Given the Gift of Choice, the Voice Soars

The pen is rusty and the keys on the keyboard may not sing as sweetly or as swiftly as they once did, but I could not let this day end without documenting today’s experience which reminded me of the power of student choice, student voice and an authentic audience.

Last week, one of our grade 8 teachers left a Post-It note on my desk with today’s date, 10:00 am and Museum.  As always, I’m thrilled with invitations to come and see our students shine and specific reminders ensure that I don’t miss those special highlights as I make my way through classrooms each day.

As I ventured into the grade 8 classroom, our students were busily setting up their displays ~ complete with flashing lights, sound bars, detailed cardboard structures, meticulously illustrated comic books, creative graphic novellas, clay models and more.  I started to make my way from one presentation to the next as I learned about the journey of American slaves, which ended here in London Ontario.   The engagement in the assignment was evident as each duo of students articulated the narrative of their chosen individual, their background, their struggles and in most cases pictures of the actual homes (which are still standing) where they eventually ended up living.  This was truly new learning for me and listened intently to each group.

At one point, I veered from my consecutive pattern of following the circle of displays and crisscrossed to the other side of the room and the duo (that I had “skipped, until later) were concerned enough to let Miss Spratt know that I had “missed” them.   After explaining that it was very crowded at that time I was initially walking past, the duo of presenters seemed so excited to share their display and it was a tangible reminder of how important an authentic audience is to our students.

One of the presentations was so intricate and elegantly designed.  When I inquired about the treasure box container, the two students, who are working so hard to learn English, shared that their ESL teacher had lent it to them.  It was a wonderful reminder of how intentionally our staff works together to support our students.

As the time ticked by, I knew that we were getting close to the first nutrition break and the remaining time was limited. I had one more display to visit.  From a distance I could see a Chromebook, a few novels, a quarter, two sheets of notes and the duo of presenters.  There was no glitz or glitter, no statues or structures, no lights or landscapes.

When I arrived, the girls clicked the play button on the slide show on the Chromebook as visuals of fields, loneliness, schools and homes transitioned from slide to slide and then they started.  Their presentation was a masterpiece. It was a memorized and mesmerizing rant, poem and Readers’ Theatre all rolled into one.  The emphasis on words ~ through pacing, volume and emotion drew me into their presentation like nothing I’ve experienced.  The quarter and each novel (such simple yet effective props) were precisely presented, like a fine tuned choreographed number as they dramatically came to the part about the importance of education and the destruction of the slave school.

Needless to say, we continued long into the start of the break.  As they came to the end, I was speechless and emotional. I couldn’t effectively articulate how utterly amazed, impressed and proud I was of how they had decided to share their learning on this topic and how it impacted me as a listener and learner.

I did share that there was not a “mark” that their teacher could provide them that would adequately and authentically capture their work and more importantly the impact that it had on me and the others.

This was a much needed reminder about providing our students with choice when it comes to presenting their learning.  When we place boundaries around assignments, we are limiting creativity, thinking and learning.  We must remember that learners are capable, competent and they love a challenge.

When students are provided with choice, we give them the gift of using their voice in a way that makes sense to them, in a way that they can connect with the learning and in turn connect their learning to others.

How do you provide students with choice, voice and authentic audience? Come write with me…..

#oneword 2021

#oneword 2021

If this past year has taught us anything, it is that our ideal of perfection can be quickly and ever-so unapologetically swept from beneath us.  Last year at this time, I had selected Focus as my #oneword 2020 with the intent of tightening my focus both personally and professionally.  From a school lens, I was feeling that finally in our third year as a new school we were able to shift, if ever so slightly, from the logistics of our growing population and the challenges associated with that, to a focus on the work of goal setting.  Plans were falling into beautiful alignment with early literacy interventions and numeracy diagnostics.  Our intermediate students were trained to work as reading coaches with our grade one learners and our kindergarten students were embracing counting principles and singing subitizing songs as they ventured down the hallway.  January brought a flurry of learning activities despite the political unrest of job action.  Yet, even through those days, our staff continued to focus on their students, each other and our goals.  And then, the unthinkable and inconceivable happened ~ news of a virus invading Asia had made its way to our backyard and we were to enter a lockdown.  Our focus swiftly shifted from goal setting to Google and as they say, the rest is history.  I often wonder how the COVID-19 pandemic will be documented for future generations and the long term impact which we have no way of anticipating at this time, as we are still in the epicenter of it.

On the eve of 2021, when others make resolutions, promises and proposals, I select #oneword which hopefully provides guidance throughout the year and reminders of what I’m feeling on this special evening. This year, after much soul-searching, I’ve chosen Grace as my word.

Regardless of what lies ahead may I show Grace to all of those with whom I have the gift of their friendship and love.  This past year we were gifted with a window into the lives (both literally and figuratively) of so many people.  Zooming from our home into the homes of others, supporting friends as they found the loneliness of lockdown unbearable and reassuring our colleagues that they are doing a tremendous job under the most bizarre and unimaginable circumstances.  With no immediate end in sight to these windows, it is more important than ever that we demonstrate kindness, charity and leniency (Grace) as we sustain others.

There is no playbook for a pandemic.  And we’re not building an airplane in the sky ~ because with an airplane we know that somewhere there are blueprints and we know what the end product is supposed to resemble.  We have no idea how this is going to end.   Which in and of itself provides a freedom from the restraints of trying to get it perfect.

So, I freely absolve myself of the notion of working towards perfection and instead endeavor to lead with, love with and fill my days laughing with Grace!

Happy 2021 to All

Inspired to Dream, Plan & Go!

When Annette suggests a book, I read it. I end up loving it and wondering why I hadn’t stumbled on to it before her recommendation. Her suggestions make me think, question, evaluate, reflect and always get me excited to share my new found “best” read with someone else.  With picture books and Young Adult novels, it’s one or sometimes many of the classes in my school who are on the receiving end ~ Mrs. Bruyns does a Book Tour. With social justice selections it’s colleagues and family members.  But with her latest recommendations (in form of a gift) I’m compelled to share my reflections with the author, Rachel McMillan. Oh what I wouldn’t do to sit down and enjoy a drink with this lady!

Last Friday, Annette gifted me with “Dream, Plan & Go ~ a travel guide to inspire your independent adventure”. Rachel’s latest book. This morning, as the skies opened up and we were treated to a thunderous summer storm, I stayed under my bed covers and read it from cover to cover.

It is a rare gift to feel that you know the author and some members of their family as you read their words and relive their experiences.  Rachel is Annette’s niece. They have a special bond, which emerges through the book, through their social media banter and from stories that Annette has shared over the years.  I loved the references to Annette and her daughter Hannah in the book. I had the privilege of attending Hannah’s fundraiser and can easily hear Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life” playing in the background at her house.  When I was there last week, it was the soundtrack from “Eurovision”. Music plays such an integral role in Annette’s life!  Plus, I can just imagine the conversation about Klaus J

In reading this book, I can now understand Rachel’s tweet a few months ago about desperately needing to travel. It’s in her blood; it’s a part of her world.

Although my travel stories do not begin with, “Once when I was in Paris, Vienna, Dubai, Ireland, Brussels etc.,” I still felt a kindred spirit to Rachel as she shared her need for quiet moments, for traveling alone and for being able to select adventures that feed your soul.

Back in 2010, I started a tradition of renting a cottage for myself for one week.  Each summer I selected a different location ~ Long Point, Port Elgin, Grand Bend, Port Stanley and Lake Chesley.  I packed my bike, my stack of books and my laptop.  For my week at Lake Chesley, I also had my kayak.  I recall that my family members and friends seemed perplexed at how I would spend my days.  But I loved it. I explored nearby shops, rode my bike, read the day away or tapped the keyboard on my laptop when inspired by the writing fairies.

In 2015 we invested in a family cottage. My husband joked that now I didn’t need to rent my summer cottage.  Although the last few summers have been fraught with knee surgery (which incapacitated me from launching and docking the boat on my own), this summer I returned to full health and hence having a few days of solitude at the cottage.

One of the other key messages in Rachel’s book is about finding adventures in your own backyard and in unexpected places.  She speaks so fondly about my hometown, London. There are so many places that I take for granted that they will always be there, like the Covent Market Garden. And yet the tragedy of Notre Dame Church is a lesson in not waiting until tomorrow.

So, now that the rain has subsided and the sunshine has emerged, I’m off to explore London o

n my bike. We’re hitting the Thames Valley Bike Trails.  Thanks Annette for the suggestion too !

Rachel ~ the next time you’re visiting your Tante Annette, I’ve placed a request for an invite. We can talk about Sherlock Holmes (I loved The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder), although I may refer to the Robert Downey Jr/Jude Law movies a couple of times, travel, fine food and fashion.

Thank you for this book ~ the messages of empowerment, not waiting until tomorrow and conquering your fears (even heights) are so important, especially now!

Using Post -it Notes for Memorable Moments not Mistakes

A stack of red folders, several blue Trend pens and a pad of lined Post-it notes were precariously perched on my night table stand as I ventured into reading my first set of final report cards for the 19/20 school year.   To be absolutely honest I had no idea what to expect.  Within days of them being due to administration, the guidelines for what was to be assessed and commented on changed from including everything from September to March 13 to only including learning activities from Jan 31 to March 13.  Keeping in mind that as a result of job action, term one reports were not sent home and educators had submitted a class list with letter grades/marks to administrators.  My bucket of class lists still sits safely on the corner of my office credenza.

In order to help alleviate any stress during a time of multiple stressors, our message to staff was one of “breathe” and do the best that you can.  We shared that we would be reading each set with a lens of grace and flexibility.  I was prepared for any number of scenarios and poised to take my own advice and “breathe”.

Historically, reading report cards included significant time identifying corrections (those little typos that are hard to catch when you’re reading your own work), ensuring that the correct boxes are clicked (IEP, ESL, NA/I/ Core) making sure that if we’re calling the student Suzie on page one, that she is reflected as Suzie on page two and not Susan or Sue, ensuring that the mark and the comment jive and of utmost importance that the reports reflect a positive tone for each and every learner.  We want families to know that we love their child, that we know their strengths,  that we know our “stuff” as educators and we know what to do in order to support the next steps on their child’s journey toward success.   Pages were, at times, filled with coloured notes and the lined post-it notes were filled with additional things to “wonder about” when meeting with the educator.

But this time was different! My coloured Trend pen rarely graced the pages of the report cards. Our crew was incredibly precise with how they crafted these reports. Minimal errors J .They found a way to effectively provide families with a positive, thorough learning profile of their children and provide a sense of reassurance for the upcoming school year.

And as for my lined Post-it Notes, the following words were penned: Memories, Recognize, Celebrate, Resilient, Dodgeball, Lions Club Dictionaries, Pride, Navigate, Flexible and Perseverance.  Staff effectively acknowledged how proud they were of their students’ ability to transition from face to face to online learning within days.  They praised students for overcoming other distractors and being committed to showing up each day to Google Meets and completing assignments. They praised students for learning how to problem solve technology issues and to collaborate with each other, even though they weren’t together. They celebrated their time together, both in person and online.  They shared that they are looking forward to the fall and can’t wait to see their students again.

I love when my staff ask students to reflect on their learning for the year and include that in their reports.  This year, even though students weren’t in school, many of our staff still found a way to embed those all import messages. I learned that for one student their favourite memory was getting a dictionary from our friends at the Lions Club (note to self, send them a message tonight and let them know). I also learned that one grade three student loves Phys. Ed with Mrs. Mills because they never play Dodgeball ~ he is fearful of the game (note to self, let the grade 4 teachers know that). And the list goes on and on.

This is just one more idea to add to my ever growing list of “Positives in the Midst of a Pandemic”.  I have no doubt that families will be reading this set of reports and rejoicing in the fact that their children not only survived, but actually thrived during the past few months ~ and they did so as a result of a team of educators who worked tirelessly to support them.

Here’s to using those lined post-it notes for capturing memorable moments not mistakes!

How was your report card writing/reading experience this spring?

Come write with me…

A Sandbox Kind of Day

It was an early start, as my admin partner and I dove into timetabling.  A challenging task for a school with 34 current classes and the knowledge that we’ll undoubtedly be reorganizing in the fall as welcome new families ~ not to mention the significant unknowns of what “re-entry” to schools in a time of COVID-19 will look like by the time September rolls around.  We know that we will be revamping these timetables even before the first day of school of September.  But at least we have a bit of roadmap and the conversation about how best to support our students is always a welcomed one, as we worked our way through the task.

I’ve always loved the challenge of timetabling as it is the first step in creating positive learning environments for our students.  We take into consideration common planning time, traffic patterns to maximize student interaction and minimize educator travel time and the best times of the day for learners to be active, to name but a few.  We know that we need to stay within the “sandbox” of contractual number of minutes of preparation for educators, but the rest of the job can be completed with an innovative lens to making the minutes match the desired outcome.

Partway through the morning, we took a break as the site manager for portables met me at the school to look at where our 4 new portables were going to be installed and to discuss moving our current long jump pit (commonly known as our sandbox, based on the raised sides and common gathering place for our youngest students) in order to make space for one of the new portables.   I had invited a few staff members, our Phys. Ed specialty teachers, to join us for the conversation.  After all, they are the experts on this. It is their voice that matters.  They had done some research at other schools and knew how to make the most of the conversation and share a site location and the details for the new long jump pit. Their ideas were so welcomed and ones that I would never have considered.  I’m so thankful for their input.

As I returned to the timetabling task, with my admin partner, I received an email about another spring task that we’re currently involved with, which initially surprised me and then frustrated me. The details are not as important (nor for sharing publicly) as the analogy to the sandbox.  With each leadership task that we undertake, we are provided with the parameters (the edges of the sandbox) ~ whether it is procedural language in a Board Policy /Procedure or a Ministry PPM or the language within the contracts for our multiple unions.   Over the years, I’ve become adept at knowing those contracts (such as who you can interview, how many minutes of preparation time, etc.) knowing where to find and how to share Board Policies/Procedures (having had the pleasure of writing some of them) and the importance of the connection of Ministry PPMs to the work that we do at a Board and school level.

But where I find myself getting frustrated is when you play within the sandbox and try to be innovative in your practice (with the intent of building collective educator efficacy and improving student learning) and the sides of the sandbox shrink.

From Diversity, to Inclusion to Belonging

Throughout my career, I’ve been so fortunate to be asked to support a number of colleagues as they transition from classroom educator to vice principal or from vice principal to principal.  I love the opportunity to highlight their leadership skills and provide specific examples of how they have positively impacted their school cultures. The conversation easily flows from one question to the next with great details and examples until we get to the “diversity/inclusion” question.  Each time it is asked (and I always know when it’s coming) I pause as I find myself having to dig a bit deeper to provide concrete examples ~ mostly because the candidates that I’m supporting create diverse/inclusive cultures as a matter of their everyday interactions with their staff, students and broader school community. For me, it is more of a mindset than an actionable objective.

So, today when I stumbled on this picture quote @lizandmollie, I was immediately drawn to the natural progression from diversity, to inclusion to belonging.  Being asked how a colleague creates a sense of belonging in a school community creates the conditions for authentic examples.  Ultimately, if we truly believe that all learners can learn and that everyone is a contributing member of a school community, then a sense of belonging has been created.

How do you create a sense of belonging in your school culture?  Is it something that you can easily articulate?

Come write with me…

A Leadership Lesson from Down Under

Day 21

This morning, during my daily social media scroll I came across an article discussing the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern’s possible solution to economic recovery from COVID-19. Ardern first came to my attention with her swift ban on semi-automatic guns in the wake of the Christchurch massacre. I was immediately impressed and continued to watch her leadership moves.

Her latest move is a refreshing response, the likes of which we have yet to see from other leaders. Most leaders are putting road maps in place for communities/organizations to return to the same place we were prior to the global pandemic. But instead of this quest to return to business as usual, Ardern is wondering out loud, what it would look like if employers and employees invested in a four day work week. She proclaimed the benefits of work/life balance as well as the benefits for their country’s  tourism.  If this became a reality, people would have more than just the weekend to visit tourist destinations, frequent restaurants etc. Ardern is forging a road map to a different place, a different way of life and from a first blush this looks like a healthier new destination.

In revisiting how Ardern has positioned herself as a leader throughout the devastation of COVID-19, I’ve been impressed by both her formal and informal connection with others.  In her Facebook post, published just prior to the country “hunkering down”, in her jeans and sweatshirt, she addressed her fellow New Zealanders in a manner that was calm, kind and humane.  There was no arrogance. There was no sense of, “I’m off to something more important”. There was no sense of urgency.  There was no sense of ego. There was an overwhelming sense of “we’re in this together.” It reminded me of a FaceTime conversation that I would have with a good friend.

Evening everyone. Thought I’d jump online and answer a few questions as we all prepare to stay home for the next wee while. Join me if you’d like!

Posted by Jacinda Ardern on Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Like many, I’m excited to watch how New Zealand, with Ardern’s leadership, emerges from COVID-19 restrictions and re-imagines a new sense of community.  This is such a wonderful model for other leaders to consider. Not specifically the four day work week, but to take the possibilities of this pandemic to re-vision, re-think and re-imagine what their organizations could look like.

How are you using the possibilities of this pandemic to re-vision, re-think and re-imagine your organization?

Come write with me…

Leadership Lessons from the Lunchroom

Do you ever wonder what triggers memories?  I have no doubt that somewhere in the land of Google, one would find endless links to such research.

At the end of the work day, I found myself in the kitchen, doing what so many of us are doing these days and that is scouring the cupboards for the ingredients to do some baking.  During this time of self-isolation I’ve tried my hand at a few new recipes, such as butter tarts, but I’m most comfortable revisiting past tried and true favourites.  Tonight the slightly browning bananas were calling to be transformed into Banana Oatmeal Chocolate Chip muffins.  As I started to peel them, my memory bank was flooded with an image of being at my first school as an administrator in 2004.  I was starting my career as a Vice Principal at WS Fox and I was so fortunate to be partnered with the incredible Diane DuMaresq.  Diane was a size zero in stature but larger than life in personality. She doled out advice, sometimes at a break neck speed and other times so subtly that if you blinked, you missed it.

Our school day was structured so that during our lunch break, our primary students all came to the lunchroom for the first part of the break and then as they transitioned outside, our junior students entered.  It was our responsibility to supervise in the lunchroom, along with Pam and Corinne, our wonderful Educational Assistants. I absolutely loved that routine as it allowed us to see and chat with our students each day.  It also provided me with the opportunity to learn how to hygienically open pudding cups, juice boxes and yogurt tubes.  I had to unlearn the “mom” way of doing it….smile

One day, during one of these lunch times a student asked Diane to peel their banana for them. Now, I had always peeled a banana from the stem. That was how I was taught. That was how I had watched others do it. That was how my parents did it. That was how I had taught my own children to do it.  So I watched with great interest when Diane shared with the student, that you should always peel a banana the way the experts (the monkeys) do and she proceeded to peel it from the other end.  I was shocked and of course had to go home and try it ~ and sure enough, it was much easier.  I’ve never gone back to my original way.

As I continued to follow the recipe and eventually place the muffins in the oven, I started to think about how my memory of the banana peel demonstration is connected to leadership lessons.  On the one hand, it speaks to the notion of being present in each moment ~ even during lunch times ~ and how the simplest question can lead to a meaningful change in practice.  As a new VP, I was constantly watching Diane and learning.  This was just another example of being observant.

But on a deeper level, there is something about challenging the status quo.  Yes, I realize that peeling a banana is not an earth shattering discovery. Yet, the lesson for me was about learning that sometimes there is a better way to get a job done; that the status quo could be (and let’s be honest, should be) challenged and ultimately improved upon. One of my favourite quotes is “The Most Dangerous phrase in the language is, we’ve always done it that way”.

Now, more than ever we will need to revisit, revision and rethink everything we know about our current way of “doing” school as we peel back the layers of how to recognize our graduates, virtual Kindergarten Open Houses and the re-entry plan for the fall of 2020, to name but a few.

A Day Like We’ve Never Seen Before

Day 19

I’m intentionally crafting and publishing today’s post early this morning as I’m anticipating that once 1:00 pm rolls around and the Minister of Education makes his announcement about the remainder of the school year, regardless of the message, my mind will begin to shift in a number of directions. If the message is that we’re maintaining Learn at Home for the next 6 weeks, how do we continue to engage families and maintain positivity among our staff?  What will it look like as we distribute the personal belongings for over 750 students? But most importantly closure ~ not the physical closure of the school, but the emotional closure that happens at the end of a school year.  For us, our tradition has been that at 3:29 p.m., on the P.A. system, we play “What Time Is It?” from High School Musical 2, as the staff and students dance out of the school.  Then as a full staff, with the song still playing on our portable sound system, we line up and wave good-bye to our students who are exiting the school via their school buses. Without the possibility of physical closure, undoubtedly, this will be our opportunity to collectively be creative and construct a virtual closure for this most unusual school year.

So, in not knowing what today is going to bring, I was drawn to this quote by Maya Angelou, “This is a wonderful day. I’ve never seen this one before”.  It is from a beautiful gift that was dropped off at my place last week, from a wonderful colleague. It is a journal, entitled, “Good Days start with Gratitude” ~ Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude”.  Along with the journal was a heartfelt and beautifully composed card.  I’ve revisited that message in that card a number of times over the past week and it has given me the inspiration that has been needed on those days where seeing a purpose was a bit more challenging than normal.

Today, indeed, will a day that I’ve never seen before.  From meeting four new educators who are interviewing for positions on our LTO team, along with a good friend and colleague, to having rich conversations with colleagues about placing our newest Coyotes into each of our 7 kindergarten classes, to the inevitable reactions to today’s announcement. From any angle, today will be wonderful!

And as for the Minister’s announcement at 1:00 pm, I have no doubt that whatever he shares will create the conditions for us to collectively say that “we’ve never seen a day like this before”.   Let’s make it wonderful ~ as there are so many counting on us to use that lens of positivity!

What are you looking forward to today?

Come Write with me….

A New Appreciation

As I was scrolling through a number of online articles, today, I came across this one. “Drive-ins have become a safe zone for moviegoers, owners hope they return after pandemic  and it occurred to me that for the most part, there has been a such a focus on what has been lost as a result of this global pandemic, that I truly appreciated this story, with its lovely positive spin on a past time that just may be making a comeback.  In doing some research, I learned that the first drive-in theatre in Canada opened on July 10 1946 in Stoney Creek Ontario and here we are nearly 74 years later, looking to return to that “physically-distancing” safe past time.  I’m sure that the movie industry would love nothing more than to have venues to safely showcase the significant number of pictures whose release dates have already been adjusted a number of times.

Growing up I don’t recall going to the Drive-in too often, but I do fondly remember the location of the Twilight Theatre on Hyde Park Road.  Coming home from late nights at Grand Bend in the summer, that theatre, packed with vehicles and spotlights that lit up the night sky, was the indication that we were close to home. I remember turning my head, to see if I could catch a glimpse of what was playing, if only for a few seconds.

As I transitioned into my late teens, the invention of the VCR and the accompanying knowledge that you could rent a machine and multiple videos for the weekend became our movie viewing option.  The idea of enjoying a movie from the comfort of your own home was such a new phenomenon that it seemed to strongly outweigh the alternative of sitting in your car or going to the movies. Although the experience did involve learning how to connect lots of cables and cords and being satisfied with movies that had already had their run in the theatres.

As rented VCRs, gave way to affordable VCRs, home viewing became even more popular and Drive-Ins started to close.  The Twilight is now a Lowe’s Hardware store and the outer limits of London have creeped much further north.

A couple of years ago, Doug Peterson added Drive-In Theatres to his “Whatever Happened To” series.  It was a wonderfully written tribute to the Drive–Ins of the past.  At the time, I had never envisioned that we’d be on the verge of a resurgence of this form of entertainment and yet, here we are!

As we begin to imagine the next phases of re-entry what else may be making a comeback?

Come write with me…