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

The Joy of Reading Report Cards

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No, the title is not a joke.  MANY years ago, my principal walked into my office, with coffee in hand, and deposited a relatively small pile of report cards on the desk of his beleaguered VP during report card time.  Stressed parents.  Stressed teachers.  Stressed Admin staff.  Stress kids.  Hundreds of report cards to read, give feedback, and sign.  Yet with a smile on his face, a coffee in hand and the lion’s share of the report cards, off he went to his office.  Being that beleaguered VP, I set to work to return the report cards with suggestions on post it notes, or signature and appreciative comments on a thank you notes back to teachers ASAP so we could all “get on with it”.  I feverishly finished and went to announce victory to my principal and thank him for the taking the biggest pile to review and sign.  There he was sitting with the student photo book from the school photographer in hand, the class lists in front of him, reading report cards – still with a smile on his face.  “Hey, listen to this…”

It was at that point, I learned about how to read report cards.  It was not an addition to my already heavy workload but the real work – getting to know the kids better so I could support their learning.  It has now become for me, what it is for parents – additional insight into what they already know about the child and his/her/their learning.  Sitting down with the photo book allows me to match the name with the child, if I haven’t already done so.  It makes me smile.  It gives me a new piece of the puzzle or confirms my suspicions.  Classroom visits and meetings with parents and teachers, give me some insight into the individual children.  Interaction on the playground gives me another perspective.  Teachers provide another.  Student voice in the report card provides yet another.

With the roll out of new curriculum in British Columbia, there has been a new spotlight on student understanding of his/her/their learning.  Student voice in report cards has been included in many well written report cards over the years.  However, with the new curriculum in British Columbia, student voice has become a focus.  Our very own, Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser, of Spirals of Inquiry fame, have given us the structure to facilitate this within our own learning and classroom instruction:

  • What are you learning and why is it important?
  • How is it going?
  • What next?

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As students experience answering these questions, and posing them on their own, student voice finds its way into assessment and reporting practices.  This is where the true joy emerges for me as a reader of report cards.  There is incredible promise when students are empowered to take control of their own learning.  The ability to identify learning strengths, areas that require more repetition and practice, and strategies for further learning,  the ceiling is removed from what our children are able to achieve.   It develops the metacognitive skills required for children to think about their own thinking and learning, then develop a plan to move forward.

I’m hoping the practice of paying students for being good at something at report card time is replaced with good conversations about celebration of successes, as well as plans for future efforts.  As a little girl, my daughter swam with the Coquitlam Sharks and was repeatedly disqualified  (DQ’d) at swim meets during the dreaded butterfly stroke.  So much that we regularly went to the DQ to eat ice cream and shake it off after swim meets.  The first meet that Larkyn wasn’t DQ’d, our family went crazy.  We hooted.  We hollered.  We hugged. We cheered with enthusiasm and apparently volume!  The dad beside me leaned in and said, “You know your kid didn’t win, right?”  However, Larkyn conquering the “butterfly stroke” was the biggest win of our swim club experience and is entrenched in family lore.  My hope is that is what report card time can be just like that for all families.  Reading strength-based report cards that are honest about achievement, clear about areas requiring more focused attention and delineate a plan to move forward, give me hope.  It is possible for report cards to bring joy.  These are the opportunities to create enduring family stories.

 

 

Back to School

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It is that time of year where I am filled with conflicted emotions.  I desperately want to eke out every possible enjoyment of summer.  The lazy days of summer start to pick up the pace.  I desperately want to maximize reading of fiction, organizing, writing, socializing, exercise and random opportunities into the last days of freedom from responsibility.  The last bit of time before the days spin by and I drop into bed exhausted.  Too tired to read.  Too tired to pick up after myself.  Too tired to want to do anything other than flop down in front of reruns of Modern Family.

And yet, there is also the excitement of a new school year.  The smell of new books.  The seduction of brand-new highlighters and pens, colourful file folders and novel post-it notes.  The promise of a new year with complete organization and balance in life.  People to meet.  Conversations that make a difference.  The excitement of a new year of possibilities.

The good-bye speech from one of my teachers at my previous school, included the story of the teacher calling me to deal with four boys that were wreaking havoc in his class one afternoon.  He came to my office to find them drinking tea and talking about their feelings.  There is always a story and I do love to unearth them!  Facilitating the first steps to calm-down strategies and then moving on to problem solving makes a big difference in student perceptions of conflict and their ability to navigate it.  It’s also the essential piece required for empathy and for relationships to be repaired.  I look forward to facilitating those lessons that have the potential to make long term differences in lives and a kinder and more peaceful world.

I also love the opportunity to collaborate about learning opportunities with colleagues, students, parents, and community partners.  I have been fortunate to work with many strong administrators in my capacity as both a teacher, administrator, and as a parent.  These individuals believed in a flattened hierarchy and they believe in empowering others to assume leadership positions.  I look forward to helping teachers, parents and community partners to achieve ends that benefit them personally while also supporting the school community.

The Vancouver School district has defined a vision of creating a collaborative learning community through a lens of excellence and equity.  As a social justice advocate, equity of opportunity for all students in foundational in my educational philosophy.  As a principal in a new school, I am reflecting on what I need to learn from my new school community.  I will be investing in trying to learn about a new school culture.  I’m looking forward to the opportunity to the activities and conversations that can lead to a common understanding of our culture and define directions to consolidate and celebrate our strengths and the capacity for future growth.

Over the past year, our dynamic superintendent, Suzanne Hoffman, has used the metaphor of the iceberg to facilitate conversations between administrators about the culture in the Vancouver School Board, one of the largest and most complex of the 60 districts in the province.  It has provided a meaningful way to facilitate discussion about culture,  both the visible parts of the culture that are easily observable, but also the larger mass that exists beneath the surface and is more difficult to discern.

I spent most of my career as a teacher in Coquitlam.  When I started to work as an administrator in Vancouver a decade ago, I discovered the challenge of trying to identify and understand the less obvious aspects of culture.   I attended VSB schools from Kindergarten to Grade 12.  I lived in Vancouver until I got married and moved to the suburbs.  I believed I knew Vancouver culture.  And I did know the obvious, exposed areas of the iceberg.  But I had no insight into the less obvious aspects of the culture.

Visiting David Livingstone Elementary and initial conversations have given me some insight into the culture and vibrancy of opportunity at the school.  I look forward to the conversations with the people in the school community to help me develop a deeper understanding to guide my work.  And this part is the most enticing part of back of school.