Sign, Sign Everywhere a Sign

“Sign, sign
Everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery
Breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that
Can’t you read the sign?”

The magical and rebellious lyrics from The Five Man Electrical Band were echoing in my head as I scrolled through Twitter checking out the ingenious and clever school signs that my colleagues have been displaying in the recent TVDSB Sign wars.  With the absence of school events, as a result of most students learning from home and current COVID safety protocols in place, school teams are using their literacy skills to create signs that not only catch the attention within their own school community but challenge neighbouring schools to participate.

The comments on social media have been both positive and comical as each post automatically leads to a response and ultimately an updated sign from the “tagged” school ~ a whole new meaning to the definition of being “tagged”.

And here we go again ~ just more way in which educators are constantly looking for those moments to bring some sunshine and laughter into our current situation.

As a brand new school who has yet to raise enough funds for our sign (we’re working on it)  this is just one more reason for us to meet our goal.  We want to play too!

Which school sign has made you giggle the most?

Come write with me…..

Respect for Remote

Over the past few evenings, we’ve had the pleasure of meeting a number of candidates for our open positions at our school.  We have met candidates with a great deal of experience and varied backgrounds, and we’ve met educators who are within the first five years of their career.  What is remarkably different this year is the vast number of educators who, through either their own choice in late August or as a result of a late fall reorganization, have found themselves teaching students whose families have selected full remote as their learning model.  Last spring, potential candidates could have drawn from their experiences as an Emergency Online educator, where the expectation was to provide 5 hours per week of asynchronous learning opportunities ~ a very different experience.

For the interview, candidates were asked to share an artefact that represents something that they are most proud of. For our educators who have been teaching remotely, their artefacts and the accompanying narratives were impressive to say the least.  We learned how one educator’s class created nature watercolours, which caught the attention of our Environmental Educator and led to a display at Museum London.  We learned how one educator has created online play groups for her Kindergarten students and extended their intentional teaching time from 5 min to 40 min, with full engagement.  We learned how so many of these educators effectively and masterfully created classroom environments where students demonstrate trust, respect, and kindness for each other.  There were examples of students playing traditional board games from their house with their online classmates.  These educators were able to identify the need for students to “turn off the screens” and get outside for some meaningful learning.  We learned how students very capably and naturally gravitated towards a variety of Apps to demonstrate their learning and how these educators embraced digital platforms to provide feedback and meaningful next steps.  We learned how they overcame access to quality texts without access to school libraries. The idea of equity became something real to acknowledge and address. Time and time again, these educators expressed that they had to “listen” to students more intently than when they were in person and in turn create more choice in instruction, activities, and assessment.

At the end of each interview, my admin partner and myself “tipped our hats” to these educators for the remarkable feat that they have successfully accomplished this year.  When we were growing up and pretending to play school, none of us imagined this world.  We didn’t set up our dolls in front of a computer screen and pretend to teach them. And yet, these educators have made it work. In the midst of a pandemic, they have created classroom environments where students want to log on each morning, where students can’t wait to share, where students are uniquely demonstrating their learning and where students feel loved and cared for.

Kudos to each educator who has been teaching remotely since September and to those educators who have pivoted (yes, I selected to use that term) from in-person to remote, to in-person and now back to remote!

I can’t help but wonder if there are some “future” educators who are now setting up their dolls in front of a monitor and playing “remote” teacher.

Are you teaching remotely this year?  Would love to hear about your experience.

Come write with me…..

My Momma Told Me….

As I’ve shared before, I am a huge fan of Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand.  Whether calming the country in the midst of a tragic shooting, successfully navigating the ongoing challenges of COVID-19 or celebrating her second term in office, she has led with positivity, grace and kindness.  As a young mother, who just happens to be Prime Minister, it didn’t surprise me in the least when she took to her Facebook Page to celebrate other moms on Mother’s Day.

With the ease of talking to the camera as if she was sitting across the kitchen table from the viewer, Ardern smiled and warmly recalled some of the advice that her own mother gave her, which was the theme of the video.   Ardern asked all members of her team to share the best piece of advice that their mum had given them.   The responses varied from the sentimental to the silly and everything in between:

Breath through your Nose

He who hesitates is always lost. Go out there and be Bold

Never go the front unless you’ve been at the back

Be good to your mother

 

What a wonderful way to celebrate moms and those who stepped up and took on the role of moms for so many children as they were growing up.   Advice comes in all shapes and sizes.  Some moms quietly counsel from the side lines, but you know that without a shadow of a doubt they’ve got your back, when needed. Some moms are quick to share their opinion, on almost any topic, whether requested or not! Yet, regardless of how those nuggets of wisdom are imparted, may we always know that they are shared with love and care. Our moms want the best for us.

As a mom, how do you impart advice to your children?

Come write with me…

It Never Gets Old

It Never Gets Old

As I ventured into a Garden Center today, I heard a faint, “Mrs. Bruyns! Mrs. Bruyns”.   As I turned to see where the summoning was coming from, I was pleased to see two students from our school, sitting in the back seat of a vehicle, with their window rolled down. “Hi Mrs. Bruyns, it’s me”, the student excitedly shared as she pulled down her mask, so I could see her beaming smile.    Her dad chimed in with, “When she saw you, she said, I think that’s my principal”.  I was so delighted that not only did the student recognize me, but that her dad stopped the vehicle and reached out, to ensure that we connected. We quickly exchanged our shared reason for being at the Garden Center ~ flowers are always a popular choice as a Mother’s Day gift.  It was so lovely to see two our students.  As we are currently learning online, the school is a very lonely place and I miss them terribly.

Today was a wonderful reminder of how much it means to us, as educators, when students (current or former) take the time to stop and say, “Hi” when they see us in the community.   Those greetings never get old.

Come write with me….

Love the Interview Learning!

Last night we navigated our way through our first 16 interviews, from 4 pm to 9:30 pm.  As I’ve shared in previous posts, I absolutely love interview season.  It is a privilege to meet so many educators who are courageously placing themselves in a position to apply for a new assignment.  Their reasons for transferring schools are varied and range from being surplussed at their current school, to looking for a new adventure.  As we neared the end of the evening, we transitioned into our last virtual interview room and were greeted by a candidate who had this lovely lush green background on her screen ~ it looked so incredible and life like.  Her lighting was fabulous, resembling a sunny day.  Whereas we were sitting in our offices and occasionally waving our arms, so that our lights didn’t automatically switch off, thus leaving us in darkness.

As a part of our interview process, we ask candidates to come prepared to share an artefact that represents something that they are proud of from their current school year. They can speak to their artefact, or if they choose, they can prepare a visual to share with us.  We were treated to some amazing presentations, which truly reflected the candidates’ creativity and passion for their students and their profession.   As this candidate started her presentation, it was evident from the visuals, that her proudest moment had been from her latest teaching assignment in the Northwest Territories, where she was one of four teachers at Chief Paul Niditchie School.   We had an informative discussion about the challenges and successes of such a unique assignment and community.

Ironically, this candidate had selected something from their Christmas celebration to highlight and one of our other candidates who is an educator here in TVDSB also selected a Christmas themed presentation. It was so interesting that those special celebrations, whether here in SW Ontario or in the far reaches of the Northwest Territories hold a special place in the heart of an educator.

As the interview was wrapping us, we apologized for the lateness of the interview time and to our surprise, she shared that “on the west coast it was still relatively early” and that she was very happy to be able to chat with us from her Eco-Pod.   At which point, it dawned on us, that the beautiful, lush background, which we had anticipated was computer generated, was her actual real-life background.   As this was our final interview of the evening, she offered to give us a tour of the self-sustained eco-friendly home that she was volunteering to build, as she finished off this year. She shared the circumstances of being on the island and how COVID had impacted the number of volunteered permitted to be a part of the building at this time.  She had arrived just prior to the closing of the island.  As we saw the home and the building progress to date, it was utterly amazing what they were doing with worn-out tires, solar panels, recycled bottles etc.

I often comment about how much we learn from this interview process.  By providing candidates with open-ended opportunities to share their work, we gain incredible insight into their practice ~ much more so than asking them to answer our pre-determined questions, on the spot, without time to prepare.  Our goal is to create the conditions for candidates to shine!    We were able to see inside so many of our TVDSB schools (through the presentations) and it was with a sense of pride for the whole organization that we witnessed such incredible practice occurring in so many schools.

Learning about the commitment to global environmental issues through the work that this candidate is immersed in, in BC, was certainly another incredible learning opportunity for us as an interview team.

As an interviewer, what is something incredible that you’ve learned through the interview process?

Come write with me…..

Draft Day

I’ve been a huge Kevin Costner fan for years ~ going back to the time that he played the corpse in The Big Chill (a bit of trivia of movie trivia).  Most recently in the Amazon Prime series, Yellowstone, in which he plays the patriarch of the Dutton family, I have enjoyed his horse-riding, foul-mouthed no-nonsense approach to protecting the Montana ranch that has been in his family for generations.  But it is his portrayal of Sonny Weaver Jr. in the movie Draft Day that comes to mind this morning as I prepare for an evening of interviewing candidates for open positions at our school.   For those of you who have yet to enjoy this movie, the premise is simple and yet so creatively depicted. Without giving away too much of the plot, the movie takes the viewer through one single day in the life of the general manager of the Cleveland Browns ~ the most important day ~ draft day.   Through split screens and several transitions from frame to frame the story focuses not only on Weaver, but on the lives of everyone who is about to impacted by the decisions.   We see into the lives of the potential new Cleveland Brown players and into the lives of the current team members.   Although spring staffing in a school board does not garner the same amount of hype as the NFL Draft day ~ it is an actual televised process, with lights and bells and whistles ~ there are a number of similarities.

Over the next few nights, we will interview 30 candidates, who have all had to narrow their selection of interviews to only three, for five open positions here at Sir Arthur Currie.   I continue to be humbled and excited when candidates select Sir Arthur Currie as one of their three choices. It is incumbent upon us as an interview team to do our best to shine a bright light on our school and what it has to offer.  Unlike the NHL draft, we can not offer more in salary, but we can offer a strong sense of school community, a collaborative and fun-loving team, and a school environment where new team members will undoubtedly be immersed in authentic learning for not only their students but for themselves as educators.

We also know that potential candidates have so much to think about when selecting to interview for a new position.  How will a new school impact their family lives (more driving, less driving)?  Are they looking for a new challenge?  Are they leaving a school community where they have already built strong ties?  Are they looking for a fresh start?

Similarly, to many scenes in the movie, where we see Sonny connecting with the General Managers of the other football teams, I’ve appreciated phone calls from colleagues sharing how fortunate we are that candidates are considering us.  They have been supportive of an educator’s decision to try something new, and they have been singing their praises.   That information is golden when we are looking at making very challenging decisions to select only 1 candidate per assignment.

And just like in the movie, when we consider our decisions, we are looking for candidates who are not just exceptional educators, but who have what it takes to be a good team player for our SAC Crew. No one wants an outstanding quarterback, who doesn’t know how to communicate to the running back to the receivers.

And finally, just like Costner’s character, who is navigating news of impending fatherhood, our lives as an interview team continue to change and evolve. As a school, we find ourselves with another positive case of COVID. With the Ministry’s message about delaying the timelines for families to declare their preference for their child’s learning model until June, we find ourselves wondering about the repercussions of what those delays will mean for class placement meetings, timetabling, staffing and in our case portables, movement of educators, purchasing of furniture and equipment for our additional classes, etc.  Yet, tonight at 4:00 pm as we dive into our first interview, all of that is pushed out of our minds as we focus on the candidates and ensuring that we create an experience that allows them to shine.

Are you currently “playing” in the interview rounds, as a candidate or on an interview team?

Come write with me…

Gifts That Are Beyond Words

When it comes to giving gifts, I often feel that my choice of gifts never adequately shows my love and appreciation for the recipients.  I am always in awe of those individuals who find just the right gift for just the right occasion.  Recently, I was thrilled to be the recipient of one of those creative and meaningful gifts, just prior to the birth of our granddaughter.  A good friend, Denise Taylor Edwards, who knows my passion for writing, gifted me with a journal. As I unwrapped the gift, I recalled George Couros visiting Thames Valley years ago and addressing our administrators and senior team members.  George and his wife had just welcomed their first daughter.  George lovingly shared that he had already created an email account for his daughter and was starting to populate it with letters and artefacts.  At that time, I wished I had started something similar for my own children when they were young.

Fast forward to March 28 ~ the day that I opened this beautiful leather-bound journal for the first time and crafted the first, of what I hope will be many, many entries.  I documented the details of Ellie’s journey into this world and our hopes for her. To date, I have written 12 entries (one for each of the times that I’ve been blessed to spend time with her).

Although the last thing I want to do is to wish away any of her time growing up, I can’t help but wonder at what point in her life I’ll be able to “gift” her this journal.

Do you keep a journal for yourself or for a loved one?

Come write with me….

Clap When You Land

Have you ever reached a part in a book where every sense in your body immediately relives a time/place in your life?   Deep within the pages of Elizabeth Acevedo’s novel, “Clap When You Land”, there is a chapter that begins with, “But sancocho is a daylong dish to make. It has many steps; it’s making a pact with time that you will be patient & the outcome will be delicious”.  As I turned the book over and sat in silence, my mind immediately drifted to those many summers that I spent in the Dominican Republic with our Teacher Mentors Abroad team. TMA is an organization that is near and dear to my heart. For the past 15 years, Canadian educators have been partnering with Dominican mentors to learn from each other as we impact a global movement to support educators and their professional learning.  The experience is both rewarding and humbling and I long for the days that we can, once again, travel to the DR and continue our work.  As an organization we have shifted to connecting via zoom meetings, in order to maintain our connections.  But you will never smell sancocho via a zoom meeting.

One of the many traditions associated with our work is a final night celebration, when the team is invited to Isobel’s home where she proudly and lovingly serves us some delicious sancocho that has been cooking all day.  The smell of the mixture of meat and vegetables wafts through the air as enjoy each other’s company through conversation and dance until the long awaited, “It’s ready” is shared in both Spanish and English.  As Canadian visitors it does not go unnoticed on our part that this family has probably sacrificed their entire meat ration for at least a month, in order for them to share this special meal.

Unlike our celebration, in Acevedo’s novel, the family is preparing sancocho to serve to guests as they come together for the funeral of a father, who died in a plane crash ~ a man who unbeknownst to both families was living a double life.  The story unfolds as Camino who lives in the DR and Yahaira, who lives in New York City discover each other and together, come to terms with the news and how to ultimately create a blended family.

As I craft this post, I have the novel on my desk, in my office, with a sticky note attached, “First Chapter Friday”.  I was scheduled to share the first chapter of this novel with one of our grade 8 classes when we returned Spring Break.   I’m hopeful that I’ll still have that opportunity at some point this year.

When was the last time you read something that you couldn’t wait to share with someone else?

Come write with me….

What’s in a Name?

 

This weekend we worked on finalizing a Christmas gift from my son-in-law.  He had created a metal work art piece of our last name.  Our job was to paint it, create the plaque to mounted it on and attach it the pillar in the front of our property.  I had just snapped a photo of the finished product to send to a friend and got back into my car when the 60s funny, catching tune, “The Name Game” sung by Shirley Ellis came on the radio.  It immediately brought back memories of listening to the Goofy Greats album when I was younger. So, as I continued my drive into school I started to think about the power of our names and the power that they play in our lives.   I know as a family we recently welcomed our first granddaughter and there was great excitement about what her name was going to be and then the final reveal on the day of her birth.  My daughter and her husband chose to use my maiden name, Taylor, as her middle name.  My parents were beyond thrilled!  There is such pride, sentiment and meaning associated with family names.

When our own children were born, I recall that there was less excitement with my Dutch in-laws as we broke with tradition and did not give our children Dutch first names.

As my day continued, my administrator partner shared that today was her son’s name day.  I had never heard about such a celebration and was excited to learn more.  She shared that in the Greek culture, when people are named after a saint, on the day of the saint’s special feast, those individuals who share the same name as the saint, celebrate their name day. So today, Georgie and Grandpa were selecting St. George Day!

Following our conversation about name day, I recalled that a few months ago, when we invited Leroy Hibbert to speak to our junior and intermediate classes about racism, he shared a video about the power of names and more specifically about names of Asian heritage. The participants within the video spoke to the notion that most of them had adopted an English name as others found it too challenging to pronounce their Asian name.  They proudly shared the meaning behind their names and how their parents had intentionally selected them. The descriptions were breath-taking and so powerful.

Today, like every other day, I continue to make a commitment to listen carefully as families share their names and to seek clarification as I do my best to honour the correct pronunciation.

Does your name hold special significance for you?

Come write with me….

Taking off the Mask

As educators we are blessed with a tremendous number of those moments that take our breath away. For some it’s seeing the joy in the eyes of a child as they finally understand a concept. We often refer to that as the light bulb moment.  For others, it’s that moment when a student who is learning English as a second or third language magically speaks in class and their classmates cheer as they hear their voice for the first time.  How many of us have been emotionally impacted when one of our students scores their first basket or finally masters Double Dutch.  Then there are those moments of pride when we see our students comfort a friend on the school yard or extend a welcoming wave to a new classmate.

One of the most recent moments, which took my breath away, began when an educator was proudly sharing the artwork that their class had just completed.  Amongst the many amazing creations was a pencil sketch of masked classmate holding a notebook and pencil.  From an artistic lens it was effectively crafted ~ proportions were realistic, shading provided depth and the attention to detail was obvious. This student is a wonderful artist!

Yet, as beautifully sketched as this piece of artwork was, it was not the craftsmanship that took my breath away; it was the fact that this student (completely unbeknownst to him), with one drawing had effectively captured what I couldn’t bring myself to say out loud.   It’s as if COVID (symbolized by the mask and closed eyes) had somehow silenced my voice (the closed notebook) and hence my confidence to document our journey through this pandemic.  The literal mask and every implication that wearing a mask has had on us as a society had become a figurative mask and the closed notebook symbolized the days, weeks and then months that went by without a single post. As I reflect over this past year, I can’t help but wonder if my reluctance to blog (something which I enjoy and gives me a sense of pride) was somehow connected to my fear of how my writer’s voice was going to be impacted by all that we were navigating, as a school community and as a society.   Was I going to be less positive and too focused on the negatives of COVID? Not realistic enough or vulnerable enough to share the struggles and frustrations?

This moment that took my breath away, also breathed new life into my commitment to writing and I will forever remember the powerful impact of this student’s artwork. When I shared my strong connection to his artwork, the student was grateful for the compliment and thrilled that I found it so meaningful.  He was also very humble and shrugged it off as, “Just something I did one day when my work was done”.

Have there been figurative masks and closed notebooks in your life lately? How has the past year affected you and your voice?  Join me in being brave and removing the figurative mask to share our experiences.

Come write with me…