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…

Leadership Lessons from an Orchid

Although I love and appreciate receiving flowers, my track record for keeping them alive is less than ideal.  So, two years ago, when my son gifted me a beautiful white orchid for Mother’s Day, I anticipated that once the four blooms fell, it would unceremoniously be tossed over the edge of the creek which runs alongside of our house.  But instead, life got busy, and it was forgotten.  As the naked stem started to wilt, the leathery leaves seemed stronger and more determined to thrive.  So, every once in while, when I remembered, I watered it.  Then low and behold months later a new stem emerged and upon that new stem there were 8 blossoms ~ larger and fuller than the first ones.   Once again, as the blossoms fell, I anticipated that the lifespan of this flower had finally reached its peak. The second stem was starting to wilt and die.   I moved the orchid from the full sun front room into a corner in my home office ~ for what I anticipated would be its final resting place before meeting its fate over the edge of the creek.  But, just like the little engine that could, this past week another stem emerged, and, on that stem, there are multiple buds ready to bloom. I will be first to share that these new stems are not as aesthetically pleasing as the original one, they are awkward and at times the simple vase looks like its about to tip over, but the blooms are fuller, more fragrant, and heartier than the originals.

It could be said that leadership in the time of a pandemic is comparable to the life cycle of this orchid. At each new pivot, each new change in direction our sense of what should be (the known pathway ~ the original stem) has dwindled away.  We have had to go back to our roots and remember what makes us strong. Regardless of what was happening, day in and day out, keeping students healthy and happy was always at the core of our decisions. Like the roots and leaves, our commitment to safety and happiness grew stronger. With those guiding principles, we were able to grow new pathways (new stems) and those pathways produced better results (more plentiful and hearty flowers).

For our Sir Arthur Currie community, ideas such as;
~ a First Aid station at the east doors which reduced the number of students in the office at break time,
~  increasing the time that specialty educators spend with classes,
~  more controlled entrance and exit routines and
~ limiting number of students in washrooms  are just a few procedures that will continue, regardless of system COVID messaging.

One of the websites that I landed on during the composition of this post was entitled 10 Things Nobody tells you about Orchids.  Here are a few tidbits of orchid information and the accompanying leadership learning.

1)  If you think it is time to water your orchid, wait one more day.  Over the past two years, protocols, screeners, messaging changed daily (sometimes hourly).  If we have learned anything over the past couple of years, it is patience.

2) To get an orchid to re-bloom, trick it into thinking it’s in the tropics. There were several days when we did our best to create the illusion that things were “normal”.  We learned how to incorporate masks and shields into Hallowe’en costumes and classroom activities continued to be engaging and fun-filled.

3) You probably don’t need to put your orchid in a bigger pot. We learned that bigger is not always better. There were small moments of celebration that were just as meaningful as any past huge galas.

4) Your orchid will not be any happier in a special Swiss-cheese pot. We never forgot that we had what it takes to thrive through the pandemic. We did not need any special bells and whistles.  We maintained strong, compassionate relationships with our school community and in turn their support meant the world to us.

5) It’s not OK to use ice cubes on orchids.  We refrained from anything shocking or disturbing. Steady, calm, and caring were the core traits that we relied on.

And as I embrace this third stem, in anticipation of the numerous flowers that are on the verge of blossoming I cannot help but wonder what is in store for our school community in these last 2 months. We are on the verge of returning to sense of normalcy ~ but with a greater heart of gratitude, as we have missed the excitement of spring in a school for the past two years.

What lessons have you learned in the last couple of years?
Come write with me…

Spring Training 2022

As I flip the calendar to a new month, I am reminded of my past practice of crafting a post a day for the month of May and then suddenly my emotions range from excitement to responsibility to terror. Excitement, as I love the sense of accomplishment of setting a goal and reaching it; responsibility, as I have preached over the years about the power of professional reflection, the bravery of making one’s practice public and the importance of modeling the productive struggle of writing as a means of supporting our students as authors; and finally (and most predominantly) terror as I’m painfully aware that the cognitive muscles required to craft anything substantial are currently cowering in the corners of my incertitude mind.

So, here is to coaxing those muscles back into the game of personal and public reflection. I wonder if professional athletes go through the same range of emotions as they begin spring training. I have no doubt that what lies ahead in the upcoming days will be late nights staring at a blank screen ~  fearing the clock will strike midnight before the Publish button is selected,  shuffling multiple post-it notes as they clutter my desk with potential ideas, and spending time scouring through my multiple notebooks which I know are filled with asterisks beside the word “blog” in the margin as a reminder that at some point, I wanted to capture that moment and share it.

I also know, if history repeats itself, there will be a heightened sense of observation throughout my day, moments of reflection that I will undoubtedly untangle and dissect and rabbit holes of research to be discovered as I look for references, word choice and of course the “just right” visual. My social media feeds, television shows/movies and book consumption will shift to a more critical eye. My family is also certainly preparing themselves for the possibility that Sunday dinner conversations or childhood memories may trigger an idea and hence be woven into a post or two.

Time to flex those frontal and temporal lobes. Let the spring training begin. I wonder what the writer’s version of the Grapefruit/Cactus League might look like? Yes, I ventured down a rabbit-hole.

Do you have annual goals that you set for yourself? Would love to have you share.

Come write with me….

Shelving the Elf

Part of my Sunday routine is to craft our weekly Currie Crew Connection.  We use SMORE as the platform as it is visually appealing and easy to embed videos, links, and photos.   We’ve intentionally moved away from a format that outlines upcoming calendar events as school life has a way of changing between the serenity of Sunday afternoon calendar dates to the reality of the ebbs and flows of a busy week.  Instead, we’ve used the weekly Connection as a means of reflection from the past week, upcoming items of importance and frequently something interesting or thought provoking that I’ve stumbled upon during my social media scrolls.

This weekend, after much reflection and conversation with our leadership team, I found myself crafting a paragraph that I knew may provoke some feelings of disappointment, frustration, and annoyance on the part of our staff.  I chose my words carefully and honestly ~ hoping that my intent was not to frustrate but to provoke some reflection and evolution of practice.

As we creep closer to December 1, I’ve been anticipating the reveal of the Elf on a Shelf in some of our classes.  This holiday tradition is about 13 years old and hence, my own children were well beyond their believe in Santa Claus when this idea came into being.  So, although I’ve watched friends post their nightly elaborate stagings of Elves in various positions, it was not something that I took part in as a parent.

Over the past couple of years, the Elves have started to appear in some of our Kindergarten and primary classes and I’ve have had conversations, doing my best to understand the educational value of having them perched in various positions ~ but always being uncomfortable knowing that the theory behind the Elf is that he/she is watching children and reporting back to Santa Claus ~ naughty/nice.

As a school, with a highly diverse population (many of our students do not celebrate Christmas) and a mantra that we are intentionally creating a safe, inclusive, and welcoming school community, we decided to ask staff to rethink the Elf on the Shelf activity.

Having an inanimate object watching for nice/naughty behaviour seems counter to creating a safe environment.

Santa’s Elf is not inclusive for families who do not celebrate Christmas.

Especially these days, we have no idea how families are navigating the holidays and the last thing we want to do is to add to their stress.

It’s never easy to disappoint or frustrate a staff that you know has the best interests of their students at the heart of their decisions.   It would have been easy to turn a blind eye to the situation and quietly shake my head and avoid the conversation. But over the years I’ve learned that the easy path is rarely the right path.

As we continue to learn about Culturally Responsive Pedagogy and evolve as educators, we need to critically question some of our in-school holiday practices.

Here’s hoping that I’m not on Santa’s naughty list for leaving the Elf shenanigans up to our families who chose to partake in this tradition in the comfort of their own home.

Would love your thoughts on this.

Come write with me….

No WIFI…. No Worries

As many educators know, a professional learning day in September is a gift! Historically we would lament about having professional learning days in the spring, reflecting that by that time in the year, we’ve lost the opportunity to make a difference for this year’s cohort of learners (both staff and students).

This school year, we’ve been fortunate to have not one, but two professional learning days in the month of September.

Our most recent PD Day was scheduled for this past Friday.  As has been the trend recently, the focus of our school-based learning day is determined at a Ministry level, developed at the system level with the intention of delivery at the school level.  Although I understand and appreciate the hierarchy of this method, the instructional leader in me laments the days of autonomy where we could gather school-based evidence and then determine how best to support our school communities on these rare and precious full days of learning.

Kudos to the TVDSB system level teams who worked tirelessly to create informative slides and activities based on the Ministry mandates which, due to current COVID protocols, were to be presented virtually via TEAMS.

This year, as a result of our student population growth and the uniqueness of our school site, we’ve welcomed another administrator to our team. Each our Vice Principals were excited to take the lead on this day of learning, to strengthen their facilitation skills and connect more deeply with staff.  Especially with the topic of Anti-Racism and Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, creating a safe and trusting environment is paramount to going beyond the words and having staff reflect on their biases, their assumptions and subsequently their practice.

Throughout the week, as a team we discussed their presentations, they gathered their resources, created breakout groups, and were set for Friday morning.

As Friday started, text messages about WIFI started to circulate.  There had been an accident at our Central office on Thursday, which had impacted our main server. There was a back up plan to use the Guest WIFI, but as we drew closer to 8:30 am, we received the message that WIFI was not yet stable enough to have the entire system using it.

We quickly came together as a team to pivot and to create a different day of learning.  Serendipitously earlier in the week we had received a wonderful gift from our Safe Schools and Equity team ~ a staff set of Zaretta Hammond’s book, “Culturally Responsive Teaching & The Brain.”   As the boxes caught my eye, we wondered, “What would it look like if started our book study today?”.  Our original plan was to use the book throughout the year, at staff meetings, as time would permit ~ knowing full well that engaging in this type of heavy/emotional/vulnerable thinking after a full day of teaching would be a stretch.

We knew we had to follow the COVID protocols of no more than 5 educators in a small space and no more than 10 in a larger space.

Without internet or the ability for consistent messaging as a preamble, we knew that we had to select chapters that staff could dive into without having the opportunity for any formal introduction from us.

By 9:00 am, with a copy of the text and some pre-packaged snacks, small teams were dispersed throughout the school.  We provided them with 1 hour to read the chapter and then to create a visual representation of their thinking.  As an admin team we flowed from room to room to engage in conversations which ranged from, “We do this really well” to “Ah, I’m going to incorporate that into my daily routines” to “That makes so much more sense now”.

When the hour was up, staff (in their small groups) rotated from location to location to see what their colleagues had completed and to engage in even deeper conversations.  As I’ve shared on multiple times, this staff continues to raise the bar on their own level of professionalism and each time a challenge is provided, they exceed our expectations.  This activity was no exception.  From personal connections to detailed explanations to actual visual representations, we were so thrilled with how they embraced both the creation and the subsequent dialogue component of this activity.

 

 

 

 

 

As the day continued and inconsistent WIFI extended, the theme of Know Your Learner was now embedded in our work from the morning as we transitioned into the afternoon.  Staff continued to work in their grade level teams discussing assessments, planning, and most importantly specific students.

Staff were excited to share their own personal resources on the topic and throughout the day,

there was a resounding thankfulness for the opportunity to talk, face to face with

colleagues about a topic that is relevant, important, and so meaningful.

This past year there’s been lots of memes and disparaging comments about “pivoting” in education. I even had a community member comment on social media, wondering if my middle name was Pivot…LOL.

But as an admin team, when we finally had a change to connect at the end of the day on Friday, we unanimously agreed that this pivot was priceless!

In the past year have you had any pivots that you’d deem as priceless?
Come write with me…

 

Back to the Beginning

This morning as I proudly donned my new SAC Crew T-shirt, it dawned on me that I was about to begin my 34th year as an educator with TVDSB and our 5th year as the Sir Arthur Currie School Community.   With all honesty, I’ll share that I was nervous about this morning.  With all of last week’s registrations and the multiple requests to change learning models, I was certain that the class lists that we finally generated on Friday afternoon were already “old news”.   We also knew that with our significant increase in population, we were about to welcome close to 900 students and their families and the morning drop off was going to be a challenge ~ to say the least.

And yet, the day began with a beautiful sunrise and no rain in site. My morning drive was accentuated with fun upbeat sounds of the ‘70s and our Currie Crew looked fabulous in our matching t-shirts.

There was a positive, fun buzz in the building as staff arrived early to get a parking spot….lol and to put the final touches on their classroom environments.

As families started to arrive at 8:30 am, long lines formed at each grade level table and staff started to greet families, distribute name tags and direct students to their home room educators.  Students were so happy to see each other and their educators.  As we approached 9:20 am, classes started to make their way inside and the first day of learning happened.   Excitement ensued throughout the day (not to mention a nasty bee sting) and by 4:00 pm, bus #7 safely pulled out of the parking and the day was done.

But not for me ~ by 4:25 pm, I was pulling into the Althouse College parking lot and making my way to room 1052 to meet my group of MTM students.   As we started with our introductions (yes, with photos…smile) I shared that exactly 36 years ago, I too was experiencing my very first day as a teacher candidate at Althouse College.  As I looked into the faces of these young, excited and somewhat nervous individuals, I couldn’t help but think, “Oh my goodness, if they only knew the amazing path that they are about to begin to embark upon!”   36 years ago, I would never have imagined that I’d be facilitating a class at Althouse 🙂

My hope is that these teacher candidates get the opportunity to work with a team like the SAC Crew ~ a team of educators who rise to any challenge, who put their students’ needs before their own and at the end of the day (even a day like today) are still buzzing with energy and smiles.

I’m excited to see what year 34, day 2 brings.

How was your first day?

Come write with me…..

215

The number is staggering. A grave with 215 bodies of Indigenous children. I’m numb with outrage at the discovery. Yet, not naïve to think that this is but a fraction of the over 4000 deaths of children while under the “care” of the residential school system. What other graves have yet to be discovered? What other wounds will be reopened, without a proper plan for lasting healing?  This is a history that was never taught to me as a child, but one that I learned in adulthood.  I’m thankful for the teachings of Ray John Jr., Starr McGahey-Albert and Robyn Michaud, who over the years have provided me with a glimpse into the lives of our Indigenous students and more importantly a historical perspective about parents and grandparents and their mistrust of the school system.  I used to think that “I got it”.  I worked in communities where parents had a bad experience with school and therefore projected those worries and concerns on their own children.  We needed to work creatively with many families to get them to trust us and to believe that we had their child’s best interests at heart.

But today I realized that “I’ll never get it”.  I will never be able to comprehend the pain, suffering and mistrust of a “school” system that not only failed our Indigenous families, but stripped them of a lifetime with their children.  It not only took their children with the intent of imparting a culture so juxtaposed to their own, but it also took the lives of their children.

How dare those institutions be referred to as “schools”.

Residential schools started in 1828 and continued into the 1990s. And in the midst of their tenure, the Education Act came into law in 1870, with a purpose of a “strong public education system is the foundation of a prosperous, caring and civil society” I choke on those words now. Is this how a caring and civil society knowingly treats children?

Social media was filled with posts and pictures today, but I want to end this blog post with the Twitter feed from Tracy Chisholm.  Tracy works at a school in Lambeth, where they welcome students from Standing Stone school for grades 7 and 8 as the school is currently a JK-6 school. She is a kind, caring and compassionate educator and I have no doubt that her tears continued to flow throughout the day as she supported her students.

In the midst of this tragic discovery, I’m thankful for educators like Tracy, who cry.  Because tears need to flow!