Who’s Asking the Questions?

Staffing season always brings wonderful surprises. The meeting of new educators and the opportunity to reconnect with others whom I have worked with in other settings is exciting. I continue to be impressed with the preparation that candidates do prior to our time together. Whether it is the creation and sharing of digital resources or the collection of information about our school that has been captured by scrolling through our school Twitter feed or connecting with current staff members.  The extra work never goes unnoticed and is always appreciated.

As is the case with most interviews, once the formal interview questions have been asked, we always provide the candidates with an opportunity to ask questions about the school and/or the assignment ~ and tonight was no exception.

As we fielded those candidate generated questions about our school goal, our tapestry of diverse learners, our inventory of technology and our school team, I couldn’t help but wonder what an interview format would look like if the candidates were provided with the responsibility of asking rich questions vs our traditional format of having them answer a prescribed set of school generated questions.  Would we gain a better sense of the candidate’s fit for our SAC team?  Would we gain a better sense of their classroom practice? Would we gain a better sense of how they would embrace collaboration opportunities?

I believe that you can learn a great deal about a person by the questions that they ask. Do they have an inherent sense of curiosity?  Are they truly excited about learning something about a new topic?  Are they asking questions that lead to a conversation or ones that can easily be answered with a simple Yes or No?

Just as we expect our educator’s practice to evolve and be responsive to changing needs, we need to ensure that our practice, as school leaders, also changes and evolves to keep us current and pushing not only our thinking, but the thinking of those around us.  Maybe that next level of thinking in terms of interviews is not grounded in creating the next best question ~ it’s more about creating the space where candidates can ask better questions.

If you were applying for a position at a school and you could ask only one question, what would it be?

 

Come write with me….

Welcoming Spring 2019

And just like that…. the sights, the sounds and the smells of Spring 2019 were upon us on Sunday.  After a white winter and a wet April, the smell of fresh cut grass and newly dressed cocoa bean layered flower beds wafted through the air.

Coats, boots and earmuffs had given way to capris, sandals and ball caps. Car windows were down and sun-roofs were open.  People were less rushed and more apt to smile. Roadways were shared more noticeably with cyclists and drivers seemed more patient, with less honks and less rushing through amber lights.

The sudden feeling of overwhelming warmth upon entering a car that had been waiting in the sunshine was a welcomed change from the chilling cold of the last six months.

Front lawns were coming to life with lush green grass, speckled with dots of dandelion yellow.

Gardens seemed to come alive with various shades of greenery poking through the soil and growing towards the sky. Perennial flowers, which had been hibernating beneath their winter blankets, are getting ready to explode with a rainbow of colours.

The sounds of running water from nearby creeks almost drowned out  the croaking of frogs in the pond, serenading the start of the most anticipated, colourful, rejuvenating season. River banks, which are not known for their visual appeal, were ablaze with yellow flowers. We know all too well that this blanket of colour is fleeting.

The trees, which have braved the ice and snow over the winter are now ready to release their buds ~ the first step towards a summer of colour and shade.

 

 

 

May we all embrace this season and enjoy the days with sunshine ~ all the while remembering that rain is needed in order for an abundance of blooming blossoms.

What excites you about the arrival of spring 2019?

Come write with me….

Adjust the Tuning

Carly Simon is one of my all-time favourite songwriter/performers. No one pens a song about empowering women or the natural ebbs and flow of relationships like her.  Long before Taylor Swift became known for penning songs about former boyfriends, Carly wrote the most recognizable song of all time about a former lover ~ You’re so Vain.  To this day, people continue to wonder whom it was about, all the while being able to relate to many of their own past experiences and conjure up pictures of past relationships.

Another one of her songs that has provided me with inspiration at various points in my life over the past several years is, The Stuff that Dreams are Made Of. The first four lines are a powerful invitation and one that resonates with me on so many levels.

 

Take a look around now
Change the direction
Adjust the tuning
Try a new translation

As we enter the final two months of this school year, it would be so easy to fall into the trap of “Checklist” leadership. Let’s just get it done ~ create a “to do” list and check away!  But I can’t help but wonder what it will look like if I adjust our tuning, as Carly invites us to do and think in terms of not a “to do” list, but to a “to experience list”.

My list, like so many of my readers’ lists seems endless right now and yes by June 27th we have a number of tasks that must be completed.  However, as I work my through each day, my goal is to intentionally remember that many of my “to do” tasks are an opportunity for an experience. Here are a couple of opportunities that lay ahead for me this week:

 

To Do To Experience
Complete Round one Interviews Experience the excitement of having dedicated time to listen and learn from educators who are excited about joining our SAC Crew.

Experience our learning as we create new questions and provocations and see if they provide us with the information that we’ll need to make some very challenging decisions.

Kindergarten Open House Experience the thrill of watching families as they take their first step on their child’s educational journey.  I wonder about the conversations that are happening as families prepare to come and meet us.

Experience the conversations that the K team will have following the Open House and use our observations to make the best possible decisions around class placements for the upcoming school year.

Experience the laughter and giggles that will undoubtedly erupt as we, once again, don our aprons and perform The Very Hungry Caterpillar for another audience.

What are some things on your “to do” list that if you try a new translation or change the direction can be more of an experience than a task that just needs to be done?

Come write with me….

Stitch Something Special

Last Sunday, at church, Sheryl Scott delivered the message. In past posts I have shared Sheryl’s exceptional vocal abilities and her talent for creating  scripts for weekly dramas that touch one’s heart, soul and head. When describing Sheryl’s voice to others, I often say that when I hear her singing it sounds like Christmas and when I hear her deliver a message there is no doubt that she is speaking directly to me. She has a down to earth, humourous and emotional way of sharing a story.
The message was the first in a series about Joy ~ and more specifically, the Joy of Adversity. One of the quotes which provided a pivotal point for the service, was taken from Shauna Niequist’s Cold Tangerines ~ Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life. It focused on the importance of not waiting for that magical BIG moment as  the magic is actually found in each and every moment. And while we are waiting for the perfect moment we have lost out on the magic that surrounds us each and every day.
In trying to find the exact quote, I landed on a page with several different quotes from the book (by the way I placed another Amazon order tonight… LOL) 
This one resonated more deeply as it connected directly to one of those magical moments.

To all the secret writers, late-night painters, would-be singers, lapsed and scared artists of every stripe, dig out your paintbrush, or your flute, or your dancing shoes. Pull out your camera or your computer or your pottery wheel. Today, tonight, after the kids are in bed or when your homework is done, or instead of one more video game or magazine, create something, anything.
Pick up a needle and thread, and stitch together something particular and honest and beautiful, because we need it.

Today, not unlike most days at Sir Arthur Currie, a couple of educators collaborated on a moving, beautiful and one might even say spiritual project. They came and shared the process, the end product and their pride in their students accomplishments.
In a few weeks we are welcoming Margriet Ruurs, one of my favourite authors of books such as “Stepping Stones” and a Forest of Reading selection entitled, “The Elephant Keeper”. In preparation for her visit, our LLC educator, Danielle Cadieux and one of our talented grade three teachers, Alicia Usher created an opportunity for our students to re-create the unique artistic platform of using small polished stones as their medium to create a picture.
The end result, which included some moving text was astounding. We often talk a lot about leveling the playing field in terms of multiple, attainable  entry points for students.. This memorable learning activity did just that… no longer was fine motor control and the ability to effectively hold a paintbrush or a  sketching pastel a prerequisite to creating something beautiful and heartwarming.
The students’ imagination, connection to the text, and precision with pebble placement were the only factors  required to create a stunning end product.
I can’t wait to see Margriet’s reaction to these works of art.


As the busyness of the week becomes a distant memory and we look towards a welcomed weekend, I challenge you to take up your needle and thread. What will you stitch together that will give you joy? (some writing, some spring garden preparation, the completion of a craft, some painting) I wonder if you will share it with your students and colleagues on Monday?

For me, I’m experiencing joy in my daily writing! As I stitch together reflections, events, hopes and disappointments, I’m working towards creating a quilt of May memories ~ ones that remind me to find the magic in the many moments of each day.

Come write with me….

 

What are You Holding?

Today I had the pleasure of attending the Celebrating Linguistic Diversity Conference in Toronto, along with a number of our exceptional TVDSB ESL/ELD educators.  Although my “official” reason for attending the conference was an a representative from Teacher Mentors Abroad, the traffic patterns in the Publisher’s Display afforded me the opportunity to scoot out and capture a few minutes of the presentations given by our own TVDSB team members.  I could not help but be filled with pride as the participants were truly engaged and inspired by the stories, strategies and strength based lens that our team brought to each session.

One of the sessions, which was offered by Emma Wilson, a school social worker, I have had the pleasure of experiencing before and even providing a personal context when she presented it at our System Leaders’ Day a few months ago.  Emma starts her session with posing this open-ended and thought provoking question ~ What are YOU holding?  And then she transitions into “Who is Holding You?

As a school leader, the list of what we are holding can seem endless at times and depending on the day and the circumstances, priorities shift ~ as they should as we are constantly being responsive to the needs of our school community.  If asked to alphabetize my list of what I am currently holding, here is where I would start:

 

 

Absenteeism rates
Bike Rodeo
Code of Conduct
Digital Portfolios
EQAO
Furniture for new classes
Graduation
Happiness
Interviews for new positions
Juggling (without dropping)
Kindergarten Open House
License renewal
Minutes for TVACE meeting
Naturalized Playground
Optimism
Portables
Quality time in classrooms
Resources for new classes
School Travel Plan
Teacher Performance Appraisals
Unfilled positions
Vision
Wall Art
X walks
Yellow harness
Zippers
My list is not unique or special ~ it is neither more important nor less important than what others would create.  It is a combination of things that our important to me and things that are important to others.

However, as I reflect on this list, one thing is obvious and that is that I’ll never be able to effectively tackle the list alone. A healthy school community needs all hands on deck.  Leadership isn’t about holding it all.  It’s about bringing hands together!

So what you are holding?

 

Come write with me…..

My Mentor, My Friend

15 years ago, almost to the date, I received the call that changed my professional life in a way that I could have never imagined.  I had finally agreed to take on the role of Acting Vice Principal and my first assignment was at W. Sherwood with Diane DuMaresq as my administrative partner.

I clearly recall that day in mid-April when I nervously drove from my current school to Fox for my first meeting with Diane. I worried about what to wear, what I would say and what would be expected of me.

I sat in the front office area and peered through the window where I could see Diane firmly converse with a student about an issue on the schoolyard.  Once the student was dismissed, I was invited in. I recall sitting and listening and rarely getting in a word. Diane and her matter of fact, rapid-fire description of the school, mesmerized me. When my allotted time was finished, I stood up to leave and experienced that awkward moment of how to execute a graceful exit.  Diane alleviated the confusion by wrapping her arms around me and giving me a warm hug.

That day was the first day of my apprenticeship ~ it was an education in leadership, learning and unconditional support.

No one intentionally crossed or questioned Diane.  She was small in stature but mighty in personality. I recall our very first day together as an admin team. It was our June PD day. The staff was gathered in the library and I was following Diane, waiting for a task.  She breezed into the room, dropped the pile of books on the table and said, “Well, staffing if f$%^&*(.   I must have looked shocked at the use of profanity, but the staff all laughed and I knew immediately that that was just another one of Diane’s trademarks.

The next 2 years were filled with lots of laughter, a great deal of learning and a few tears along the way. Diane epitomized the servant leader role. She would do anything to ensure that staff could focus on the job of teaching and learning.  I watched in amazement as she would sit beside a teacher and help him craft report card comments.   I watched and listened as she went toe to toe with a parent who had accused a teacher of not covering the curriculum.  She continued to support that teacher, as the complaint made its way to the Director.

Diane never shied away from conflict or controversy. Her staff knew when she was upset and the cause of her consternation (usually something at the system level).  However, through every situation, it was clear that she loved them and had their back.

I recall a time when a staff member felt she was ready to move forward and Superintendents provided the message that she needed more time in the classroom.  At both professional and personal cost, Diane risked her own reputation and experienced the wrath of others in order to demonstrate her support of that staff member.

As she entered the final year of her career, it was her desire that I transition from the role of VP to the role of principal at Fox. I remember thinking that I would never be able to fill her shoes and that our styles were so different.  However, in true Diane fashion, once she set her mind to something, there was no stopping her.  In order to ensure the success of her plan, we started the year with her taking on 0.5 of my LST assignment, so that I could take on 1.0 of the admin role.  Therefore, by the time December rolled around, it was seamless and the Superintendent had no choice but to support the plan.

That selflessness ran through Diane’s heart! 

Sadly, Diane passed away last week after a short battle with cancer.  She has left an impact on every educator whose back she had and whose practice was pushed because of her support.  She has left an impact on every student who she encouraged to be the best they could be. She has left an impact on families who wanted assurance that their child’s school was a safe place.

I wish I had written this public acknowledgement earlier, so that she might have read it and known, once again, how truly indebted I am for her mentorship, her leadership and most importantly her friendship.

Who has influenced your career? Have you taken the opportunity to let them know what they’ve meant to you…..before it’s too late.

 

Come write with me….

May 2019 ~ Day 1

Well my loyal readers, it has been a while since we have connected.  Lately, I have been more focused on my consumption of content than on my own creation of content. So on the eve of May 1, I have decided to challenge myself to get back to the routine of intentional observation, meaningful reflection and ultimately content creation with the goal of publishing a post a day for the month of May.

Each day and on most days, several times a day, something “blog worthy” occurs as I walk the halls of Sir Arthur Currie, enter learning environments and interact with staff, students and community members.  My days are filled with rich, engaging, funny and thought-provoking conversations. All of which, if unpacked and explored contribute to my learning and provide material for blog posts.  Each morning, as I click on the magnifying glass on my Twitter feed and scroll through my selected search options, I read a variety of articles or view relevant graphics that deeply resonate with my current practice. I find myself wanting to deep digger and connect more purposefully on many of the topics within my morning Twitter travels.

Then, as my day progresses, interesting phrases or image-creating trios of descriptive words will pop into my mind for a fleeting moment, only to be replaced by yet another task needing to be completed and in that moment, the genesis of a blog post is lost ~ never to come to full fruition.

Our Library Learning Commons Educator continues to place new and exciting youth fiction books on my desk with at note stating, “Your next read” and I dutifully take them home and read them. However, I am not fully digesting the power of the message within these books as I am not sharing my reflections in writing.

My #oneword for 2019 was PRESENT.  I am looking forward to the upcoming month where I will have to be intentionally present as I commit to content creation.

If April showers bring May flowers, may the shower of ideas that have been percolating throughout the past month nourish and enrich the soil of my mind, so that I can create a garden of blooming blog posts for the month of May.

I invite my readers to take this journey with me. Make a commitment to publish something this month. Together let’s be content creators, not just content consumers.

Come write with me…

Proofreader or Instructional Leader?

Report Card reading weekend is upon us and as you can imagine with this volume of reading, I can’t help but be inspired to write.   Each time I start to read a set of reports, I can hear my dad’s voice, “I feel sorry for the students at the end of the alphabet. By the time you get to writing/reading their reports, all of your quality comments are dried up”.   So when my niece named her first son Zaine Zavitz, after appreciating the alliteration, I immediately recalled my dad’s observation and had to smile.

As I pay homage to my dad’s reflection, I always flip every other class set of reports and start with those students at the end of the alphabet.   So, with my flipping in motion, a well-lit comfy spot and a bottomless cup of tea, I dove into this term’s set of reports.

If you gathered a group of administrators and asked them how they read report cards, I would venture to guess that you’d receive a multitude of responses.  Every once in a while, this past weekend, I would take a break and scroll through Twitter and Facebook.  I enjoyed seeing my colleagues post pictures of favourite locations (Annette Gilbert’s naturally lit front room and Audrey Stephen’s office space), favourite comfort food (Marsha Kelly’s chocolate covered almonds) and favourite 4 legged companions (Kevin Gordon’s sweet dog)

But beyond physically how we read reports, I can’t help but wonder if philosophically “how” we read reports also differs.

When I reflect on my role as a report card reader, I will be the first to admit that I read each and every report and it’s not as a proofreader. Although years ago, I was happy when I caught a “Booby” in place of a “Bobby” hiding in an impeccable set of reports.  Years later, Carolyn Natterer and I still laugh about that one.

 

If I catch a typo, I certainly note it but that’s not my main focus when reading.

I read to:

~  honour the incredible amount of thought and dedication that our staff put into crafting them. I work with a Crew who wants to hone their writing ability and to ensure that they are reflecting the components of a Ministry and Board supported report.

~ ensure that any colloquialisms which may be misunderstood by families whose first language is not English are changed to language which is more easily understood.

~ gather data to support school improvement planning.  Each time educators articulate student learning by including “bench marks”, “decomposition”, “representation of numbers” or “Number talks” within their reports, it reaffirms that our educators are not only teaching those strategies, but that they can articulate their impact within assessment. This is important information to include on our road map.  Sometimes I feel that we have yet to explore the importance of including assessment information with our school improvement process.

~  see if our school’s vision of “Coyote Spirit”, “Caring Coyotes” and the importance of kindness are embedded in our vernacular and important enough to include in formal reporting.

~ provide suggestions as to how to ensure a positive tone in all comments.  The advantage of reading over 1000s of reports during my admin career has afforded me the gift of learning from so many educators.  Most times I feel as if I am a “Connector” as described by Seth Godin ~ sharing well-crafted comments between open minded educators.

And finally and most importantly I read reports to celebrate the learning of our students. I love reading how well our students are doing and how intentional and meaningful our educators’ next steps to support learning journeys are written.  I find myself making side notes to ensure that I take the time to touch base with those students to share my congratulations in their successes.

We know from all of our research that assessment is the cornerstone of student achievement.  We need to remember that we must be able to dig deeper than just providing quality diagnostic, formative and summative assessments.  We need to be a community of educators who know how to effectively articulate (both formally and informally) our assessment practices and how it impacts student learning.

We know that our students benefit greatly from feedback.  Should we not afford our educators that same gift?

As an instructional leader, how do you support report card writing in your school community?

Come write with me….

Oneword 2019 ~ Present

As I navigate my way into the first few weeks of 2019 and ponder which word will guide my actions, thoughts and interactions with others, I can’t help but reflect on my
past 3 #oneword selections.  In 2016 my selected word, “Unwritten” was inspired by a Natasha Bedingfield song which was showcased at church one morning and immediately made an impact.  January 2017 was when I found out that I had been selected as the administrator to open a brand new school, so “Imagine” became my mantra through hundreds of decisions.   2018’s word was “Courage,” which started as a professional battle cry, but within a month became a personal mantra as I worked my way back to strength and mobility.

So, after much deliberation, I’ve decided to select “Present” as my word for 2019. I love the English language, especially when the same word has multiple meanings ~ and “present” is one of those such unique words as demonstrated in this classic clip from The Big Bang Theory!

In the upcoming year I want to ensure that I am intentionally “present” for all of the wonderful individuals in my life ~ both personally and professionally.  May I continue to remember to leave the tasks on the back burner and the talks with others front and center.

Over the past several years I’ve learned that I’m most fulfilled when I’m invited to “present”. Whether it’s to share a meaningful Read Aloud with a class or a Number Talk.  Whether it’s leading a discussion with new administrators or teacher candidates. Whether it’s facilitating PQP modules or travelling to the Dominican Republic to work alongside of our DR mentors.  In the upcoming year I want to ensure that I continue to seek out new and purposeful opportunities to “present”.

I’m very excited about the upcoming year ~ many magnificent events in the works.  With all of the potential celebrations, I need to continually remind myself to slow down, breath and enjoy the “present”.  In the upcoming year I want to ensure that I remember to appreciate the present and not wish it away.

And finally, in the upcoming year, I want to ensure that I’m cognizant and open to the “presents” which may at first be disguised as challenges, disappointments or forks in the road.

So, here’s to 2019 ~ May it be filled with many presents; enjoyed in the present by being present!

Have you selected your #oneword for 2019?

Come write with me…..

From Pineapples to Pinecones ~ PQP Ponderings

Today was the final day for our PQP 2 course through OPC.  I had the absolute pleasure of learning alongside of 11 candidates who brought passion for the work, commitment to improving their craft and a genuine desire to create a professional learning community each and every time we came together over the past 12 weeks.

As a result of the current state of leadership in our school board and other school boards, there has been a shift in the journey of the candidates who are now taking their Principal’s Qualifications courses.  Not too long ago, the majority of the participants were individuals who were considering transitioning into formal leadership roles sometime within their future.  Today, the majority of the participants have been on a treadmill of courses and are already in acting or in some cases formal VP roles.  They bring a lived experience to each module which enriches the conversation each and every time.

 

That wealth of experience shifted my role as the facilitator. I found myself truly learning something new following each module.  We had a lens into the inner workings of 11 different schools and were privy to tough decisions, delicate situations, humourous scenarios and heart-warming narratives involving students, staff and families.  The group presentations were outstanding and the Book Talks were engaging.  As a result of being in the audience I have added so many new tools to my leadership toolkit. One of the participants is currently sitting the same VP chair where I started my admin career. I loved hearing about the culture of the school ~ how some of the pieces that we put into place 14 years ago are still alive and well and meeting the needs of the current student body.  Other participants are now supporting staff members whom I’ve worked with in the past.  Catching up on their stories made for some interesting conversations.

For most modules we invited guest presenters (Superintendents with responsibilities for Human Relations, System Staff Development, Safety Specialist and a panel of experienced VPs) who shared current practices and a variety of anecdotals.  Our panel of experienced VPs brought incredible depth, honesty and humour to the discussion.  Their individuality was apparent, but their shared sense of passion for the role rang through loud and clear.  One of the phrases used to describe our role was that we have the responsibility for “stewardship of people”.  I love what that entails.

The selection of topics for PQP2 is intentional and structured in a way to elicit rich dialogue and hopefully align with what school boards are expecting of their administrators.  For the most part that alignment was evident and we found ourselves reassured in the work that we’re doing.  However, at times, I found myself wondering if our system folks who are responsible for New Admin have access to the information in the OPC modules and if there is a deliberate plan to ensure that our school leaders are being provided the same guidelines. The job is challenging enough ~ we MUST ensure that we all believe and support what the heart of our work is.   There have been many times over the past 6 weeks that I’ve been proud of our board (for the alignment) and a few times that I’ve walked away wondering about the reasons for perceived misalignment.

As with all rich professional learning which leads to a renewed sense of curiosity, my next leadership move as an OPC instructor is to explore more deeply the messaging that is coming from our system and how it aligns with what our provincial council has identified as what our work should look like.

As we said our final farewells today, I gifted each participant with a copy of Simon Sinek’s, “Together is Better”.  I received a copy of this book from a treasured colleague and love sharing it with others.

The group then demonstrated their gratitude with a gift certificate, a donation to the Food Bank and a lovely holiday floral arrangement complete with golden pine cones.   The card was adorned with a sparkly pineapple ~ which symbolized a form of Professional Learning that we had discussed over the past few weeks.

 

Although I’m looking forward to sleeping in on the upcoming weekends, I can honestly say that I will miss the fellowship, the discussions, the debates and the rich learning that has become a mainstay for the past 12 weeks.

Thoughts about alignment with PQP and current system messaging?

Come write with me…