Every Graduate Needs to Hear This!

Like so many of you, I watched former President Obama’s High School Commencement Speech and then I went and found the transcript and reread it a number of times.   There is something so reassuring, so inspiring and so down to earth about how Obama addresses the 2020 graduating classes. For those of us who have had the opportunity to address a graduating class, whether at the elementary, secondary or post-secondary level, we’ve just been provided with the best possible blueprint.

He begins by recognizing our current situation, not with doom and gloom or hyperbole of “winning the war” against a virus, but by acknowledging the resilience of this generation and the challenges that no other generation has had to overcome.  And yes, the disappointment that the formal celebrations have been postponed and will probably look very different for this graduating class.

As Obama transitions his audience into their immediate future, which can only be described as full of uncertainty, he encourages a call to action and a radical change in how we’ve been doing business. The brilliance of this call to action is that it is aimed at the graduating class. He recognizes that it will be this generation of leaders who will truly make a difference because, “all those adults that you used to think were in charge and knew what they were doing, turns out that they don’t have all the answers. A lot of them aren’t even asking the right questions. So, if the world’s going to get better, it’s going to be up to you”.

I couldn’t help but wonder about our own situation as we sit on the precipice of making some monumental decisions about education right here in Thames Valley.  I truly hope that we’ll be turning to these future leaders and gaining their insight and direction as we dive into conversations about graduation and an eventual return to school.  I’m not sure that the adults (who only know how it’s been done in the past) will be able to formulate the best possible solution.  As Obama shared, “…. this is your generation’s world to shape”. We need to hear from those personally impacted and with a view into their future.

Obama closes his commencement speech with three sage pieces of advice, each one inspirational and meaningful:

1) Don’t be afraid

2) Do what’s right

3) Build a Community

Like all great leaders, he ends with offering his support, but recognizing that it’s not needed. Just as  Glinda tells Dorothy, “you don’t need me. You’ll always had the power…”.

May each graduate, who has the opportunity to hear this address, take these words to heart and be inspired to authentically make choices that will lead us from this pandemic to a better world.

Come write with me…

When You Hear Pinterest and Math, Who Do You Think of?

Reflected on my pre-pandemic calendar for tonight was our annual OPC Spring Dinner. Historically, an evening to come together with colleagues, one last time before the end of the school year, to share funny anecdotes and upcoming summer plans.  It is also our opportunity to celebrate and recognize colleagues who have decided to take the next step in their journey and venture into retirement. For the past few years, the evening has been a bittersweet one, as many of those who are retiring are my contemporaries.  We started teaching or we entered into the wild world of administration at the same time. I start to envision the fall when we come together for our first meeting of the new school year and know that there will be fewer and fewer familiar faces.  It’s a magical time in one’s career when you know all of the retirees and some of them you’ve had the pleasure of working closely with.

Tonight was the night that we were going to acknowledge and honour a colleague who has had a tremendous impact throughout his entire career on so many students, families and educators.  I recall the first time I passed Scott Armstrong in the hallway at the Board Office.  I was just starting my career as an administrator and he was a Math Learning Coordinator.  I, of course, knew who he was and was so delighted that when we passed each other and he knew my name.  Scott’s trademark charismatic smile, endless energy and deep, deep knowledge of curriculum are just some of his trademarks.   As Scott transitioned into administration, our paths occasionally crossed, but it wasn’t until he took on the role of the Learning Supervisor for the MSTE portfolio that we had an opportunity to work side by side (our offices were literally next to each).  I watched in awe as he effectively navigated both Board and Ministry “ever-changing, ever-increasing” expectations, as the world of Math was thrust into the forefront. He passionately supported the work that his team was doing and made every attempt to join in the professional learning by kicking off the session with a trademark Armstrong “soap box” mantra.  None of us will ever be able to hear “Pinterest” and “Math” in the same sentence and not hear Scott’s voice.  His passion for ensuring that educators knew the front matter of the curriculum is a message that we can never hear too often.

When his role demanded it, Scott articulately shared comprehensive and optimistic presentations at Board Meetings and in Regional and Provincial settings.  He was the “Thames Valley Math Guy” and we were all so proud of his leadership and the work that was being done.  I enjoyed attending conferences with him and watching as he effortlessly connected with people and dove into authentic conversations about math and life.

As a partner in the work we were doing at a system level, Scott was never too busy to share a laugh, a great new resource or when needed, a shoulder.  There were many times, that all I needed to do was to walk next door, close his door, exchange a knowing glance and then return to the task at hand.  Colleagues like that are golden.

Scott has also had a tremendous impact on our future leaders.  Every candidate who has had the pleasure of having Scott as one of their PQP instructors knows, first hand, that he provides a comprehensive, honest and inspiring account of what it means to be an administrator.  They love his stories and appreciate his depth of knowledge about the role.   I have no doubt that over the years he has inspired so many teachers to venture into administration.

As Scott ventures into this next phase of his life, I have no doubt that he will continue to find soapboxes to perch on.  His work in the area of inspiring educators to be the best versions of their self is not over yet.  Like all of you, who have had the pleasure of working alongside of Scott Armstrong, I wish him nothing but the best and thank him for his dedication to our Valley, but more importantly for his friendship.

Support, Just When We Needed it the Most

As I sat with my pen poised, ready to take notes during our weekly check in with our Director and Senior Team, my mind was racing as to what our school board’s next steps were going to be in reaction to the Minister of Education’s announcement, late last Friday afternoon.  Stephen Lecce took to the airwaves and shared that it was always the Ministry’s expectation that teachers were providing synchronous (in real time) learning opportunities.  I found myself going back to mid-March, when the Ministry modeled the first Learn at Home learning experiences.  At no time did the Ministry offer synchronous opportunities. As I recall their offering was a list of websites. I couldn’t help but wonder, if it was “always” an expectation that such synchronous learning was an expectation, then why didn’t the Ministry model how they wanted that to look when we first started down this path.

I had no doubt that this announcement placed our school board in a precarious position, as our educators had been provided with the flexibility and support to connect with families in a manner that met student and family needs. At no point had we been mandated to offer synchronous learning in the form of Google Meets or Teams meetings ~ although many educators had gravitated towards those platforms, if they made sense for their learners.

So, as Director Fisher boldly and confidently shared that Thames Valley’s definition of synchronous learning encompassed phone calls, emails, videos and active time on platforms you could sense a huge sense of relief on the part of the administrators who knew that they could continue to support our staff in doing the amazing job that they’re already doing.

Kudos to Director Fisher and the senior team.  We are stronger as a system when we all feel supported in the work that we’re doing during these unique and challenging times.

Not the Same 5 Helpful Tips

When you research the 5 Most Helpful Tips to Prepare for a Job Interview, I would venture to guess that at no point in reading that list you would find tips such as:

1) Ensure that no one else in the family is using the Internet, so that when you share your screen, your presentation doesn’t endlessly loop (even though you have 4 children trying to complete their Learn at Home assignments)

2) Find a quiet space in your home (even though you currently have a 1 year old, a 5 year old and a 10 year old who need you)

3) Create the appearance of a professional setting (even though your current home office is the kitchen table)

4) Practice how to share your screen using TEAMS (even though 2 months ago, your connection to “Teams” was a collection of individuals playing a sport)

5) Situate your screen so that you can be heard and seen by the members of the interview team (even though up to 2 months ago you avoided using your webcam at all costs)


And yet here we are!

I have to tip my hat to each and every educator who gracefully and professionally has ventured into the world of Teams interviews over the past few days.  We’ve had the pleasure of interviewing over 20 candidates for several positions at our school. We created the conditions for them to access a Padlet link for a Photo Elicitation activity, to create a 5 minute presentation demonstrating how they have embraced a Learning For All lens within a specific learning activity and then shift screens as we shared the rest of the interview questions.

I have been so impressed with how our candidates found creative ways to try and recreate a formal interview all the while knowing that their students were trying to reach them in Google Classroom or Brightspace and their own children required their attention.  They had obviously practiced sharing their screen ahead of time, so that they could effortlessly switch from one presentation to the next. They demonstrated incredible powers of focus and intentional conversation.

For many, interviewing for a job can be stressful in the best of situations, but interviewing in the midst of school closures and social distancing could be perceived as an insurmountable obstacle.

Kudos to each and every one of you for successfully not only meeting but exceeding this challenge!

I would love to hear your experiences with job interviews in the time of COVID-19.

Come write with me….

COVID Celebrations

I’m beginning to wonder if one of the 2020 phrases that will make its way into the history books (or online Internet searches or whatever platform our future holds) will be “COVID Celebrations”.  Since mid-March when we started physical distancing and self-isolation, we have navigated our way through celebrations such as Easter, my dad’s birthday and today, Mother’s Day. Historically we’ve recognized those celebrations with large family gatherings, meal preparations, purchasing of gifts and at times successfully managing equal time between our nuclear family and our extended family and at other times, not so successfully.

This year, we’ve had to become creative while ensuring the safety of our loved ones.  Easter started with a special delivery to our front porch from our daughter and son-in-law and ended with a quiet dinner with our 2 sons and an evening of JackBox online games.  There was a sense of calm and appreciation.

My dad’s birthday included a porch visit from my eldest son and myself as we serenaded him with “Happy Birthday” loud enough for the neighbours to hear and a socially acceptable distance delivery of a homemade chocolate cake.  We made the most of our time together and I have no doubt that he appreciated it.

Today was Mother’s Day and once again the restrictions on coming together in large groups impacted our celebrations.  And yet, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.  Yesterday, my daughter picked me up for an undisclosed destination.  We traveled to Clovermead and took part in the Mother’s Day Drive Thru Special.  We had never visited there when our kids were young, so the tour created the space for dialogue about the past, special memories and future plans for eventual grandkids…smile.   Dedicated, uninterrupted time with my daughter is priceless. I loved it.

This morning, breakfast was prepared and enjoyed with my husband and our youngest son.   Again, time for conversation about fishing, spring and eventual trips to the cottage was a wonderful start

to the day. Without the option of shopping, my husband took the time to create this “Suzie can never kill” flower!

As the day continued, I ventured over to my parent’s place for a physically safe visit. Within minutes of my arrival my brother showed up, so the four of us spent the next 2 hours deep in conversation, debate and laughter ~ lots of laughter.   As we both have busy families of our own, it is rare to have these special “nuclear” family moments.  I can’t even recall the last time it was just the four of us. As we were leaving my mom commented that it was the best Mother’s Day in years!  Shhhh… we won’t tell the rest of our own family members LOL

The final gift of today was a visit from our oldest son, who knows my weakness for deep fried pickles.  So along with a beautiful orchid and a card that made me so proud, we indulged in a fried pickle feast and good conversation.

Although we couldn’t all be together today at the same time, the moments that I spent with each special person who makes my life as a mom more meaningful than any other accomplishment, were precious and memorable.

Maybe there’s something to these COVID Celebrations that we can capture and recreate, even when restrictions are lifted.

How are you navigating Celebrations through COVID-19?

Come Write with me…


Today was a good day (considering it was snowing) to crack the spine on a new leadership book, as I look towards the coming weeks and how best to support our staff during these unprecedented times.   When a few colleagues shared that the mentor text for their PQP course was Fullan’s, “Nuance ~ Why Some Leaders Succeed and Others Fail”, I decided to order a copy so that if perchance they were interested, we could engage in a conversation or two.

I’ve always enjoyed and connected with Fullan’s vision of how leaders can continue to reflect upon their practice in an effort to move the learning agenda forward and this latest book did not disappoint.  The case studies woven into each chapter provide a context that allows the reader to explore the concepts of the JAC model and find nuggets that relate to their own set of circumstances.  Fullan has always pushed the thinking of the reader, to move beyond their comfort zone in order to create a school system that is better than our current one.  What I found different about this book was his focus on going deeper than the surface when making decisions and the humanity element, which may not have always been as prevalent in some of his other books.

According to Fullan, “Nuance leaders have a curiosity about what is possible, openness to other people, sensitivity to context, and a loyalty to a better future. They see below the surface, enabling them to detect patterns and their consequences for the system. They connect people to their own and each other’s humanity. They don’t lead; they teach. They change people’s emotions, not just their minds. They have an instinct for orchestration.”

I love that term orchestration. An orchestra has the ability to emotionally move an audience when and only when each player impeccably knows their instrument and how to make magic with that instrument. They know when to crescendo and when to decrescendo. They are the masters of that sound. They rely on the conductor to guide them. But the conductor needs to be emotionally connected to the audience in order to know the perfect moment to cue that crescendo. Without that connection to the audience, it simply becomes notes on a page, played with precision, but not played with passion.  The audience may be entertained, but not inspired.

If our role as a school/system leader is to simply move the learning agenda forward then there are many books written on how to “play those notes” and many of them will also share when to crescendo and when to decrescendo.  But if we truly want to have an impact, to create a generation of students who will make a difference, to inspire change agents, to make our world a better place, then as leaders we need to connect emotionally with our staff, with our communities and not just cognitively go through the motions and read the script like notes on sheet music.

Now, more than ever, with the Pandemic Playbook being written and rewritten, is the time for Nuanced Leaders.  We need leaders who are sensitive to the day to day challenges that all educators are facing and who are willing to connect with their teams emotionally in order to listen and learn about the possibilities and how best to move forward.  Now more than ever, when our physical connection is compromised, we need leaders who will embrace the notion that connection to each other’s humanity needs to be the opening number.

Pass the baton to the Nuanced Leaders.

Come Write with me….

If Ever There Was A Time….

Today’s post is inspired by a conversation with my administrative partner, following a request to forward our ideas about how best to navigate our way through the cancellation of Grade 8 graduations on one hand and the need to honour and recognize this graduating class on the other hand, to our senior team.  His response did not include a play by play proposal for how to create a COVID-19 virtual ceremony, instead he wondered if this year there could be a system generated response that all schools would embrace.

As many of us know, the variation in how Grade 8 students are recognized as they transition to Secondary School is wide and deep.  These ceremonies can be as simple and meaningful as a gathering in the elementary school auditorium, with a few awards, a few words, some pizza and pop and off to a bowling alley for an evening of fun in blue jeans and a sweat shirt or they can be as elaborate in their opulence and grandeur as a wedding in a Country Club setting complete with all the glitz and glamour of a Hollywood movie.  Most of them fall somewhere in between.  But the reality is that more often than not factors such as geographical location and the socio-economic status of the neighbourhood determine what that celebration will entail.

Fast forward to June 2020, when we are anticipating that mass gatherings, such as graduations (whether in school auditoriums or Country Clubs) will still be on the list of restricted activities, as we continue social distancing for the overall well-being of all. In knowing that information, I can’t help but wonder if this is the perfect time for us, as a school system, to strongly lead with our equity lens and collectively create a united and shared experience, whether virtual or face to face, that every graduating grade 8 student will have access to ~ regardless of where they live and which school they attend.

Just imagine if we were able to bring a shared sense of co-constructed guidelines, consistency and less variance in the magnitude of these celebrations as we move forward.  I have no doubt that as we begin to emerge from this pandemic our mindset on so many things will have to shift (and hopefully for the better).  I’m hoping and praying that we do not return to business as usual, because in some cases our business as usual modes of operation (although not intentional) shine a significant light on some of our inequities in the support of TVDSB students.

I would love your thoughts on the inconsistencies in Grade 8 graduations and how best to move forward.

Come write with me….

“It Came Just the Same”

Sometimes a simple stroll is enough to remind us that even a global pandemic will not stop spring from coming.  I’m reminded of the following lines from Dr. Seuss’s, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”

“Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,
Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!

Even though our day to day lives have been significantly impacted, Mother Nature has continued to awaken from her long winter slumber to decorate our gardens with purple crocuses, daffodils the colour of sunshine and bright crimson tulips. The newly green lawns, although currently sprinkled (and in some cases flooded) with multi-headed dandelions, are growing and tempting us to dust off the lawn mower for our inaugural first trim of the season.  Wildlife is waking up from their dens of hibernation or returning from their southern winter homes.   With the return of the birds comes the building of their spring homes in anticipation for welcoming new life.

Today as I ventured outside I noticed not one, but two nests, expertly crafted with a variety of materials, including, if you can believe it, some Scotch Tape.  One nest is perching on our front porch, precariously situated on the back of one of our chairs, whereas the other one is nestled deep into the shrubbery at the side of the house.  Both are perfectly crafted bowl shapes with a perfect circular formation.  The one in the shrubs has been expertly reinforced with ring of mud for additional strength.

Finding the nests was a thrill, but the evidence that life is continuing is the fact that both nests are now filled with four eggs that are a brilliant Robin’s Egg blue.  We’ll watch in wonder over the next few weeks as the mother birds provide warm and protection for her eggs in the hopes that they will survive long enough to both hatch and then to eventually take flight.

The gift of our current situation is that I now have the time to observe this remarkable annual ritual more closely because it is “coming just the same”!

What have you had the time to notice this spring, that maybe you haven’t in the past?

Come Write with me…

A Little Mr. Rogers

Some days you just need a little Mr. Rogers to put things in perspective and today was one of those days. This past Christmas I received a copy of the “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood ~ Neighborly Words of Wisdom from Mister Rogers” as a gift from Jen Shelton, one of amazing Educational Assistants. The book has been sitting precariously on the corner of my home office desk; a room where I’m now spending the majority of my time.  Every so often (usually when I’m avoiding a task or two) I find myself thumbing through the pages and reading a quote or short story, which then inevitably leads to a return to my task with a renewed sense of purpose and a smile.   Today I happened upon the chapter entitled, Communicating and this quote caught my eye, “In times of stress, the best thing we can do for our children (and for each other) is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.”

As we head into tomorrow’s “virtual” staff meeting, I can’t help but wonder how our staff is truly doing. I know that many of them of trying their best to navigate the role of both parent and educator simultaneously.  I know that they have such incredibly high expectations for themselves as educators and they want to be doing the very job possible during impossible circumstances.  I know that our staff is truly a “family” and just like we’re missing our extended families, we are all missing our school family. I know that they hear it in the voices/words of their students how much they are missed and how heartbreaking that is.

I would give anything to be in the same room, to see their faces, to provide hugs, to share words of support and to share some laughs.  But that is not going to happen tomorrow.  So, in the absence of that, I need to truly listen, with both my ears and my heart as we do our best to share, to support each other and to continue to ask questions that will hopefully bring a sense of calm verses a sense of stress.

We will do our best to “make the most of this beautiful day… since we’re together”, even if it is only “virtually”

Come write with me….

Doing Good, Feels Good

It is so easy to get lost in all that has been supposedly lost as a result of the global reaction to the spread of COVID-19.  What is harder to do, is to shift our perspective and focus on what has been found.   Finding the time to do good has been yet another unintended positive outcome of Emergency Remote Teaching for our staff and wonderful students.

Over the past few weeks, a number of our classes have been reaching out to others in an attempt to bring smiles to the faces of individuals that they’ve never met, and yet they had anticipated they needed some cheering up.

Many of our K1/K2 students took the time to decorate stones with positive messages, colourful pictures and lots of happy faces.  They wanted to show their love and appreciation for the doctors and nurses at London Health Sciences Center. As students finished their creations, they safely brought them to a drop off location at the school. Once two large boxes were filled, two of our Kindergarten team members delivered them and placed them strategically in gardens so that they brightened up the days for those health care workers.  We have many families in our school community who have one or two parents who are currently sacrificing time with their family in order to take care of patients at the hospital.  This was our little way of saying, “Thank You”.

Our grade seven students also took this opportunity to do good and to reach out to residents in a couple of Long Term Care Facilities. They wrote letters that were filled with heartfelt gratitude, expressions of hope and sprinkled with that undeniable, effervescent grade 7 humour.  According to our grade seven team of educators, it was the one writing activity that garnered the greatest participation ~ both in quality, quantity and genuine generosity of spirit.

Sending the letters was a perfect example of “doing good, feels good”.  But this narrative does not end with the sending of the letters, as many of the residents then took the time to write back to the students, sharing their gratitude in receiving the letters, communicating how they are spending their days and even forwarding small tokens of appreciation.

In the words of one of the Facility staff members, “Today, I went around to every room with four physios, and we read your letters out loud… As hard as everything is for them – the tears and the faces and the joy that those students gave to those seniors, and the beauty of those letters and how well-written they were – it was absolutely the best gift you could give these seniors. I’m going to save the letters and keep sharing these stories of love. In these times it’s exactly what they need. These kids!!! I wish I could meet them someday… On behalf of all of us at Elmwood place, thank you so much.”

We are so excited to be able to safely share these letters with our students, once they arrive in the mail.  We can’t wait to hear their reactions. Who knows, this may be the beginning of a wonderful letter writing friendship.  There is so much that both generations can learn from each other.

This week in Thames Valley we are focusing on #CaringChampions.  I’m so proud of both our staff and our students for seeing the potential in our current situations and reaching out to be #CaringChampions in our community.

I would love to hear about more examples of “doing good feels good”

Come write with me….