A Pandemic Possibility of Courage and New Growth

My Apple watch buzzed on my wrist and I looked down.  Premier John Horgan announces kids back in school on June 1st.  Before I have a chance to react, my Apple watch buzzes again.  The breathe icon pops up on my watch reminding me.  In through your nose.  Out through your mouth.  If this pandemic has taught me nothing else, it has taught me to be ready to pivot.  Our only constant in this time, is that things will change.  The trick is finding a way to navigate the change in the midst of big emotion all around.

I jumped out of bed on Saturday morning on high alert.  Things to be done.  What deadlines had I missed?  What was absolutely essential to accomplish before 8 am?  The forecast was for rain but no rain yet.  Every Vancouverite can appreciate the pressure to optimize this opportunity.  It was now late enough to rally my husband and go for a walk.

Walking the seawall before the crowds descend never gets old.  The constancy of the waves and the mountains. Breathing in the sea air.  Stopping to notice.  The cherry blossoms are done.  The dogwoods are in full glory. The realization that  poppies come in many colours.  More people staying home, have resulted in a new boldness from our birds.  The Canadian geese with their many babies don’t even bother to get out of the way.  Their honk is louder and closer.  The blue herons pause longer before even looking in your direction.  The crows fly closer to your head.   Only the seagulls are put out with the reduced human consumption of fish and chips which directly impacts their diet.

On the route back home on the rough stone of the seawall, between Second Beach and English Bay, a beautiful array of carved serpentine stones.  The Metis artist, Jock Langlois, has taken shelter under a beach bush, because he too could smell the approaching rain.  Jock left his job in the corporate world many years ago to become a street artist.  He embraced the power of desire, faith and action to reveal the beautiful messages hidden in stone.  The image of the bear jumped out to me first.  For my husband it was the eagle.  Then the most obvious image on this overcast day, the raindrop.  The eagle messenger.  The bear of courage.  The raindrop of new growth.   All rolled up in one inspirational piece of art.

Inspiration is just like learning.  You need to be ready to identify it.  Ready to receive it.  Ready to learn from it.  Jock Langlois was able to hand me a message of courage and the possibility of  new growth.  Thanks to the teaching of my mother, emergency cash was tucked ready between my phone and it’s case.

There is so much change and fear wrapped around the COVID-19 times.   How do we step forward with courage and look for the learning that will help us to grow as individuals and communities?  The pause to reflect on what will feed inspiration and innovation.  The willingness to embrace possibilities is what will feed the community.  We will change as a result of this global pandemic.  Walking in fear tends to result in stagnancy or ugliness.  Being courageous and stepping forward together as problem solvers promises new learning and the possibility of better pathways in our future.

Thanks, Jock.  I’m glad our pathways crossed yesterday.  I am happy to have your art as a reminder of the incredible beauty in our midst and the enduring message of courage for new growth.  Check out his story and his art.

Metis man discusses life after quitting job to carve

A Dozen Ways to Find #Joy During COVID-19 Self Isolation

1.  Celebrate a really good cup of coffee first thing in the morning.  I discovered I had one more tin of coffee from the Café Du Monde in New Orleans.  Oh the happy memories of travelling.  Bonus!

2.  Prepare really good food to eat.  It might be cooking old favourites or involve trying some new recipes.  I had just recently came across the recipe for the cinnamon buns that I adored when I was getting my Bachelor of Education Degree at U.B.C.  I am still trying to perfect the carmelized topping that I remember from back in the day!

                                                                                                Aspiring to recreate iconic UBC Cinnamon Buns

3.  Be grateful for small kindnesses.  After I sent my second letter home to parents and students, I got the gift of a drawing from one of my students for the Easter weekend.  It made my day.

4.  Marvel at Springtime Blossoms and amazing views during physically distanced outings.  The cherry blossoms and the magnolias are particularly magnificent right now!

5.  Feed your mind.  Read lots of books.  Fat, sad books.  Non-fiction.  Listen to audiobooks.  Poignant books read by the author and hard-boiled detective novels.  Professional sources.

6.  Write journals, stories, blogs and poems.

7.  Slow down and take time to notice details in familiar places. 

 

8.  Sink your teeth into a great binge watch.   Netflix.  Showtime.  Cable TV.  When else will you invest the time to commit to several seasons in a few days!  A binge watch of  Marie Kondo inspired me to go crazy with organization! 

9.  Start new routines.  I did an online workout and discovered muscles I forgot I had.  

10.  Take the opportunity to do chores that haven’t been done in years.  Or perhaps should be done every week.  The joy for me is in the finished product.  The clean gene skipped me and I find NO enjoyment in this task.  I also find that I am able to control the start and finish of these tasks.  And yes…I do like that.  The big joke when I lived in the suburbs was that if there was ever an earthquake, the coats of paint on the walls would hold up the house!

11.  Plan at home date nights, virtual social times, celebrations, and events – even if it is just a very English tea time.

 

     

     12.  Plan for when life goes back to normal and the possibilities open up.

School in the Wake of COVID-19

Spring break is almost over in Vancouver, British Columbia.  On Monday, March 30th, for the first time in my life, the doors of the school will not open to welcome students back.  The doors of the school will remain locked.  Students will not return to in-class schooling as per the direction of BC Health officials.  This is completely new terrain for educators, families and students.  Fortunately, we had the luxury of Spring Break.  No one is falling behind. We had the gift of two weeks to consider how we will approach this challenge.  Although educators have been on a regularly scheduled holiday, I know the work ethic of my colleagues.  I’m willing to guarantee that more than one educator is already dreaming about kids, thinking about the days ahead, and creating a things to do list.  Teachers are dedicated individuals who go into the profession because they want to enrich the lives of children.  At this point in the school year, teachers know their students personally and have a good understanding of their individual learning needs.  Teachers will be participating in conversations and online meetings on Monday and Tuesday and contacting parents in the coming week.  Administrators have been participating in online meetings with district staff and dealing with a barrage of email to prepare to meet the most immediate needs.  Our superintendent is communicating online with staff, being interviewed and creating YouTube videos to reassure people that we’ve got this.  At home, there are some basic things that families may find helpful to support their child(ren) in learning at home.

The new curriculum in British Columbia has garnered worldwide attention because it has effectively incorporated current research about learning.  This involves looking at learning through a different lens than what most adults grew up with.  Learning has never been something that happens between the hours of 9 – 3 pm.  The redesigned British Columbia curriculum tries to capitalize on the curiosity of a typical 5-year-old entering kindergarten and put the supports and structures in place for that same curiosity to continue to exist in the typical 17-year-old student in secondary school.  It capitalizes on the role of student interest, self-regulation, and benchmarks to signal a need to loop back for more repetition and practice, or to move on to the next phase of learning.  Learning may be happening for all of the waking hours but “school time” allows for the time for deep thinking and the front-end loading for skill development.  It is not intended to be painful, but it is intended to be deliberate.  Although not all parents are educators, all parents educate their children in one way or another through-out their lives.  Here are some things you can do with your children to facilitate learning at home.

Set up a workspace for school times.

Support kids in setting up a workspace for 9 am to 3 pm.  Currently at home I am taking  up the entire dining room.  Pencils, paper, journal, iPad, plug in.  Have your child make a list of things required.  They are best at “doing school”.  I would encourage one notebook designated for questions.  Questions might be for teachers or for future inquiry projects.  Let the teacher know if there are things you require when you are contacted.

Set up a daily routine for “school”.

Sit down and create a daily schedule with your child.  In my classroom, it was always called The Shape of the Day.  Kids will recognize this process as it is done in one form or another in most classrooms.  Showering, getting dressed, eating breakfast and brushing teeth happen before the start of the school day.  Be sure to build in “recess” and “lunch” breaks.  Be on time.  You could be teaching your child the structure so they can have a successful home-based business in the future.

9:00 am – Review daily schedule.

Make any necessary changes to incorporate Skype calls to interview Grandma, chats with friends about books they are reading, or interesting programming that fit in with student learning.

9:15 am – Online yoga or physical activity to stretch and exercise.

9:30 am – Literacy Time

Children get better at reading by reading.  This may involve taking turns reading with a parent.  It could involve listening to a parent read and stopping to discuss issues and interpretations.  It could be listening to an audiobook and following up with discussion with peers via messenger or illustrating while listening or writing a journal entry afterwards.  It could be writing a personal blog or a story.

10:30 -11:00 am – recess break / Snack preparation by the child and free choice play

Snack preparation is another opportunity for developing literacy and numeracy skills as well as teaching about nutrition and independence.   Let your child participate.  Opportunity for more physical activity.

11:00 am – Numeracy Activities

The type of activities done during numeracy time may involve some skill and drill practice of basic facts, playing store that involves pricing items, paying for them with real money and making change, budgeting for future trip planning.  There are also a number of online options to develop numeracy skills.

12:00 pm – lunch break / lunch preparation by the child and free choice play

Again, children should be involved in the preparation and clean-up of lunch. Go outside for a break while practicing physical distancing of at least 2 metres.

1:00 pm – Project Based Learning

Supporting students in asking questions and developing a plan to find answers is at the heart of Project Based Learning.  Hard questions make for interesting projects.  My children learned early on that they would not be as likely to get in trouble for making a mess if it was done in the name of “Doing Science”.  The question can be as easy as “What kind of bird is that?”  Spring in Vancouver guarantees that kids can look out any window or go for a walk and see several species to make close observations with field notes that include dates, times, drawings, notations, comparisons, and questions to pursue.

Generally big questions cross many different disciplines of subjects which should be encouraged.  Successful learners in adult life are divergent thinkers.  This is to be encouraged.  At this point in history, it is not possible to master all of the relevant content because new content is generated at such a high rate.  We are teaching kids to think about the application of content to answer new questions.

This time can also include outdoor physical activity, as long as there is attention to physical distancing recommendations of two meters from others.  There are also a number of online opportunities to sign up for or follow along on television.

2:45 pm – Make a schedule for the following day and clean up.

In many families, a student workspace may also be a family living space.  Clean it up.  The learning may continue but school is over.

3:00 pm – Home Time

I encourage you to draw lines around “school time’.  My caution is that if ALL time is designated school time, I anticipate you will get considerable pushback from your child(ren).  Take the time to play games together and let your children make personal choices. Limiting screen time will undoubtedly be necessary but brainstorming a list of possibilities is helpful.

Teachers will be in contact with families in the coming week to provide more information.  Teacher communication with families has taken many forms this year.  Some teachers communicate using the online platform My Blueprint or Fresh Grade, while others communicate via a class newsletter and email.

I encourage you to begin with the structure of learning at home on Monday.  The content of work times will change over time with teacher input, but the routine of school will create a predictable structure that will be reassuring to students.  The goal is to minimize the struggles that often emerge during assigned homework times.  If daily school at home is not successful, we have more work to do with our students to enlist their engagement and support.

I can guarantee as educators, we will not have all the answers this week.  I can also tell you that I was emailing a question to a colleague on Friday night at 9:05 pm and getting an instant reply.  Educators are on high alert and doing their best.  They may have pressing issues to deal with immediately and they will have a myriad of concerns that you will not know or understand.  Currently I am waking up in the middle of the night thinking about the welfare of the little salmon that are part of the Salmon Enhancement Program at school.  For some this is a relatively small concern in a myriad of more pressing matters.  For me it matters because my response to my students demonstrates my investment in their questions and concerns.  At the end of the day, we are all directly accountable to our kids.  Our collective task is for “school at home” to be another way to go about learning in the midst of a significant pivot.  It will be an exercise in teaching our kids to be resilient.  I hope we will be working together with our kids to meet their needs as learners and as young people experiencing a historical first. We are all writing our own story. Let’s make it one of creative thinking, collaboration, and victories – big and small.

School Drills

cars city fire truck firefighter
Photo by Kính on Pexels.com

School drills are the way we ensure that staff and students know and understand the processes required in the event of an unanticipated emergency.  I remember the day that the fire bell went off at recess and many of the students entered the school to line up at their classroom doors.  Since that day, I have always done at least one fire drill at recess or lunch to ensure children know where to line up.  The biggest take away for teachers, parents and students is that drills are opportunities to pause and consider how we could keep ourselves safe in an emergency.  The most reassuring information I can pass on is that I have been doing fire drills at school since I was five years and I have never had a big school fire.  Those of my students who consider me ancient, are VERY reassured.  All schools have regular schedules for mandatory safety drills.

Fire drills in VSB schools happen a minimum of five times at each school.  All parent and students in the school have grown accustomed to this practice.  The necessity is rarely questioned and parents are comfortable with having the conversation about the necessity of this drill with their child.

Earthquake drills have been scheduled once a year at most schools  during The Great British Columbia Shake Out drill in October.  Another Evacuation drill, happens in May in the Vancouver School District .  A school evacuation could involve a situation which could include but is not limited to fires, earthquakes and hazardous spills, or as required following a Lockdown or Drop-Cover-Hold (ie. during an earthquake or an explosion)*.   The reunification of families in the event of an evacuation is given extra care and attention.  This drill usually involves lots of “what if” conversations and problem solving.  It is supported by information on websites, radio, and social media, the Police, the Fire Department, the Ambulance service, the school district, and from the provincial government.   It is still an uncomfortable conversation, but lots of people are participating in it together.

The drill that often doesn’t evoke a lot of parent conversation is the Lockdown drill.  Lockdown is used to protect school occupants from a dangerous person within the school, for example a person armed with a knife, firearm or other weapon and who is threatening or in the process of harming people*.   At my PAC meeting, the recent lockdown drill precipitated a lot of conversation by the parents, PAC executive and the DPAC rep at the meeting.  I was surprised because lockdown drills have been mandatory for many years, but have never been discussed by my parent group to this degree or with so many opinions about how it should unfold.  Initially I just wasn’t sure what to make of it.

The obvious finally occurred to me.  Many parents don’t want to consider the possibility of needing a lockdown, let alone having the conversation with their own children about why we practice  this drill.  As the person in charge of ensuring school community safety, I understand the feeling.  However I am also of the mind that if we know what to do in any given situation, we are in the best position to staff safe.

That being said, here are a few suggestions to talk to your child about a lockdown drill:

  • Be calm and matter of fact. Nothing bad has happened or is expected to happen.
  • We practice drills at school to keep children safe if anything unexpected
  • In any situation, a plan helps us to stay safe. It makes sure we know what to do.
  • If you have questions or concerns about the drill, talk to the teacher, your parents, or another adult.
  • Television shows, movies, and video games are intended to sell things not reflect reality at most schools.

If your child is particularly anxious about any of the drills at school, it is always a good idea to talk to the teacher.  This will help the teacher prepare for her conversations with his/her/their students and any alternate arrangement that may need to be made in the event of a child’s special need or extreme anxiety.

*Sentence from the Vancouver Board of Education:  Staff Emergency Procedures flipbook available in every classroom.

The Joy of Reading Report Cards

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3f70.jpg

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?

img_8986

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.

 

 

BCPVPA: Leading a Culture of Learning

(from the left) – Carrie Froese – Vancouver SD, Tara Zielinski- West Vancouver SD, Ellen Roberts- BCPVPA, and Kathleen Barter – North Vancouver SD

The British Columbia Principal Vice-Principal Association Team recently presented the Leading a Culture of Learning standard of the Instructional Leadership domain in the newly updated BCPVPA Standards of Leadership.

Screen Shot 2019-10-27 at 8.14.25 AM.png

The book by Gary Keller with Papasan, Jay – The One Thing:  The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, provided an organizing frame for the three sessions that North Vancouver administrators rotated through.  Participants were challenged to define one thing that would most impact student achievement to take away as a focus in their schools at the end of each session.  We could not have asked for participants who were more engaged throughout all of the sessions.  This sli.do word cloud represents some of “The One Thing” commitments NOVA administrators are incorporating into their work.

Screen Shot 2019-10-27 at 8.20.38 AM.png

As promised, the sources listed below include the links for ease of access.  These are some of the key sources that informed our thinking as we created the sessions presented.

Breakspear, Simon. (2017).  Learning Sprints and the Clarifying Canvas

Dewitt, Peter (2017). Collaborative Leadership:  Six Influences That Matter Most.  Thousand Oaks, CA:  Corwin / Learning Forward.

Donohoo, Jenni (2017).  Collective Efficacy:  How Educators’ Beliefs Impact Student Learning.  Corwin / learningforward / Ontario Principals’ Council, Thousand Oaks, CA.

Erikson, Lynn:  A Quick Guide to Concept-Based Learning and Curriculum

Concept Based Education  https://www.rubicon.com/concept-based-learning-curriculum/

Fullan, Michael. (2018).  Nuance:  Why Some Leaders Succeed and Others Fail.  Corwin.

Gawande, Atul (2009).  The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. Henry Holt and Company.

Hargreaves, A., & O’Connor, Michael (2018).  Collaborative Professionalism:  When Teaching Together Means Learning For All.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Hattie, John (2012).  Visible Learning for Teachers:  Maximizing impact of learning.  New York, NY: Routledge.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9UYGrk1VpcQ

Katz, S., Earl Earl, L., & Ben Jaafar, S. (2009).  Building and connecting learning communities:  The power of networks for school improvement, Thousand Oaks, CA., Corwin.

McTighe, Jay & Curtis, Greg (2015).  Leading Modern Learning – A Blueprint for Vision-Driven Schools.  Solution Tree.

Parker, Kathryn, Boudett, Elizabeth, & Murnane, Richard J. Eds. (2013). Data Wise, Revised and Expanded Edition: A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Assessment Results to Improve Teaching and Learning , Harvard Education Press. Cambridge.

Robinson, Viviane (2013) Five Facets

https://www.teachingtimes.com/articles/dimensions-of-an-effective-leader.htm 

https://research.acer.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1006&context=research_conference_2007

https://inquiry.galileo.org/ch6/instructional-leadership/what-is-instructional-leadership/

Sinek, Simon (2009). Start with why — how great leaders inspire action | Simon Sinek | TEDxPugetSound https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4ZoJKF_VuA

Wiseman, Liz, Allen, Lois, & Foster, Elise (2013).  The Multiplier Effect – Tapping the Genius Inside Our Schools.  Thousand Oaks, CA.: Corwin Press.

 

 

Who’s Invited?

img_6984

My mantra as an Elementary School Principal in British Columbia, Canada is “Everyone’s Invited to the Party”.  We register the students who live in the defined school catchment or there is space in the school to allow for a cross boundary permit.  There is no requisite testing or evaluation of “fit” in the school community.  As a student of history, I ascribe firmly to the notion that the state of democracy in a country can be judged by the state of the public-school system.  In British Columbia, we are in good shape.  Our curriculum is progressive and focused on student learning.  We do well on international testing of student achievement and have been acknowledged for the strength of the system.  That doesn’t mean that there is no room for improvement, particularly when it comes to students who enter the public system with social and/or learning differences.

Both my maternal and paternal grandmothers were matriarchs who held their families together.  They both experienced a considerable amount of adversity in their lives and it made them resilient and appreciative of family bonds.  They actively stayed in touch with each of their four children, their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  They shared family news and ritual gatherings helped all of us step past petty grievances and hurt feelings with laughter and shared memories.   Newcomers to the family were welcomed with open arms and celebrated.  My grand-mothers thought less of themselves and more of the family members they sought to embrace.  They provided the ultimate example of inclusion.

With the deaths of my grandmothers, the bonds loosened and the context of family changed.  This change seems to be reflected in society generally.  A huge focus on the individual and their losses, happiness, divorces, and boundaries has weakened the concept of family.  Bullying by exclusion takes root in this context. The concept of family and the requirements to maintain inclusion in the life and fabric of family changes to one of judgment, preference or arbitrary measures in all too many cases.

There is no doubt that setting boundaries in cases of abuse are required for the safety of individuals involved.  However, all relationships are hard because people are not perfect, have expectations, and they keep changing.  We can learn about the importance of investing in these relationships from our grandmothers.  Blood connections are not required.  An investment in time, effort and empathy is required.  We are included in the family because we fit into the web or relationships through blood or affiliation.  Our shared experiences are instrumental in defining who we are.  Strong families create spaces for all members to be loved and celebrated.  There is also scaffolding to navigate through difficult situations so that the family is able to remain intact.  The longevity of the relationship brings depth because of the shared experiences.

In his book my grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry (2015), Fredrik Backman does a masterful job of illustrating the insecurity of 7- almost 8- year old Elsa in finding her place in her two new families, after the divorce of her parents.  Her father’s wife has two of her own children and her concern is that she upsets the family dynamic, as she has read on the internet, so they don’t want her around.  Her mother and her step-father are going to have a new baby and her concern is that they will love the new baby more because he belongs to both of them.  Fortunately, in this case, both parents and their partners are very focused on the child’s needs and respecting the other parent. They fully invest in including Elsa in both of the families she belongs too.  In this situation, everyone wins.

On Twitter this week, @MrsHankinsClass was sharing how her students said “Welcome to the family” when the new student said “Hi”.  This is a concept of family in the very best of ways.  Day One that new student knew he was welcome and he was in a safe place therefore in a position to start learning.  There is an expectation that differences will exist, problems will be encountered and there will be a will a respectful problem-solving process.  This is what inclusion is supposed to look like.  You walk into a classroom where it is just fine to be yourself.  Perfection is neither expected nor required.  In the midst of challenges and poor choices, the expectation is that you calm down, then problem solve and then repair relationships.  Tomorrow is always another opportunity to be your best self.  Growth is the valued currency. 

I’m excited about the beginning of a new school year and it isn’t restricted to the new post it note colours and shapes and the smell of new notebooks.  I’m in a new school and there is another opportunity to work with a new staff to welcome our students to a school where they want to come each day.  Fredrik Backman defines the most important human right as the right to be different.  Yes, everyone is invited to the party!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wild About Vancouver and More…

I am on the Steering Committee of a group called Wild About Vancouver, brainchild of our fearless leader, Dr. Hart Banack, UBC.  This is a particularly good opportunity because I get together with people who experience the concept of #GetOutdoors on so many different levels.  Our conversation started with a goal of organizing an outdoor festival to get people of all ages out as participants and stewards of our amazing city, Vancouver, British Columbia.  Yes, Canada for those of you familiar with another Vancouver, south of our border.   Vancouver in itself provides many opportunities for outdoor activity and is widely known for the active lifestyle of it’s residents.  The outdoors provides many possibilities to enhance mental health, physical well-being, environment awareness and action, as well as curricular instruction.

img_8714

I am writing this blog on the deck of my father’s cabin in the Eastern Sierras at the doorstep of Yosemite.  Just like my first visit at 9 years old and ever after, I am awake before anyone else.  This was one of my favorite places to be when I was a little girl on visits with my older sister down south to see my father, step-mother, and later younger siblings.  I could get up and out.  No burglar alarm to be dis-armed.  There were discoveries to be made and other early risers in the world.  And I had energy to expend.  Lots and lots of energy.  Cabin life allowed for that to be a natural part of life.  We hiked beyond the waterfall.  Rowed.  Played “Kick the Can” endlessly with the other cabin kids.  Tried to steer the motor boat clear of the dangers of pipes hidden in reeds, sand bars and trees in the lake and on the “jungle cruise” aka stream.  Fishing was a challenge for me unless we were casting and then reeling those rainbow trout in.  I was a high activity kid.  As an educator and a Mom, I had a personally tested strategy of using the outdoors as a way to increase focus in the classroom and to get kids to sleep at night.

I carried the habit of running, biking, hiking, and physically challenging myself into adulthood.  I learned as an adult that no one actually cared how you did at something.  Sometimes just trying was a victory.  I did my first Terry Fox 10 km Run for Cancer Research at the urging of my husband.  I believed passionately in the cause.  I watched Terry run on the nightly news and my Mom had already suffered her first bout of breast cancer.  I hit the 9 km mark and thought I was going to have to stop when a volunteer on the sideline yelled “good form”.  That carried me to the finish line with renewed energy, through many Sun Runs, My First and only Triathlon at Cultus Lake, and getting back to running after pregnancies and injuries.  Experiences skiing during my high school years, made learning to snowboard achievable.  Familiarity on my bike made the bike trip through the Prince Edward Island a glorious adventure.   A willingness to try some new physical challenge frequently ended with an increased sense of pride.  When that didn’t happen, it resulted in a good story, frequently filled with laughter.

When I graduated from the University of British Columbia, it was the 80’s and very difficult to get a teaching job in Vancouver.  I did another year at UBC to get a diploma in English Education while continuing to worked in a daycare / out of school care centre.  My quest “to teach” was infused with my supervision responsibilities.  I got my Class 4 driver’s license and we took those pre-schoolers all over the lower mainland of Vancouver to explore.  School aged kids were welcomed to Sparetime Fun Centre after school and organized into clubs.  We went outside to collect materials for arts and crafts.  We ran. We danced.  We played.  We learned.  By the time I got a full-time job at 22, learning through play indoors and outdoors was a well-established part of my understanding of how you establish rapport and create bridges between experience and curriculum.

image

I did my mandatory “out of town” practicum in Abbotsford, British Columbia, because I could stay for free with my paternal grand-parents.  When I had my son, I wanted to be closer to home  and started working in Coquitlam, where we had purchased our first home.  When our youngest daughter went off to Queen’s University, my husband and I promptly moved back to Vancouver where I grew up and both of us lived, prior to kids.   The place I was teaching, determined how I went about teaching the curriculum.  In Abbotsford, background experience of students included experiences with gardens, cows, berry picking, farms and the ever-present smell of manure from spring to fall.  In Coquitlam, salmon spawning in streams, raccoons in garbage, bear awareness when hiking or running in the park, and deer wandering on roads was common place.  In Vancouver, walking and biking as a preferred mode of transportation, many local mountains for skiing and snowboarding, beaches, seagulls, crows and ethnic cuisine permeates life.  This awareness of place has increasingly become part of education as we have reflected on how we incorporate understandings that are implicit in the Indigenous cultures that were present long before Canada emerged as a country.

img_9649

The location of the school in British Columbia impacts how many Indigenous students attend.  This sometimes provides a block for staffs trying to authentically incorporate Indigenous teachings into the curriculum.  However, the sense of place provides an entry point for all students to gain insight into Indigenous ways of knowing.  Examining how the place we live impacts our experiences, lends itself to going outdoors and considering our present and historical context.  Many things in life cannot be anticipated or guaranteed with confidence.  If you live in Vancouver, I can guarantee that it will rain and I can even tell you what that smells like.  As a 6-year-old in Venice, my daughter looked up at me and smiled and said “It smells like home, Mummy”, when it started to rain.  These understandings over time are the things we can learn from the stories from our local Indigenous people. Medicine Wheel teachings that have been incorporated into many Indigenous cultures have much to teach about how we make decisions, resolve conflict and achieve mental health.

My mother was in the hospital awaiting a procedure when I was called into the room to calm her down.

My response, “Breathe, Mum…No.  Not like that.  Into your abdomen…  You know…Yoga, breathing.  No.  Not like that.”

My mother’s exasperated response:  “You mean I’ve been breathing wrong my whole life?”

The poor nurses came running when we both burst out in uncontrollable laughter with tears running down our faces.  They thought they had lost us both.  However, there is a reason that the Japanese have taken the world by storm with “Shrin-yoko” or “forest bathing” since the 1980’s, yoga practices have become common place for people of all religions, and Indigenous teachings to improve physical and mental health are being considered.  They teach contemplative practices and breathing that is very much centred on experience in nature.  As a special education teacher and school principal, much of my work has been teaching students how to self-calm BEFORE problem solving.  The first step is always to slow down breathing and learn what strategies work for you.  My first go to strategy is physical activity but all of my students can tell you that a pot of Earl Grey tea works wonders for me.  The trick is to have more than one strategy that works for you.

img_9942

We have many amazing educators on the Wild About Vancouver Steering Committee.  Although I have many years of experience in education from kindergarten to the university level, as a classroom teacher, administrator and university instructor, I am constantly learning from our committee members who come with varied experiences and approaches to how they get children to pay attention to the nature around them.  Although I can’t prioritize what is most important about experiences outdoors, I strongly believe it is our success in getting children to pay attention that has the most significant impact on teaching curriculum.  When we closely consider something, we come up with the best questions.  The best questions result in the deepest learning and meaningful discovery.  Engaging with nature is a catalyst for curiosity and the learning that comes with it.

96701b6a-ef30-47b0-886c-a0057d445376-1

 

Wild About Vancouver Committee members have all come together because we love Vancouver and want to fully engage people of all ages outdoors in all our city that has so much to offer.  What we believe is most important varies with who you are talking to on the Steering Committee or what participant.  Our ideas and suggestions are very contextual in that we are sharing what we know as Vancouverites.  We have a one week long Wild About Vancouver Festival every year with a grand WAV event in the city.  However, the learning and the application of this learning is relevant in any context.  I have learned so much from participating in twitter chats and blogs originating in England and Germany.  I have also taken from Reggio Emilia early education teachings with roots in Italy by doing lots of reading and visiting the Opal School in Portland, Oregon.  And I’m pondering Wild About Vancouver at my Silver Lake playground in the East Sierras on the California – Nevada border.  This model of celebration of outdoor activity takes place in many cities.  The Wild About Vancouver model takes it one step further by incorporating a celebration of the outdoors with a striving to deepen the learning we take from nature in all aspects of our lives.

Please include us in your you tweets about Outdoor learning @WildAboutVan and tag us with #getoutdoors and #outdoorlearning in all social media posts.  For you Vancouverites, we are always looking for participants and Steering Committee members if you are so inclined.  Check us out at https://www.wildaboutvancouver.com/

Enjoy the day and #getoutdoors

Another School Playground – DONE!

 

I arrived at one Vancouver school as administrator and was surprised that there was only one large climbing web for all of the students.  The old wooden playground had already deteriorated and been removed long ago.   The provincial government allowed applications from casino funds to be directed towards building school playgrounds.  The Parent Advisory Committee was on the hook to do fundraising to raise most of the funds.  It was a difficult neighbourhood to fundraise.  Caring was plentiful.  Cash was not.  The PAC president, Sirtaj Ali, led the charge.  Wednesday pizza day, casino funds and donations over the course of 7 years went towards two phases of the playground installation.  Save-On Foods took on the community build of the second phase as a team building activity for staff.  They arrived with huge numbers, a wealth of enthusiasm, bagged lunches for all of us and for the most part were finished in one day.

The kids, staff, VSB Grounds department and particularly the PAC were heavily involved in this project.  We met.  We strategized.  We involved the staff and students in making recommendations, voting on the mock up from the Playground company they preferred and even the colours.  And we celebrated when it was finally done.  The fitness circuit built into it was a favourite with students, teachers and community members.

I was transferred to a new school site.  As the daughter of a neurosurgeon, I grew up to be wary of safety infractions.  As a very conscientious principal at a new school, I was on high alert for things that needed to be taken care of.  My background knowledge with playgrounds helped me quickly identify, the playground needed some care.  Some pieces just didn’t work.  Regularly there was something else that was broken or falling apart.  The process in the Vancouver School Board is to submit a SCHOOL DUDE for required work.  This would send create the work order that would be submitted to the appropriate department without remaining on hold on the telephone.  Great system.  The people in the VSB Grounds Department are great.  My Operating Engineer, Lin Low, and I would discuss the problems, tape off the NO PLAY zone and I would the submit the School Dude.  Geoff Pearmain and the VSB Grounds crew did everything they could to try to repair the existing structure.

The playground was only ten years old but the PAC of the day had decided to go with a friend that built playgrounds.  Shortly after the company was out of business, parts were unavailable and issues began to emerge.  For this reason, the VSB now requires that four suppliers are approved with strong track records for quality and enduring reputation.  The final straw  for the playground came in May of my first year at the school when a chunk of rotting wood fell out of swing bridge, compromising the integrity of the entire bridge and access to the other structures.  It also triggered a full safety inspection that concluded that the entire structure would need to be condemned.

This was not a surprise to me but an anticipated eventuality.  My sister lives in Texas.  One of their good friends sued her and her husband when their son hurt his leg on the slide in their backyard at a birthday party.  I well understand the safety risk for students and the litigiousness of our North American context.  If it wasn’t safe, I wanted it down.  Students were quite pragmatic about the need to get a new playground and readily shifted their attention to what they would like to see in a new playground.  One of the PAC parents went into high gear looking for funding options.

The provincial landscape had also shifted around funding school playgrounds.   The Provincial Government allocated three years of funding to alleviate Parent Advisory Committees from the responsibility of replacing playgrounds and making them more accessible.  This year, the BC government provided funding for 50 new or accessibility upgrades to playgrounds in 34 BC school districts.  The Vancouver School Board was allowed to submit three applications to build playgrounds or make school playgrounds more accessible.  Our school was a natural choice being the only school without a playground.  We were allocated $105,000 and two other sites received funding to make them more accessible.

One of our PAC members, Leah Chapman, worked with me to provide the information required to complete, submit and successfully access a Federal accessibility grant of $14,383.00.  Mona Hassaneen and Ossama Abdel-Hamid were able to access a Benevity Community Impact grant of $1,307.33.   Their employer, Apple Inc., was willing to match their employee donations to an approved recipients as part of this program.  I learned that the VSB has been approved as an acceptable charity and several employers have participated in these grants.  The Hamber Foundation provided a donation for $1000.00 towards the cost of the accessible swing.  Several of the members in our school community also made donations to ensure the playground build included all of the desired elements.  Jen McCutcheon (PAC) and Andrea McEwen (teacher) worked with SwingTime and engaged with the school community to design a playground that would be fun, accessible and designed with our location in the Pacific Spirit Park in mind.

The year without a playground was not as painful as some people feared.  This was partially due to the responsiveness of my Director of Instruction, Aaron Davis, to my request for funding for Community School Team staff at the school twice a week during lunch time.  The CST staff came into the school and worked with my student leaders.  They provided support to these students to develop their capacity to direct younger students to play possibilities and problem solve when conflicts arose.  The CST staff also taught large group games and provided scaffolding for student leaders twice a week on the playground.  They supported children in using the Buddy Bench and provided materials to engage students, including bubbles, chalk and skipping ropes.

The first year I arrived, I had prohibited parking on the Primary soccer field, and had the field reseeded during the summer.  When this field was finally re-opened in fall 2018, the Kindergarten to Grade 3 students were delighted.  Initially they would roll in the grass as well as play soccer on it.  They loved having their own luscious, green, designated space.  I worked out a deal with University Endowment Lands manager, Jonn Braman, to deal with our parking issues during school events and parents eventually got used to the parking prohibition on the field.  Intermediate students had the two upper fields to spread out on.  Soccer was a regular activity.  Baseball, kickball, and other large group games were also very popular.

fullsizeoutput_66c

It was necessary to create a variety of spaces and activities for students to engage in over the course of the year.  Three things were particularly successful.  One area outside of the lunchroom and library was named The Reading-Writing Garden.  A group of kids met with me to make mobiles to hang from the tree, hang bird feeders, reorganize flower pots, do some replanting and bring books to sit on the rocks or benches and read or write in journals.  This same area was the meeting space for The Bird Buddies.  I posted a poster in the library facing outside, with local birds that we could identify.  When my Nanny Keenan’s opera glasses and my binoculars were in sufficiently high demand, I purchased a set of good quality binoculars.  I taught binocular use and care.  Once trained the students were allowed to take the binoculars beyond The Reading-Writing Garden and see if they could sight birds flying around us in the Pacific Spirit Park.  Eventually I also got rain-proof books from Mountain Equipment Co-op so they could tally the birds they saw.

image

Special thanks to my Wild About Vancouver buddy, Megan Zeni @Roomtoplay, I set up a Mud Kitchen.  I am a big fan of twitter for ideas @CarrieFroese.  I had lots of ideas from both Megan, and twitterchats starting in England and Germany.  I happened to share my wild and wonderful plans with Megan at one of our Wild About Vancouver @WildAboutVan planning meetings. Megan’s response:

“Or you could clean out your cupboards and throw the stuff in an old laundry basket and put it out for kids to play with.”

When the portable had been removed from our site during my first year at the school, the staff had made the decision to install an outdoor learning area.  We had more garden boxes built installed and a big circle of twelve stones.  It provided seating for a class of 30 during outdoor learning, lent itself to circle games, teaching Indigenous ways of knowing, and the teaching of directions and time.  Incidently it was also a perfect place for The University Hill Elementary School Mud Kitchen.  The rocks are perfect counter tops and appliances for concoctions of all sorts.  The very favorite items in the Mud Kitchen were the measuring cups, sifters for the sand, spoons and to go coffee cups that have long ago lost their lids.  I could be guaranteed a non-fat low foam latte if I ventured to the Mud Kitchen at recess.  As items went walking, new donations came in.  Wendy Yip, UBC president, Santa Ono’s wife, came for a visit in Spring.  Afterwards we received not only a thank-you card, but also some donations for the Mud Kitchen.  Thanks, Wendy!

In the Vancouver School Board, teachers do not do supervision duty at recess and lunch.  I was fortunate to work with three very experienced playground supervisors.  We met regularly to come up with pre-emptive solutions to emerging issues.  When I was re-assigned to another school this Spring, the prevalent feeling was that we had developed a definite sense of team.  I will certainly miss these ladies and the Education Assistants who were also regularly out on the playground supporting students at recess and lunch.  I’m glad we were part of this journey together.  Although we are delighted to have a playground, I’m sure that many of the other elements introduced will endure and add depth to the outdoor learning of the students.  Hopefully this post will help for those of you asking for some direction when a new playground needs to be built.

 

Eating Marigolds

When I was eight years old, I got my first dog.  My sister had gone down to California to live with my father and I was very lost and all alone.  A family friend convinced my mother that the answer was a puppy.  Scamper was a little, black, curly haired cock-a-poo.  She was an amazing playmate and helped me rediscover joy in my life. 

Joy came to Scamper particularly easily.  One of her greatest joys was in late spring when my mother planted rows of yellow marigold flowers and bright red salvias.  Scamper would promptly get to work biting off the marigold flowers.  She was not a particularly well trained little dog.  She would throw the flowers in the air.  Catch them.  Run in circles with them in her mouth. Roll in them.  And finally she would eat them.  We were left with long rows of green marigold plants with no flowers.  My mother did not find any joy in this.  My dog could not contain her joy.  We all find our moments of joy in different ways.

The big joys come from the relationships that develop with the people who are there for us over the long haul.  The people that let us know that we matter and that we are special.  We don’t even need to see these people frequently.  These are the kindred spirits that help to sustain us through the hard times and celebrate the good times.  Then there are the people who we cross paths with and we develop relationships that are situational.  They are fun and filled with laughter and open us to other ways of being and doing.  Often as the context shifts , the relationships fade into the background.  They are fun while then last.

As the complexity of life and the demands of work and home increase, joy can get lost.  People are not always kind and do not always give you the benefit of the doubt or struggle to find joy themselves.  Demands can feel insurmountable in a 24 hour period. 

For me, the answer is to go on a deliberate quest to find joy on a daily basis.  The beautiful thing  about working in a school is that it is filled with kids.  Joy is always close at hand.  Stories.  Smiles.  Questions. Explanations. Pondering. Witnessing joy in accomplishments.

I ran into a colleague not too long ago.  She said “Yeah, I was thinking about your joy thing.  I tried it.  I like it.  It actually works.”  I love being known for my “joy thing”.  I am looking forward to summer joy.  In summer, I don’t have to go looking for joy.  It finds me.  Beaches. Books.  Lakes.  Laughter. Friends.  Family.  Biking.  Golf.  I’ve even discovered that marigolds are actually edible and will definitely order a salad with marigold flowers in it.  Who knew, Scamper was on to something! The things you can learn from your dog!  Joy in eating marigolds.