Sometimes, happenstance or serendipity, or whatever you want to call it, just happens.
We hear a lot about the difficulty of change. The stress of change. The reluctance of people to change. However I think change in under-rated. There is an excitement and a promise of possibility that can also accompany change. Quite frankly, I love it! Change is learning. Every time we venture out of the house, challenge our mind or talk to someone, we are stepping into the possibility of changing our experiences, our feelings, our thoughts or our life path. Perhaps that is why I like to travel, to read, to write and to talk, yes even ramble, to friends and relatives and even to strangers.
I am on the precipice of a change in job. I officially start as the principal of University Hill Elementary School on August 1st. I unofficially started moving in, learning, organizing and exploring at the beginning of July. I’ve had a chance to get to know the engineering staff, learn about the award winning UHill Kinderclub, School Aged Daycare and Preschool from the amazing staff, walk down the Salish trail and discover an immediate left turn takes you to Wreck Beach (yikes!). I have figured out how to change the sign with moveable letters at the front of the school and found the cheapest pots big enough to let the amazing plants in the entrance ways continue to flourish. I have unpacked my still excessive number of boxes of books, manipulatives (yes, I still have the bins of lego and wooden blocks from my own kids) and other treasures (yes, including my rocks). I am thrilled to have a huge old, oak desk in a huge office with three different views and windows that open.
I had a chance to meet staff, students and parents and heard about amazing outdoor learning programs, arts performances and work around Indigenous ways of knowing and technology in June. I can’t wait to get to know the people better and to discover the ways I can support them in their work. Change brings with it the possibility of continuing to grow and develop in ways we have yet to imagine. Yes, big change = big thrill. I love it!
For obvious reasons, I am thinking a lot about mothering today. Mother’s Day tends to do that. I was fortunate to have a mother whom I adored and provided an amazing model of steadfast love, tenacity and optimism that I have carried with me into my adult life. I have also had many other woman who have mothered me, including my step-mother, my grandmothers, special aunts, special friends and mothers of my best friends. They listened to my stories and told me theirs, gave me advice, sometimes solicited and sometimes not so much. They put on the kettle to solve the problems of the world or drove directly to Baskin-Robbins 31 Flavours. Yet, what they all had in common was that we laughed together, talked and played a lot. Conversations and learning were not planned events but came out of hours and hours of time spent together.
When my own kids were very young and I was frustrated in the midst of a messy house in the suburbs, surrounded by laundry, I made my best mothering decision. The sunshine beaconed but I was nowhere near finishing any of the housework or laundry. I knew at that moment that I needed to choose. I was going to clean the house and finish the laundry or we were going to the park. Going to the ski hill, going hiking or biking, going to the beach, going to the park, going to the library or going in the hot tub won. The house was messier than aspired for, but I heard the stories my kids were willing to share, fed their interests, laughed and got regular doses of joy. On the downward slopes on the parenting roller coaster, they provided the promise of better days to come.
I remember reading once that regardless of teacher training methods experienced, teachers often taught in ways that were most familiar to them. For me the biggest influences on me as a teacher, were the women who mothered me. Beach time and double solitaire with my Mom. My Auntie Myrna and her “What’s your story, Morning Glory?” Knitting, crafting and collecting stuff with Nanny Keenan. Endless games of Yahtzee and Parcheesi with Grandma Derksen. Playing cops and robbers with my step mother in the convertible en route to Mayfair Market and annual trips to Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm and the mall. Swimming up and down the pool with Mrs. Patrick debating anything and everything. These were woman who liked to spend time with me, laughed freely and played with me. What I brought with me into the classroom was a healthy appreciation of how I learned in environments where I was free to laugh and play with ideas and take more than one kick at the can to get it right. They also taught me the importance of seizing the opportunity as it presented itself. I feel so very grateful to the women who have mothered me. They have helped me to learn the most important things I needed to do as a parent and as a teacher.
This December is my last as vice principal at Tecumseh Elementary School. I have been at the school long enough to work, learn, play and share experiences with enough children and adults to make leaving a hard thing to do. Many Tecumseh students have heard my heartfelt speech that you choose everyday if you are going to make someone else’s life a little bit better or a little bit worse. I just realized that I have missed an important element. You have to understand that you impact others with the things you choose to do and the things you choose not to do. During my time at Tecumseh, particularly this past December, the Tecumseh school community has chosen to show me that they care about me. That choice has touched me deeply.
The cards, songs, poems, books and kind words show that you understand the things that are important to me and are grateful for our time together. I love that I have been able to help someone learn to talk to people and make friends, make someone feel special by saying hi and smiling, make someone else feel like they can kick a soccer ball or code or blog or learn English or choose who they want to be. I’m grateful to have talked and listened and laughed and learned with you. I appreciate that many of you have learned that strength can be physical but also standing up for what is right and believing in yourself.
Staff gave me a beautiful silver necklace with the wolf symbol crafted by Harold Alfred, as my parting gift. This symbol was also given to me on a card when I left Norquay Elementary School. I love it. As you well know, I am very interested in Indigenous ways of knowing and worked hard to further our collective understanding of our history and traditional indigenous teachings. I take the selection of this wolf symbol as a huge compliment and inspiration. The wolf represents great strength, is considered wise and powerful, chooses one mate for life and demonstrates strong loyalty to family. Not a bad symbol to have chosen for you!
I’ve learned many things about strength of purpose at Tecumseh. I love that staff signed me up for the Bike to Work Week and tested by ability to persevere until I could pedal up the hills from Kits to 41st and Commercial Street WITHOUT getting off my bike. I love that so many in the school community invested in our We Welcome Refugees project to show the strength of our conviction that Canada is a welcoming country that demonstrates empathy and belief in what people have to benefit our country. I love the enthusiasm that Tecumseh students bring to new learning and challenges. I love that so many students have the strength to continue to try even when they fail or the task is really hard or maybe not even fair. I also value that the families in our school community are so invested in creating a better future for their children, often in the face of significant challenges. My Mom struggled raising two daughters and supporting her extended family as I was growing up. I admire the same tenacity in our Tecumseh families.
Students, staff, parents and community partners have shown me in so many ways that they value the relationship we have developed over the years. I cannot tell you how much it means to me that the relationships we have developed means as much to you, as they do to me. I am so grateful for our time together and I wish all the very best for you in the future.
P.S. I am also grateful to Harold Alfred for creating my very special and beautiful gift.
When my son was young, Bart Simpson hit the air waves. I hated how the characters on the show talked and how they disrespected each other. It incensed me to the point that I refused to let my son watch it, despite a considerable amount of begging. The conversation ended briefly. I soon discovered that he would go to his friend Dennis’ house to watch the show. It wasn’t until that point that I agreed to watch the show with him. It opened the conversation. We would discuss what he found funny and what offended me. Although he still preferred to watch it at Dennis’ house without my commentary, at least he understood my perspective about the importance of respectful interaction.
The election of Donald Trump to the position of President Elect of the United States has stopped many conversations. Coming from a Canadian stance, it is largely incomprehensible how someone who has overtly disrespected and discredited woman, Latinos, Muslims, Immigrants and the LGBTQ community could be selected for public office, in part by the people he targeted. I needed to step away from being personally offended by his hateful rhetoric, in order to come to the conclusion that this was not just a win for misogyny, racism, homophobia, xenophobia and a fixation on the gun culture. This was a democratic election and the leader was chosen by the 55.6% of the population who opted to exercise their democratic right to vote.
It has pushed the need to ask questions about what is happening south of the border that has created the palpable anger and commanding voice for change? What is a “protest vote”? What is the “status quo” that has created such a reaction? Who voted for Trump? Did gender play a part in preventing the election of a woman? How did the close alignment with bankers and sizeable payouts to prevent bank failure impact public opinion? How much impact would Bernie Sanders have been able to make on what happened in a Clinton government? What was the impact of the votes garnered by Jill Stein and Gary Johnson? The list goes on.
As a vice principal in a school, I spend a large chunk of my time engaging in conversations about respectful interactions. The rules of the game in school are intended to prepare them for life.
- Tell the truth.
- Tell the other person your thoughts in a respectful way.
- Take responsibility for your behaviour.
- Empathize with the other person you are in conflict with.
- Don’t make yourself feel big by intimidating others with words, physical proximity or force.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote a letter to third graders at Tecumseh thanking them for their work to welcome Syrian refugees to Canada earlier this year. In the letter he told them that their voices and what they do matter right now. I believe our children internalize these messages that their voices matter, just like they internalize the rules of respectful engagement when they live it. My hope is that our children fully participate in the democratic process by voting and holding elected officials accountable for their conduct, actions and decisions. My dream is for them to assume roles and responsibilities in the future where they are able to conduct themselves with integrity, intelligence and kindness to create a world based on respect for peace and justice.
I love the new possibilities that come with each new year. I have been blogging for several years now for a variety of purposes:
- to discover unexplored terrain- the world of blogging
- to share my adventure teaching and traveling in China with friends and family at home
- to explore my own ideas and thinking
- to develop my own writing skills by sharing with an audience
- to share food, wine and experiences I love
- to share subject specific information with literacy educators
- to provide content with students
- to encourage student writing and development of skills
- to develop reading -writing connections
- to share my ideas on a broad spectrum of educational issues
- to develop a sense of community with my readers
It was interesting when I first looked at the WordPress stats and realized that people beyond my friends, relatives and acquaintances were reading my professional blog. It was flattering but also gave me the sense that there were many like-minded people who I’d like to connect with. I just don’t quite know how to do that. My quest for 2016 is to figure that out.
I have a three pronged plan to develop a online community of people to challenge my thinking with divergent opinions, affirm my “ah ha” moments and shared realities, and provide information and thoughts on their own educational contexts.
- I signed up to be part of School Administrators Virtual Mentorship Program (#savmp) in fall
- I signed up for Blogging 101 offered by WordPress. Thanks for pushing the card on this post, Josh!
- I’m scheduling time to respond to other bloggers.
The focus of my professional blog has morphed from a singular focus on literacy development to encompass a broad spectrum of professional issues and concerns. I hope you’ll join me in my efforts to develop an online community of learners.
This year I have read a plethora of reasons NOT to participate in the tradition of New Year’s resolutions: “If you can’t love yourself at 185 lbs., you can’t love yourself at 150 lbs.” “Embrace who you are.” “Be gentle with yourself.” I am a believer in self care and proactive, positive change but these loud and prolific proclamations evoke the images of Mr. Scrooge and his “Humbug” response to considering the notion of goodwill toward all people during the Christmas season.
Part of family tradition with my mother included annual New Year’s Resolutions. The pens and erasers and note paper from stockings were put to good use. My mother, my older sister and later my sister-cousin, would compile lists of things that we were going to do in the following year. It was a time of dreaming big and thinking through all of the possibilities. I did learn to ski, snowboard, water ski, drive, finish a 10 km run, do a mini-triathalon, finish my MA, take the kids to the park rather than clean the house, entertain, travel and rotate between personal and professional reads.
Yes, I have also been a chronic breaker of New Year’s resolutions. My eating habits slip and so does my exercise regime. My love affair with diet coke re-ignites. I don’t sleep enough and work too late. I don’t invest enough time into human rights work. I don’t do all of the wild and wonderful things I had planned for the new year. But the possibility remains that I will and if I do, I will be proud of my accomplishment.
I still heartily believe that I can be a better version of myself. And so I am in the process of making both personal and professional goals for the upcoming year. This will be the year I unfriend diet coke, eat less junk, take more stairs, stretch before I exercise, get enough sleep and maximize engagement in relationships and in online possibilities. And yes, I believe I can do it. At least some of it. Hope still burns! And in my wake of enthusiasm, I will encourage my relatives, friends, colleagues and students to join me in the pursuit of being the very best version of ourselves. Good luck with your New Year’s resolve and accomplishments big or small along the way! Continue reading “The Best Version of Ourselves”
Santa chose a winner with the book selection for my stocking this year, Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis. This Giller prize winner is a quick, enjoyable read with prompts pondering of the big questions of life. Apollo and Hermes make a bet that given human intelligence, any animal would be even more unhappy than humans at death. Fifteen dogs in a Toronto veterinary clinic are gifted or cursed, depending on your perspective, with human consciousness.
The responses to the change in their lives brings reactions in the dogs that we are all quite familiar with…
fear of change, clinging to a notion of “old ways” that results in an adherence to a bastardized version of the past, embracing change, efforts to adapt, a quest to communicate, formation of alliances, fear of differences, plotting, selfishness, brutality, subjugation, revenge, jealousy, love, betrayal, loyalty, hope, loss…
In the lead up to the season of New Year’s Resolutions, it begs the question, what matters most? How do we lead life in a way that maintains the integrity of our core beliefs? Just a few more days to figure that out.
It 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.
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.