A Sandbox Kind of Day

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

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

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

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

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

From Diversity, to Inclusion to Belonging

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

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

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

Come write with me…

A Leadership Lesson from Down Under

Day 21

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

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

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

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

Posted by Jacinda Ardern on Wednesday, March 25, 2020

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

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

Come write with me…

Leadership Lessons from the Lunchroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Day Like We’ve Never Seen Before

Day 19

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

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

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

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

What are you looking forward to today?

Come Write with me….

A New Appreciation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come write with me…

Every Graduate Needs to Hear This!

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

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

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

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

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

1) Don’t be afraid

2) Do what’s right

3) Build a Community

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

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

Come write with me…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Support, Just When We Needed it the Most

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

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

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

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

Not the Same 5 Helpful Tips

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

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

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

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

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

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


And yet here we are!

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

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

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

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

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

Come write with me….