Brave Enough To Try

Over many of years as an educator, I have presented to many audiences in many capacities.  I’ve presented to students from Kindergarten to secondary, students at the university level, educators on staff and at professional development events, parents at PAC meetings or on school tours.  I have informed and entertained individuals to large groups.  I can throw a good party where everyone is invited.  I can fill in uncomfortable silences and make my guests feel welcome.


I was invited by Gabe Pillay to present at EDvent2017.  An event framed around the words of Cicero, “Learning is a kind of natural food for the mind”, promised an entertaining and thought provoking event.  The ideas came fast and furious.  What makes a fabulous restaurant experience?  What makes an optimal learning experience?

I had 5 minutes to quickly enlighten and inspire my audience.  The challenge from my friend and SFU colleague, Linda Klassen, was to try the Ignite format based on the Japanese PechaKucha .  Twenty slides advancing with a timer.  She did warn me about the challenge of maintaining the timing with the slides and the talk but assured me I was up to the challenge.

I loved the thinking around the idea of a menu for meaningful learning.  On Spring Break, the ideas came together on the beach in Vietnam.  Choosing the slides was fun. The big challenge for me  was being concise.  As I’ve told many of you, when my Auntie Myrna said “What’s your story, Morning Glory?”,  I included a well developed plot with all of the details.  Words had to be cut right, left and center.  Every word that was uttered, mattered.  Of course, it didn’t help that the slides and timing were submitted long before I finished changing the script.  If only I had followed the advice frequently given to my students to leave lots of time to practice.  I stopped scripting talks long ago because I thought it made me sound stilted when I talked.  In this format, I needed to relearn the art.  Scripting was imperative to maintain the timing. My Grandmother singing Rambling Rose was in the forefront of my mind.  I needed to focus.  To be specific yet still…inspiring…entertaining.

With every risk comes the chance of failure.  When self doubt triggers, it multiplies exponentially.  I am a big picture thinker with imagination which in cases like this does not help.  I am on the slate of presenters who I respect. I step up to the podium with a real sense of regret I hadn’t finalized in enough time to memorize the talk.  Why am I doing this again?  I scan the room and consider the worst case scenario.  Yes, I was that nervous.

In 5 minutes, it is all over and I am free to truly enjoy the rest of the event complete with inspiring speakers, yummy appies, hilarious Iron-EDU-Chef challenges and the infamous Candy Bar.  This risk taking endeavor has perhaps not been as inspirational as I had hoped for but has allowed for a connection with the audience and an experience to reflect on.

As school leaders we welcome, encourage and prompt our staff to take the risk to try something new on a regular basis.  The new curriculum in B.C. commands not only new ways of approaching established curriculum  but new ways of thinking.  Yet, it is easy to forget the range of emotions engaged by the process of taking risks.   It is an act of courage to try something different.  It is an act of bravery to do it repetitively.  Every now and then I think we all need to try something that scares us enough to remember the extent of that bravery!  Kudos to our teachers who do it everyday!

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Taking learning and purposeful play outside, rain or shine

imageInvestigating Our Practice Conference in the Faculty of Education on Saturday, May 14th.  The day was filled with poster presentations, talks and interactive experiences by undergraduates, grad students, faculty and alumni.  It was particularly exciting to see the level of engagement of the student giving up their very sunny Vancouver Saturday to consider a range of ideas and questions.  For those of you who are not Vancouverites, when the sun comes out in full glory, we go outside – never quite certain how long it will be around.

I had the pleasure of presenting The Outdoor Classroom:  Taking learning and purposeful play outside, rain or shine with Claire Rushton, Alli Tufaro and Ali Nasato.        We were pulled together by a common interest in the opportunity provided by outdoor learning.  This one interest was able to pull together so many elements that have been embraced as key ideas in the Redesigned Curriculum in British Columbia, such as:

  • The social emotional benefits of engaging with nature
  • The natural way in which we can engage students in practicing and understanding the First Nations Principles of Learning, including:
    • experiential learning
    • patience and time required for learning
    • exploring one’s identity
    • everyone and everything has a story
    • history matters
    • there are consequences to our actions
  • Ways to engage students in cross curricular learning opportunities
  • Connecting classroom lessons to the larger world
  • Using resources in the classroom to answer our questions about observations made outdoors
  • Reporting back about the things we care about to authentic audiences

Of course, the list goes on.  Another interesting aspect of our collaborative group was the power of inquiry in developing our professional practice as educators throughout different stages of our careers.  Both student teachers have found a way to focus their  professional learning throughout the practicum experience.  Claire Rushton, as the coordinator of the Social Emotional Learning cohort has used the outdoors to bring  Richard Louv’s work to life and introduce the power of “nature … as a healing balm for the emotional hardships in a child’s life..” by integrating the experiences in nature to frame discussions of social – emotional learning. I have engaged in a personal inquiry of how to use iPad APPS  (photos, Drawing Pad, Book Creator, Twitter) as a way to access information, document and share outdoor learning.  I’ve also been able to support the staff I interact with on a regular basis in their own inquiries.  Inquiry, as framed by Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser in Spirals of Inquiry, has provided a framework for beginning teachers as well as a school administrator and university instructor.  The learning has fuelled more questions and future inquiries.

 

I very much hope our collaboration continues…perhaps after the frenetic pace of the end of practicum, final observations and reports and end of year demands and celebrations!

Why Do I Lead?

imageIt is a hectic time of year but pretty much every month in the school year is shrouded in busyness.  Getting back to school, meeting reporting deadlines, getting ready of special assemblies, celebrations and project presentations with the overarching goal of meeting the social, emotional and academic needs of our students.  In administration, you add yet another layer to the busyness.   During our recent career day sponsored by the Spirit Committee, one of the students chose “Vice Principal” as their dream job.  Of course, it begged the question.  Why?  The response was true enough: I smile a lot and laugh at my own jokes.  I spend most of the days just talking to kids and teachers and parents and people who fix stuff in the school.  I get to play everyday.  I have a whistle and lots of keys.  I get to do fun things like building the playground and garden boxes. I make rules and get to talk on the PA. What more could you want in a dream job?

I recently became part of the School Administrators Virtual Mentor Program (#SAVMP).  George Couros suggested the blog topic:  Why Do I Lead?  It has pushed me to reflect on the various types of leadership that I have experienced as a student, a teacher, a parent and an administrator.  My first memory of  leadership was in Grade 7 at David Lloyd George Elementary School in Vancouver, British Columbia.  I was running to be team captain.   I was nervous beyond belief to be up on the stage giving a speech and facing the possibility of a humiliating defeat.  My eyes flickered up from my shaking cue cards to see the front rows of primary students cheering.  Those little people believed I could be their leader.    Getting elected was thrilling but the biggest takeaway for me as a kid was that big people and little people believed my ideas mattered and wanted to talk about them with me.  My takeaway as an adult is that I want everyone in our school communities to have that experience.

Subsequent activities that I have chosen, or been co-oped to lead, have been things I have been heavily invested in, such as social justice, my children, my students and professional development.  Leaderships skills were not a precursor to assuming the leadership roles for me but were more of a by-product of the experiences themselves. Every leadership role has been a risk taking venture.  The learning has come with the grand successes or the abysmal failures or the things to consider for a later date.  Each leadership opportunity has connected me with people who pushed my thinking, made me laugh, tried my patience and allowed me to see things from a different perspective.  Each opportunity helped me to grow personally and professionally.

There are many opportunities for leadership when you work in a school.  Throughout my career, I assumed a variety of leadership roles in sports, BC teacher Federation PSA, LSA’s, professional associations and committees while teaching at the elementary school, middle school and university level.  When I was seconded to Simon Fraser University as a faculty associate, my realm of leadership possibilities broadened.  In the Faculty Associate role, I worked in several school districts with student teachers in a Kindergarten to Grade 12 module.  It provided the opportunity to engage in conversations with many administrators about their role and experience many school cultures.  The multifaceted challenges in the role of the administrator in developing a learning community was intriguing.

I have been fortunate to work with a number of strong school administrators who challenged the status quo and supported teachers with innovative teaching practices. What they all had in common was the willingness to support and trust the initiatives proposed by staff members.   We are fortunate in British Columbia to have a strong public school system.  We are also in a time of unprecedented change that requires that educators have the confidence and support structures in place to cope with the advances in technology and shifts in parenting, society and curricular expectations.  School administrators play an integral role in creating and envisioning an environment that supports the intellectual, human, and social and career development of all students.    This requires their personal investment identifying the possibilities open to us as educators.   It is inspiring to work in community to develop the background knowledge and skills required to provide the scaffolding for school communities to meet with success in the challenges of change.  Richard Gerver (2014) highlights the work of Professor Guy Claxton (2002) and his definition of the 4 R’s of Learning Power as Resilience, Resourcefulness, Reflectiveness and Reciprocity.  I lead because I want to be part of a network that supports teachers, support staff, parents and community partners in providing the very best kick at the can for our students to graduate with the background knowledge, skills, creativity, and confidence to fearlessly embrace the possibilities in their future.