Keeping the Batteries Charged

It’s the evening before the First Day of School – my 14th as an educator and my 34th overall. Each year brings a list of challenges and triumphs and by June, I’m usually pretty exhausted and very grateful for a summer break. This year, with a new school and a new position, I’ve been more excited than usual. However, the last two weeks have been very, very busy. I have been in-and-out of the school numerous times, unpacking my office, meeting staff, and preparing materials for our First Day Professional Development sessions. There have been dozens of emails regarding plant department and contractors, engagement with our board’s Multi-Year Strategic Plan, reminders about budgeting items, health and safety issues, staffing…. that list goes on, and on, and on. The paperwork has already started to pile up, too – despite every effort to mitigate Messy Desk Syndrome.

There has also been an excitement in the building. The enthusiasm in people’s voices as they prepare for the new year is awesome and it’s one of the things that recharges my own batteries. This is important to me because I know that once the year starts, my batteries will be under constant strain. It’s a reality of the job; our schools are busy and the needs of students, colleagues, parents, and the community are genuine. The days can be long and the reality is that the Office can be an isolated place. A reflection I made last year was the need to escape that isolation and get out into the school. Paperwork and reports are important, but being visible in the school is (in my opinion) way more important. It’s easy to drown under that messy desk but it’s important to prioritize and ensure the batteries are at a healthy level. So, with that in mind, some goals:

  • I will be in the halls and in classrooms every day. I was pretty successful with this last year at B.A. Parker, but I am not sure what this goal will look like this year.
  • Building relationships with others will remain my highest priority. I can’t help talking to people so this will hopefully come naturally.
  • Gonna (and gotta) keep moving. Walking halls, climbing stairs, and visiting the gym have to be key parts of my daily routine
  • Writing, reflecting, and sharing (like I’m doing now) will keep me in a good place

We’ll see how well I meet these goals as the first days, weeks, and months pass – but I am forever an optimist!

Best wishes to everyone for a very successful 2019-2020 school year!

Preparing for the Year: Areas of Focus

Fresh from three days of thinking, planning, and collaborating with Admin colleagues from across my board at our Leadership retreat, my mind is definitely spinning. As a newer administrator, I’m very grateful for opportunities to share my thinking with those who have more experience. I’m grateful that I am part of a small board where we truly do have the opportunity to get to know one another and our schools. There were two topics during this week’s learning that I am focusing on:

Culturally Relevant Related Pedagogy
How can we be better at providing conditions that invite safety, belonging, and engagement for First Nations students?

Part of a pilot project with the Ministry of Education, this work intends to strengthen authentic and meaningful relationships with our First Nation partners. There is no doubt that students need to feel safety and a sense of belonging, (which I wrote about last year when I reviewed The Third Path. When I think about it, there are so many elements of the school day that do not reflect Indigenous ways of knowing and learning – and we can certainly think about how we might do a better job of reflecting the needs of our learners. A great example was our discussion on smudging. Our system often, (or always, per Human Rights legislation) provides accommodations for students requiring help to self-regulate, (such as administering medication, taking breaks, etc.). However, we have not traditionally provided the same accommodations for Indigenous students who might use smudging to the same effect. The Ministry did produce a policy paper in 2013 on Culturally-Responsive Pedagogy and while the content is powerful, this work really aims to meet specific local needs. The key to any of this work includes consulting with our First Nation communities to ensure any work we do is respectful. I’m on about that, too – so I look forward to this project.

Usha James – Critical Thinking Consortium
What are some powerful steps we can take to create thinking environments that nurture thinking in all our learners?

This question is our board’s critical inquiry question. Usha James, Executive Director of the Critical Thinking Consortium, led a powerful session on creating thinking classrooms. Administrators were invited to consider how the use of inquiry in schools might lead to deeper, more meaningful engagement of subject matter for students.

From the Critical Thinking Consortium

A few years back, I was lucky enough to work with educator Trevor Mackenzie through a Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP) on Inquiry in the Classroom. I am excited that this pedagogical model is being expanded in our board; it changed my classroom when I started using it. From an principal’s perspective, inquiry can also shape my conversations with colleagues when talking about their lessons, their practices, and their classrooms and for my own work, inquiry will guide my own problem of practice as I work towards a goal, (I’ll share more on that later) for my own learning within the school.

Three days of powerful discussions, learning, and sharing definitely leaves the brain in a state of chaos, so I’m happy to be able to digest some of the information here. The work also added to my never-ending to do list, but that’s awesome, as well. These two topics provide clear purpose to our work and I am very, very excited about them.

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!