Mentorship ~ TMA Reflections 2022

As I was clearing my desk in an effort to display some resemblance of an organized home office, prior to leaving for the Dominican Republic, I landed upon an unopened letter from Western University. It was a generous gift card from Mary Ott and Kathy Hibbert along with a note of appreciation for our work with the Master Teachers Mentor program this past year. The note included the following quote from Simon Sinek.

As happens more often than not, the timing and sentiment of that letter coincided perfectly with our upcoming trip to the Dominican Republic as a part of our work with Teacher Mentors Abroad. This organization has been partnering with DR educators since 2005 and over the past 17 years has supported the work of thousands of DR educators in various districts. This year we celebrated another expansion as our work took us to two new sites ~ La Vega and Consuela.

Historically teams of Canadian educators (most predominantly from Ontario) have partnered with DR mentors ~ individuals who have attended past workshops and taken on leadership roles within their schools/districts and together we have offered 4-day conferences. Although the structure of the workshops has evolved and transformed over the years, the heart of the work has been consistent. We know the power of creating student centered learning environments where augmenting student voice and student choice positively impacts student achievement and hence that criteria has been the heart of our work.

TMA is very committed to supporting and strengthening the pedagogical and facilitation skills our DR mentors and over the past few years, when COVID impacted our ability to travel and provide in-person conferences, we shifted our focus to working more intensely with our DR mentors. Up until March 2020 we had always talked about the power of staying connected between our July conference visits, but never quite found a meaningful virtual way to do so. One of the many positives of the pandemic is that when the conditions are created for you to embrace change, you stop and wonder why it took so long to do so. Hence, between online sessions with our Mentors, the ability for our Program Committee to virtually join the Executive and participate in the strategic planning sessions, and our DR Directors Jose and Juan Pablo visions of expansion, our work this summer was going to look very different and very exciting.

Imperative to our work, is the incomparable passion of our President, Nancy Threan Lorraine, who tirelessly works to ensure that connections are created with the Ministry, private and public organizations so that the foundational pieces are put in place for us to do what we love and what we know is important. Air travel, accommodations, food and on the ground travel are all taken care of for us. I often think what it would look like if an organization from another country connected with our Director and asked if they could come and offer a 4-day conference to 100s of Thames Valley educators. Oh… the questions, the hoops, the red tape that would have to be navigated. With Nancy at the helm and Juan Pablo and Jose on board, we determined that this year, we would be supporting our DR mentors in both Santiago and Santo Domingo, not by co-presenting with them at a conference for their peers, but by intentionally working alongside them as they prepared to facilitate their first conference at new sites.   They were going to be our ambassadors as we took our message of student-centered learning to 2 new districts ~ La Vega and Consuela.

No longer did we need to bring large teams of 8-10 Canadian mentors, nor were we packing materials for a 4-day conference for 100s of participants (Oh, the Post-it notes, markers and chart paper that we once packed, hoping to stay under the 50 lb. limit…lol) or lugging hundreds of copies of the Tribes book through the airport, with the anticipation of having to explain their significance to the Customs officers.  Instead, we needed to pack our backpacks with the mindset of mentorship.

Our work was going to entail three intense days with our DR Mentors which included co-constructing a day long workshop agenda focusing on four topics (that were meaningful and responsive to our La Vega participants) practicing engaging facilitation strategies, developing effective reflection/feedback techniques, and of course building in time for laughter, not to mention translation.

One of the many aspects of working with our DR educators that I love is how they embrace any opportunity to connect. As the “back to school” rhetoric on social media begins, it’s hard to go a day without a North American educator posting their thoughts about “ice breakers” and the comments are usually less than positive. And yet when working with our DR educators, they truly embrace opportunities to get up, move around, act out a scene, draw a picture or sing a song. So, as we came together on that first day, the room was filled with laughter in tandem with authentic learning. We were creating community, which happened to be one of the workshop topics. Our newest Canadian team member was truly amazed and impressed with how our partners embraced these activities.

The three days flew by and by the end of day three, with minimal time to practice, our DR team was excited, ready, and little nervous. As we modeled the power of reflection based on our three days of work, Dani shared the following sentiments:

Regardless of how the conference went in La Vega, we had met our goal of empowering our DR mentors.

Needless to say, the day in La Vega was a huge success. Our mentors worked in pairs and together they provided workshops to groups of twenty-five, four times in a row. We took the opportunity to debrief after each session and by the end of the day they had embraced the feedback and streamlined their presentations. They received praise and encouragement from their participants, including kind words and reassurance from a former Director of Education who joined a group and took part in all four workshops. The feedback was unanimous ~ the participants were thankful for the appetizer (4 mini sessions) but next year they want the full course ~ a full four-day conference.

 

It has been almost a month since we traveled to the DR and once again my home office desk is piling up with “must read” novels, Post-it notes with ideas for next year, new unopened letters and remnants of a craft project that I started with my granddaughter. And yet, as I start to tidy it up and pack away my passport, I start to wonder:

 

 

 

~ which educators who attended the day in La Vega were so excited about the workshops that they are wondering how to get involved?

~ now that we have mastered the art of virtual connections with our DR mentors, what will our work look like throughout the fall, winter, and spring in anticipation of summer 2023?

~  what other sites besides La Vega are ready and willing to welcome TMA?

~ how can we evolve and strengthen our mentorship skills?

As the list of wonderings continue to flood my mind, I take a moment and give thanks for the incredible gift of this organization and the countless number of individuals who share this insatiable passion for global education and partnerships.

The One

Into the life of every educator there comes those extra special students.  The ones who teach us what it means to be a true educator.  The ones who push us to be our very best. The ones who force us to learn more effective ways to support them. The ones who break our hearts when they struggle. The ones for whom we have shed tears ~ tears of frustration, tears of pain and tears of joy. The ones who we spend lots of time with.  The ones who we think about first thing in the morning and last thing before we turn off the lights at night. The ones we think about as we are out shopping, as we come across stickers or books that will make them smile. The ones that we wish we were better for, because they need us to be better for them. The ones who strengthen our resolve to be patient, to be humble, to be calm and to be creative. The ones for whom we cheer as they conquer their fears and accomplish goals that seemed insurmountable. The ones for whom we keep an extra eye on when they are on the yard. The ones who have enriched our lives and for whom we will forever be grateful.

On the first day of school in 2017, when we opened our doors to our first families, I roamed the playground, not knowing a soul.  I came upon 2 brothers and their grandmother.  They excitedly posed in our First Day picture frame.  Their smiling faces beaming.  Little did I know that one of those brothers would become my “one”.  The one who was about to teach me more than I could ever anticipate. For the next 3 years, we spent lots of time together.  On those days when the yard was a challenging place to be, he would help with odd jobs, like unpacking Chromebooks and iPads.  On those days when being in the classroom was a challenge, he would come to the office.  On good days, it was for a chat and a reset and then back to class.  On the more difficult days, my office became a place of refuge. Yes, there were tough times when his body and mind were dysregulated and unkind, hurtful words were hurled my way.   But, by the end of the day, he always made his way back to apologize. There were times, following a physical outburst, that he would reach his hands out for a squeeze, which seemed to help calm his body. I was, but one of the many staff members who supported him. I learned so much from them. They were masterful at helping him maintain positivity.

In the spring of 2020, he was offered a placement in a specialized classroom, where they were better equipped to support him.  On his last day (in the middle of COVID, during a drive by pick up of belongings) he asked if I would come and visit him at his new school.  Of course I promised I would come to see him and had every intention of following through on my promise.

Unfortunately, with the COVID restrictions and school closures, opportunities for that visit diminished significantly.  But today, the stars were aligned, and I was able to drop into his school for a surprise visit.

I’m thankful for his current principal, who allowed me this gift.  As I walked into classroom, he was working away on a cake for their upcoming cake raffle. Within seconds he realized that it was really me and our conversation commenced ~ like two old friends catching up over a coffee.

He was quick to share all of his accomplishments (making the volleyball and basketball team and playing the clarinet in music class) and introduce me to his classmates and teachers.  We talked about his favourite hockey team and he quickly retrieved his independent reading book and together we flipped through the pages.  I learned about his graduation suit and sparkly tie. Throughout the conversation, he continued to say, “This is the best day ever.  I’m crying happy tears.  This is the like an early birthday present”.  Little did he know that I was holding back tears too.  Tears of pride in this young man and his accomplishments.  He proudly shared his plans for secondary school ~ along with an invitation to come and see him there.  I shared pictures of my granddaughter and the cake that I had made for our cake raffle.  I could have sat there and chatted all day.  We took a journey down memory lane, with him sharing his best memories of being at our school.

I’m so grateful to the team at his current school. They have enveloped him with love, compassion and care. He is ready to take the next step of independence and enter the world of secondary school.

As it came time to leave, we captured a picture of us together and he recorded a message for me to share with staff at our school.  I hugged a few colleagues good-bye and without missing a beat, he said, “Can I have one of those, it’s been a long time?”

As I drove back to the school, I couldn’t help but give thanks.  I will forever be thankful that this special student came into my life and taught me to be a better educator, leader, and person.

Would love to hear your stories about the “one” who impacted your practice.

Come write with me…

From Mad Hatters to the Metaverse

Today, during a text message exchange with a friend I replied, “I’ve got you on speed dial”. Later it occurred to me that I can add that expression to the ever-growing list of outdated sayings which shine a harsh light on my, shall we say, maturity/experience.   Today’s youth has never had to dial a phone number. Usually when they want to use their device to have an actual conversation (which seems more and more rare given their appeal to texting), it’s a touch on the screen of the intended recipient’s name. No longer is memorization of phone numbers even required.  A few days ago, I entered into a impromptu memorization competition with a colleague wherein we took turns reciting those details which are etched in our brains. I could easily recall our first phone number ~ 471-8710.  Back in the day, we did not need to include our area code.  I also recalled my OHIP number and my Social Insurance Number.  Again, back in the day, when I first started teaching, our S.I.N. was our employee number and we had to record it when we signed it each day as a guest educator.

The list of outdated phrases continues to increase, probably at the same rate that new phrases/concepts/words are introduced into popular culture.

As bandwagons no longer travel on our roadways, the phrase “jumping on the bandwagon” holds little connection to today’s generation. I found it interesting that in the mid 1800’s politicians rented space on bandwagons to get time with an audience, which led to the saying “not jumping on the bandwagon of their opponent”.  Today it refers to not mindlessly following anything flashy or popular.

Two months ago, we celebrated my granddaughter’s first birthday with an Alice in Wonderland themed party ~  Ellie in “Onederland”.  Little did I know that the phrase, “As mad as a hatter” referred to the 17th and 18th century hat makers, who, as a result of mercury poisoning (a side effect of manufacturing felt hats) often struggled with cognitive issues.

We often refer to important deadlines being met as happening in, “the nick of time”.  Back in the 18th century, businessmen carved notches on a tally stick. The goal was to arrive before the next nick on the tally stick was carved.

On the other side of the coin (I wonder when coins will become obsolete, and that phrase will be added to the outdated inventory?) new phrases and vernacular are making their way into our conversations.  My kids were sharing “woke”, which is an awareness of injustices in society, especially racism. That was a new one for me.

As educators, we know the importance of words and we know the importance of staying contemporary. We need to give credence to the history of language and the inception of words and phrases.

Which of these are you familiar with?

Metaverse
Metrification
Neopronouns
Zennials
Infodemic
Gender Fluid
Cheugy
Cryptocurrency

As I look to my granddaughter’s future, I wonder which of our current phrases/words will last the test of time and which ones will become obsolete?

Welcome to My Office

What do you remember about your elementary school principal?  One of the activities that I like to do with Principal Qualification Program’s candidates is to have them generate a picture, along with descriptors of their former principals.   Often the visuals includes descriptors like mature, male, stern, scary office door (mostly closed).  At times, we hear terms like cool, laughing as they go down the hall and colourful clothes.  This activity sets the stage for richer conversations about the importance of our role and how others view the work that we do.  We know that relationships are the foundation of our work. How we build and nurture those relationships are key ~ especially when we need to support students who are struggling or families who need our compassion and understanding. It is easy to be  “sunshine and lollipops” when all is well. It is more challenging to maintain authentic relationships with our students and families who need us the most during the difficult times.

When I reflect on my experience (back in the late 70s), I can easily recall Mr. Dickson.  He was a tall, thin man with grey hair and glasses. I do not recall him ever smiling. When he walked the hallway there was complete silence and groups of students automatically fell into a straight line.  Each Friday, Mr. Dickson would come into our grade 8 classroom and teach us grammar.  Up until my grade 8 year, I assumed that I was an adequate writer.  I had never received any feedback from previous teachers to the contrary.  Yet, Mr. Dickson, with his endless worksheets whereby we needed to underline objects, circle adjectives, and put some other mystical grammatical symbol around prepositions, convinced me that I was a terrible writer.  Try as I might, I failed more of those grammar tests than I passed ~ to the point that I was called to his office one day to practice and review the appropriate symbols.  To this day, I can recall the details of his small office, tucked in behind the main office where the secretary was. There was a small single window with brown/yellow flowered curtains, which faced the playground. I place that I desperately wanted to be.  I was so scared and felt so stupid.  I remember the look on the secretary’s face as I made my way past the counter and towards the looming doorway.  It was as if she was saying with her eyes, “Hang in there, kid”.  He towered over me as he tested me with multiple examples, which I would continue to answer incorrectly.  I could sense his disappointment.  I remember my nose running and being embarrassed that I did not have a Kleenex in my pocket. I tried to inconspicuously wipe my nose when he was not looking.  I recall leaving his office, making my way to the washroom and being so thankful that there an empty stall.  I cried, blew my nose so hard that I am sure I caused damage, then made my way back to class, thankful no one questioned my absence or my bloodshot eyes and red nose.

I dreaded Fridays for the remainder of the school year and to this day, there are times when I need to use a comma, colon or semi-colon and I revert back to that insecure 13-year-old, who thought she could not write.  Some of you may notice that I often use the symbol (~) in my writing.  It has become my “go to” when I am unsure of the correct grammatical notation.

I doubt that Mr. Dickson woke up that morning with an intention to make my cry and to make me question my ability to write. I cannot help but wonder, if in his own way he was trying to make me a better writer.

I often wonder if Mr. Dickson was as surprised as I was when I was awarded the General Proficiency Award at our Grade 8 Graduation.

I will leave the conversation about teaching grammar in isolation and the connection to authentic writing for another day.

So much has changed in the last 40 years or so.

Today I had 3 students who popped by to see me.
S. is a grade 1 student with ASD.  He wandered in singing the theme song to the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse series.  He is fascinated by the planets and there is a video in the series about Mars.  So, I found the link on the Internet and started to play it.  He jumped up on to my lap and together we watched it.  He occasionally would get up and role play his part in the video. I have a feeling that I have started a trend.  Let us see if he pops in tomorrow.

M is a grade 6 student whose educator has challenged her class to find and implement a social justice cause.  Last week she came to see me about a fundraiser to support families in the Ukraine.  We went through several possible ideas.  She has been exploring websites to see what the greatest need is. Today when she popped by M had landed on a used book sale with the proceeds being donated to the Red Cross.  I admire her tenacity, her confidence, and the way in which she entered our conversation. There was no talking her out of this initiative.  She has promised to check in again tomorrow morning to work on the advertising campaign.

And finally,  I had a visit from another student in that same grade 6 class.  She is interested in gathering information/opinions about a proposed 4-day school week.  The richness of the conversation was so jarring that I had to remind myself that this was an 11-year-old.  Her maturity, her forthright confidence, and her ability to not only ask the right questions, but listen, pause, and then respond was remarkable. This young woman is going to change the world. I have no doubt!

Like all my colleagues, there are times when students come to see me as a result of situation that needs to be resolved.  There have been times when students have been upset, angry and even drawn to tears.  We know that part of this role is to help students make better choices and to understand how their actions impact others.

My hope is that when (if) my former students conjure up a memory of my office, they think of it as a place where they were always welcome to come and visit, a place where their ideas were respected and if they required support, it was a place where they were treated fairly and compassionately.

What do you remember about your elementary school principal/office?

Come write with me….

Ode to our Guest Educators

In our school, we intentionally call our occasional teachers Guest Educators. We teach our students to treat them with respect in the same way that you would treat a guest in your home. We share with our students, that its our job to make a good impression so that when the guest educator must choose which assignment they accept, they select Sir Arthur Currie.

This year, more so than any other year that I can recall, our Guest educators:

Stepped in and stepped up regardless of the detailed or missing day plans,
Took it in stride when they were greeted with, “We need you elsewhere, today”, when they thought they were going to support our multilingual learners and instead we needed them to cover a grade 4/5 classroom,
Shifted on a dime when they learned that the music teacher’s position wasn’t picked up and therefore although it was reflected that they would have a planning period, it was suddenly cancelled,
Smiled as they greeted students who had been greeted by different faces all week because of the need for extended absences due to quarantine protocols,
Popped down to say, “Hey, how can I help?” on those days when they saw the infamous white board littered with names and the dreaded OPEN beside too many names,
Came prepared with favourite activities and special books for those moments that required additional learning activities,
Comforted students who were struggling with the loss of routine,
Tidied the room at the end of the day for the returning educator or the next guest educator and
Supported fellow guest educators, who at times seemed to outnumber our regular staff.

Without sounding too dramatic, the doors of so many more schools would have been closed, if it were not for these incredible hard working guest educators.

 

I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to also recognize two Long-Term occasional educators, who part way through the school year joined our school team to support 2 classes.  They stepped into unique situations ~ ones where there had been a number of changes for these classes (both physical and personnel wise). Our LTOs (who are now cherished staff members) needed to hit the “restart” button to build team, to build community, to build confidence and to gain trust. It is absolutely remarkable when I see those classes now ~ the students look physically different. They are happy to come to school, they trust that there will be routines, they see themselves as learners and they know that their educator loves them and enjoys spending time with them. I love it when their educator highlights their learning on Twitter and fills the walls of their classroom with evidence of learning.

As the cycle of hiring goes, I know that in no time, many of these amazing guest educators will be hired as contract educators. They will be excited to have their own classroom and they will do amazing things with their class.

We feel so honoured that they have selected to spend these formative experiences with us. They are admired for their commitment to their profession, their compassion for students and their ability to demonstrate flexibility and innovative practices.

To Do or Not To Do?

With only 2 dozen days left in this school year one could easily get lost in what seems like an endless list of things to do before the final bell rings and the last of the school buses pulls out of the driveway.  A driveway that has beared witness to more than its share of action this year.   Last August when 1/3 of our parking lot was fenced off to house 5 portables and 2 portable washrooms we gained a whole new list of to dos to ensure a safe opening in September ~ keeping in mind those were new items in addition to the list of  COVID procedures and protocols. Fast forward to the first snowfall in November and with the final installation and inspection of the portapak complete, the portables and portable washrooms, along with the cement barriers and fencing were removed.    Like most of the unique stories associated with our unprecedented population explosion, “parking lot paradise” is now a distant memory and one that is highly likely not to be revisited.

Back to the endless list. I have no doubt that most of my colleagues could generate a similar, if not more complex list of end of the school year to-dos.  I am thinking of my friends who are transitioning to new schools or new system roles in the fall.  They are highly dedicated and organized individuals who undoubtedly are doing their best to leave precisely crafted important information for the incoming leader(s). For my friends who are retiring, I can only imagine that in addition to the regular end of the year lists that they are composing, they are doing all they can to drink in this final month ~ whether it is writing their final graduation speech, sharing a final favourite read aloud, composing letters to their staff to thank them for their tremendous efforts or showing their appreciation to their community members who have stood by them through the Pandemic years. I have no idea how they will balance embracing those “lasts” while completing the “tasks”.

As some of you know, when we opened Sir Arthur Currie 5 years ago, I shared that I would stay for 5 years and then ride off into the sunset ~ rationalizing that 5 years was a good substantial amount of time to get foundational pieces solidified for a new school.  As April 15 (the magic date to submit retirement letters) came and went, I could not do it ~ I’m not ready.  There is so much yet to accomplish; I love my school family and my excitement for what next year holds for our community continues to build as we start to plan for the “Year of The Arts”.  Maybe there is a part of me that can’t bring myself to generate that final “list” for the incoming leader.

Back to the endless list.  The meandering of this post is a lens into my philosophy when it comes to crafting lists. I find the more items I add, the more connections to the importance of the work (not the completion of the task) emerge and the intent of the list transforms.   Over the years, I’ve shifted from checking items off a list to using the list as springboard to reflect on past/present practice and in turn strengthening my leadership skills.

So here’s to the next 24 days, may our list of “to dos” not overshadow the memories that you’ll need to make.

What’s a Few More Flutes?

The best part of my days are always those times that I get to be with our students.  I love the fact that I can seamlessly go from room to room and engage in conversations, watch in awe as our outstanding educators lead lessons or sit down and take part in the activity as I learn alongside of them.   With 38 classes there is always something interesting going on and I marvel at what I learn as I venture from learning environment to learning environment.  Most days, it is not until I get home and scroll through Twitter that I get a full picture of the vast experiences that our students are exposed to. Today I started my day by visiting our 3 grade 7 classes and our 3 grade 6 classes.  As we excitedly look towards the upcoming school year and all of the possibilities of an extensive strong Arts program, I needed to collect information about instrument choice to ensure that we are making informed decisions about purchases. With my visit to the grade 6 classes, I also took the opportunity to praise them for their resiliency and patience as they have spent the last 2 days in frustration, trying to work their way through the Provincial EQAO assessments, amidst server interruptions.  We are hopeful that the platform is stable by Monday as we want our students to share their knowledge and highlight their strengths.

As I started to collect their first and second choices for instruments, we joked about the extensive requests for flutes, and I recalled being in a similar position many years ago when I was in grade 7.  I desperately wanted to play the flute, but unfortunately as there were not enough to share, I ended up with the clarinet.  I continued to play the clarinet, not only through elementary school, but for 5 years in secondary school.  Some of my most memorable experiences in secondary school are connected to my time in the music program.  Those early morning rehearsals ~ especially the one that happened the day of the big snowstorm and we ended up being stranded at school for the night.  The many performances with our long red skirts and white blouses ~ for those of you who know the intricacies of how the clarinet works, you can appreciate managing the condensation that escapes from the bell while wearing a long red skirt. The trips to New York, Boston and Washington and the close-knit group of friends.

Our conversation then morphed into one about being prepared with a back-up plan and how sometimes things work out even better.  Our students were amazed that I could easily recall the names of the 4 girls, in grade 7, who did get to play the flute ~ both their first names and last names.  They giggled when they assumed that it was my animosity that fueled my memory.  Unbeknownst to them the complexities of short term and long-term memories awaits them as they age.  They too, will be able to remember the names of their current friends when they are my age ~ although struggle to remember what someone asked them to do minutes ago…LOL

My wish for our students is that they, too, find joy and a sense of accomplishment as the embark on the first steps of their instrumental music experience.   I am excited to be there as they initially learn how to create sounds individually and then blend those sounds to create harmony and music. I am excited for them to experience the thrill of performance.  I am excited to see the looks on the faces of our younger students as they sit in the audience and listen to their older peers ~ dreaming of the day that they get to choose their instrument.

In order to make some of these wishes come true, it looks like I am off to purchase a few more flutes.  A small price to pay to set the stage for dreams and memories.

What are some of your memories of elementary/secondary school music?

Come write with me…

A simple thank you to our Recent Retirees

Last week, our Thames Valley administrators and senior team members gathered for the first time since August 2019 for our Annual General Meeting, which included recognition of those leaders who about to embark on the exciting world of retirement.   Although I was unable to join the celebration in person, I did not want to miss out on the opportunity to celebrate my colleagues ~ many of whom have had such an important impact on my career as both a school and system leader.

I first met Jennifer Ardnt when she was the principal at Cartier.  We were implementing a new program to support our multilingual learners whereby they spent the first half of their day in the LEARN program, focusing on literacy and numeracy with a specialized educator.  Jennifer was quick to make the necessary facility changes to ensure the best possible learning environment for her students.  As we walked the halls of her school, it was evident that her students loved her.

Linda Carswell was the host principal at Woodland Heights when we first met.  Although the details of the session have escaped my memory, the passion with which she highlighted the work of her team left an imprint.  Years later we came to work together as members of the Learning Supervisor team at the Board office.  Linda is retiring from White Oaks school ~ one of our largest and most complex schools in our system.  I have watched in awe as she has systematically shifted the culture in her school. Linda has been a wonderful mentor to so many vice principals and the White Oaks school community will miss her dearly.

Ron Duffy and I were partners in one of the many system mentor programs over the years.  It was so evident when I first met him, as a VP, that he understood that the role of a leader is to support others and build leadership skills for the next generation of leaders.  There have been several VPs who have benefitted from his tremendous mentorship.  He is retiring from Wilfrid Jury ~ a school community that holds a very special place in my heart.  They will miss his kindness, his vision, and his spirit.

I have been in awe of Colin Milligan from the first time I met him.  Back in 2009 as I transitioned in the role of Principal at Wilfrid Jury, Colin and I were members of the OPC mentorship program. It was a very structured program which included lots of meetings and professional readings.  Colin is one of those intelligent individuals who can quote chapter and verse of a book or article. Something that I have to master.  He not only has a deep understanding of school improvement planning and vision, but he can also teach others how to personalize it for their school communities in a way that is so comprehensive. He is one of the most respected PQP instructors in our system. So many have had the opportunity to learn from this leader.  He leaves a tremendous hole in our system.

And finally, the effervescent, long haired, creative, and inspirational Joe Sheik.  The person who makes everyone feel like they are his beloved and cherished friend. Joe’s constant advocacy for the Arts and inquiry-based learning are just a few of his signature passions.  Years ago, he invited me to join him during a round of interviews.  His style is unique, and he has a wonderful way of building team. I continue to admire the lengths to which he will go to engage his community ~ nobody rocks a Cat in the Hat costume like Joe, and no one is better at visioning and building an outdoor learning environment. Never one to shy away from asking the important and thought-provoking questions, there is no doubt that he is going to be tremendously missed within our organization.

School systems are only truly strengthened by the leaders who work tirelessly to embrace, support, and build school communities.  These remarkable leaders have selflessly shared their abundance of talents with countless educators, students, and families over the years.  Their imprint on each school where they have taught and then led will forever be woven in the tapestry of those school’s history.

I want to thank them for their mentorship, friendship, and endless support. Like so many others, I have learned from their example and will do my best to pay it forward with our future leaders.

 

Senseless

19 precious children started their day like any other day.  They packed their backpacks, probably including their favourite snacks and maybe a Poppit or two. They were looking forward to the end of the school year celebrations that awaited them.   They were athletes, award winners and cherished classmates. I would imagine there was lots of chatter about upcoming summer plans ~ trips to amusement parks, camping with grandparents, ball games and so much more. As the morning drew close to lunch time, the innocence of that typical grade 4 classroom was shattered when an 18 year old armed gunman entered their classroom and savagely extinguished lives.  My throat aches and I shed tears as I envision their inexperienced reactions which undoubtedly morphed from disbelief to horror in a matter of minutes. How frightened and scared they must have been. What terror they witnessed.

2 teachers (one of whom was a mother of 4) started their day like any other day. Like most educators I would imagine they were looking forward to the well-deserved summer break with a sense of bittersweetness. It’s always hard to send our students onto new educators for the next year. One of them capturing a picture of a student who had earned an Honours certificate and sent it to their mother ~ probably a common everyday occurrence.   For that parent, that has now become the very last picture of their cherished child. The heart of a loving educator to the very end.  I can only imagine the terror as they realized that their beloved students were about to become the next victims in a series of senseless school shootings. I have no doubt that they did what they could to protect them, until their own lives were taken.

It is inconceivable to even imagine this occurring anywhere in the world and yet there have been over 240 young lives lost in mass shootings in the US in this year alone ~ and we are only 5 months into this year. WHY????

Tonight, my words are stilted as my brain has yet to truly decipher a coherent way to manage the hurricane of emotions. Today I had a parent reach out to me with concern for our school community, based on the tragedy in Texas. She wanted assurance that we were doing all we can to avoid a similar tragedy. I did my best to alleviate her fears ~ although I know that my words were not enough.

May the Lord bless their innocent souls and welcome them into His loving arms with the promise of erasing their final memories of terror.

From Cupcakes to Cash to Change Agents

One of the many unique pathways of our journey this year has been the Board of Trustees’ decision to pause any new registrations at our school ~ as a short-term solution to slow down the excessive growth. With a population of close to 1000 students, we were closing in on a record 200% capacity and our facility was at its maximum number of portables ~ 17 in total. The long-term plan, to build another school, is still in its infancy and scheduled to be completed within 42-48 months. Although registrations have been paused at our location, our wonderful Northwest London community continues to welcome new families with school-aged children. Currently any new families are now bussed to Knollwood Public School. A school that is nestled in a lovely subdivision located in the eastern quadrant of the London, with a catchment area that includes some government assisted housing.

When the Trustee motion passed in November of 2021, our community, who advocated strongly for families to stay together ~ knowing that the flipside of that advocacy would mean that any new families would not be attending Sir Arthur Currie, made a commitment to do their best to embrace our “sister school”. They realized that their new neighbours would be attending Knollwood, a school which may not have the same level of family involvement or the same access to financial support that we are so blessed to have at Sir Arthur Currie.

So, our School Council and Home & School under the leadership of our Fundraising Chair, Carla, became determined to find a way to support our neighbours and their school community. The Home and School became the logical choice for the fundraising piece as it is more streamline than navigating school board accounts/CashOnline/school-based budget lines within the guidelines for School Councils.

Hence the idea of a Cake raffle, just prior to the Mother’s Day weekend was proposed and approved. The excitement grew as masterful creations were donated and our students excitedly purchased tickets with the anticipation of taking home something sweet to celebrate a special person.  We had close to 40 donations.

When all was said and done, the Home and School raised close to $2000, which financially brought them to the finish line of their multi-year goal of a school sign as well as meeting their target of $500 to support the breakfast program at Knollwood. As a school we were very intentional in sharing with our students that the money they were donating towards the cake raffle was going to go to another school ~ a school that needed our help. I am so proud of our community and their deep desire to make a difference in the lives of children (not just their own children, but the children in their broader community).

Today we had the pleasure of delivering the cheque to Brenda Williams, the amazing, gentle, and compassionate principal of Knollwood. She has been there for 4 years and is about to transition to a much larger school in the west end. I could tell that although she is excited for the change, she is heartbroken to leave a community that has indeed imprinted itself on her heart. She will forever take the lessons from Knollwood to her next school community.

Listening to her and Carla talk about the breakfast program and the need to nurture their community as they strengthen their Council and Home & School Association was both enlightening and refreshing. These two women, who just met each today, share a common philosophy of giving what you can, even if you do not have enough for yourself.

As we drove home, Carla was so passionate about our next project to support our sister school.  I cannot wait to be a part of her next passion project.

At times we find ourselves so inwardly focused on our own school community, we forget that at the end of the day, we are all a part of a larger community. The strength of the larger TVDSB community can only be truly measured when all school communities feel responsible for each other.

We share mentor texts and stories about social justice with our students. We talk about the value of helping our neighbours. But unless we put actions to those words, our students will never genuinely understand what it means to be an agent of change.

One of the cakes at the cake raffle was a butterfly. Today that butterfly metaphorically took flight in the hearts and minds of two incredible women who instinctively understand and appreciate the power of bringing communities together, that teaching our children to give rather than receive is paramount to good citizenship and that the possibilities of more passion projects to support others are limitless.

Has your school community reached out to support another school community?

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