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Gearing Up for 2019-2020 at Marathon High School

I’ve been preparing for a new year, a new school, and a new role for about two months now, and though the reality of my amazing opportunity hasn’t fully set in, the enormity of the task of preparation is definitely sinking in. A new school means getting to know new people, past practices, partnerships, protocols, policies….and possibilities.

The role is one I’m most definitely excited about: Principal of my old high school! How cool is that!? What a way to celebrate 20 years since I graduated from Marathon High School. In fact, when I graduated, I was selected to be Valedictorian. When I delivered my speech, I took a picture of the audience. I certainly could not have foreseen the future then, but this picture is important to me because seated in the first rows are the educators who helped me get to where I am. Though I won’t have the privilege of working with my former teachers, I’m lucky to have many of them in my circle.

Anyway, the adventure begins this week with setting up my office, getting to know staff, and 2.5 days of learning with colleagues from across our board and though returning to a consistent schedule will be a shock to the system, I’m excited for it. In the meantime, lots of reading and wonderings about:

  • What does effective leadership look like at Marathon High School?
  • How do I build trusting relationships with my people?
  • What can I do to build student engagement to create a positive learning environment?
  • How can I work to balance mental health and well-being with academic achievement within the school?
  • What don’t I know that I need to know?

There is, I am sure, so many things that I don’t know. I know from my first year as an administrator at B.A. Parker Public School that come the first day, I’ll be hitting the ground running – but that’s a good thing. I think one of the biggest challenges is entering a school where I don’t have the same relationships with people like I had over the past 14 years. For that reason, I think it’s important for me to observe, to listen, to be patient, and to build relationships. I cannot – and will not – go in like a bull in a china shop because that is neither my style nor a system that ever seems to work! I do hope that I will have an opportunity to reflect, to be open, and to be vulnerable on this blog.

I am going to head back to reading, reflecting, and readying myself for this incredible adventure! Stay tuned!

New Role, New Excitement

I cannot believe that it has been an entire year since I made a post on this blog. I had great intentions of blogging my journey as a first-year administrator, endeavouring to capture the excitement and challenges of the Vice-Principal role at B.A. Parker Public School and Geraldton Composite High School. However, the nature of the job, the growing up of my daughter, and a ridiculous load of additional qualification courses ate up pretty much all of my free time. In hindsight, I’m disappointed, because I think there would have been some good reflections if I made the time to record them. But alas, I did not.

However, I just shelled out another $120 to maintain for yet another year AND I have the opportunity to start fresh, this time as a first-year administrator of a high school – my old high school! According to my high school yearbook, I have essentially reached the pinnacle of my life.

So, apologies for the lack of updates but I will work to remedy this site’s content. In the meantime, please continue to browse!

The Third Path: The Right Conditions

I’ve now read up to Chapter Six of The Third Path and I continue to appreciate how the authors echo my own professional beliefs and philosophies about supporting our students through positive relationships. As the book dives into the eight conditions that help students and educators understand the “how” of education, I keep stopping to think about a number of things: my own ability/potential to develop and strengthen relationships, the impact of relationship-building on educators, and the vital importance of knowing where our students come from.

Chapter four focuses on regulation, which most Ontario educators know as a learning skills. The education sector has been throwing around words like gritperseverance, and resiliency for many years, but I wonder if educators really understand what this is all about – as well as how it is measured, how it’s different from one student to the next, and how the experience of stressful situations is balanced with a nurturing environment. The chapter definitely raises some points that makes me reflect on how we help students develop effective regulation skills and coping strategies so that they can be better learners.

I also really stopped to think about the enthusiasm, energy, and emotions of a kindergarten class, most especially because this room has been so foreign to me – and I’m so excited that I’ll have many opportunities to reacquaint myself with these qualities in my new role. It’s the last line – the role of educators in positively influencing students – that reminds us of the importance of our work in the growth and development, (the human development piece) of children.

I believe that stress can be a good thing, provided that students have the tools and strategies to use it to their advantage. The authors highlight this point, but also weigh in to the psychological understanding of regulation and how our students are often “disregulated” by things outside of the classroom, (which is no secret to most of us!) – triggers such as their personal history, (there are powerful examples about bullying, traumatic home lives, and students escaping areas of conflict and war. Teachers need to get to know our students so we can recognize these stressors and help reduce them. Like the last section, I appreciate that authors Tranter, Carson, and Boland don’t pretend there is an easy solution to student triggers, nor do they fault educators who don’t immediately catch them:

That got me thinking about the importance of supporting educators. When we consider the role of the caring adult who is focusing on caring, communication, and consistency all the while “needing to always maintain their own state of regulation” I started to wonder what supports are in place for staff. A focus on human development in schools means that school staff take on emotional baggage. Educators know the value of relationships, and they also know some of the issues students bring to the classrooms. How do we prevent school staff from emotional burnout? What professional learning, mindfulness activities, and support systems are in place for staff?

There is a bit more to unpack in Chapter 5, which focuses on belonging and the social nature of humans. I’m not a sociological or pshychological expert, but I do think there’s merit in the belief that most people appreciate a sense of inclusion and belonging. The one thing that I started to think about is the nature of belonging in terms of belonging to a group, (as in the class or with peer groups) as well as a sense of belonging to the school. We have some serious attendance issues and I wonder how we might change that issue if we really push that meaningful sense of belonging, (beyond the traditional “attachment to a school mascot” sense of belonging). The focus on thinking about how we interact with students using the “relationship bank account” philosophy of deposits and withdrawals is one piece that helps students feel safe and positive in schools, so this is something to discuss further. Again, I feel like most of this is being done, but it’s good to review it. I really like the last line of the chapter, though. Just…be nice:

So in conclusion, helping students understand how stress impacts life is important, as is helping students develop tools and strategies to regulate their emotions. Doing this work means getting to know our students’ emotional triggers, which could create additional anxiety and stress for educators, so it’s important to consider professional learning, decompression techniques, and the mental health of school staff. Social skills and a sense of belonging are generally areas we need to reflect on when thinking about how we will do better at reaching students who are not being reached.

I’m looking forward to the next set of chapters!