Tuesday, July 9, 2013


Reflections on Short Course 2013

Reflections on Short Course 2013

Day 1:
I spent the day with my group at Short Course discussing our key values, of ourselves as professionals and of our schools. We all agreed that there are some common core values, and that the list is also quite diverse. The big question of the day for me was how best to reflect my values in daily school life and how to articulate and sustain them in the face of competing values, morals and ethics.

We spent some time brainstorming what essential values we’d have posted above the door of our schools? Here’s my list:
1.       Respect
2.       Responsibility
3.       Dignity
4.       Kindness
5.       Cooperation
We also arrived at several other key ideas: honesty, fairness, tolerance/acceptance, courage, caring, humour, integrity, effort, attitude, understanding, inclusion, compassion, fairness, civility.

I am impressed by the experiences some participants brought to the table in sharing examples of how they modeled moral courage in their professional lives. They are already leaders with impressive backgrounds. Although they are a group of beginning school administrators, collectively they are an inspiring resource, a rich repository of knowledge and experience.

·       What does the evidence point to at your school? Where is the moral barometer at your school? Is everyone on the same page?

·       What five values would you have above the door of your school?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Celebration of Learning

One of the schools I work at recently decided to try a new way of recognising student achievement. We are having an ongoing discussion about how to recognise achievement, when that might happen during the school year, and what that might look like as we move forward in the school year. While the discussion was initiated by me, the teaching staff are definitely willing to give something new a try. I think we all agree that Honour Roll assemblies and medals for Principal's List, while motivating for some students and celebrated by parents, are not recognising the bulk of the students at our school.

Through my blog reading and following Twitter, I am aware of many discussions about this topic, and decided I would do my best to bring this to our staff team. I am also hoping that the discussions amongst staff will spread to other stakeholders in our community: students, families and extended community members.

Our first step this year was to have a Celebration of Learning assembly. Each teacher agreed to choose one month in the school year to bring something that students are learning to our monthly assemblies.  The intent is that students, whether it is two partners or an entire class, will share something with the school. I made sure to let staff know that the parameters are wide open, as long as it is tied to something the students are learning in class. I was both please and surprised by the results of the first assembly.

Our oldest students were the first to present at the October assembly. Students came forward to recite poems on a Halloween theme, many of them by Edgar Allen Poe. I was pleased by the courage many students showed, reading or reciting aloud in front of their peers, parents, grandparents and a school trustee. One thought I had afterwards was that while everyone had a chance to present, the length of time it took to for all students to share their poem definitely watered down the power of the moment. Another surprise for me was the video their teacher chose to show as a wrap-up -- a short animated clip that I did not have the opportunity to preview (note to self: preview all presentations in the future!). Many students enjoyed the clip, but the content was not appropriate for all ages, in my opinion.

A happy surprise was that another teacher made a last minute decision to put a video together of a project her class had just finished. Candid interviews on the topic of bullying, along with the "why's" and "how's" of dealing with the issue were spliced together. The culmination of the short presentation was a song, sung by the entire class, decked out in pink shirts. I did have the opportunity to preview this film, and it was a wonderful wrap-up to our first Celebration of Learning.

While our journey is just beginning, I feel like we have taken an important first step. I was able to share the rationale for beginning this process with some parents. Some of our teachers were able to see an excellent example by a passionate teacher of just the sort of initiative I was hoping for. I feel like it primed the pump for future conversations during the rest of the school year.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Creating a Digital Learning Commons

cc licensed flickr photo by Enkhtuvshin

Refreshed, rejuvenated, revisioning...

Having spent the weekend with school administrators from around BC I am feeling energized and ready to leap back into some of life's challenges again. It was great to reconnect with folks and to meet some people I've only ever known from social networks and blogs. While following the twitter feed at the conference (#bcpvpaconf) I came across this blogpost by Johnny Bevaqua (@jvbevacqua), one of the Principals who's blog I follow. It was great to read about a library project that is rethinking how we use that kind of space. It was also a good reminder for me that sometimes a blogpost doesn't need to be about a momentous "aha!", but can be about relating something exciting we are trying in our schools.
At one of my elementary schools this year we are rethinking how we use our library space, and how we access and interact with texts. We are planning to use tablets and an app like Overdrive media to borrow public library books. Teachers will also be using the devices to plan projects. The ultimate goal is to find a way to access digitized resources from our newly branded District Learning Commons.
Together with teachers and students from the school, community members,  district resource staff and admin from both sites, we have embarked on a journey -- one that is uncertain in that we don't know where it will lead. This makes me nervous, even a little afraid. It's funny though, because as a teacher this is what I did every day and every lesson. Somehow setting off into the unknown feels a little more risky these days. It's exciting, and I'm glad to be part of a team. I'm looking forward to documenting the journey here over the next few months.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Principles for principals

Great ambition is the passion of a great character. Those endowed with it may perform very good or very bad acts. All depends on the principles which direct them.
Napoleon Bonaparte

Everyone has their own personal set of guiding principles. Those of us in the field of education often examine our principles, our values, our morals, as we are frequently teaching them explicitly to others. Our principles become especially important during times of stress or strife, particularly during  those times when we disagree with others.

Here are several ways I strive to put principles before personalities at school:
  • during my conversations remember that my focus needs to be on serving the needs of students
  • it is okay to disagree without being disagreeable
  • not everyone shares the same values as I do, but they are still deserving of respect and dignity
  • I am in a position of trust, and need to represent the interests of many diverse parties
  • most importantly, treat others how I would like to be treated
My list is not comprehensive, and there are many great resources for this sort of thing. I like to keep a few of these simple ideas on post-it notes on my bulletin board. It helps to keep me focused and serving the needs of students. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Think (and act) Positive

As I prepare for a new school year, and my first year as school principal, I've had several occasions to think about the power of positivity. I've enjoyed reading a couple posts by other administrators on this topic, in particular a post by @MrWejr on the Friday 5, and @L_Hilt on The Power of Positivity. Like these principals, I see so much energy around me, but much of it appears wasted on negative, draining pursuits.

Happiness is an attitude.
There is anxiety that comes with starting a new school year. Folks want to be ready, to have it all together, to feel organised. Adding to an already stressful situation for some, is the challenge of a labour dispute in our province. Without delving into that hot topic, it is safe to say that some people feel a little more anxiety than usual. My thoughts lately have strayed towards how I can influence the climate in our schools in a positive way. The primary way I see myself doing that is by being "solution oriented" -- thinking and acting in a positive way.

For me, being in the solution means considering the problem, but not getting weighed down by it. As @L_Hilt pointed out in her post, we are in the people business, and the business of serving students and families. I need to look at problems as challenges, or jigsaw puzzles. I often have some of the pieces but can't see the whole picture. It is part of my role as a leader to pop my head up and try to orient us in the bigger picture. Being forward thinking or solution oriented keeps me driving towards that purpose.

Another way I like to think of problems and solutions is using the analogy of a balance. When I am stuck in the problem, I am adding grains of sand to the problem side of the balance. If I am solution oriented I can tip the balance in the other direction. It is important for me to remember when I am in the thick of it that it only takes one grain of sand, one seemingly small action, to tip the scales in a new direction.

The upswing for me is that positivity is infectious, and the result is often happiness! Although it is sometimes hard work, as Seth Godin writes in his post "The problem with positive thinking", it is worth it. It is hard to be a downer around an enthusiastic, smiling and positive person. The effect on staff, and hence students and the learning environment, is magnificent. I owe it to myself to affect this change.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The First Two Days

photo by Ganymede, available on Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/people/goldenhamster/

On my first day as a principal, I received a frantic email (cc'd to the superintendant, no less) from a teacher locked out of the school. This email was sent at 7 am on the 22nd of August, a full two weeks before school started! When I arrived, at a much more reasonable 8:45, I discovered that I had no computer or network access. I couldn't even put in a ticket to request a tech analyst help me with my problem, because I was locked out of any and all computers in the school. At least the phones worked. I spent much of the rest of the day searching for keys to cabinets, missing document cameras and projectors, vinegar for the moldy coffee maker (Starbucks is REALLY far away) and chatting with teachers (a much more fruitful and enjoyable task!). I can't wait to hire a secretary for this school!

On my second day, I arrived at my “other” school to discover that my office had been entirely deconstructed by the custodian over the summer. He did a bang up job of cleaning the carpets, but in the process hid my office furniture (and computer) in various parts of the school. As I searched throughout the school I discovered not one, but two, leaks from the previous day's thunderstorm. “No problem”, I said to myself. Once I get my office arranged and my computer set up, I'll put in a ticket to have the roofer or the plumber come have a look. However, I soon discovered that I did not have access to any computers at this school either! Didn't we solve this problem yesterday? Fortunately I soon had computer access and was able to write a newsletter, create a year-at-a-glance calendar, and take a big bite out of my staff handbook.

I share these adventures not as a discouragement, or by way of complaint, but to celebrate what wonderfully diverse jobs we have. The funny part is, I haven't even met any parents or students yet! It is bound to get only more exciting.