need to give ourselves, and those around us, "permission" to let go of some things in order to focus on those elements that are essential to a school community: relationships, connections, curiosity, exploration and a love of learning. 

My son was a member of the graduating class of 2020, otherwise known as a "Quaren-Teen". Rather than traveling the world as he had originally planned, he is working full time on an organic vegetable farm. He may or may not return to school at some point. He has no idea what he wants to do in the coming years. And I'm totally ok with that. Because he is still learning. He is still growing. We've both had to let go of our pre-COVID plans and expectations in order to make space for new plans and adjusted expectations. 

Learning during a pandemic should look different. And not just because hand sanitizer and masks feature prominently in our schools. But because we have shifted our teaching and learning to address what is truly essential for the success of our students in this new reality. 

Sunday, 13 September 2020

Managing Change - Our New COVID Reality


At my core, I am a creature of habit. I would suggest that for the most part, many educators are. We like structure and routine, predictability and patterns. Change is uncomfortable. And unsettling. It is an unknown element that fills many of us worry and stress. But I have also come to understand that in that place of uncertainty, growth and learning happens. Learning happens on the edge of understanding.

In many ways, this pandemic has forced us to re-examine long-held systems, to re-envision which aspects of our traditional structures best serve our communities. It has been an opportunity. With so much "new-ness", innovation and change is a constant. And for the most part, we have come to accept that. 

But with change, comes anxiety. It is palpable in our communities. It is real. And it can be debilitating. And so I am mindful of doing my best amidst all of this "new-ness" to also offer the security and stability of familiar routines and structures. 

The next few months will be about finding a balance. A balance between the new and the familiar. A balance between those things that must be implemented, and those things that we can take the time to examine. reflect upon and consult. 

I am in a new city, in a new district, at a new school. But like my fellow educators, one element remains the same - we will do our very best to support our students. 
No matter what. 

Sunday, 3 May 2020

Bridging the Distance in Distance Learning

When connections and relationships are essential to a successful school community, how is it possible to sustain and build upon those connections during this time of distance learning? Not only is this a challenge facing teachers, but one that school and district administrators must also consider as we strive to support our staff during challenging times.

Ideally, the ground work has already been established. The strong relationships that were founded when we had the opportunity for regular, face-to-face interactions will still exist. But even in those instances, new demands on our days might lead to some neglect of these strong ties. There is a tendency to assume that those who we feel "jut know" that we are here to support them may not need as much contact. But the overwhelming "new-ness" of our current state has a destabilizing effect on everyone.

Establishing connections with individuals who are new to our organizations is even more challenging.  As social creatures, we rely a great deal on "in-person" interactions. As such, establishing strong professional relationships via email, even video-conferencing, can be significantly more challenging.

In previous posts, I've shared what I believe to the be the essential elements of a successful school community (Five Essential Elements of a Successful School Community). I would suggest that these elements are even more essential during this time of distance learning. But with the complication of physical distance and a myriad of new obstacles, we need to be even more intentional in our approach.

Here are a few new understandings that I've come to;

1. Everything takes more time. With irregular schedules and less reliable methods of communication, I have learned to be patient, extending timelines for myself and others. Tasks that previously would have taken a few minutes, can now extend to days, even weeks. Operating on "old" timelines is unrealistic and stress invoking. We will all get there, eventually.

2. Everyone is feeling stressed and anxious. To varying degrees, each of us is operating in a new and challenging context. For many of us, we have shifted from a somewhat predictable and routine schedule to a very new reality. Our work days have likely taken on new hours. Our working environments look remarkably different. And our future is uncertain. I have learned that this constant state of stress and anxiety impacts each of us differently, and to be mindful of this in my interactions with others.

3. Relationships are more important than ever. Related to my first two points, I now "build in" time just to chat. While taking this time can be challenging with looming deadlines and numerous tasks to complete, I try to prioritize the person over the objective. Intentionally building in this time to connect and discuss topics that may be unrelated to the task at hand is ultimately more effective than trying to barge ahead with an agenda. Those few moments can provide valuable insight and understanding.
Relationships are more important than ever. 

Sharing Our Stories

       It is "Back to School" Eve. After over 30 years in education, the feelings of excitement and apprehension are pretty famili...