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.



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?

Come write with me….

An Offer I Couldn’t Refuse

Confession Time ~ I have never seen The Godfather or any of the sequels.  I was never a Marlon Brando fan, and the storyline has yet to appeal to me. I am wondering if maybe I didn’t want to watch a movie where at some point in the script it called for a horse’s head to be left in a bed as a symbol of “meaning business”.  I have certainly enjoyed the work of the other actors; Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Robert Di Niro, and James Caan ~ but not enough to draw me to this movie.

I do, of course, know a bit about the story line and have enjoyed many of the cinematic and cultural references in other movies.  Such as when Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) is trying to convince Kathleen (Meg Ryan) to fight to save her independent bookstore from big bad box store ~ Fox Books in You’ve Got Mail.  I love her reaction, “What is it with men and The Godfather?” And of course, throughout popular culture there have been several occasions for actors to recite the ever recognizable, “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse”

So, it was with some trepidation, that I landed on the Paramount + limited series, “The Offer”, which tells the story of the making of The Godfather.  I was immediately drawn in the world of the early 70’s from the humble home of the writer Mario Puzo to the lush mansions and landscapes of Hollywood.  The story is told from the lens of the producer Al Ruddy (Canadian born) and chronicles the setbacks and successes of making a mafia film in New York City.  Interestingly enough, Ruddy is still alive. So, unlike some mockumentaries, his perspective (or at least how he remembers things) is authentic ~ although I would imagine it is sprinkled with creative license similar to the spices sprinkled on the Italian food which serves as a predominant theme throughout both the filming and the final product.  From the Mafia Bosses to the Studio Bosses to the Mayor New York to the most recognizable entertainer of the era, the underbelly of the system and the connective tissue of who owes who, who is sleeping with whom and who owns who is brilliantly reflected.

The personal and professional sacrifices of many of the main characters, leave the viewer on the edge of their seats at the end of each episode.  I also love how the women are depicted.  It is evident that Ruddy, although misguided and egocentric, at times, knows the power of a true partnership.

With three more episodes to go, I am excited to learn more about this journey from best selling book to box office blockbuster.

And yes, I am now going to find some uninterrupted time to watch The Godfather.  Although, I cannot promise that I will watch all three installments.

In knowing that time is a precious commodity, how do you decide what to watch, read, listen to?  Whose recommendations are most credible?  Do you find value in knowing the backstory of the artist, the author or the actor?

Come write with me….

A Stitch in Time…

I am not sure if others can relate, but I tend to look at the world differently on weekends than I do during the constant busyness of the weekdays. If I must run errands after a long day at work, I find my patience is rarely at its maximum capacity ~ some might say, I am downright impatient.  I look for the shortest line in the grocery store or zip through the self check-out to expediate my shopping spree. I take the most direct route home, pull into the driveway, and then finally relax.

Today, which brings the gift of being day 1 of a 3-day weekend, I found myself leisurely venturing to the south end of the city to pick up a couple of Canadian flags for the school. The cost to send them via Fed-Ex almost matched the cost of the flags themselves (and contrary to popular belief school boards, like any other organization, do their best to be fiscally responsible) so, I decided to pick them up myself and save the cost of delivery. If the need for the flags had been immediate, I would have asked my son, who lives in that end of the city to pick them up ~ but alas, I embraced today’s drive.

I arrived at about 9:50 am, forgetting that the Flag Shop did not open until 10:00 am. It was a sunny morning, so 10 minutes of waiting in the sunshine was not a bother at all. At 9:55 am, the store owner arrived and unlocked the front door ~ following directly behind him was another early morning customer. My initial intent was to spend merely minutes in the story by showing the purchase order number, picking up the flags and continuing on my way. But the inquisitive woman who entered first peppered the store owner with a series of questions. Although not eavesdropping, within a small store, it is hard to not hear the intense conversation. The store owner was so patient, so kind and so knowledgeable. As I waited, viewing the various flags and flag related products, I found myself going back to a childhood memory of when I spent time at my aunt and uncle’s cottage in Grand Bend. Each morning, like clockwork, my Uncle Bill would raise the Canadian flag up the large flagpole that was on the edge of their property, overlooking Lake Huron. I remember loving those mornings when I was the one selected to hold the flag as he connected the grommets and then watch in awe as it billowed in the wind ~ flying proudly with each tug of the ropes. At sunset, each night, the routine was reversed. He taught me how to fold it, so that it never touched the ground. I took those teachings into my youth as a Brownie and Girl Guide as we learned about the importance of acknowledging and recognizing the significant of flags.

As the owner finished his conversation with the first customer, I found myself smiling as he said, “One day I’m going to get a chair and place it on that side of the cash register.”  He then proceeded to say, “Are you sitting down? The cost is $299”. She smiled and finished her purchase.

With the same thoughtful customer service that he had provided her, he turned to me and said, “Now, how can I help make your day brighter? What a wonderful entry point into a conversation. This passionate store owner could teach a course in Customer Service 101.  I wonder who we can rephrase our morning greetings in a school setting.

As we proceeded with our interaction, he methodically found the order and produced two brand new Canadian flags. As I was waiting, I noticed Friendship pins which intertwine the Canadian flag with the flag of another country. I could not help but wonder if that would make a wonderful gift for our Dominican Mentors when we head down there in July. So, I ordered 25.

In my closing remarks, I mentioned that one of these new flags will be raised first thing on Tuesday morning as our current one (as a result of the constant high winds at our school) was tattered. Without missing a beat, the owner, shared that for $12.00 he could repair the frayed one. There was another exchange about the school board and fiscal responsibility and we both had a good laugh. As I gathered my package and started to make my way towards the door, he declared, “A stitch in time….” to which I replied, “Will save you a dime.”  I had heard the phrase before but  could not actually remember the exact wording. It was not until I got home and researched it (remember what I shared at the beginning of the month about my writing taking me down rabbit holes) that I was reminded that the actual phrase is, “A stitch in time saves you nine” which refers to getting tasks completed in a timely manner.

Today was a great reminder that getting tasks completed in a timely manner, sometimes means you might miss out on those extra “nine”.  I rarely use this platform for promotion, but today is an exception.  I highly recommend The Flag Shop on Exeter ~ not only for the products but for the experience of spending time with owner.

When have you experienced exceptional customer service?

Come write with me…

Dare to Dream

As another busy day drew to a close, with my belongings slung over my shoulder, I made my way through the front doors of the school as the evening sunlight immediately warmed my face. For a brief moment, I closed my eyes and drew in a deep, cleansing breath.  Suddenly, a neighbour’s car slowly approached their driveway with their windows down and sunroof open; blaring from their sound system was, Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwoʻole’s version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and I could not help but think, “How perfect.”

We had just finished our Kindergarten Open House and welcomed incoming students and their families. For the past two years, COVID restrictions had forced us to shift these invitations to a virtual format, which although provided some information could never compare to an actual visit to the school. For many of our families, this was their first time in the school, and they were wide-eyed and so enthusiastic as they made their way to the Family Center/Childcare table, visited our Speech and Language Pathologist, and met members of our School Council.

This year’s Kindergarten team decided to structure the Open House tour based on the Four Frames of the Kindergarten Communication of Learning Document. Each stop along the tour represented examples of Belonging and Contributing, Self-Regulation and Well-Being, Demonstrating Literacy and Mathematics Behaviours, and Problem Solving and Innovating.

Incoming students and their family members had the opportunity to identify their name and then colour it for their book bag for next year, as they wandered through the LLC. In the classrooms, families had the opportunity to see early literacy and numeracy activities and complete them with their children. Students were encouraged to print their name on one side of a wooden circle and families printed a wish for their child on the other side. The laughter and interaction were amazing to witness. In the hallway we had our “Newest Coyote” photo booth set up, so families could capture this visit. It also served as an effective way for the Kindergarten team to capture pictures and associated names as we look towards class placement meetings this week.

The other parts of the tour included a snack and an opportunity to create a coyote headband. As the weather beautifully cooperated families were able to visit the Forest of Learning and see how programming in that location supports Problem Solving and Innovating. I had to giggle when I overhead an older sibling share, “Now Charlotte, when you hear Mrs. M. blow the whistle, you need to get to the front of the forest as fast as you can and line up along this fence.”  Oh, the joys of having older siblings who have already experienced the fantastic Kindergarten program share their favourite memories.

This year, the sibling piece will be integral and one that we will explore deeply to ensure the best possible transition for our students, as the only ones who will be welcomed to our program will be younger siblings of current students. With the Board of Trustee motion last fall, which addressed our over significant crowding by transporting any new families to Knollwood, we have the pleasure of knowing all our incoming K1’s families. That was very evident tonight as older siblings proudly took the lead on the tour and, with great smiles, introduced their younger siblings to our team members. As our school is going into its sixth year, for many of these wee ones, we recall when they were first born. We watched them graduate from parents’ arms, to strollers, to toddling on the tarmac and now ready to take on their first year of school.

Following our raffle draws, we invited our newest Coyotes to join our Kindergarten team for a group photo. We ended the Open House with a cheer for the class of 2022-2023. I hope that tonight’s picture will somehow be safely stored and then shared in June 2031, as this group of amazing children enter the gym once again, but this time as Grade 8 graduates.

Oh, to be able to get inside the minds of these newest Coyotes. They have heard stories from their siblings, their parents are now pros, as they have been through this routine at least once before and so many of them seem already to start school. We even had some tears as children did not want to leave last night.

Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true

May we create a school experience for them where the skies are blue (sometimes that shade of blue may vary) and we foster such confidence that they dare to dream big dreams!

What is most important as we welcome our newest students?

Come write with me….

Act 3 ~ The Ripple Effect

Just after nine, on the day after the Switch, a very confident grade 2 student marched into our welcome center (main office) and handed me a handmade envelope.   She proudly stated, “I want to be principal for a day” and Miss Carla ~ one of our amazing Student support “angels” ~ said that I needed to write you a letter.  I immediately opened the envelope, which exposed a very neatly, well constructed persuasive letter.  I had to giggle when, within the body of the letter, she assured me that the morning announcement about late busses and checking the hallway before finally completing attendance would continue to be completed during her time in the position. For those of us navigating school buses, we know too well that, not unlike the rest of the employee groups that we support (teachers, EAs, ECEs, Noon Hour supervisors and custodians) there is a shortage of bus drivers.  Each morning, after we check TVARRIS for staff absences, we check the BP Delay App to figure out which busses will be late and which students will be with us until after 4 pm each night as the drivers complete 2 runs.   I think in the last 5 months, we have managed to have only a handful of evenings when all buses were there at 3:30 pm to take our student home. But I digress…. lol

As I read her assurance about the announcement, I thought, “It’s really Ms. Cleaver ~ our attendance secretary’s job that she wants.”   The author went on to assure me that she is very smart, because she knows that 100 divided by 100 = 1 and that outdoor routines about sunscreen and warm clothing would be addressed, as needed.  But it was her final closing sentence that hooked me.  “I know if an 8th grader can be principal, so can I”.    Such confidence, such passion, and such drive!  My wish for her is that she never loses those attributes.

As we are in the throws of EQAO assessments, I could not help but think, “Man oh man, here is a level 4 persuasive letter and this wee one is only in grade 2.  I am so excited to see what her future holds.   This is an example of when students have an authentic reason for communicating their rationale, they meet/exceed the criteria.

Needless to say, we’re definitely going to create the opportunity for her to use the PA system and make one of those morning announcements about the bus late/attendance/hallway checks.

As the day proceeded, in each class that I visited, I was peppered with questions about the Switch.  Students were interested in how Kareem was selected if they could “apply” and how I did on my math test.  In one class, I shared that I got 92% and I was disappointed that I used the wrong formula on one question.  One astute, reflective grade six student piped up and said, “Mrs. Bruyns, we learn from our mistakes. I bet next time you will remember to use the right formula”.

My heart sings when I hear students, without prompting and with absolutely no agenda, share those lessons that we have been teaching them.  Again ~ an authenticity at its very best!

The day ended with a voice message from a wonderful colleague who called and requested to speak with Principal Kareem.

I popped up to excuse him from class and shared that he had a call!  As we made our way to my office, we chatted about the math test (he had to complete his during first nutrition break). I loved hearing his thinking as he worked through some of the questions, and we compared our strategies for tackling them. Another reminder about the importance of educators completing the assignments, the tests, the activities prior to giving them to students.  Think about the rich conversations/feedback/assessment gems that would emerge during those chats.

When we arrived at my office, we used Teams and reached out to Principal Purvis via video call and the two of them chatted about an issue with two students.  Principal Purvis wanted his input.  Kareem methodically asked good questions before sharing his direction.  The two of them went on to talk about Kareem’s future aspirations.   We both smiled, as he shared that he is thinking about going into Real Estate.  Thanks to Principal Purvis for taking the time to reach out and add to the authenticity of Kareem’s day as principal.  Just one of the reasons that I adore and respect him!

What started out as an incidental conversation 3 years ago has led to an amazing ripple effect.  It has created connections, inspired new dreams, and reinforced pedagogical strategies in the most authentic way.

Thanks to all my readers who have shared in this “Principal for a Day” three act narrative!  Your encouragement has given me the strength and confidence to continue my Post a Day for the Month of May goal.

Would love to hear some authentic writing opportunities that you have provided for students.

Come write with me….

Day 18 ~ Act 2 ~ Student for a Day!

Act 2

Yesterday I crafted and shared Act 1 which represented the background story to “Principal for a Day”. Act 2 shifts the action from the office to the classroom. While Kareem took on my role and responsibilities as the principal, the other half of the promise was that I would take on his role as a grade 8 student. Step one was to ensure that the teacher, Sarah Moore was onboard with having me sit in on her class for the first half of the day. Knowing how excited Kareem was about this opportunity, she was all in! Adding to the flavour of this tale, one needs to appreciate that Sarah is a former student of mine. In the late 90s, she was member of my grade 5 class at M.B. McEachren. We have often reflected on how our paths have intersected. Daily, I get to watch in pure pride as she continues to evolve as a masterful educator.

Back to the story…

Just as Kareem learned about his day, I needed to ensure that I knew what was expected of me. Much to my chagrin, I discovered that I was starting my day by writing a math test focusing on metric conversions, surface area and volume. I will confess I spent time studying last night. I did not want to embarrass myself…smile. Years later I am still wondering when I will ever use deca/decimeters as a unit of measurement.  But I digress. Next on my list of things to do ~ figure out appropriate attire and find a backpack, knowing that showing up with my laptop bag was not going to cut it. As the first bell of the morning echoed in the halls, I slung my backpack on my shoulder and headed outside to join my grade eight peers. I was actually nervous that I would be standing there alone. A feeling that may be all too familiar for students. But our wonderful students came to my rescue. “Are you ready for the math test, Mrs. Bruyns? Do you have any questions?”  I admitted that I was worried about recalling the order for the metric conversions. They were quick to share the pneumonic, “King Henry Died by Drinking Chocolate Milk.”   As I made my way up the stairs, they were kind enough to show me where to sit and to help me secure a calculator. I listened intently as Sarah went through the test questions. I love that the first question was, “How are you feeling? How did you prepare?”   Then for the next hour I diligently went through each question, ensuring that I included each necessary step and the correct units. As other students finished before me and submitted their test to the teacher, I could once again feel some anxiety creeping in. I cannot help but wonder if that is a normal reaction for a number of students and how can we alleviate those emotions. As I completed my test and submitted it, I was able to take out a book and sit there quietly and read. Oh, my goodness ~ to read a book for pleasure in the light of day!!! Once the math tests were all submitted it was on to Literacy. A soft entry point of “This or That” which included justification for a selection of visuals, was a perfect primer for tackling a persuasive thesis. It did not take long for me to break my silence and engage in conversation with the group of students surrounding me. That depth of conversation was an authentic reminder about the importance of providing students with talk time to enrich and enhance their eventual writing. Their reflections and rationale were so well developed and passionate, for a moment it felt as if I was having a conversation with adult peers and not student “peers”.  I was actually disappointed when the bell rang, and it was time to head outside for the first nutrition break.  As we made our way to the yard, there was lots of chatter about the test. I found myself wondering how I did and when I would get my results. Once again, I found myself reflecting on current assessment practices and the importance of timely feedback to students. Sarah, being an effective and responsive educator, had the tests marked by the end of the day. I was thrilled with my 92%. I had used the incorrect formula within one of the questions, so I knew exactly what to do, to correct it.

By the middle of the day, Kareem and I shifted back to our traditional roles as I had some PDT and parent meetings to attend.

Although today’s “Freaky Friday” switch was initiated and implemented to grant a student’s long-awaited wish, it became clear that it was I who was given a true gift today. To be able to experience school through the eyes of a student provides us with insights and reflections that cannot be garnered any other way.

My wish for each educator who is reading this post is to find a way to gain an authentic lens into what it looks like, feels like to be a student in their class. Then share your reflections!

Come write with me….

Principal for a Day

Let me set the stage:

Act 1 ~ One day, three years ago, when Kareem was in grade 5, he engaged me in a conversation about wanting to be “Principal For a Day”. He was intrigued with the role and wanted to be in charge. He talked about promoting his favourite teacher and extending outdoor nutrition break times for himself and his peers. My response was, “As soon as you are as tall as me, you can be Principal for a Day.”  Throughout the next 2 years, we revisited that conversation numerous times and each exchange included new predictions about the role of the principal and how I spend my days. He was always so respectful, polite, and playful. To this day, I remember when he joined us in 2017, the year we opened. His family had been traveling overseas and they arrived the second week of school. I recall accompanying him and his mom to the door of his classroom. He seemed apprehensive and a bit nervous, but by the end of the day, when I checked in, he had already made some friends and was looking forward to day two. Throughout his time at our school, he was always the first to volunteer to help when needed, he is the type of learner who always acknowledges adults when he sees them in the hallway, on the stairs or on the yard. He is quick to share what he is doing in class as I pop in for a visit. He is one of those students whose absence next year will be significantly felt.

Fast forward to September 2021. Within weeks of being back to school, Kareem found me on the yard, stood back-to-back and low and behold he had considerably sprouted in height. Now, standing at 6 feet tall, he had indeed met the criteria of being as tall (or in this case, taller) as me and therefore I needed to make good on my promise.

Well, today was the day. Yesterday we met and reviewed what our respective mornings were going to look like. You see, the other half of the deal was that I would be a grade 8 student ~ we were switching roles! When I shared what today was going to look like, his former grade 5 teacher found me in the hall and remembered that initial exchange 3 years ago.

Here was his schedule:

8:30 ~ meet with the leadership team to ensure that all assignments were covered
8:45 ~ roam and say hi to staff/students on yard
8:55 ~ be ready to greet primary students at the top of the South Stairwell
9:00 – 9:45 ~ visit classes, collect artefacts for display case
9:45 ~ Read Aloud with K class
10:15 ~ ELITE (Early Literacy Intervention  Team Effort) reading group ~ 3 grade one students
10:40 – 11:40 on the yard for all three outdoor breaks.

At noon, we needed to switch back to our regular roles as he needed to help with Track and Field, and I needed to attend some PDT meetings.

My schedule:

8:45 am ~ wait outside with the grade 8s until the bell rang at 9:00
9:00 ~ Math test (Surface area, volume, metric conversions)
10 ~ Literacy class ~ Persuasive paragraph with the prompt, “Should Sam be granted full custody of Lucy?” based on the movie, “Sam, I am”.
10:40 ~ on the yard with the students, as a student


The staff were amazing and embraced him as a team member. He was provided with a walkie-talkie and used it to send positive messages to the staff and to find a student on the yard who needed to make his way to the office for a pick-up. He was escorted to the staff room where he got a coffee (not sure he really consumed it ~ when I got back to my office, there was water in his mug). He used the PA system to share that it was going to be an outdoor nutrition break and for students to use, “Care, Caution, Common Sense and Kindness” while on the yard. He was provided with some e-purchasing paper copies which he checked to ensure that there were appropriate consumables listed. He did a beautiful job with the Read Aloud ~ we had talked about some strategies to use, and he took those strategies and personalized them. My ELITE group loved spending time with him. I understand that a number of staff inquired about raises, days off, crazy purchases and he handled all of them with professionalism and a sense of humour.

When we debriefed at the end of the day, I inquired as to what he enjoyed the most. With enthusiasm and passion, hands down it was the Read Aloud. He talked about how surprised he was with their responses and how good they were at predicting the morale of the story.

He was also pleasantly surprised that during nutrition break, although he went looking for it, there were no issues on the yard. “Everyone was playing so nicely.”  In classic Kareem style, he did not let the day end without revisiting his desire to promote his favourite teacher ~ who just happened to be the same Grade 5 teacher who inspired him 3 years ago.

Our days are crazy busy. It is easy to lose ourselves in endless emails. As I craft this blog, I know that I have a number of emails to get to before calling it day. It is easy to lose ourselves in planning. I know that timetables are weighing heavy on my mind. It is easy to lose ourselves in reports. I know that HR is awaiting a report for a former educator. It is easy to lose ourselves in meetings. I know how necessary they are to support student learning.

Today was a tangible reminder to find ourselves in what is most important ~ relationships with our students, creating memories and following through on promises.

Stay tuned for Act 2….