Shelving the Elf

Part of my Sunday routine is to craft our weekly Currie Crew Connection.  We use SMORE as the platform as it is visually appealing and easy to embed videos, links, and photos.   We’ve intentionally moved away from a format that outlines upcoming calendar events as school life has a way of changing between the serenity of Sunday afternoon calendar dates to the reality of the ebbs and flows of a busy week.  Instead, we’ve used the weekly Connection as a means of reflection from the past week, upcoming items of importance and frequently something interesting or thought provoking that I’ve stumbled upon during my social media scrolls.

This weekend, after much reflection and conversation with our leadership team, I found myself crafting a paragraph that I knew may provoke some feelings of disappointment, frustration, and annoyance on the part of our staff.  I chose my words carefully and honestly ~ hoping that my intent was not to frustrate but to provoke some reflection and evolution of practice.

As we creep closer to December 1, I’ve been anticipating the reveal of the Elf on a Shelf in some of our classes.  This holiday tradition is about 13 years old and hence, my own children were well beyond their believe in Santa Claus when this idea came into being.  So, although I’ve watched friends post their nightly elaborate stagings of Elves in various positions, it was not something that I took part in as a parent.

Over the past couple of years, the Elves have started to appear in some of our Kindergarten and primary classes and I’ve have had conversations, doing my best to understand the educational value of having them perched in various positions ~ but always being uncomfortable knowing that the theory behind the Elf is that he/she is watching children and reporting back to Santa Claus ~ naughty/nice.

As a school, with a highly diverse population (many of our students do not celebrate Christmas) and a mantra that we are intentionally creating a safe, inclusive, and welcoming school community, we decided to ask staff to rethink the Elf on the Shelf activity.

Having an inanimate object watching for nice/naughty behaviour seems counter to creating a safe environment.

Santa’s Elf is not inclusive for families who do not celebrate Christmas.

Especially these days, we have no idea how families are navigating the holidays and the last thing we want to do is to add to their stress.

It’s never easy to disappoint or frustrate a staff that you know has the best interests of their students at the heart of their decisions.   It would have been easy to turn a blind eye to the situation and quietly shake my head and avoid the conversation. But over the years I’ve learned that the easy path is rarely the right path.

As we continue to learn about Culturally Responsive Pedagogy and evolve as educators, we need to critically question some of our in-school holiday practices.

Here’s hoping that I’m not on Santa’s naughty list for leaving the Elf shenanigans up to our families who chose to partake in this tradition in the comfort of their own home.

Would love your thoughts on this.

Come write with me….

No WIFI…. No Worries

As many educators know, a professional learning day in September is a gift! Historically we would lament about having professional learning days in the spring, reflecting that by that time in the year, we’ve lost the opportunity to make a difference for this year’s cohort of learners (both staff and students).

This school year, we’ve been fortunate to have not one, but two professional learning days in the month of September.

Our most recent PD Day was scheduled for this past Friday.  As has been the trend recently, the focus of our school-based learning day is determined at a Ministry level, developed at the system level with the intention of delivery at the school level.  Although I understand and appreciate the hierarchy of this method, the instructional leader in me laments the days of autonomy where we could gather school-based evidence and then determine how best to support our school communities on these rare and precious full days of learning.

Kudos to the TVDSB system level teams who worked tirelessly to create informative slides and activities based on the Ministry mandates which, due to current COVID protocols, were to be presented virtually via TEAMS.

This year, as a result of our student population growth and the uniqueness of our school site, we’ve welcomed another administrator to our team. Each our Vice Principals were excited to take the lead on this day of learning, to strengthen their facilitation skills and connect more deeply with staff.  Especially with the topic of Anti-Racism and Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, creating a safe and trusting environment is paramount to going beyond the words and having staff reflect on their biases, their assumptions and subsequently their practice.

Throughout the week, as a team we discussed their presentations, they gathered their resources, created breakout groups, and were set for Friday morning.

As Friday started, text messages about WIFI started to circulate.  There had been an accident at our Central office on Thursday, which had impacted our main server. There was a back up plan to use the Guest WIFI, but as we drew closer to 8:30 am, we received the message that WIFI was not yet stable enough to have the entire system using it.

We quickly came together as a team to pivot and to create a different day of learning.  Serendipitously earlier in the week we had received a wonderful gift from our Safe Schools and Equity team ~ a staff set of Zaretta Hammond’s book, “Culturally Responsive Teaching & The Brain.”   As the boxes caught my eye, we wondered, “What would it look like if started our book study today?”.  Our original plan was to use the book throughout the year, at staff meetings, as time would permit ~ knowing full well that engaging in this type of heavy/emotional/vulnerable thinking after a full day of teaching would be a stretch.

We knew we had to follow the COVID protocols of no more than 5 educators in a small space and no more than 10 in a larger space.

Without internet or the ability for consistent messaging as a preamble, we knew that we had to select chapters that staff could dive into without having the opportunity for any formal introduction from us.

By 9:00 am, with a copy of the text and some pre-packaged snacks, small teams were dispersed throughout the school.  We provided them with 1 hour to read the chapter and then to create a visual representation of their thinking.  As an admin team we flowed from room to room to engage in conversations which ranged from, “We do this really well” to “Ah, I’m going to incorporate that into my daily routines” to “That makes so much more sense now”.

When the hour was up, staff (in their small groups) rotated from location to location to see what their colleagues had completed and to engage in even deeper conversations.  As I’ve shared on multiple times, this staff continues to raise the bar on their own level of professionalism and each time a challenge is provided, they exceed our expectations.  This activity was no exception.  From personal connections to detailed explanations to actual visual representations, we were so thrilled with how they embraced both the creation and the subsequent dialogue component of this activity.

 

 

 

 

 

As the day continued and inconsistent WIFI extended, the theme of Know Your Learner was now embedded in our work from the morning as we transitioned into the afternoon.  Staff continued to work in their grade level teams discussing assessments, planning, and most importantly specific students.

Staff were excited to share their own personal resources on the topic and throughout the day,

there was a resounding thankfulness for the opportunity to talk, face to face with

colleagues about a topic that is relevant, important, and so meaningful.

This past year there’s been lots of memes and disparaging comments about “pivoting” in education. I even had a community member comment on social media, wondering if my middle name was Pivot…LOL.

But as an admin team, when we finally had a change to connect at the end of the day on Friday, we unanimously agreed that this pivot was priceless!

In the past year have you had any pivots that you’d deem as priceless?
Come write with me…

 

Back to the Beginning

This morning as I proudly donned my new SAC Crew T-shirt, it dawned on me that I was about to begin my 34th year as an educator with TVDSB and our 5th year as the Sir Arthur Currie School Community.   With all honesty, I’ll share that I was nervous about this morning.  With all of last week’s registrations and the multiple requests to change learning models, I was certain that the class lists that we finally generated on Friday afternoon were already “old news”.   We also knew that with our significant increase in population, we were about to welcome close to 900 students and their families and the morning drop off was going to be a challenge ~ to say the least.

And yet, the day began with a beautiful sunrise and no rain in site. My morning drive was accentuated with fun upbeat sounds of the ‘70s and our Currie Crew looked fabulous in our matching t-shirts.

There was a positive, fun buzz in the building as staff arrived early to get a parking spot….lol and to put the final touches on their classroom environments.

As families started to arrive at 8:30 am, long lines formed at each grade level table and staff started to greet families, distribute name tags and direct students to their home room educators.  Students were so happy to see each other and their educators.  As we approached 9:20 am, classes started to make their way inside and the first day of learning happened.   Excitement ensued throughout the day (not to mention a nasty bee sting) and by 4:00 pm, bus #7 safely pulled out of the parking and the day was done.

But not for me ~ by 4:25 pm, I was pulling into the Althouse College parking lot and making my way to room 1052 to meet my group of MTM students.   As we started with our introductions (yes, with photos…smile) I shared that exactly 36 years ago, I too was experiencing my very first day as a teacher candidate at Althouse College.  As I looked into the faces of these young, excited and somewhat nervous individuals, I couldn’t help but think, “Oh my goodness, if they only knew the amazing path that they are about to begin to embark upon!”   36 years ago, I would never have imagined that I’d be facilitating a class at Althouse 🙂

My hope is that these teacher candidates get the opportunity to work with a team like the SAC Crew ~ a team of educators who rise to any challenge, who put their students’ needs before their own and at the end of the day (even a day like today) are still buzzing with energy and smiles.

I’m excited to see what year 34, day 2 brings.

How was your first day?

Come write with me…..

215

The number is staggering. A grave with 215 bodies of Indigenous children. I’m numb with outrage at the discovery. Yet, not naïve to think that this is but a fraction of the over 4000 deaths of children while under the “care” of the residential school system. What other graves have yet to be discovered? What other wounds will be reopened, without a proper plan for lasting healing?  This is a history that was never taught to me as a child, but one that I learned in adulthood.  I’m thankful for the teachings of Ray John Jr., Starr McGahey-Albert and Robyn Michaud, who over the years have provided me with a glimpse into the lives of our Indigenous students and more importantly a historical perspective about parents and grandparents and their mistrust of the school system.  I used to think that “I got it”.  I worked in communities where parents had a bad experience with school and therefore projected those worries and concerns on their own children.  We needed to work creatively with many families to get them to trust us and to believe that we had their child’s best interests at heart.

But today I realized that “I’ll never get it”.  I will never be able to comprehend the pain, suffering and mistrust of a “school” system that not only failed our Indigenous families, but stripped them of a lifetime with their children.  It not only took their children with the intent of imparting a culture so juxtaposed to their own, but it also took the lives of their children.

How dare those institutions be referred to as “schools”.

Residential schools started in 1828 and continued into the 1990s. And in the midst of their tenure, the Education Act came into law in 1870, with a purpose of a “strong public education system is the foundation of a prosperous, caring and civil society” I choke on those words now. Is this how a caring and civil society knowingly treats children?

Social media was filled with posts and pictures today, but I want to end this blog post with the Twitter feed from Tracy Chisholm.  Tracy works at a school in Lambeth, where they welcome students from Standing Stone school for grades 7 and 8 as the school is currently a JK-6 school. She is a kind, caring and compassionate educator and I have no doubt that her tears continued to flow throughout the day as she supported her students.

In the midst of this tragic discovery, I’m thankful for educators like Tracy, who cry.  Because tears need to flow!

The Power of the Picture

For anyone who we’ve been pleased to meet during our time at Sir Arthur Currie while applying for a position, they can speak to our renowned first question experience.  Back in the day, when we were conducting face to face interviews, potential candidates would enter our front welcome area to find a table filled with over 50 photos.  Over the years the collection has evolved from our original set of stock photos from Haiku Deck to a set that now includes some of my own photography from special places and unique natural creations. Along with the photos they would fit a prompt which would become their introduction and first question.  The prompts may be related to teamwork and collaboration. They may focus on mental well being and diversity. Or they may provide the candidate with an opportunity to share examples of their flexibility and resilience as they connect to the photo.

In our current reality of virtual interviews, we didn’t want to lose this component of the interview process as we received wonderful insights about the candidate through their explanation and candidates shared that they enjoyed this experience as their first question.  So, we shifted to an online version, using Padlet.   Just prior to the interview, the candidates are provided with a link and a prompt. Although initially we worried about losing the impact of this strategy, we were thrilled to see that it translated just as effectively in the virtual world.

We continue to be amazed and impressed with the deep connections and insights that candidates bring to these photos.  Two candidates can select the same photo and bring incredibility rich and very different experiences and connections to that photo.

Years later, I can recall the exact photo that certain individuals selected. As a staff, there have been occasions when we’ve pulled out the photos and had some fun trying to remember which one, they selected.  Many of our current crew members can recall, exactly, which photo they selected ~ even if it was 4 years ago.

This past week, I was thrilled to find 2 more images, which may just make it to our set of photos.  I’m so intrigued by this visual of the tree.  Even without a traditional root system, it is growing and thriving thanks to the support of the steadfast branches of the mature tree.  My head is spinning with analogies of the power of having someone there to support you, even if you feel that your legs have been kicked out from underneath you.   The second visual of the row of book houses falls right into my wheelhouse about the power of books to take you places that you might never expect to go.

 

When I posted it on social media this morning, a friend commented with “windows, doors and mirrors to the human experience”.
So true.
I’m excited to see if any of our future candidates select either of these photos as their entry question.

If you were applying for a new position, would you enjoy the opportunity to introduce yourself with a photo?

Come write with me…

Harder Than It Looks

There is nothing quite like those wonderful invitations to join the learning ~ whether in person or during our current online learning world.  This morning, I looked forward to 10:00 am, as I had been invited to join Mrs. Tyler’s grade five class. As a former grade five teacher, I’m constantly drawn to the creativity of this age group.  Today, they wanted to showcase their latest writing samples. Our students are such gifted writers.  The students had been mastering the art of the reverse poem ~ a genre that has the reader start at the top of the poem and read from top to bottom.  In most instances the first reading, from top to bottom, is written with a negative or sad voice.  Then as you reread from bottom to top, the perspective quickly changes to a positive tone/voice.  I was so impressed with their use of transition words, beautifully selected vocabulary, and the collaborative group opportunity that many of them chose as they tackled this assignment.  I was also so proud of how many of them had the courage to share their screen and read their poems.  One student even took the task to another level and sung her composition.

I shared with the students that over the years, a number of these reverse poems had been shared in various contexts, including social media texts. This one, entitled, Refugees by Brian Bilston is one that I’ve used in various settings.

REFUGEES

They have no need of our help
So do not tell me
These haggard faces could belong to you or me
Should life have dealt a different hand
We need to see them for who they really are
Chancers and scroungers
Layabouts and loungers
With bombs up their sleeves
Cut-throats and thieves
They are not
Welcome here
We should make them
Go back to where they came from
They cannot
Share our food
Share our homes
Share our countries
Instead let us
Build a wall to keep them out
It is not okay to say
These are people just like us
A place should only belong to those who are born there
Do not be so stupid to think that
The world can be looked at another way

 

As they finished sharing their creations, I revealed my current writing journey of a post a day in the month of May and how their writing and courage had inspired my next post. I promised to try my hand at a reverse poem and share it with them by the end of the day.

They were quick to give me some advice:

  • Use descriptive words
  • Don’t stress about it
  • Read it backwards so it makes sense
  • write about something meaningful

And they were so gracious as to share their examples so I could refer to them as a template.

As I sat down to craft mine, I did some research, looked at some templates and of course took all their advice to heart. The examples that they shared were incredibly helpful.  As they had warned me, the task was harder than it looked.

As promised, I was able to create one (although much less detailed than any of theirs) and post it to their Google Classroom stream, so they can see it in the morning.

Our school is not very great

People will try to convince me that

Our students are very kind

And yet when you look closely

We do not welcome others

People never say that

Life at SAC is amazing

As I continue  to share throughout my journey as an amateur writer/blogger, one never knows where/when inspiration will make an appearance.  Today it was in a wonderfully creative, courageous, and clever class of grade 5 learners with an educator who knows how to spark the flame of engagement.

Where does your inspiration come from?

Come write with me….

Blast from the Past

It seems that without fail, on the first day back after a long weekend, the stream of emails is endless.  Today was no different ~ although as our students are still working online, I was able to keep on top of them during the light of day.  At times, the emails were flooding my inbox at a rate much faster than I could respond. Yes, I’m one of those people who prefer to see 0 unread messages. I know, I know ~ and I’m working on it…LOL

So, amid the scrolling, clicking, rereading, sending, discarding, replying, and forwarding I came upon a name that was a blast from the past, with the subject line ~ Joel Murray Introduction.  I immediately connected the name to one of my favourite students from “years” ago and momentarily thought, “What are the chances of this sales rep (as we are receiving lots of notices about new products) having the same name as Joel?”

But to my surprise, it was not an unknown sales rep, but indeed the same Joel Murray who was a student in a grade 5 class that I taught several years ago when I was an educator at M.B. McEachren.   If someone had a camera on me at that very moment, they would have noticed my entire demeanour transform.  I was undoubtedly smiling from ear to ear and immediately transported back in time to that classroom with that group of students and Joel with his strawberry blond hair, always the consummate student, athlete, friend to all and all-round great kid.  Over the years, I’ve kept in contact with his mom as we share the same birthday, and his sister was an educator at SAC the year that we opened.  I had also had the privilege of teaching her when she was in grade five.

As I opened Joel’s email, my smile widened as he shared that he had just recently graduated Teachers’ College and had already been a guest online educator in some of our classes.   I can only imagine what my expression would have been if I been virtually popping in and out of classes and low and behold, he was there, teaching away!

I stopped answering the ever-flowing list of emails long enough to craft a response to Joel.  I was beyond thrilled that he reached out and connected!

When was the last time that a student from the past, connected with you?

Come write with me…

Leadership Lessons from Midway

If you have yet to watch the 2019 War/Action film Midway and it’s on your watchlist, you may not want to read any further, other than to know that it well worth the 2 hours and 18 minutes time investment.  By nature, I’m rarely drawn to war films, but as my last few movie suggestions had been flops, I thought that at least my husband would enjoy this one.  The fact that the movie heralded a star-studded cast lead me to believe that it would not be completely intolerable.   And yet, as has occurred time and time again, just like we tell our students, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, I seem to require constant reminders to, “not judge a movie by its genre”. 
I found myself drawn into the storyline, (which depicts the six-month period between the bombing of Pearl Harbour the Battle of Midway ~ the turning point in the war for the Americans) and of course the outstanding cinematography.  But it was knowing that this movie was based on actual events and that these characters were playing individuals who authentically impacted the outcome of the war during those six months.  I recall watching an episode of the Graham Norton show where Tom Hanks was recalling meeting one of the many “real-life” characters that he has playing in movies.  He said to Captain Chesley from the movie, Sully, “I’m going to playing you in this movie. So far intense purposes, I’m You.  But I’m going to say things and do things that you never said or never did”.   So, although I’m well-aware of the creative license that directors take when undertaking the retelling of an actual event, I can’t help but wonder if some of the traits that these actors so flawlessly portrayed were evident in these individuals.  

And of course, as an occupational hazard, as we watched each character’s storyline unfold, I started to draw parallels between educational leadership and staging a battle.

Dick Best ~ the hotshot cowboy pilot, who loses his best friend in the Battle of Pearl Harbour and for whom Midway becomes even more personal. During an attack, he makes a fatal error and doesn’t check his oxygen tank.  Instead of going back, he refuses to lead his squadron without a leader and puts his own life and ultimately a career that he loves at risk.  He gets the job done, but at an extreme cost.    We’ve all known leaders who take this approach.  They put their own health at risk, for the sake of their school community. 

Edwin Layton ~ the Pacific Fleet Intelligence officer, who had predicted Pearl Harbour, but either wasn’t listened to or didn’t share it assertively enough.  Six months later, he was able to predict that the Japanese were going to bomb Midway, which allowed the Americans to get there first.   As he grew in his role, he became more assertive and more confident.  I often think about leaders when they are starting in their role ~ they know their stuff and they have great ideas, but they either assume that others won’t listen, or unfortunately have encountered others who wouldn’t listen.

Jimmy Doolittle ~ the pilot who led the raid over Tokyo.  In the movie, he is depicted as “charmer” who can convince a group of Chinese soldiers to take him and his raiders to safety.  Although not shown in the movie, the fall out from the Doolittle raid left ¼ of a million Chinese people dead as a result of Japan’s retaliation for their part in assisting the Americans.   Have you ever known a leader who, although led with the greatest intention, the fallout of their actions had a lasting negative impact on a school community?

Aviation Machinist Mate First Class Bruno P. Gaido ~ at a pivotal moment, Bruno jumps into the cockpit of one of the fighter planes, while it is still on the carrier and begins to fire back at the incoming enemy fire.  He is successful and immediately promoted for his bravery.  When asked about his bold move and his seemingly no fear mantra, retells the story of his uncle, who used to work on the Empire State Building, miles above the ground on a steel girder every day without any ropes or safety harnesses.   He never fell once, nor let fear paralyse him from his work.  And then as fate would have it, one day walking home a cab jumps the curb and kills him.  His mantra was, “Why worry?”   Although Gaido does not survive to see the victory, his attitude about embracing opportunity, living in the moment, and doing what’s right is definitely a leadership skill that I admire in so many of my colleagues.

Although leading a school is nothing like planning and executing an air raid on an enemy, the skills required to lead individuals to do work that is meaningful and at times challenging certainly have their similarities.

 

If you’ve watched the movie, I’d love to know if you made any connections to leadership.

Come write with me….

Shifting our Practice to Support our Newest Coyotes

Between preparing for this week’s upcoming interviews for a position that involves Outdoor Education for our Kindergarten classes and participating in several transition meetings for our newest Coyotes, I’m struck by the notion that many of this year’s cohort of first-time school learners will have spent almost half of their short lives in the heart of a global pandemic. Most notably, those opportunities that pre-school children are historically provided such as play dates, visits with extended family members and participation in community programs at Family Centers and Public libraries have all been compromised for so many of these learners that we’re about to welcome into our schools, as a result of lockdowns.  We know that it is through those social opportunities that young children begin to discover that other children play an important role, that turn-taking is a part of building friendships and that talking and listening to peers is the best way to learn how to communicate our wants and needs.

We’ve often heard the phrase that, “schools need to get ready to welcome students vs students getting ready to attend school.”  I have always strongly believed that it is incumbent for all educators to park their vision of the profile of a first-time learner and to co-construct that profile of each individual student as they become comfortable with the classroom community.  The amount of social and academic development that occurs during that first year of school, is by far the most noticeable of all grades levels.   Often, as June rolls around, we tend to forget what September and October looked like.

So, in looking towards September 2021, I’m wondering what our team can do to effectively prepare ourselves and our classroom environments for this cohort of learners.  Depending on the state of the lockdown, we may or may not be able to provide families with a face-to-face tour ~ so our virtual tour will have to do.  Our team has already decided that we’ll schedule a 10-minute TEAMS call with any interested families, so that they can ask any questions, so that we can meet the child and so the child has a visual of one of the caring adults who will be ready to greet them in September.  What else might these new learners need, especially if school is their very first experience away from their nuclear family?  What additional activities are we going to have to offer to model how to take turns, talk and listen to others and follow safety protocols ~ which will undoubtedly look different than what happens at home.

As we meet 6 candidates who are interested in joining our SAC Crew, I’m looking forward to hearing how they are preparing to shift their practice to best support our newest Coyotes.

What is your K team doing differently this upcoming fall?

Come write with me….

President Purvis

Tonight, we witnessed the end of an era for TVDSB OPC.  Our illustrious President, Scott Purvis passed the torch onto the next President.   Scott has been an integral part of OPC for a number of years and most notably in the presidency (as either elect, current or past) for 5 years.  Although each year has had its challenges, the past two years which have been embroiled in job action from every union group and a global pandemic, have, by far, required the exceptional leadership of Scott, like no other time in our recent history.

To say that Scott has made himself available to all OPC members is an understatement. This man’s cell phone must be in constant “ring” mode. Over the years, he has continued to encourage us to reach out for advice, for input and for support.   Scott has made it his mission to ensure that the lines of communication between the senior team and the administrators in our system are authentic, transparent and action-oriented.  No one would ever accuse Scott of mincing his words or beating around the bush.  He speaks passionately and honestly when ensuring that administrators in our system are respected, appreciated and honoured for the work that they do.

Scott is also the first one to remind us to take care of ourselves and to spend time with our friends and family.   He is the type of leader/friend, who will shoot you a quick text as a check in.  On a few occasions when I’ve been more quiet than usual at a meeting, I’ve received a, “You Ok?” message.   He has the ability to sense when something is amiss and instead of ignoring it, he reaches out.  Friends like that are golden.  Leadership like that is invaluable.

We all watched with admiration and awe as Scott led his school community through the loss of their beloved Vice Principal and then effectively advocated for the “just right” new vice-principal.   We learned how to help a community mourn, celebrate and move forward.

His ability to build a community, heal a community and celebrate a community are legendary.

On behalf of each and every Thames Valley administrator, I want to thank Scott Purvis for being his genuine self ~ an educator who will step up and have the hard conversations, take on the tough issues, all the while never forgetting why we all do what we do!

Do you have a favourite Purvis anecdote?

Come write with me…..