Makeshift Hummingbird Hospital

So, how was your day?” As I unpacked my lunch bag and kicked off my heels, I anticipated a typical response about hitting the driving range, making some deliveries, and tackling some gardening. What I did not expect was, “I’m nursing a hummingbird back to health.”  But then again, this day had already been infused with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, so by 6:30 pm, nothing was going to phase me. Sure enough, on the back deck there was this colourful, little hummingbird, perched on the corner of the table along with a small box filled with grass clippings and a mug of sugar water with a makeshift syringe/straw contraption balancing on the rim. My husband was quick to demonstrate the method with which he had been feeding this bird for the past hour. The story goes that the bird had flown into the warehouse at some point in the day and was unable to find its way out. Through sheer exhaustion and dehydration, the bird had landed, and my son was able to bring it to the house which led to veterinarian Bruyns to the rescue.

The tiny creature seemed calm, eager to drink and amenable to me trying to capture a picture with my phone. I have been fascinated by hummingbirds for the longest time. We have a feeder at the cottage and there have been days that I have waited patiently just trying to capture one in flight ~ never anticipating that I would be able to capture one in a complete resting pose. This one had a brilliant red breast that resembled a sequined necklace and a combination of green/turquoise feathers that changed shades depending on the angle of the sun. Its pointed beak was long and slightly curved ~ perfect for draining flowers of their sweet nectar. With a quick Google search, I learned that it is called a Ruby Throated Hummingbird and can beat it’s wings 53 times per second.

As I finished capturing some photos, I noticed the wings begin to flutter; slowly at first and then revving up to full speed. Within minutes the bird took to flight and soared out of sight.

For any of us in education, we often refer to the final three months of the school year as “AprilMayJune” as they fly by so quickly. We have one foot in this year as we plan graduation, craft final reports, and implement year end excursions and one foot in next year as we navigate staffing, create timetables and plan Kindergarten Open Houses (just to mention a few activities). There is little, if any, opportunity to stop the clock, to come to a complete resting point and to be nurtured by a caring (albeit mysterious) individual. Today was a beautiful reminder about, not only the sheer beauty of nature, but the importance of stopping and refueling in order to recharge and then soar.

You Don’t Know What You’ve Got ’til It’s Gone

Covid (and the accompanying health and safety protocols) created the conditions for components of our school day to be compromised ~ but none so significantly as The Arts. The last time our students came together to see a live performance was Friday, March 13, 2020, as a part of the 100 Schools Grand Theatre initiative and it is only recently that we have started to hear the sound of wind instruments drift from the music portable. Today must have been a grade 4 day, as it was the sound of recorders filling the air with that familiar sound.

To give credit where it is due, our team of educators found unique ways to incorporate the Arts through the increased use of percussion instruments, string options (ukuleles) and teaching our students sign language as an alternative to singing. But there is nothing that compares to the sound of children harmonizing or bringing students together to perform for a live audience.

This week, as we were meeting potential new team members for both an instrumental music and grade 7 position, there were a number of candidates who focused on the Arts for their artefact. Our most recent applicant for a grade 7 position, shared a “Minecraft” inspired online Art Gallery, where she presented and gave life to passion projects that her students created. There were beautiful works of art, cooking websites and even a crocketed cactus, which became their classroom pet. We have had such rich conversations with candidates about the performances they have supported in their current schools over the years and their vision of what the music program could look like if they were selected.

As we look towards the upcoming 2022-2023 school year there is this incredible excitement about the possibility of not only celebrating but bringing the Arts to the forefront of all that we do. The research continues to support the important role that the Arts play in building community, supporting regulation, and maintaining social and emotional well-being for both staff and students.  Staff are already looking towards booking live theatre for their classes. Just today, I had a passionate conversation with an educator about the role that dance plays in not only supporting curriculum expectations but in providing an authentic platform for applying those expectations. Teaching students the necessary French vocabulary to support a dance routine is magical to watch and listen to. Talk about acknowledging and celebrating all learning styles!!

We have reached out the company that installed our complicated and yet high-quality sound and light system, as a number of staff are excited about receiving training. I just know that a school show is somewhere in our near future, and I am bubbling with anticipation. There is something magical about watching and listening to a group of educators who are thirsty for the opportunity to collaborate on such a project. I know that our caregiver community will be the first to step up and say, “How can we help?”

We have learned so much in the past 2 years as we have navigated life in a school (or online) during a global pandemic. Some of the those lessons we will take forward and incorporate into this new post- pandemic world. Others we will gladly toss aside and refer to only in our old age, when we reminisce about the 2020/2021/2022 pandemic years.
When I think about how the Arts were compromised in schools, my mind will drift to the lyric, “Don’t it always seem to go, you don’t what you got ‘til it’s gone.”

If I have learned anything along this journey, it is that schools are meant to be filled with music, dancing, singing, performing, and embracing all forms of the Arts.

What are you most looking forward to as we ease into a post-pandemic world?

Come write with me….

Monday, Monday

“Monday, Monday, can’t trust that day
Monday, Monday, sometimes it just turns out that way.”   The Mamas and The Papa’s song Monday, Monday is playing in my mind as I write this post.

Like most mornings these days, the “Who’s on First” strategy of filling unfilled teaching, E.A. and ECE vacancies started at about 6:30 am. This Monday morning, however, knowing that we were set to start Day 1 of the highly anticipated online EQAO for our grade threes, seeing vacancies for staff who were scheduled to support students with special needs heightened my anticipation about the day. I am forever thankful that my colleague with whom we share an Itinerant Long Term Occasional Teacher, sent a quick, “She’s all yours” text when I shared our list of vacancies today.

By 8:30 am we were navigating the list of names on the large white board by filling in assignments, checking for student absences and creating a supervision schedule for the day. By 8:45 am, we were on to the next task of shuffling the EQAO support schedule, when another staff member (who was scheduled to support a student with scribing) found us and shared that needed to head home as she was feeling unwell. I could feel my anticipation about the day take a turn ~ and not for the best.

With my mind swirling with a possible Plan C, as we had already scrapped Plan B, another staff member compassionately comforted her colleague and shared, “We’ve got this”.   With relief, the ill staff member went home to rest.

By 9:00 am, with the EQAO schedule solidified the rest of the day started to unfold. Emails, interviews, connections with students and staff, a quick walk through the subdivision to see if a neighbour would be kind enough to return a soccer ball that had been kicked over the fence, were just a few of the items on the docket.

That early morning, “We’ve got this” turned out to be true. Students were supported, the assessment was completed (with only a couple of SOS calls directly to EQAO) and the team came together at the end of the day for a debrief, a review of day 2 and some smiles.

Upon reflection, I am so thankful for the colleague who knew that in the moment, “We’ve got this” was the perfect response.

Before composing this post, I reached out to that staff member and thanked her for her calm, compassionate leadership. May we all continue to be open to receiving those reminders when we get lost in the logistics and forget (if only for a moment) what is important.

Guardian Angel

Within a school community, there are a number of unsung heroes. Those individuals who go about their day-to-day tasks, which on the surface seem somehow at arm’s length from student achievement/well-being. One of those groups of unsung heroes are our custodial team. Over the past couple of years, their commitment to heightened health and safety protocols has given staff, students, and our parent community a sense of security. Throughout the day, whenever needed they pleasantly and professionally answer the call on the walkie-talkie and make their way to the crisis of the moment. Whether it is a milk spill, a required toilet paper refill, a clean up after a student has been ill or the ever unpleasant clean up in a washroom.

Late last week, following one of those washroom calls, our evening charge custodian, Brian, escorted one of our students to the main office. He shared with one of our secretaries that the student was unable to return to class and needed to make a call home. It quickly became evident the reason for the call home was associated with an accident in the washroom. Once the student was safely on his way home with a parent, Brian shared the rest of the story.

As he entered the washroom for the clean-up, he found  this student trying desperately to clean the mess from his pants. Brian could tell that he was devastated and embarrassed. Within minutes, it was Brian to the rescue ~ knowing that the student could not return to class with his reputation intact and that he was going to be too embarrassed to share with the office staff what had happened. So, Brian went into the class, retrieved the student’s backpack, and accompanied him to the office ~ thus saving him, not one, but two embarrassing conversations.

Later that evening, as the office became quiet, we had a beautiful conversation about how Brian was this student’s guardian angel. The one person who was there, when this student most needed a kind, caring adult. Brian recalled when he was in my grade five class (yes, our evening charge custodian is a former student of mine, and I could not be more thrilled that our paths have crossed again) a student had an accident in class. We talked about the long-lasting impact of such embarrassment and how his actions today hopefully sheltered this student from the same long-term impact.

Here’s to those unsung heroes who make a difference in the lives of students, when they least think they may need a guardian angel.

Have you ever needed or been a guardian angel for a student?  Would love to hear about it.

Come write with me….

 

Waiting for the Ice Cream Truck

This morning I woke up ready and eager to tackle this post, as the impetus for it had me tossing and turning last night. I was struggling with how to choose the right words, how to maintain professionalism and composure in the face of hurtful mistruths about my staff and how to ensure that I was not going to compromise the essence of my blog. Throughout my 300+ posts, I have been determined to stay true to my initial intention for writing, which was to use this platform for personal reflection, to spark professional conversations and to highlight and celebrate all things related to leadership, learning and life.

So here goes….

A good friend once told me that if you want to keep everyone happy, sell ice cream cones. I have learned over the years that although there are moments of sheer joy, similar to the experience of seeing the ice cream truck come down the road, keeping everyone happy is impossible.  So instead, I have learned that when those tough decisions must be made (and some days there are a number of them) ensure that you have communicated clearly and with as much transparency as possible. That is a lesson that I continue to share with staff when they are faced with challenging parent situations. We know and appreciate that parents are doing their best to advocate for their children ~ sometimes with only their own child’s perspective on a situation. We also know that there are a variety of reasons why parents are reluctant to connect with educators and then, if necessary, an administrator. I never underestimate the long-term impact of childhood trauma associated with schools and educators and appreciate that at times, parents bring that trauma forth and hence are reluctant to reach out for help.

Our school community is one that embraces and appreciates the importance of an education. They work alongside of the educators to ensure that their child’s needs (academic, behavioural, social-emotional) are addressed. For some students, that work goes on for years before a strategy starts to have an impact. We know that we are not perfect. We know that at times issues occur on the school yard, beyond the sightline of a supervisor on the yard. But when they are brought to our attention, they are thoroughly investigated. We know, that at times, our solution is one that parents may not agree with. If a child continues to harm other children on the yard, sometimes the alternative is to walk with an adult, so that those problem-solving conversations can happen. Sometimes it is time in an alternate location, while others are on the yard, to reflect on their actions, followed by an alternative time outside with an adult to ensure fresh air and a body break. To those parents who have partnered with us, a sincere thank you. We know that, at times, you may see similar behaviour beyond the school day and are working on home-based solutions.

All this to say, that yesterday, a Facebook post was brought to my attention where a parent in our community took to social media and shared her perspective of a situation involving her child. My heart breaks that this child no longer wants to come to school and although it was not reflected in this parent’s post, the teacher has been reaching out for months to try and connect with this parent. We want to offer the support of our school social worker. We want to have conversations with this student about the fact that he feels that he is being discriminated because he is white. But my heart also breaks for the allegations that my staff “doesn’t give a sh$%^&*.”   The interesting point in this post is that at no time did that parent reach out to me so that I could offer support or suggestions. I would be the first to apologize if we had been working together and we were still at the point that their child did not feel comfortable coming to school. But to not even be given the chance to work it out, has only harmed the child.
My love/hate relationship with social media continues to ruminate in my mind. I know that there are more positives, more informative sharing and more celebrations occurring on social media connected to our school than these few nasty, ill-informed negative ones and I guess we just need to rise above it.

There is a piece of me that wants to chime in on that post, but I know that is not going to accomplish anything ~ it may only inflame the situation and for the sake of the student that is the last thing that I want to happen.

In the time it has taken to craft this post, I have received an email from a grandparent in our community. Here is an excerpt, “If this is the quality of teaching that XXX can expect as she moves class to class, you can certainly stand proud of your team.

My thanks to the team and to the school for providing a safe and excellent forum for learning”

Maybe today’s lesson on leadership, learning and life is to be patient, like waiting for the ice cream truck’s bell to ring to let us know that it’s on its’ way.  Just when you become mired in the negative, a positive is around the corner.

Would love to hear about your love/relationship with social media.

Come write with me…

Mentorship to Fellowship

It has been 3 years since we have come together for a face-to-face planning meeting for our summer Teacher Mentors Abroad conference. Although we’ve stayed connected via Zoom throughout the pandemic and continued to explore ways to support our Dominican mentors and expand our work, there is absolutely nothing in this world that could have compared to the long awaited hugs that we shared today, the laughter as we reconnected, the tears of joy and the personal narratives about our kids, grandkids, partners and careers paths. We reminisced about past trips ~ plungers, seized Tribes books, close quarters, roosters, treacherous roads and so much more. This group of remarkable women, most of whom I have known for 7 years continue to inspire and push me to do better, to learn more about mentorship, to appreciate the importance of identity, to be not only a more informed educator, but to be a better global citizen. I truly believe that I am a better person when surrounded with their wisdom, their unconditional acceptance, and a shared vision of the impact that professional learning can have within society.

As per most post-Covid initiatives, our work this summer is going to shift, owing to the fact that life in the DR has changed ~ their school year has been extended and there has been a change in the Government/Ministry. As an organization we are going to return to the heart of our work which is collaborating directly with our Dominican mentors. Over the past few years (pre-Covid) our work was focused on providing a week-long conference, which grew to 300+ DR educators. Our group of DR mentors played a supportive role in the conferences, but we had yet to reach our ultimate goal of having them take the lead.

This summer, all of that changes! We are taking a much smaller team and we will work with our DR mentors in both sites (Santiago and Santo Domingo) for 3 days. The focus will be primarily listening and learning about how they navigated Covid and where they feel the necessary work needs to be. Secondly, we will work together to support them as they develop a day long conference for peers in an outreach location. Our Santiago team will be traveling to La Vega. We know that in order for there to be expansion and true implementation, it is our DR mentors who need to ultimately take the lead with their peers. We are hopeful that facilitating a conference in another district will assist them in gaining the confidence to take the lead within their own district.

As we were working through this plan, I could not help but recall years ago, when our staff at WS Fox started on a similar journey. We were extremely fortunate to have Smartboards in each classroom. In order to create the conditions for our staff to gain confidence in the great work that they were doing, we offered to host a day of professional learning for teacher candidates. Many of our staff who may have been reluctant to share with their peers, were more than willing to share with teacher candidates. It was so amazing to see their confidence blossom. That summer, many of them then stepped up and presented at the Summer Learning Conference. Years later, a considerable number of those original staff members went on to Coordinator and then Leadership positions.

Over the past 2 years, as we have connected with our DR mentors through zoom, we have been intentional in having their voice and experiences reflected in our work ~ as we evolved our strategic plan and as we developed an updated handbook for our Canadian mentors. Today we watched one of the videos from a cherished DR mentor, Leonisia. It was so heartwarming as she shared that “we (TMA) give life and colour” to the strategies that we share. If I were to share what this organization means to me, I could not craft a better description. TMA gives me life and colour!

It’s Never Just a Bike Seat

It would not be a Post a Day in the Month of May blog series without at least one article dedicated to the spring staffing season. Tonight, we had the pleasure of meeting 12 educators who are interested in joining our Sir Arthur Currie Crew.  Historically, we would welcome 12 educators on multiple nights, but with the recent “pause” on our registrations (after all a school can not exceed a 200% capacity) this staffing season we currently have only 2 positions to fill.

As per our usual “out of the box” approach candidates once again got the opportunity to select a photo and share its connection to teamwork and collaboration as their introductory question. We continue to be amazed and impressed with the divergent thinking that naturally flows from some candidates. The photo of the horses galloping along the beach continues to bring out some of the most unique responses. Tonight, it set the tone of the interview with some authentic laughter.

For our second question, we provided candidates with lead time to select and bring an artefact to share that either represents their passion for the Arts (for one of the positions) or their commitment to ensuring they are implementing the Learning for All document in their programming (for the other position). We were intrigued with a number of artefacts ~ from slide shows to awards to pictures to performances to a junggeum (Korean instrument).

One of the candidates, simply placed a bicycle seat on the table and then proceeded to connect each part of a bicycle to the essential components of a Learning For All environment.

The comfort of the seat from both a height and slope perspective as connected to creating a comfortable classroom environment
The gears as well-oiled curriculum expectations
The tires as allowing students to go at their own pace
Falling off a bike as a testament to perseverance
And finally the enjoyment of the ride.

What we love about this question is that it creates the conditions for the candidates to shine and through their personal explanations we avoid the deep dive into Edu jargon.

What are some of our most memorable interview experiences?

Come write with me….

Assessment Reflection

Some of my favourite conversations with like-minded colleagues focus on assessment. It truly is at the heart of what good educators do. I love having those hallway conversations which provide deeper meaning or spark an idea. This morning, as one of our students, who happens to have ASD, was singing his morning song, his educator shared his thorough knowledge about science topics. She went on to share that the best way to assess that science strength is through oral assessments ~ those all-important conversations. As the conversation continued, she also shared that when she is assessing his comprehension of a text, she has him draw a picture, instead of having him write out his responses. What a gift it is for that student, to have an educator who truly understands the power of differentiating assessment strategies

 

On numerous occasions this year, we have shared this graphic as a visual reminder about not only the triangulation of assessment strategies, but that when personalizing those strategies, assessment could and by rights should look different for different students. We want to ensure that we are setting our students up for success.

 

A couple of weeks ago, as two educators were planning, I happened to pop by their room. A conversation about rubrics ensued and I shared that as a part of my current reality of supporting a junior class, I was about to experiment with a single point rubric, which included a Glow and Grow column.

As an aside, I am currently using Glow/Grow as the framework when providing feedback to candidates following interviews.

I recalled that years ago, when teacher moderation was the latest professional learning, we would spend ½ a day deliberating on the wording within a four column (very wordy) rubric. I can remember lengthy discussions about whether we should use “rarely, occasionally, almost always” or “complete understanding, substantial understanding, some understanding.”   It was our best thinking at the time, but I am not sure that it hit the mark when it came to providing students meaningful feedback.

When we label ourselves as reflective, life-long learners, it comes with a commitment to always question our practice and to be open to evolving it.

I love that the educators that I get the privilege of working with are constantly questioning their practice, bravely evolving their thinking, and exploring new ways of assessing students, with the intent of helping them move along their learning continuum.

How has your assessment practice evolved?

Come write with me….

From Volunteering to an Inspired Vocation

Our Sir Arthur Currie Crew is a mosaic of talented, creative, and hard-working individuals. Each person brings something unique and special to the job that they do. Our educators are often highlighted for their outstanding practice and their bravery for making it public. Our custodial team deserves a medal for maintaining the safety and cleanliness of a building that just happens to have a Childcare Center, a Family Center and seventeen portables. One thousand students tend to create a mess or two each day. Our front office welcome team continues to amaze and impress me with how they greet families by their name, compassionately support students who are not feeling well and patiently manage the diverse needs of eighty adults.

Within our team of eighty, we have two individuals whose journey has been pretty remarkable. Both Cory and Carla started their association with us as involved and interested parent volunteers. Carla stepped up in our first year and tremendously helped with our very first graduation ceremony. It became very evident early on, that she was going to be a force to be reckoned with. She made it very clear that she was going to be involved in her children’s school and we were so appreciative of her help.

The following year, as our School Council expanded, both Carla and Cory played a lead role in helping with initiatives and publicly supporting the school with positivity and lending a hand whenever needed.

When we were able to expand the number of noon hour supervisors, they were a natural fit for the role. As trusted and well-known parents in the community, they had strong relationships with many of the students. We never had to second guess where they were placed and which classes they supported. I loved watching them interact with all our students, but more specifically with some of our students with special needs. They both have a natural, calm presence that makes all students feel safe and loved.

Fast forward to this year when staff shortages are the new reality. Once again, Carla and Cory to the rescue. In addition to their morning and afternoon Kiss/Ride duties ~ where they pleasantly greet families who drive their children to school (and provide road safety tips, every once in awhile) they now cover breaks for our Educational Assistants and on occasion have been placed in classes where ECE and EA assignments have been unfilled. I often watch in amazement as they seamlessly shift into a classroom and instinctively step in, as one of our incredible EAs steps out to have their much-needed break. Our students do not even bat an eye. They know that Carla and Cory are safe adults who know how to care for them. I love watching them interact with students of all ages on the yard, whether it is sharing a joke with our older students or playing tag with our Kindergarten friends. Carla takes her east door first aid duties very seriously as she doles out those “magical” ice packs and affixes those band-aids that do not want to stick very effectively.

On special lunch days (in between everything else that they do) they can be found distributing juice boxes and organizing the parent volunteers who arrive to hand out boxes upon boxes of pizza.

Carla’s creative juices never run dry. She is always looking for the next fundraising idea. Carla is also our strong moral compass who reminds us to share our bounty with others. Our next fundraiser will be supporting another school’s breakfast program. Cory’s connection to the kids is so strong that just prior to Ramadan he donned his apron and served up pancakes to all the grade 8 classes.

I could go on and on about their contributions to the school and I am truly thankful each day for their commitment to our students, our staff, and the broader community.

But what is most remarkable about these two individuals is that, because of their work at our school and the opportunities that they have taken when offered, both have applied and been accepted to the ECE program at Fanshawe for the fall. What started out as volunteering at their children’s school has evolved into following a passion and a career path that neither one of them ever anticipated.

Schools are magical places that inspire. Carla and Cory’s story is a wonderful reminder that both our children and our adults can be inspired to dream and to take on new challenges.

From Cooking to Costumes to Coding

A few weeks ago, I was invited to join one of our grade 7 classes as they opened their doors and invited family members and caregivers to come and see their Passion Projects. The classroom was restructured into a circle and students were sitting patiently waiting for their guests. As I ventured from desk to desk, I was not only immensely impressed with their final products, but I was amazed with their depth of understanding of their topics. My competitive side snuck to the surface as I was challenged to a game that one of the students had coded. “It’s just link Pong, Mrs. Bruyns.”   Much to my chagrin, my Pong skills are a little rusty. But the student was very proud to teach me about how to increase or decease the speed to adjust the difficulty.

Next, one of the students took me on a musical journey of his favourite classical musicians from Bach to Beethoven. There were two students whose artistic ability was beyond impressive. Fashion design was a passion of two students ~ one of whom added to their presentation by dressing the part in a decorative tunic. Then there were the chefs, who detailed each step of their culinary creations. One student highlighted their masterpiece with a detailed, aesthetically pleasing online design. Another student brought delicious samples to share with the guests.

Although my task was to be a guest, I couldn’t help but put myself into the place of an educator. I thought about the effective, meaningful assessment data that was undoubtedly gathered during both the production time ~ students were provided with 6 hours ~ and the presentations. Students beamed as they shared their final products and, in some cases, the productive struggle that they went through to arrive at their final project. Those were my favourite conversations. “Tell me what went wrong and how you fixed it.”  As students detailed their journey, I could envision comments for each of the boxes detailed within the Learning Skills/Work Habits section of the Provincial report card.

We often talk about the importance of student voice and student choice. But at times, we stop short of giving students total control of their learning. We allow them to choose between options that we have selected. We provide them scripts to share that we have crafted.

Passion projects, when thoughtfully structured, provide students with authentic choice and voice. I can’t help but wonder how impactful passion projects would be at the beginning of the school year as educators begin to build community and learn more about their students.

As an educator, have you provided your students with the opportunity to complete Passion Projects? I would love to hear about your experience.

Come write with me…