Monday, 6 March 2017

Making Staff Meetings Flippin' Great!

I loathed going to staff meetings. I know that most people do. If you Google "staff meeting memes" the shared sentiments are a-plenty. These are a few of my favourites:

I get it it. Educators are professionals and can read informational items for themselves so this year, being new to the school I asked my principal for permission to "flip" staff meetings. The "minutes" are distributed in advance of the meeting so that staff have the time to read the pertinent information before the meeting. The agenda consists of two items: clarification of any of the information items and a topic of discussion. The topic is one that affects everyone in some capacity. At one of our meetings, as an introduction to the topic of discussion, we had a teacher demonstrate some effective differentiated assessment strategies. This was well-received, I think, because teachers sharing with other teachers shows practicality and feasibility in a real context. I've made use of Today's Meet to allow people who aren't as comfortable contributing to large group discussions, to still have the opportunity to express their views.

So far, so good! Some topics have been a bit more heated than others... but at least people are talking and engaging and itching. I like it when educators "itch". It means we're thinking and reflecting. Attendance is improving with each meeting, which makes me happy. I want people to feel that they have a vested interest in the topics we discuss. Ultimately, flipping staff meetings accomplishes a few key goals:

1. You spend time talking about issues that matter to the staff and work towards developing a shared vision of effective and consistent practice

2. You encourage collaboration and sharing of ideas across disciplines and departments

3. You facilitate the opportunity to develop and foster teacher leadership

4. You demonstrate that leadership is not a top-down process

Shortly, I'll be sending out a Google Form to solicit more potential topics for discussion. I want staff to feel like their voice is important and that it's being heard.

Sharing The Hub!

Last week I was given the opportunity to share with the vice principals of my school board a couple of projects I took on this year, thanks to the wonderful work and ideas of Brent Coley (see earlier post).  This year I create a Staff and Student Hub - "digital drive-thrus" if you will - one-stop-shops for all information items that can be accessed anytime, from any internet accessible device.

The Staff Hub essentially replaces every paper memo that was ever once issued, but no longer is. It also houses a series of online resources and links, making this an interactive document.  There has been a very positive response from staff because they can access information when they need it. Staff have also been very forthcoming with the fact that they have read MORE simply because of the digital format. Staff have also expressed appreciation of the fact that The Hub is live and always up-to-date and have liked having their input and feedback shape the look and function of this frequently-accessed resource.

The Student Hub is equally and perhaps even more so dynamic, and effectively replaces the age-old student agenda/handbook  that no one ever read but one could find a copy on the floor of nearly every locker in the building. In addition, The Student Hub features a number of online resources for students and parents pertaining to mental health, various board programs, and community resources. Our Parent Council was especially please because parents have direct access to this document through our school website and they too, can access it anytime, anywhere for themselves.

This all began as projects I created for myself. School leaders identify a need and find useful and efficient solutions. Thanks to Brent Coley and his sharing, I was able to bring to resources to my school community that has allowed information to be share efficiently using tools already at our disposal. I especially like the time that I am now spending with colleagues from other schools in helping them to establish their own digital environments. In most cases, I've simply shared mine and have helped other administrators to tailor the documents to meet the needs of their staff. There are no original ideas, just re-purposed and transformed ideas. I'm happy to share and receive feedback. It makes us better and it certainly motivates me to continue to search for ways to help administrators do their jobs more effectively and efficiently and to empower students and staff to seek the information they need when they need it.

Here is a copy of my presentation. Enjoy!

Thursday, 2 March 2017

My Love-Hate Relationships with Cellphones

I am a HUGE proponent for the integration of technology into the learning environment. I am not however a fan of how much of my day gets completely consumed by the drama that is caused when kids abuse their cellphones. The volume of cases seem to increasing and it can become overwhelming. Stories are difficult to corroborate/substantiate. It's very grey, very fuzzy...

Sometimes I feel like we've been talking to brick walls over the last number of years. Kids don't seem to be getting the messages we have been sending about the consequences that certain choices yield, not to mention how inhumane it is to troll and spam each other, distribute inappropriate photos, engage in group chats aimed to malign the reputation of another - the list goes on and on. These incidents take place off school property, separate from the school day and administrators are being made to deal with the fallout. I strongly believe that this is an issue that goes beyond school.

So... between the interviewing and re-interviewing, screenshot viewing, the text message reading and the sob-filled accounts about what happened on Saturday night at a party and the phone calls that ensued, I think it's time we re-examine this issue and the people who can support administrators - parents and police. In working with our school resource officers, I know they feel pressured to deal with these matters but they are certainly better equipped than I am. How many more guest speakers do we need to hire? How many more suspensions do we have to issue? Sometimes I feel like schools are on the front line of this issue and made to deal solely with the fallout.  There have been stories in the news about schools banning phones outright and I'm not all that comfortable with that because there is so much potential for good. I'm just so baffled why these tools are being used for so much evil. Maybe there's a bigger issue that needs to be addressed here and the on-going misuse of cellular technology is only a symptom.

I always feel so badly for kids who get caught in the middle of other people's poor choices and I know that it is my job to make their school a safe place for them. As for the kids who hurt other kids, I always want to present them with an opportunity to redeem themselves, to make better choices going forward but I seem to see repeat offenses more often than not. It's disappointing.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

No New Years Resolutions For Me...

Been there. Done that. Never good with the follow through...

I've decided that in place of a New Year's Resolution, I would select a single word that would guide my decision-making and the investment of my energy. This year, I'm choosing PRIORITIES. It's my attempt at keeping perspective of the "big picture", what matters most - making progress, not excuses. It's too easy in this role to become consumed by so many issues, especially those that are beyond one's control, that are less important but can easily take up huge amounts of time, depending on how one approaches certain circumstances.

What are my priorities? My family. My health. My work. And in that order respectively. I am an overachiever by nature and with a little one who depends on me and with whom I love spending time, I will not forfeit what precious time remains in a day so I will continue the practice of not bringing any work home - that's right, NONE. I often forget to eat breakfast and/or lunch. Hell, going to the bathroom has actually been an item on a list of thing to not forget to do. Pathetic, right? I need to be in better shape to deal with the emotional demands of this job, never mind the number of added hours for various events that add up and lead to tremendous exhaustion. I figure now that it's January, it's safe to say that I'm no longer "new" at my school. Time to do what I do. Shake things up a bit. Challenge my colleagues. I've a few ideas up my sleeve that will take some time (and the some of the principal's budget) to nurture, but I have to create my own excited, fueled by the reason I took this job in the first place - to put the needs of kids first.

2017 will be a good year.

Friday, 9 December 2016

These are difficult times...

After reading about Steve Yee, the principal at Oakwood Collegiate, and the week he's having, I can't say I envy him one bit. How does one deal with a school community that was victim of an almost attack on one of the most infamous anniversaries in Canadian history? What's more, this story is all over the news...

Today, principals are called on not only to be prepared to run schools under the most difficult of circumstances, but those circumstances are further complicated when the media gets involved because it multiplies the audience exponentially. Not that anyone is trying to hide anything, but with the number of tragic stories about schools in the news in recent years, it heightens pre-existing anxieties among parents and students alike.  How does he rally the support of his staff, who are very likely to be feeling scared and unsure, to help make the students feel safe at school? How does the principal win the confidence of parents so that they believe their children are safe at school? It's a tough situation to be and obviously he isn't working alone. He has the support of central staff and police services to guide him through this situation. There's not a whole lot of training for this sort of thing. You can attend all the VITRA workshops and training you want but when push comes to shove, there's no knowing how one will react. In circumstances like these administrators rely on the support of superintendents and communications staff for guidance and their school staff to maintain status quo as much as possible to cling to a sense of normalcy and routine. There's nothing like an event like this to derail all the good work schools are doing and for public confidence to waiver.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

PD for Administrators

The one thing I miss a lot about being a classroom teacher is all the wonderful PD opportunities. I love to learn, so there was never any moaning and groaning from me when there were workshops and in-services to attend. As a VP, we have some opportunities made available but we are constantly fighting against time. There just isn't any. It's hard enough to carve out time to eat lunch much less set aside a whole morning or afternoon, even though I would really like to.

In the last 5 years, the only trouble with PD, apart from the lack of time to attend, is that it doesn't always meet the needs of administrators, especially since the needs of our schools are so different. PD needs to be rooted in an immediate need and for principals and vice principals, those needs are defined by their own school communities. Yes, there are "big picture issues" that affect us all and in those cases, it would be great to have presentations from associations like CPCO and OCT or even give workshops on taking effective investigative notes, best practices in completing teacher performance appraisals, public relations... those sorts of topics that have implications in a number of complex arenas. On matters of curriculum leadership and technology, for example, PD needs to be self-directed. There are a number of effective and CONVENIENT ways for administrators to have some quality professional learning and they can do in their PJs, which works for me! Here are some suggestions that are by no means exhaustive:

1. Twitter - it's not a passing fad and there are A LOT of credible educators in the Twitterverse willing to sharing ideas and resources. There is always an evening or weekend discussion happening and in the PLN I'm building, the administrators I follow are from all over the world so there is never a lull in the posting of success stories, links to great ideas and good Q&A.

2. Pinterest - no... it's not just for stay-at-home moms who need craft ideas to keep their little one's busy. There are endless pins to a multitude of online resources and websites for pretty much anything. Most of what I have learned about GAFE, for example, has come as a result of a number of pins I have discovered and the online modules they have led me to in order to learn the various apps.

3. Maintain a blog - when do we take the time to reflect and process the learning that takes place on the job? Sure, we speak with our colleagues about our experiences but sometimes the exercise of writing helps to consolidate some of our learning and maybe we don't have to be quite so guarded. That said, we need to be mindful of what we post. I will admit to a couple of lapses in judgment. The need for total honesty (despite any disclaimer that posted views are "unapologetically" our own) needs to be balanced with the reality that as administrators we are agents of our respective districts and school boards. Ultimately we are on side of our system, and there are times when we don't like what we see, but this isn't the environment for disgruntled ranting.

4. TED Talks - YouTube houses a vast array of video clips that are bound to leave you more curious and intrigued and wanting to learn more about any number of issues that affect schooling.

I also think there is an opportunity at the very local level - the school admin team - to carve out some learning goals at the beginning of the year and work together on how to achieve those goals within the team. Those goals should to be centred on the needs of the school since administrators are in service to the school community. Perhaps the team can decide to engage in a book study. It's a bit "old school" but sometimes it's good to put the Chromebook away and engage in literature that we can physically highlight and annotate and make connections. Maybe each month, one member of the team agrees to lead a short workshop on a specific topic, something interactive and hands-on that can be shared immediately with teachers and students to improve an aspect of teaching and/or learning. The team can even invite a member of the central staff in to meet on matters that may be beyond the expertise of the school team. Engaging other school teams that are working on similar issues and/or projects is also a good strategy. For example, I've just submitted a proposal to the Ministry for some funding for our school because we will be implementing French Immersion in September of 2017. Three other schools will be doing the same in the following year. This is a great opportunity for all of us to form a PLN. I've proposed that members of each team visit a school that already offers the program so that we can observe and determine what would work in our schools. This is an opportunity for collaborative unit and lesson planning, resource creation and promotion of the program. Each person brings a unique skill set and experience to this learning situation so the amount of PD in this case would be invaluable.

In any case, good PD is only good if it's needed and solves real problems. Don't get me wrong, learning for learning's sake is also important. We have to model a positive attitude for our staff and teachers do the same for their students. In a milieu where time and resources are increasingly sparse, we have to get bang for our buck.

Maybe I'm Just a Chicken...

I hate confrontation.

People who know me think that it's absolutely hilarious that I have the job that I have, especially since I encounter confrontation and conflict practically on a daily basis. I'm not laughing about that, trust me - especially when it comes to having those "courageous" conversations, whether it's with a teacher on staff or a parent. I've been thinking about the reasons why perhaps some administrators experience a little anxiety over the prospect of having these kinds of conversations and I've narrowed down my educated guesses to the following, in no particular order:

1. the need to be liked
2. fear of the unknown, namely the reaction of the individual
3. the desire to avoid the involvement of the union
4. physical and mental exhaustion
5. trying to find "the right time"
6. second guessing of one's own judgment

If we don't have these conversations, the repercussions are worse, I think than any of the reasons listed. Personally, it's not worth the risk to one's own credibility to not have these conversations. Especially in the case of having courageous conversations with teachers, the rest of the staff need to know that as a leader in the school who is committed to a specific vision, you are going to be consistent and see that vision through with integrity and authenticity. They need to see that the purpose of these conversations is to get everyone on board in the best interest of kids and for the sake of cohesion as a school team. I think that administrators also have to be open to the possibility that having these conversations may unearth some valuable information and insight that need to be considered and may actually cause a shift or revision or reshaping of the vision. I would imagine that doesn't happen quite so often, especially since a good leader get input in crafting the vision in the first place so that all the players are vested.

I'm in my fifth year as a Vice Principal and I was asked if it gets easier having these conversations. I don't think it does. The reality is that in front of me is another human being and no two will react in the same way or be equally responsive to what I have to say. Each time feels like the first time in that sense. I'll admit - I don't want to be the reason why someone's day is ruined, no matter how supportive I am committed to being. No one likes being called to the office. BUT as time goes on and my own confidence with my professional knowledge grows and  I establish my credibility with staff, I know I have no choice but to have these kinds of conversations when the need arises. I always rehearse or discuss "the plan" with my principal first. Two heads are better than one. He reviews the list of concerns or issues that I need to address and provides advice on how to best approach some of those concerns if I'm unsure. Being new on staff, his insight is invaluable. Sometimes, he sits in on those conversations, depending on the circumstances. I've learned that the best place to have those conversations is away from my desk and rather, at a round table and in closer proximity. When speaking, I stick to the facts - incidents, dates and times - and avoid generalities and universalizing statements. I don't write anything during the meeting (although once it's over, I will quickly document a summary of outcomes for my own memory). The more casual the presentation, the more at ease the individual is. I genuinely want people to know that am there to support them, despite the "us and them" dynamic that sometimes arises in our profession.

So I've concluded that perhaps I'm not a chicken. I still want to be liked but I really want people to know and feel and believe and see that I am there for support, not to throw anyone under the proverbial bus.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

"How 'bout some salad on the side?"

Tonight was Parent Teacher Interview and for the last few years, our Parent Council has paid for a staff dinner that is prepared by the students in our Hospitality program. This is so great on so many levels:

1. The appreciation shown by our Parent Council towards our staff goes a long way.

2. Eating a meal that is prepared by kids gives them a sense of pride and validation.

3. The ritual of sitting down and breaking bread together, if only a couple of times a year, is a very intimate way to build a strong sense of community with staff.

Tonight, our Admin team decided to up the ante by serving. I think it's good to for staff to see Administrators showing their gratitude and respect for teachers and all that they do through simple acts of humility. Kind of takes the idea of servant leadership to a different level. It was a great experience and I'm looking forward to doing it again. Having the outfit helps!

Monday, 14 November 2016

Mentorship is a Privilege

Today I spent the afternoon with my "mentee". I've been asked to mentor a new Vice Principal, T. I'm kind of nervous and excited and wondering what on earth can I offer this lovely woman??? We participated in a large group PD session and she asked me to hang back after it was over. We chatted about how her first few months in the role have been going. She was very clear that she had no regrets and was really enjoying the role. A lot of stories that she recounted were so familiar and her feelings and reflections certainly struck a chord with me. I could tell almost instantaneously that her heart was crafted for this position. She seems to be getting a handle on the knowledge as time goes on but she is rightly motivated. She is going to be a great advocate for kids. It's going to be my privilege to listen and ask or answer questions. I'm excited about checking in with her to see how she's doing. I'm honoured at how receptive she is to feedback beyond her own team. It's funny... she recalled a conversation she and I had while she was discerning and she asked if I remembered what I had said to her and for the life of me, I couldn't (and I was secretly crossing all crossible body parts that it was a nugget of brilliance... lol). She told me that I had said that the key to being in this role is embracing the team you're on. I was so relieved! It's also interesting that this is a well-timed reminder for me personally... I'm really looking forward to spending time with T. All of our system's secondary principals and vice principals will be participating in our annual conference next week and I hope to have more time to chat and tell stories because that's where a lot of our learning in this role happens - in the sharing and exchanging of experience and wisdom. I think I stand to learn a lot from this experience. I think I am going to be forced to take a hard look at my own practice as she works through her own. There's as much PD in it for me as there is for her.

"The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your 
riches but to reveal to him his own." Benjamin Disraeli

Friday, 11 November 2016

Remembering at School

Today is Remembrance Day. I've always been a proponent of this day being a stat holiday because of the significance of what and who we are remembering. I think I'm beginning to change my mind. Each year, Canadian schools prepare observances of some sort that often involve some pageantry, a member of the armed forces who comes to speak to the kids and in our case as a Catholic school, an offering of prayers of thanksgiving for those who have gone before us to secure our freedom and those who so courageously have taken up that cross to do the same today. If not for this opportunity that kids get at school, would they take the time at 11am to sit in quiet contemplation? Would they care? I'm reminded of a video that I think I have shown every year that I have been in education. Do you know "Pittance of Time" by Terry Kelly? The song is based on a true story and video so beautifully illustrates it:

As time goes on, what and who we remember evolves. The First World War seems so far removed from this generation of kids that there doesn't seem to be the same appreciation for the profound sacrifice that was made over 100 years ago. I can't think of a better time when we have a captive audience, to teach kids about the importance of what those young people did for our country so many years ago. The cost of was high. Canada lost 10% of its population during World War One. And while there have been so many wars and conflicts since, we need to show our kids that the loss and suffering that was endured was not for nothing. I think kids need to hear about the value of suffering and the need for resilience - two very uncommonly heard messages these days. I look at my students who are wonderful in their own right but I doubt so would be ever to do now what young people did so long ago when they enlisted to fight for Canada. It's not a criticism. Different times. Different priorities.

As educators, we are privileged to have this opportunity to honour our brave men and women of yesterday and today and we owe it to our kids to be examples of humility and gratitude.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Never a Dull Moment!

There's nothing like a short-handed Friday... What can go wrong does. Trying to juggle a teacher evaluation in the middle of it all. Students are crying because of this drama or that and their mothers presenting themselves to defend their honour... You try to find humour and you end up shaking your head more often than not.

Today was fun. My partner and I got called up to a classroom because there was an "intruder". We get to the class and see that there is a supply teacher in charge (fantastic...), every other kid out of uniform, one full-out snoring under a hoodie... and one who doesn't even go to our school! Yes, a complete stranger managed to find his way into the building and decided to "hang out" with his friend and thought it was perfectly ok. When we hauled him out into the hallway I asked him why I shouldn't call police. He was shaking and beginning to tear a bit so we escorted him out and told him not to come back. I called over to his high school to let them know what went down and we all chuckle because sometimes that's all you can do when there's nothing to say about a situation. I ended up issuing a no trespass notice. There is really never a dull moment in this role... Never. Ever.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Snooping Leads to Endearment

So I'm new to my school this year and one of the strategies that I found worked like a charm at my previous school when I just began was snooping. I use my mad ninja skills to quietly sneak into classrooms, labs and the library to see what kids are up and learning. I've had a lot of fun! I learned that in the Medieval period, artists used egg yolks as a binding element in tempera paint. I came upon a research session in our library where students were trying to convince me that Deet is NOT the root of all evil. I've walking in on students learning how to make French pastry and in sneaking into one of our hospitality classes, students gave me amazing pointers on how to make salmon. Seeing flipped classroom in actions and witnessing Holocaust memorial lessons makes me excited and serves to remind me that there are ALWAYS fantastic things happening in our schools across all curricular areas.

My snooping usually results in catching the teacher totally off guard when he or she finds me in the middle of a group of students engaged in debate or mixing paint or tweeting the model being built. There isn't much time for annoyance to set in because I, along with the kids are having a good time and who can honestly argue with that? It's been a hoot grabbing hold of these moments since I've started here. I think people are beginning to see that in spite of my role, there is nothing pretentious about how I approach my work. I hope people see that I am hands on and haven't forgotten why I came into education in the first place.

Counting My Blessings

Friday was Faith Day. It is intended as a break for our students, and a much-needed day of contemplation and thanksgiving for those of us who have answered our calling to accept our role as educators in this unique and separate systems. I feel fortunate everyday to work in an environment where I can freely live my faith and attempt to model for our kids what it means to be the hands and feet of Christ on earth. Days like these are especially important to me because they afford me the gift of time - time to reflect, to relate with the staff and even time to catch up with my principal on the drive up. This year's event was held at Loretto Maryholm (check out the view in the photo above) and while I will admit to have moaned and groaned about the distance away from the usual work location, I later appreciated the drive up because of the good, uninterrupted conversation that was had during the car ride up. We are so mired in the daily grind that we sometimes forget the importance of making time for building relationships and to connect on any other level other than the business of schooling. I strongly believe that Catholic education is my calling, my life's work and how I contribute to the ministry of the Church. In each encounter, I seek to find answers to the mysteries of faith, of life. I hope in my example to our young people that I demonstrate that our faith is real, something that is lived out and practical, not just proclaimed.  I want our kids to know that while it isn't always easy to be a discipline of Jesus in this fallen world, it's not such an unbearable burden. Days like Faith Day also afford me the quiet contemplation we so often lack in the busy-ness of the everyday to reflect on our journey. Our guest speaker this year was Theresa Gadoury, a consecrated woman living in the world. She reminded us of of the evolutionary nature of faith and how it grows from love and trust and how that same process of faith in God transfers to faith in others. Sometimes, it's good to not speak, to hear the much-needed wisdom of others. In this case, she began her presentation with a prayer to God to let us all hear what we needed to hear from her and it really did the trick. I left Faith Day feeling a sense of peace that seemed to have been absent since the craziness of the school year began. Sometimes, you have to drive a bit of a distance to find that kind of serenity. It was totally worth it.

Embracing the Spirit, Embracing Each Other

Being a member of any team is always an interesting experience. Lots of different experiences. Lots of different philosophies. Different talents. Different approaches. I was very fortunate at my previous school to be a part of a team that was so naturally cohesive and part of the reason for that, I think, is that many of the different aspects that I began listing were so similar. We were on the same page all the time about everything everyday. It was weird, but awesome. This year I find myself on a different kind of team and I think that the Almighty figured I could stand to learn a thing or two. Each of us couldn't be more different. Everyday I have learned something new. Sometimes the lessons are harder to learn and accept but it's learning just the same.

Today's Halloween experiment was proof that when we put our mind to it, we can be quite the unit. I think we have come to be very supportive of the collective. It's been an absolutely MENTAL two months, bogged down by ministry initiatives and many projects. In spite of it all, it was important to all of us to come together on this novel occasion and join our students in the spirit of the day. Today was good.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

The Bearer of Bad News

It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that often in my role, I have to tell parents a lot of things they don't want to hear - their child is failing multiple courses or that their son or daughter's poor choices have resulted in a suspension. I think that becoming a parent and growing in this role while simultaneously growing my role as Vice Principal has had an effect that even I underestimated. I deal in fact so naively, I try to trick myself into thinking that if I stick only to the facts, I won't allow any emotional reaction or prediction of outcome interfere with how I conduct myself. Typically, the fact-finding process is pretty straight-forward - interview kids, searching lockers, viewing camera footage... Secretly, I hope though, that I'm not going to have to break a mother's heart with what I find. The other day, I conducted an investigation into allegations of sexual assault. When the student and her mother came forward to see me, I could tell that it was not only difficult for the young lady to share her account, but it was equally if not more so difficult for her mother to sit quietly and listen. All I could think of my daughter and what if the roles were reverses and I was listening to her tell this story. It's moments like these where the internal fight to remain objective is real. There's a whole other side to this story, a young man, who also has a mother, whose heart is also going to be smashed to pieces when she hears about what has been alleged. Within minutes of this investigation reaching its conclusion, I met with a mother and her son who is so credit deficient he's basically a year behind his peers and I had to have a very frank conversation with a mother who has clearly done all that she could to avoid this very scenario, but was now having to hear about the prospects of her son either not graduating from school or having to leave to finish his diploma in an alternative education program. Both situations are obviously different but the result is the same. In moments like these I default my thinking to the wisdom of one of my mentors - what one positive thing can you take away from today? For me, being thanked by all moms for looking out for their children, despite the possible outcome, is always it for me. I think that if a Vice Principal can demonstrate that if the shoe were on the other foot and roles were reversed parents could trust that the same amount of time and effort would be invested in seeing to safety and security of their child, parents are grateful. Parents, I think, would rather their son or daughter have a Vice Principal who was paying attention to the state of academic affairs and sending out flares in October rather than offering limited options in June when it's too late.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

The Need to Be Liked

My grade 8 teacher was the late (and truly great) Classford Johnson. I remember his class like it was yesterday, including something he used to say on a daily basis: "I don't want to be loved, I want to be understood." As a kid, I knew what he was getting at. He wanted us to respect him, his rules and expectations. If we got along, great. If we didn't, it didn't matter to him as long as we respected him, his rules and his expectations. Most of us loved him. He was tough but fair. He appreciated a good joke and laughed with the rest of us when we something was funny. My memory of Mr. Johnson and his infamous phrase came into my head quite a lot in the days after I had bid farewell to the staff and students of the school I have just left. Admittedly, I was confused. As a kid and as a classroom teacher, I never really paid much mind to what people thought of me. I have always abided by the Golden Rule when it came to my relationships at school and hoped for the best. I couldn't help but wonder as I was packing my boxes, was I loved or understood? Or both? Is is possible for teachers, in particular, to both love and understand their administrators? Is liking the Administration important to teachers? In all my years of being a VP so far, I hadn't paid any conscious attention to any of these questions. I was cognizant of the relationships I was building. I never once stopped to wonder if they were as important to the teachers as they were to me. I am especially curious now that I am a new addition to the staff at my school. 

I had previously tweeted the link to a Time magazine article called "How to Get People to Like You: 7 Ways from an FBI Behavior Expert". Here's a summation of the salient points, taken directly from the article:

  1. "The single most important thing is non-judgmental validation. Seek someone else’s thoughts and opinions without judging them." I find this especially important, being new on staff and trying to get a handle on things are done the way that they are. Even if everything inside of me is screaming, "Change! Change this NOW!" making time for these conversations tames my bullish instincts to want to trample the china shop, especially if I know I can introduce a positive change or a more efficient method. I'm forced to process and understand the history of practice or thought in order to inform any decisions I eventually make.
  2. "Suspend your ego. Focus on them." This is especially hard for me, joining a new Admin team. It's always interesting coming together with people who have different kinds of experiences and strengths. I logically know that what I should expect of my colleagues is that we are all working together, united under our principal's vision, and making decisions that are in the best interest of kids. Any challenges that are met along the way - philosophical or pedagogical - can be worked out at a meeting table and behind closed doors. 
  3. "Really listen, don’t just wait to talk. Ask them questions; don’t try to come up with stories to impress." Going into my fifth year as a VP, I have learned that listening isn't the absence of me talking. It's resisting the urge to begin planning or thinking about what I'm going to say next. Being in this role has afforded me a greater sense of self-awareness and has forced me to more conscious of the body language and gestures I use, the number of times I interrupt people and the types of questions I ask to demonstrate genuine interest. I goes a long way.
  4. "Ask people about what’s been challenging them." Still working on this one... I find that people are more interested in complaining than having constructive conversations that involves presenting solutions to problems. 
  5. "Establishing a time constraint early in the conversation can put strangers at ease." I laughed out loud at this one. It's a sober reminder that even in my profession where engaging with people is what we do all day, there are still a number of adults with less than adequate social skills who need support too.  
  6. "Smile, chin down, blade your body, palms up, open and upward non-verbals." Self explanatory, me thinks...
  7. "If you think someone is trying to manipulate you, clarify goals. Don’t be hostile or aggressive, but ask them to be straight about what they want." It's funny but I find that this often makes people uncomfortable, but I guess that's sort of the point. I've always prided myself in being the type of person that doesn't play games or indulge those who do. I think this is why, for the most , I have been able to get along with most people I've with whom I have worked. What you see is what you get. I think that by expecting the same in the others and being direct, there are fewer games to be played. On the other in a very small percentage of the people I've encountered along the way, this amount of straight-forwardness makes other uncomfortable and honesty can sometimes cause people to "itch" and even retreat so that the chance to catch on to them evades you. What's especially sad about the latter situation is that it's all too obvious from the onset. It's always a challenge to work with this sort of person and demonstrate your desire to work with them in spite of the games.
In all honesty, I'm hope I'm liked. I don't think I have ever expressed that in writing our aloud before.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Sometimes Name-Calling is GREAT!

I've been called a lot of names in my day, but today took the cake. Our very lovely chaplain paid me a visit today and called me "cyber Santa". It just make my day. The name-calling came on the heels of some technological initiatives of mine that went 'live' today. This year, as a part of my own personal growth plan I plan to increase our school's online presence by expanding to various other social media, namely Facebook and Instagram. I also took over the existing school Twitter account and made a few adjustments. The aim is to promote our school with as many different types of social media as possible and provide parents and the wider community with options in how to learn more about what is going on at our school. In my efforts to help streamline administrative and operation procedures and processes, I had planned to introduce a number of paperless processes, managing the school's master calendar through Google Calendar, whereby each staff member has view only access to the all approved events, and The Hub - a Google Doc containing a series of hyperlinks to critical documents and folders containing relevant and useful information that teachers require access to year-round, but historically have received piece meal, via countless photocopied memos. I've got three words for my staff this year: No. More. Memos. So far, the response has been really positive. Here's a partial screen shot:

Essentially, this all reflects a shift in the mode of communication and using the tools at our disposal to work more efficiently. I got the idea for The Hub from +Brent Coley and his fantastic YouTube video.

The admin assistants are thrilled that there isn't endless amounts of photocopying to be done during this harried and hurried time of year. My principal seems very pleased with the ease through which staff can access exactly what they need. For that, I'll endure a little name-calling.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Digital Leaders Leverage Social Media

I've only been an administrator for a short while, but I have met a number of Principals and Vice Principals over the past five years who still shudder at the thought of having a personal Facebook account or become suddenly overwhelmed by the prospect of engaging on Twitter. When I ask about the possibility of establishing accounts for their schools, the silence is sometimes deafening and the the looks are their faces are too priceless, almost as if to say aloud, "... but why would we do that?" I'm not sure what it is. Are the age-old misconceptions about social media still pervasive? Is there anxiety about one's ideas floating around in cyberspace? Are we still afraid of the "evils" lurking amidst the users of the Internet? Are people simply stuck on the word "social"? News flash folks: education IS social (the last time I checked, there are an awful lot of people in the mix...). Knowledge IS a social construct. Literacy and Numeracy (an pretty much everything else that is taught and learned) ARE social practices. Leveraging social media is a golden opportunity to expand an individual's and a school's social network, facilitates access to a multitude of resources and provides a variety of platforms on which to share in the many success stories our schools experience everyday.

Tonight (as I'm typing actually), I'm participating in an online discussion with educators everywhere, facilitated by Mark E. West @ShiftParadigm, with the  hashtag. These were the questions posed:

Participants in this discussion shared how social media has been personally beneficial by being part of supportive PLNs with like-minded educators that crossed geographic boundaries. Twitter chats such as this one are definitely a hit, and I can personally attest that it is a really neat experience to be in the comfort of my own home, in my pjs, sipping a cup of coffee and being a part of such a rich and relevant discussion. Educators remarked on how much they valued the support and inspiration they not only provided by received from others. A lot of ideas were shared about how social media is being incorporated in PD opportunities. From what I could tell, many were describing cultural shifts happening in schools and entire districts as more teachers and administrators were taking risks. It was refreshing to read how one educator commented: "

A4-Honestly, it's helped me shift from "that's the way we've always done it" thkg to being vulnerable, exp possibilities. @vkcommeducate

YES!!! This has been a truly invigorating experience, to be connected with like-minded educators who see value in social media the way that I do. It's nice to know that other educators are looking to contribute to our profession in new ways. I makes me hopeful.

This year, one of the goals on my annual growth plan is to increase my school's presence on social media. As someone who is new to the school, this is THE chance to get to know as many people as I possibly can. This will afford me endless opportunities for collaboration with staff and all the councils, teams and clubs within the school. I'm excited! What I am planning to propose to my principal is the following:

1. the creation of a main school Twitter account; the function of this account is to share pertinent information, recap daily events at school and within the classroom when it is appropriate, and make connections within the community in order to promote the fabulous work our students and staff are doing; I also want to be able to promote all of the council and club Twitter account and assist them in increasing their following

2. link that Twitter account to a school Facebook account

3. create a school Instagram account that is linked to the Facebook account

4. there is already a school blog in place of a newsletter but no one reads it because it isn't really promoted well, sooooo.... I plan to use all of the social media accounts to send out notifications of new posts to promote the school; this is especially important since students contribute to this blog and parents appreciate it

5. work with the head secretary to have links to all accounts on the school website

The purpose and aim: to give parents as many options as possible for keeping up with the latest comings and goings. Yes, I want to take this on and it's not for lack of work to do. I believe that as a digital leader, I have to model for students and teachers how social media can be meaningful in an educational context. In fact, Eric Sheninger, in his book Digital Leadership (Corwin 2014), writes that principals MUST do this work themselves so that teachers can see how it can be integrated in  their classrooms (p. 43) and it will also help students to see how they use their devices in a new light. Using social media is also an effective and efficient way to communicate with parents about the school's progress and keeping the community informed about school goals (p. 43). Another incentive to use social media is the following:

"Transparency through the use of social media breeds attention to programs, initiatives, and leadership style. Good news travels fast, and social media transmit the news to numerous stakeholders who are embedded in these spaces..." (p. 182)

I think that speaks for itself.

Wish me me luck! I hope my principal is as receptive as I am excited. He and I have worked together before so he knows my position on what being an administrator in the 21st century is all about. If nothing else, I really believe this will allow me to support him as the leader of a vibrant and exciting school community that I am thrilled to be joining.

Friday, 15 July 2016

What I've Learned So Far...

This August will mark five years since my appointment as Vice Principal. I think it's fitting that I'm starting at a new school (even though I've worked with the principal at my previous school). As much as I will miss my previous school community, especially the kids, I'm glad this next stop on my journey has taken me to a new geographic locale within the school board. No doubt, I will need to learn, un-learn and possibly re-learn because no two schools are alike and most certainly, the admin team I'm working with is not what I am accustomed to. That all said, here is what I have learned (in by no means an exhaustive listing) in this role so far, and in no particular order of significance or importance:

1. One of my main roles is that of an advocate.
    ... of the student who is struggling in a mainstream setting and needs access to any number of
        resources to achieve some sense of stability ...
    ... of the teacher who wants to take instructional risks and try new things in his or her classroom ...
    ... of the principal whose vision is rooted in what is best for students, even if not all staff can see
        it at the moment ...

2. If the root of decision-making isn't centred on what is best for kids, there is no decision to be made.

3. I must model for staff what I hope to see in classrooms.
    ... be it in my witness to my Catholic faith ...
    ... be it in the understanding of current pedagogy ...
    ... be it the use of technology ...
    ... be it the manner in which I speak ...
    ... be it the manner in which I dress ...

4. It may not always be easy to support the Principal, but it must be done so publicly in order to uphold his/her position within the school. There is always a time and place for "discussion".

5. Establishing trust and building positive relationships is an on-going priority. Teachers won't share
the good work they are doing and won't seek out your support to try new things if they don't see an ally in you.

6. One makes better decisions in understanding the culture of the school and the people who make up
its community. This doesn't imply complacency at all. It simply means that an Administrator has more appreciation for age-old adages such as, "Timing is everything."

7. School community members have more respect for Administrators who "show up".  In managing the school's social media accounts, it was the perfect opportunity to attend events and visit classrooms to share what was happening on a day-to-day basis. I got to know staff and students better. Parents appreciated access to photos and information about the what was going on at school. I also found that there was a great sense of pride from both staff and students when I was present,
especially to document what was taking place.

8. Despite the "title", I am still a teacher. My primary concern is the daily delivery of authentic and     relevant curriculum. Much of conversations with teachers centres on what teachers do: help kids, deliver lessons, integrate technology in pedagogically sound ways, assessment and evaluation, conflict resolution, etc. Even though I am a VP, I still "do curriculum" - I co-plan, co-teach and co-debrief. I am invited to deliver lessons from time to time and I find ways to teach lessons, especially around OSSLT time. Admittedly, I still miss teaching so this is a great way to get my "fix" but again, I need to model what I hope to see in classrooms. I need to demonstrate for teachers what to expect on their performance appraisals. I have to establish the standard. I found that the conversations have evolved from relating to similar situations to mentoring teachers and guiding them in their own decision making.

9. Leave work at work. Early on in my first year, I learned not to take any work home with me. My little family needs 100% of me once I'm home and I can't give them my all if I continue to be distracted by work. The reality is that in this role, we are witnesses to wonderful successes, but also have a front-row seat to a lot of tragedy. For the sake of self-preservation, there must be a separation of work and home life in order to begin the next day refreshed and ready to face the next set of challenges. Admittedly, before bed, I will clear email  because my own anal retentiveness prefers an clean in-box.

10. You need to be able to trust your team. You have to have trust with the Principal and other VP(s) for goals to be met and work to get done. There must be an appreciation that the way you do your job will affect the way others do theirs, and vice versa. There must be openness and accountability. In times of need and stress, you have to have the assurance that you can lean on your partners and they on you.

11. Teachers appreciate a VP who doesn't put on "airs". In saying "good-bye" to staff this year as we parted in June, the one comment that constantly shared with me was the appreciation for the fact that I don't operate under any pretension and that despite my sometimes "colourful" language, they appreciated that they could always rely on me to be real.

12. Being connected in crucial. I value the online PLN that I have become a part of so that I can share in the various experiences of  administrators who are doing the same job at the same time as I am. I have gained some valuable insight and wonderful PD that isn't always readily available. I have also come to appreciate the importance of reciprocation. Sharing my own experiences and being open to others' comments has caused me to become more open minded. I have also been able to find great resources that I have been able to share with staff at my school. I am active on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterst, Instagram and Blogger.

13. No one likes nor appreciates the "bull in a china shop" approach. Change must be intentional, timely and rooted in a specific need that everyone understands.

14. Key allies on staff: the teacher-librarian, the department head of Special Education and Guidance. These individuals have the best sense of "the big picture". They provide services to the greatest number of kids and generally have their fingers on the "pulse" of the community.

15. Show gratitude daily to admin. assistants and custodians. They are the right-hand of the school Administration in keeping a school running in an orderly fashion and they should know it.

16. Keeping up with current research is a must. In order to maintain any integrity as the school's 'curriculum leader', it is important to engage in regular professional reading or attend workshops and courses. Department heads are also curriculum leaders but they need to SEE the importance in engaging in regular research and PD. For example, this summer I am completing an online course to become a Level One Google certified teacher, I have read The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros and The Digital Leader by Eric Sheninger. I have a lot of ideas for the upcoming year as a result and I feel that I can better support staff and students with the new knowledge I have acquired. Life-long learning is a virtue that must be modeled and then shared so that staff feel encouraged to do the same.

17. Any parent that has been a "challenge" over the year is experiencing pain of some sort. I have learned to stop taking the odd parental lamb basting so personally. When all the the protocol is followed to the letter and all the right steps have been taken, residual anger is usually a product of frustration with the situation. I will admit that I have dealt with some pretty unreasonable individuals over the years but I can count them on one hand, thankfully. Most parents are grateful for your time and care for their kids.

18. Kids who aren't getting what they need at home need to get "it" at school and the VP is usually the one to provide. I have acted as a surrogate mother. I have helped to get gift cards to grocery stores and financial aid for uniforms. I have gotten kids access to community resources to better their home life. I have made gut-wrenching calls to the Children's Aid Society and York Regional Police. Sometimes, it has to be done and it has to be you.

19. Learning names is important. A person's name is the most basic aspect of one's identity. People feel validated and are far more likely to engage in more conversation with you if you demonstrate an interest in who they are.

20. Always say hello to whomever you pass by in the hallway. People need to know that you notice them and when you greet them with a sincere smile, they see that you care. The next time you encounter that individual it is far more likely that they will acknowledge you first, at least in my experience. This is important to me, especially in a high school where there is such a misconception that students often become "a number". Kids (and adults) need to know that they are part of large community who cares.

I'm not entirely sure that this is all. I'm sure that once I post this, more will come to mind. I can say now that I am no longer the "reluctant administrator". I'm pretty sure I am where God has intended me to be and my work is truly my ministry. I am a Catholic educator so my faith informs everything I do and believe.

I received a letter from a teacher the other day, who reaffirmed a lot of what I have learned since becoming a Vice Principal and I thought I would share it, not for a pat on the back, but as an illustration that teachers and administrators can form some pretty powerful relationships, despite the perceived dynamics or the overshadowing of union politics. I just want anyone considering transitioning into this role to know that .

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Two Lessons from Two Mentors

Perhaps it's the end-of-year melancholy that has caused me to be introspective or the emotion that comes with packing up and moving out of my school that has come to feel like home that is making me a bit ... mushy, for lack of a better word. I have been thinking about the last four and a half years A LOT over the last few days. With each box that I have packed, I have had to look at each item - every book, every keepsake... and have recalled the memories and people attached to them. I never realized the menagerie that I had amassed in my teeny tiny office. I've also been prompted to think about the many people who have supported the beginning of my career in administration, whether it was directly or indirectly and two people came to mind whom I have come to regard as my mentors.

First is Lori. I have known Lori since I was in high school, where she taught English and was a teacher librarian, but I was never her student - then. She went on to become a Program Resource Teacher for Literacy, a role that I would eventually take on and become a member of her team when she was the Coordinator of Secondary Programs. I only worked on the team for two years because I missed being in the classroom but they were probably the two most influential years of my career. In was in this role that Lori schooled me on the importance of professionalism and understanding that for every one thing I knew about how decisions were being made and why, there were at least 10 things I didn't know and that there was a reason for the "not knowing".  Through Lori, I came to appreciate the importance of self-awareness: the expression on the my face, the tone of my voice, my posture. I'm pretty transparent and regardless of whether or not my position on an issue was right, Lori taught me that sometimes we have to be pragmatic with regards to the timing of expressing those opinions. It was not about "politicking", rather it was about avoiding the messiness of politics all together so that people paid attention to what was actually being said. When I forgot myself from time to time, there was a "look" across or kick under the table to remind me to keep my cool or shift gears slightly.  I came to value the importance of engaging in on-going research to keep current and relevant and I learned to appreciate the value of continuous professional reading. I developed my love for delivering and participating in professional development and with Lori's encouragement, I became (I think) quite good it. We were a small but mighty team- Lori, a math consultant and two literacy PRTs whose jobs it was to support all secondary schools in all subject areas. Each year we would have to deal with budgetary cuts or changes to the way upper administration wanted things done, or there was a shift in priorities,  but Lori's motto/mantra was always the same: "We make it work." What choice did we have? When working in an environment where there was a lot that was not within our control, we leverage what was - our skills, our talents, our creativity... We made the best use of the resources at our disposal. This was a lesson that served me well as a Vice Principal, whether in dealing with principals with very different leadership styles, or imparting the same advice to and supporting department heads dealing with cut budgets. Practicing the 'art' of making it work is what has allowed me to keep my equilibrium in times where I would have rather raged against the "machine" but to no useful end.

Second is Pina. Pina has been my VP partner since I began my journey in 2011. What's interesting about our relationship is that we have met twice - in my very first year as newly-hired teacher when she and Lori were both PRTs and delivering some in-servicing that was pivotal to my success in my first year, and again when I became a VP.  She has supported me every step of the way in becoming the reluctant administrator to one who believes that this was the role I was meant to have. She was my sounding board and the voice of reason. We developed such an amazing working relationship that the principals we worked with allowed us to share portfolios, since we shared all the work anyway. The principal we worked with this year called us Thing 1 and Thing 2. We were always on the same wave length, with the odd disagreement here and there but what relationship doesn't have them? She always knew what I was doing and I her, so that if one was away, the other could easily pick up where the other left off. I have NEVER had a working relationship like this, where I could so completely trust my partner. We laughed A LOT. We shared a number of personal experiences and cried too. We have been frustrated and angered by much of what we would see coming in and out of the office each day and she would always tell me, since I have a number of years left in my career, to "...find something good in each day." It's quite simple, isn't it. It was a practical reflection that allowed me to gain perspective on some of those brutal days were throwing in the towel and returning to the classroom seemed far superior than being a VP. What has been interesting is that there has yet to be a day since becoming a VP where I've not been able to be thankful for at least one good thing. Sometimes Pina's support and advice was the good thing that I took away from a rough day and that was good enough. To know that I had her support and honesty was invaluable to me. Now that our working relationship has come to an end, I hope I can pay in forward.

Both Lori and Pina retired this year and I have enjoyed celebrating with them both. I'm so happy for them but their absence in our system will definitely be noticed. I never really valued having a mentor when I was a teacher because I always had a difficult time finding someone who was like-minded or who could at least appreciate what I was doing in the classroom. Both Lori and Pina saw the potential in the ideas I had and even if they were a bit different from mainstream thinking, they had faith in me to see them through and they fostered a sense of openness to "tweaking" along the way that I never had. It's amazing how a hard-headed and stubborn individual like myself became so open to collaboration just because I came to know these two people. I was a insular classroom teacher who always had to 'go it alone' but I changed my view of how I engage my profession because of Lori and Pina. I hope that all educators are afforded this same kind of gift in their career. It is truly priceless.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016


I'm not so sure I gave the notion of leaving a legacy at a school in which I have worked a second thought. Not until a couple of days ago when such a comment was made and I have been thinking about it ever since. I'm not entirely comfortable with this idea.

The context: I was given the task of learning how to create the master timetable and determine room and resource allocation for the next school year. I doing so, I was finally about the have the freedom to move and shake things up about to create a cross-curricular Chromebook lab where all of the Tutorial and Learning Strategies courses will be taught. This class room is far away from the often looked-down-upon "Special Education wing" of the school. I thought it was important to:

1.) invest the resources in these courses in order to equip the students taking these course, who are often at risk in so many ways, with a solid set of real-world technology skills while they recover their credits, and

2.) make a statement, in a physically obvious way, that students who are at risk or who receive Special Education support are a part of the whole community, and the responsibility is collective to see them succeed, that relegating these students to a specific geographic location clearly goes against the mandate of our system.

I had proposed this to the two previous principals I worked with. They were concerned with "taking rooms away" from any department for these courses. I guess I was naive to assume that a school and the allocated resources belonged to kids and should be used in a manner that benefits them. Silly rabbit...

In my school of just over 1000, "these kids" make up nearly 25% of our population. Why wouldn't anyone advocate fiercely for them to provide meaningful learning opportunities? I'm no lone crusader by any means, but what I had to do to switch a couple of rooms around was ridiculous. I'm thinking of teacher capacity that will grow as a result of delivering these courses using only Google apps, allowing the kids to leverage what they already know to gain enough confidence to believe that they can earn credits despite their challenges.

My aim was always to shift the mindset in how resources were allocated in order to serve those whose needs were more. People often poke fun when I pull the "Jesus card", but after all, he plainly says in Matthew 25:40, "... whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it for me." This quote is at the heart of servant leadership, to serve and help those who lack the agency to help themselves.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016


Am I Insane?

I've decided to attempt becoming Google Certified Educator Level 1. It's not like I'm not busy enough, right?

I'll admit that part of me feels a bit out of the loop now that I've made the jump from teaching to administration. If I was still in the classroom, I would have done this long ago. I figure that I never turn away a good opportunity for more meaningful professional learning. My certification may give me even more credibility to be able to contribute on a system-wide level. I've already been providing some PD for my colleagues on ways in which administrators can leverage GAFE on a daily basis. I think I'll be better able to support teachers. I'll admit, that while I will always continue to "put myself out there' when it comes to being a sort in-house support for teachers, teachers have a hard time regarding me as a teacher, which is what I am after all. I actually gave a moment's pause to how this certification might be perceived by teachers on my staff. Is THIS where my insanity lies? In worrying about perception or taking on another project during a brief period of rest. Sometimes I feel like I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't, so in this case, I figured "what the hell". Haters gonna hate I suppose.

I'm self-taught in all things technology. I'm not trying to be boastful, it's just how I have learned - tinkering and mucking around.  This is the first formal training I've ever undertaken. I've never been much a fan of the summer holidays, it's just too long for my liking. This will definitely keep me busy. I'm actually pretty excited!

Sometimes You've Just Gotta Laugh

So the Principal comes rushing into my office yesterday to look out my window. My office faces our lovely peace garden and I have always loved the view. This day was no exception. "Chris! There are two kids kissing on the benches of the peace garden and it's getting kinda racy. A lot of people have been watching from the windows." Great, I thought... Myself and the other Vice Principal thought it might be a good idea to take a stroll into the peace garden, looking as if we were investigating... something. We said 'hello' to the students as we passed by and at that point, there was a safe amount of distance between them. My colleague started pulling out weeds and I kept looking around. I can't imagine how completely and utterly ridiculous we looked, although my suspicions were confirmed by the staff who were watching the whole episode unfold from their office windows. At one point, we even walked up to the students and asked them if they saw anything out of the ordinary and they were very adamant that they had not. They went on to discuss how disappointing it was the students were littering in the peace garden. At the end of our "exchange", my colleague says, "Well, I guess I'll keep a close eye on this place, especially since I have a good view from my office window. Oh! And Mrs. Cosentino, your view is better than mine." We parted ways and the students took calls on their phones. We we got back to our offices, things were REALLY heating up in the garden again, getting very "handsy", if you will. At this point, we tried to do what we could to preserve our students dignity and privacy, especially since modesty had officially gone out the proverbial window. My colleague opened her window and yelled out, "Alright, it's time to go home now." Only THEN did the students dart off faster than I've ever seen most kids move.

I didn't mention the fact that the students were two girls. That wasn't the issue, not even in our Catholic school. Honestly.  Lots of separate issues up for discussion, that's for sure, but quite frankly, I don't want to watch anyone sucking face outside my window, especially in a manner so... enthusiastic,  if you will. Power to them. I was just concerned that passersby might take liberties and begin recording with their phones and who knows what that would have spawned. I thought it was funny that after all that was said and done, my colleague needed the reassurance and had to ask, "we would have done the same if it was a boy and a girl, right?" I'm more than positive that we would have. I think... I hope...

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Moving On...

I just received news yesterday morning that I will be transferring to a new school in September. I'm mostly excited beyond words. I'm finally getting a chance to work in a new community. I'm not expecting a "better" experience, just something different. I think I need to serve in another school in a completely different location before I begin to discern whether or not being a principal is for me. That's right, I still don't know. It's not that I'm unhappy in my job or have any regrets. I'm definitely not ready at this point to say with any certainty that I'm ready. 

Anyway, there are a lot of mixed emotions. In as much as I thrive on change and new challenges, I'm sad to part ways with the families I have worked especially close with over the past four years. For anyone who doesn't believe that Administrators make real connections and differences in the lives of kids and families, you should look at my inbox.

A Lovely Surprise

Since 2008, I have been a member of my board's FNMI Steering Committee. It has been a highlight of my career. I have written curriculum, helped to influence policy, but more importantly, I have made friendships with wonderful colleagues and members our of local Native communities. Now as an VP, I have worked to promote our self-identification process and the various Native Studies courses.

It never ceases to amaze me how people react when I share this experience. "How many of those kids can there possibly be in Catholic schools?" they ask. It doesn't really matter. Read the MOE policy framework: this good work benefits all kids and I'm proud to be a part of a movement that promotes cultural sensitivity and awareness, and fosters communication between two historically estranged communities, all in the interest of doing what is best for kids.

Today, I attended what I thought would be our last committee meeting of the year and instead, we were surprised with a drum making workshop! Our facilitator John, a Metis artist from Saskatchewan ( began with a beautiful and emotional song. I'm not sure if the emotion I was feeling was rooted in just how tired I'm currently feeling, because I didn't understand the words. I guess that's one of the most remarkable things about music- it transcends language.  It was also great to participate in an exercise completely outside my comfort zone. It's important to do that from time to time. Here are some photos:

My next challenge is determining how to birth my drum. That should be interesting... 

Saturday, 30 April 2016

The Value of Investing in the Few

For the last two years, I have been offering professional development for my staff that I call Tech Tuesdays. One day each month, I don't permit any field trips to allow for a day where staff won't be need for additional supervision. This allows them to "drop in" on their prep time for a micro PD session that gives them practical ideas/tips/resources that they can begin to use the next day. I ask the staff to drive the focus for each day so sometimes, these days turn into clinic-like scenarios where I help them to troubleshoot some of the "blips" they have encountered along their journey towards broadening their technological skill set.

This means that one day each month, my time belongs exclusively to the staff. It's not meant to be some sort of token gesture. The intention behind it is simply to show the staff that I am committed to supported their learning as much as the kids. The staff made it clear early on that they will "entertain" PD so long as it happened in-house and it was delivered by the VPs. The reasoning behind it was simple: we understand the staff and school. We know what is needed to help meet school and department goals, which support the system initiatives. Since we do the majority of the Teacher Performance Appraisals, we have a particularly good vantage point of the areas that could stand to benefit from some professional learning.

You would think that my conference room is busting at the seems each month. It's not. On average 12-15 teachers sign up for the various sessions. This past week, I only saw 5. Initially I was completely disappointed and with one more session left for the school year, I contemplated cancelling it. Upon reflecting on the conversations I had with these 5 teachers, I concluded that each conversation, having helped to move 5 teachers forward in their practice, which I knew would ultimately benefit a lot of kids, were well worth the investment of my day. I shared my knowledge and learned a few things I didn't know from teachers who had begun tinkering- "... just like you encouraged us to, Chris..." - some of them said. What I think was even more valuable were the parts of the conversations that weren't even remotely related to technology. It gave me the chance to catch up with 5 teachers on the staff and talk about how they were doing. It was nice. Really. I never really appreciated the value of investing that sort of time in relationship-building with teachers, especially if it wasn't related to work. When I'm at work, I'm there to work and not foster personal relationships beyond the school. I think that it's important that teachers regard their administrators as fellow human beings, who are going through the same trials and tribulations in their own lives, people who aren't afraid to speak about their challenges. I think it has cultivate a lot of trust between me and a great number of teachers on staff. That is priceless.

Monday, 21 March 2016

The Difference Between Management and Leadership
I found this interesting infographic on Pinterest. Thought I'd share.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

When do we stop calling it "21st Century"?

It's 2016.

The 21st century has been underway for 16 years now.


Pedagogically speaking, I understand the need to distinguish this century from the previous ones collectively as the needs of the world are rapidly changing and students need to be prepared to participate in the world with a very specific skill set. Schooling must be rooted in innovation, creativity and critical thinking to name a few, I also get that school boards weren't in sync with these needs at the turn of the century. I can personally attest to that because it was the reason why I left my position in the curriculum department at my school board in 2010. Despite all the research I was doing and the in-servicing I was providing that was causing a lot of people to think, system leaders weren't ready to hear about this and after the umpteenth kick under the table, I returned to the classroom to completely overhaul my own practice for the betterment of my students. Since then, of course, the system has gone from one extreme to another with massive purchases of iPads and Chromebooks and have invested in more PD for teachers. It's all good, but a little late in my opinion.

I guess the long and the short of this rant is simply this: if we continue to call what is going on in schools "21st century learning", it gives the appearance that there is another choice, that the practices of teaching and learning for the 21st century is novel. Instead, there needs to be a more fixed standards that teaching and learning must look a certain way in order to be acceptable to boards of Education and the Ministry. Yes, I know what that sounds like but I'm serious. The lax standards in teaching profession allow teacher to teach how they were taught and the process of teacher performance appraisals (ugh) doesn't allow an administrator to do much about it, other than make "recommendations" with no compulsion on the part of the teacher to comply.

I know that for the time-being, to refuse to call what is going on in schools "21st century learning" means excluding myself from a rich professional learning community and a very rich dialogue that is taking place with people who are genuinely interested in transforming the experience of schooling so that kids are more prepared for the world they actually live in. I'll keep playing along for now...