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Darren Danyluk


Jan 22, 2021 Message to Members

“… doctors and lawyers and such”

My youngest daughter had a favourite song when she was very little, and this song experienced a ‘victory lap’ this week. Back then – after she’d been strapped into her car seat and I’d taken the helm – she would call out from behind me, “Daddy, play roch, chok, ow!” Now that was not the title of the song, but she can be forgiven for mispronouncing the lyric – she was three, and an elocution lesson for the singer wouldn’t have hurt! The lyric was the opening of a song, with a lead vocal that counted in the band, “…one, two, three, ow!”  Fifteen years later, my daughter and her classmates tossed their caps into the June air to the very same count of three. At that crescendo, with brains in their heads and feet in their shoes, they moved on to whatever would be next for them. In memory, our students are frozen in time and perpetually 18 years old. But, on occasion, we experience a blast from the past when paths cross once again.

Over the Winter break, a colleague had to deal with a challenging health concern. She spent  time with specialists, undergoing tests and receiving diagnoses. She had to spend time in a hospital, meeting with her health care providers (and was grateful for the welcome care she received). During one of the waiting periods in the hospital, she found herself chatting with the senior resident physician. As they talked, he discovered she was a school Principal, and she discovered that he had grown up in her school community. As you may expect, they soon realized they had met before … many years before when he was a child in her elementary school.

I expect that we can all relate, having caught up with our former students years after the cap toss. Sometimes we read about them in the media, learning that they are representing Canada at the Olympics. Or, we hear their name during a livefeed event with NASA. Or, we see their credit at the end of a Pixar reel. Or, they pick us up hitchhiking because we ran out of gas. Or, we just see them in our community with their family, living the life they have built. However it happens – and whatever time has unfolded for them – these moments touch us because we invested. As leaders in our school communities, we are privileged with the daily opportunity to invest in the lives of many young people. The investments we make during a global pandemic may be more crucial and more challenging than ever before.

This week saw the inauguration of Joe Biden, the 46th President of the United States, and a number of musical performers were part of the day’s celebrations. One band was invited, after twenty-two years, to reunite for the event and perform a Biden family favourite that is significantly connected to their own personal struggles, and to the bruising road to the White House. It turns out that the song is a favourite of my daughter, too. You Only Get What You Give by the New Radicals – a ballad that begins with that memorable countdown – offers some apt words for our times:

“The whole damn world could fall apart

You’ll be okay, follow your heart

You’re in harm’s way, I’m right behind

 …

What’s real can’t die

You only get what you give”

The people we are investing in today will grow up, push on, and move away. It is rewarding to know that society will reap the dividends of our investments when they become nurses, electricians, actors or accountants … and maybe even cowboys.

Darren Danyluk


Jan 8, 2021 Message to Members

Resolute

Happy New Year!  A new year, but we’re still in the same times. I saw a meme this week that summed it up well for me – maybe you saw it too: a couple of clowns, the Joker and Pennywise, illustrating the transition from 2020 to 2021. The only traditional image of Baby New Year I could find was wearing a mask. Each image fitting, yet not uplifting.

Despite this, I resolved to open this calendar year with an optimistic outlook.  And, of course, January is the season for resolutions.

Then Wednesday happened.

For now, I need to pack that away – I still need time to process and reconcile the images, the tragedy, and the profound failure of leadership with my faith in humanity, lest my resolve becomes just another statistic. One source reports 43% of those who set resolutions expect to give up on them by February.

Resolve: isn’t that what school leaders spend the bulk of days doing, working toward a resolution of some description, sorting through issues and problem-solving?  As for me, I feel confident with the verb… but I may need some help with the noun.

Like so many, I have entered many new years with a list of promises to myself, habits I need to stop, and things I need to begin. I typically have not shared these aloud. If I failed to follow through, I didn’t have to explain or justify the outcome to anyone – who would know? I have been a statistician’s poster boy in this regard, with one exception.

Some time ago, to help meet a goal, I adopted an app into which I feed data each day. Doesn’t really matter what the data is; the point is that I feel compelled to enter the data now, largely to keep my streak. I hesitate to admit the number of days in a row I have entered my data, and my wife would attest to the irrational timing of my dutiful record-keeping. It is not that I derive any satisfaction from the ritual. It is more a yoke I am saddled with, not allowing myself to put it down after all the time and effort I’ve invested!

My daughter has a similar habit, but in her case it is a Snapchat streak she is compelled to preserve. To preserve her streak, she and a friend commit to exchange at least one ‘snap’ each day. I tease her about the lengths she goes to in order to preserve this streak, blind to the irony.  She is compulsive; I am dedicated.

Declaring a commitment and seeking renewal should not be a source of stress, punishment, compulsion, or shame. There must be a more forgiving approach.

My wife, too, has an app.  She is not addicted to data entry or a streak, but rather she takes time every day to feed upon inspiration – and one morning last week, I eavesdropped. In paraphrase, I heard intention is more compassionate than resolution.  If I intend to eat more healthy in the new year, that bag of Hawkins cheezies is not a failure or a break in my streak; I can view it with less judgement. I need not give up in defeat because each day presents me with a new opportunity to live with my intention.

As fate would have it, I happened to engage in a conversation with a new Vice-Principal shortly afterward. She declared that Principals and Vice-Principals deserve to eat lunch, and she intended to do so each day. She happened to share this with me at two o’clock in the afternoon, just as she was about to eat her meal. I hope that she managed to do so without interruption. But if she were not successful that day nor the next, this will not have broken her resolve because her intention is far more than the specific goal she has set. She intends to value herself and model this for her colleagues, fostering an environment of care and support.

As this first week of 2021 comes to a close, I will think on leaders like her who populate all our schools; and I will find my faith somewhat restored.

Darren Danyluk


Dec 11, 2020 Message to Members

In your own words…

This is my last eNews entry for 2020.  I started to write this week’s message several times and trashed each draft. Each time, my words felt trite and hollow. Wishing everyone ‘Happy Holidays’ or ‘Best of the Season’ feels a little flat in the week when restrictions for gathering have been extended well into the new year.

The extension of the Order has deflated many this week. In the words of one of our members: My light is extinguished. I went home and unplugged all my lights.

 I do not believe that a simple wish for happy holidays offers enough hope. We need inspiration.

I have shared before that my wife inspired me to get more active although I’m not an athlete.  I’ve taken up some running and have been a regular at a local gym. And when I’m running or exercising, I find myself looking forward to the end. The best part of the run or the workout is when it is over!

At the beginning, I visualize the end and parcel out my energy to get me there. I pace. I keep my mind focused. I will notice the gripe from my knee or ankle, but I pack it away to attend to when I’m done. You steel your mind, and you keep going.

Yet when I’m nearing the end, as I approach the last kilometre or count down the remaining minutes, the tank feels empty. That painful knee is harder to ignore; fatigue is setting in; my confidence is lagging, and I feel doubt. I find the last stretch to be the hardest part, and I want to stop … but I don’t. And I have my wife to thank for that.

In 2016, we drove across the country to visit family in Newfoundland. On the way, my wife ran the equivalent of a marathon in each province. In two weeks, as we drove, she ran eight marathons. A number of these were back-to-back: you do the math. Her inspiration? A modest boy named Terry. And in this week – at a time when we may be just hanging on and crossing the days off the calendar – a Kamloops Principal shared that his school community has adopted a ‘Terry Fox mindset’, running from one telephone pole to the next, one at a time.

Let me join his words to your own words, in a chorus of inspiration:

may have been the first school this year, but we will not be the last … All in all we did okay.

… reach out and let us know how we can be of service.

I am quite blessed to be here.

Our district has been fabulous!

So many folks have reached out, and I certainly do not feel alone!

It’s not a picnic, but I feel solid through it … good teamwork here.

It’s been a stressful few days, but I know that support is a phone call away.

… the staff has been tremendous as well.

I am happy to report that we are all hangin’ in, still smiling and still coming together as a team.

The District team was awesome as was my entire community.

I can’t begin to tell you how supported I feel. I’m so lucky.

… it means a lot that we work with a group of supportive, caring people.

… in the midst of all this … generally I’m staying positive.

I am proud to be a Principal …

Everyone involved has been absolutely amazing through this.

… life here goes on, embracing the joy of getting together.

… we are weathering the storm this week recognizing only time will move us forward.

I am hopeful this pandemic will pass soon.

 

Come 2021, schools will welcome back students and begin once more. I trust we will continue to find our inspiration in each other.

I will close with one final quote to bookend this entry with the same voice I shared at the beginning: I plugged the tree back in tonight … We will get through this Thing!

I wish you peace in the last days of 2020.

Keep well and safe.

Darren Danyluk


Dec 4, 2020 Message to Members

Pinch, Punch, First of the Month

I would hear these words on the first morning of each month, delivered in concert with a mild pinch and an affectionate punch from my wife. Up until I met her, I’d never heard this phrase before. Given she hails from Newfoundland, I’ve chalked it up to a ‘Maritime thing’. In any event, for the last twenty-five years, the first day of each month has started this way for me.

My wife and I are apart for the time being: I’m in Vancouver while she has remained home, working in a school. So, when the first day of the final month of 2020 arrived this week, she was not there to signify it for me. That isn’t to say December didn’t start with significance: as it unfolded, the day proved to be remarkable.

On this first day of December, it was said to be ‘Giving Tuesday’, a day of generosity to follow the indulgent consumerism of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. I have not read any statistics, but I do marvel at our capacity for generosity in these times.

On this first day of December, we remembered the courage of Rosa Parks, who suffered threat and persecution in the pursuit of justice sixty-five years ago. And as December began, we were reminded by current events and lesson plans that we still have much work ahead to heed the Calls to Action.

On this first day of December, some parents participated in a demonstration to bring attention to their concerns for school safety. As the month began, both Facebook and the BC Centre for Disease Control shared information with the public, leaving families to choose their trusted source.

On this first day of December, a great number of aspiring teachers are uncertain of their new year. For reasons we can understand, practical placements in BC schools are challenging. At a time when our system needs new teachers to fill vacancies, the preparation of the next generation is uncertain.

On this first day of December, my green stickies numbered 385, which is the same number of messages I’ve sent to school Principals, who are providing leadership through notice of a potential exposure. On this day – for the first time – it was my message that broke this news of an exposure to a Principal.

And in my family, on this first day of December, we turned on the lights.

We are a family that doesn’t unbox Christmas until school is out. Other than the advent calendar, no bells, bows, boughs, or ribbons deck our halls until well into December. Some years, we haven’t rolled out the season until December 22nd.

I mentioned that my wife is not with me in Vancouver, yet I do have a roommate: my eldest daughter. Everywhere in our neighbourhood, the glow of Christmas lights has filled the night for weeks, prompting her to remark that “Either we’re a weird family that waits too long, or everyone around us started early.” Although we may be a strange family, I believe her analysis is astute. And so on this first day of December, we added to the glow.

This holiday season, people need the light – and what it signifies for them – a little sooner than usual. Throughout the autumn, March felt long ago and December seemed distant. Now here it is, with all it signifies. And not a moment too soon.

Darren Danyluk


Nov 27, 2020 Message to Members

Alphabet Soup

Peter Parker’s uncle knew it:  he knew the importance of the ‘r’ word. Fans milling at COMICON might debate just when – or if – Uncle Ben counselled young Spiderman that “with great power comes great responsibility.”  But they would accept that in a simple comic book, Stan Lee touched upon a critical truth of human experience. And there is little which is more powerful – and requires more accountability – than language.

Let’s start with another ‘r’ word. Or let’s not, because it’s a ‘p’ word. It’s a pejorative: ‘a word or phrase which has negative connotations or that is intended to belittle or disparage’ (Merriam-Webster). In many cases, as Google instructs, pejoratives have original context. There may have been a time in our history and our learning when a word was acceptable in common use, without intentional negative meaning. But times and context change.

The English language contains many words which we now identify as pejorative, such as the ‘i’ word(s) and the ‘m’ word. But we’ve grown up, and most of us have learned to behave with respect and to treat people with dignity. Most of us understand the other ‘p’ word: power. Words have power: it is undeniable. Mother Teresa said, “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” By extension, we conclude unkind words also echo, leaving their lasting mark in the shape of scars.

So, when those in positions of strength and influence wield words that harm, the damage is significant. This behaviour alienates and denigrates valuable people who deserve better. This behaviour diminishes the speaker in the eyes of those seeking the ‘l’ word: leadership.

Confucius said, “Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know men”. One without knowledge of people, lacking empathy and genuine care for all, is a leader of none.

Language moves and shifts. It breathes, and is organic. It can be hard to keep up with the evolution of thought and the societal shifts which manifest in speech. Perhaps one might be forgiven for speaking archaic and intellectually inappropriate words. But a leader is also a learner. If a leader misspeaks, there must be an accounting where his “apology needs to be as loud as [his] disrespect was” (Anonymous). Those in the learning community deserve no less.

Our Principals and Vice-Principals find themselves in teachable moments every day, and take these opportunities to build understanding and acceptance. This elevates all to higher ground, because that is where true leaders are found. Without capes or masks, and without comic book drama, their actions exemplify leadership.

Darren Danyluk


Nov 20, 2020 Message to Members

 “Come on and zoom, zoom, zoom-a zoom!”

Remember that refrain, followed by “Everybody’s doin’ it, everybody’s movin’ it…”?  If you do, you’re revealing your age; if you don’t, let me enlighten you.

Back in the early 1970s, I would tune in daily to a kids program, coming to me ‘on the PBS (the Pubic Broadcasting Service) affiliate station WGBH, in Boston, Massachusetts’.  Like the theme song, these details are etched into my mind: I can recite this, in the same way I can recite my home address and phone number as my parents taught me when I was six. Both are muscle memory from a time that encouraged children to share personal information when they couldn’t find their mom.

The program that captured me in 1972 was called … wait for it … Zoom! Oh, the wonderful things Zoom taught me, not the least of which was the crazy fluttering arm thing that Bernadette could do! But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Zoom was a kids’ variety show, co-hosted by seven or eight kids who were not much older than me at the time. And those kids never wore shoes! They would sing and dance, teach cool crafts, feature guest kids, and hold a ‘zoom rap’ session. The zoom rap was like the library confessions scene from The Breakfast Club – but, without the profanity.

The hosts were not celebrities but they were my first rock stars. However, they had a shelf life and each disappeared over time. They hit puberty and eventually had to put on their shoes and leave, sort of like members of Menudo. The best thing a fortune-teller could have told the 1972 Darren was that he would grow up and be on Zoom, every day.

As Vancouver and the Fraser Valley continue to report spiking numbers for COVID-19 prevalence, provincial leaders in government and health are calling for responsible behaviour that excludes travel. Anticipating this potential, the BCPVPA planned early for our first virtual Chapter Council meeting. My initial address to the representative membership of our Association will be on Zoom. Dreams do come true!

This entry to eNews is not about to decend into a hatchet job on virtual learning platforms.  And while ‘zoom’ now enters our lexicon as did ‘bandaid’ and ‘kleenex’, our society has adopted a number of virtual platforms for meeting, celebrating, teaching, and learning. In fact, we’ve come to embrace and engage this visual medium and we are using it in remarkable ways, where access allows – that will have to be a whole other entry!

The theme song from my childhood ended with the line “Everybody’s havin’ a ball, yeah!” But with the Zoom of today, I’m not so sure that’s always the case. Although virtual meetings remove the barrier that distance can impose on participants, thereby increasing their number, the online events will always leave us wanting more – more of each other.

The craving we feel to be connected without a screen will keep us hopeful for that time to come. I didn’t want to be on Zoom so I could be on TV; I wanted to be on Zoom to sing, dance, laugh, and learn barefoot, with kids just like me!

Darren Danyluk


Nov 13, 2020 Message to Members

“…be silent for a moment.”

There is so much noise out there: so many voices, so many opinions, so many competing positions. The static emanating from south of the 49th alone is overwhelming, distracting, and exhausting! Updates from our own Provincial Health Office and Dr. Henry elevate the volume further. Community Facebook pages and other social platform chatter contribute to the cacophony of swirling sound bites. The positive test numbers are rising, new restrictions on social gatherings and travel have been introduced, and other Canadian provinces are actively returning to more restrictive measures.

And squarely in the middle of this week’s wall of white noise is the day ‘of our most sacred Remembrance.’

Although my grandparents did not serve during conflicts of the 20th century, they were very connected to the Royal Canadian Legion. Because of this, Remembrance Day was a significant day in our house when I was growing up. My Uncle Vern played the bagpipes; he would march on November 11th, playing with the band while our family gathered. And for myself as an educator, the days in school which led to November 11th have always included somber reflection, punctuated by a school-wide gathering with its own vibrations. My thoughts this year turned to what the sounds of Remembrance Day would be in our schools in 2020.

Two things really get me: the cap toss in June, and the anthem on Remembrance Day. Without fail, I find myself struggling to sing “…with glowing hearts…”. My throat closes with emotion, every year. This year was no different as I stood at my desk in my home office, and tuned in to the stream of my town’s service. While for the first time in decades I was not present to hear the anthem sung by a chorus of students, the anthem was sung!

It has been truly inspiring to follow the work of our Principals and Vice-Principals as they have created and supported innovative, respectful, and heart-felt observances throughout BC.

Virtual gatherings have included classroom contributions, recorded and seamlessly woven together. When the tech failed, skilled and wise teachers – prepared for every possibility, as always – stepped forward with students ready to go live before the camera. Student leaders honoured our fallen, and shared their gratefulness for the sacrifice of so many. A Principal who was unable to bring students together for The Last Post and Reveille instead brought the music to the students and filled the corridors with the sound of bugles that flowed through each open door and created that stunning moment of unity.

And then … there was silence.

If only for a moment or two, we shared a silence this week. Perhaps in 2020, the moments of silence were deeper, more reflective, and more profound. Perhaps we spent two minutes thinking of sacrifice and its gift. Perhaps we spent two minutes thinking of hardship and suffering. Perhaps we spent two minutes thinking about peace and love and hope. And perhaps we were able to cut through the noise and realize, while we are navigating very challenging times, there are worse things.

Keep well and stay safe.

BCPVPA Support

Effective November 20 – December 7, BCPVPA staff will be continuing to work remotely so that we can respect the updated health protocols. We are here to support our members: please do not hesitate to contact us, or check our member App for ongoing updates and resources.

Darren Danyluk


Nov 6, 2020 Message to Members

“…making me feel like an expert.”

I have one hundred and seventeen green sticky notes on the wall of my office. On each note is written the name of a school, and the Principal and Vice-Principals who lead that school community.

Throughout the Fall, I started each day reviewing the health authorities’ posted list of schools with potential COVID-19 exposures, and I sent a quick note to each Principal. In their responses, our members shared the challenges of this experience and expressed gratitude for their district’s strong support in the process. I keep the visual record on my wall so that I am faced each day – quite literally – with the complex experiences and levels of stress that our BCPVPA members are navigating.

The count should, in fact, be higher. I made the decision to mark an affected location on my wall only once. Many of the sticky notes represent a school with more than one potential exposure reported, leading to one member’s comment that I have borrowed as the title of this week’s column.

This month, I’ve stopped posting the sticky notes: I am running out of wall space, and I took the advice of a wise Principal and stopped ‘holding my breath’, waiting for this to be over.

When I started this practice, I intended it as a clear and visual record that would be transitory … not forever, just for now. The eventual limitation of space did not occur to me: I wasn’t thinking of the long game. As October came to an end, I realized I was holding my breath, anticipating the day when I could stop covering my walls. The wise Principal who inspired me isn’t signaling defeat at the hands of the pandemic; she is instead encouraging us to settle into the structures, protocols, and reports that are the reality now, and for some time ahead.

And the report of a potential exposure will eventually come to many Principals and Vice-Principals, who will become expert in leading through this experience, as they have become expert in re-organizing divisions, timetables, and staffing. As they have become expert in supervising staggered arrivals, departures, and recesses. As they have become expert in simultaneously dividing their energies between teaching and leading. As they have become expert in daily adjustments to fill vacancies. As they have become expert in supporting their people with reassurance and compassion.

The long game is difficult to play when one is ‘May-tired’ in November, and feeling a sense of compassion fatigue. The BCPVPA continues to advocate with the Ministry of Education and the Provincial Health Office on behalf of our members, and district leaders are taking steps to recognize and support Principals and Vice-Principals in their roles. I encourage you to reach out to me with an email to confirm any recent district measures that have been introduced.

If I had continued to post on my wall, I would now have one hundred and ninety-three sticky notes. While I am not filling wall space, I still begin each day with a review of our health authorities’ reports, and touch base with each affected Principal. And the green sea of sticky notes will remain in place. They will greet me on arrival, putting our members, their experiences, and their well-being first in my mind as each day begins.

Darren Danyluk


Oct 30, 2020 Message to Members

“I Could Do This All Day Long!”

(inspired by If You Give a Pig a Pancake by Laura Numeroff)

If you want to see a Principal or Vice-Principal smile and beam, walk with them in a school. The first thing she’ll do is invite you into her office – of course, this is after you’ve sanitized your hands and put on your mask. She will give you a cup of coffee and will be the best listener after asking “How are you?” Then she will invite you to follow her to the other place she works because she is in more than one! There she will introduce you to many other people, and she will tell you how they make a difference for children.

Then she will take you to the school she left behind, and you will watch her re-connect with students and you will smile. Then, at her new school, you will watch her make connections with her new students – and that will make you smile even more.

After that, you will see her friend and watch as he helps host a provincial conference! He will juggle many jobs, starting early and staying late. A lot of his friends will be there, too, and they will bring more than 300 people together in learning and sharing for a whole day! And then he’ll want to walk you through his gyms, hallways, and classrooms, telling you about the genuine care his people have for their students.

And then his friend will want to introduce her student leaders who help the primary students, and they will think you’re the mayor – because of the suit! She will then give you a lesson in playground diplomacy and first aid with compassion and humour.

The next morning, you will be invited for breakfast and you can eat oatmeal in his office. After that, he will take you down memory lane and put a spotlight on his teachers’ achievements and his students’ successes. He will want you to take pictures, and he will tell everyone how old you are!

Then he will invite you to take a flight in a simulator where you will nearly land the plane … nearly. That will make you tired, and you will have to visit a grade seven class in their innovative learning space. He will tell you about the collaboration and dedication of the teachers.

After that, he will want to take you to his friend’s school, where they will show you an awesome Maker Space with a virtual sandbox. You will want to play in the sand for a long time, but that will make you late, so you have to hurry along.

Another of his friends will then take you on a walk through her hallways lined with student artwork, and she will share stories of the unified culture of her dual-track school.

Sometimes, you will hear stories from his retired friends who have returned to the school, and they will walk with you in the hallways and the shops, smiling as you discover the creative and inclusive programs offered by his teacher friends.

And after you drive by the house with dozens of Halloween decorations, she will invite you to visit the special language and culture space with welcoming chairs and beautiful regalia, and she will tell you of the wonderful people working in this space to support students.

You will end your time in a sacred place, and she will take care to protect this place, honouring the people who have lived here for eternity.

In the end, she will take you back to the office and you will sign out for safety’s sake. And she will beam and smile, waving goodbye, happy to have shown you just how exceptional everyone else is.

 

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