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Darren Danyluk


Sept 25, 2020 Message to Members

“Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it?”

Have you seen Spinal Tap? Those of my vintage may know exactly where I’m going with this. For everyone else, Spinal Tap is a seminal mockumentary directed by Rob Reiner, who also plays the role of the fictional filmmaker Marty.

In the film, Marty records the exploits of an 80’s rock band, and in one classic scene Marty is schooled by the lead guitarist Nigel, played by Christopher Guest. Nigel introduces Marty to a customized amplifier with numbers that “all go to eleven.”  As Nigel says, “if we need that extra push over the cliff … eleven …one louder.”

This week I heard a member say that people are “living in their amygdala,” living in a constant state of fight or flight. Psychologist Daniel Goleman wrote of amygdala hijack:  an immediate and overwhelming personal & emotional response that may be inordinate to the actual stimulus. Principals and Vice-Principals are living and working with communities in a state of amplification.

These past two weeks have felt amped up, as each day brings news of another possible exposure to COVID-19 in our BC schools, and this information is being documented on public websites. In the interest of transparency, it makes sense to keep our public informed; however, in each case, we can imagine the flurry of communications unleashed between public health and the school, and the school and the community.

Who is responsible for keeping this communication flowing? Certainly, district leads are crafting news releases and assisting schools through each situation. Despite this, it is the desks of the Principal and Vice-Principal which see most of the communication traffic with parents and families who are seeking information and assurances. These are the external communications set in motion in the event of an exposure; the internal communication needs are equally demanding.

Communication isn’t merely a matter of putting information out there: to a great degree, it is listening and understanding our people, helping them to find calm through our compassion and care. I spoke last week with Dr. Reka Gustafson, and she noted that our interactions and communications with our people must be “measured and sensitive to people’s fears.”  The compounding challenge to that direction is time, something in very short supply right now.

Spinal Tap is funny; our circumstances are not. School leaders have been operating at ten for weeks, and now the amplification is approaching eleven. The pressure of the music is getting louder and louder, and we are struggling to hear. It’s becoming distorted.

What would happen to Nigel’s custom amps, pumping it out at eleven over time?  Recommendations for operation suggest it may cause the “voice to overheat and burn out”, it may cause the amp “to move farther … than it was designed to move, causing … failure,” and that “turning things up too loud can shorten the life of components.”

How are we controlling the volume? How are we amping things down? This spring, the BCPVPA launched The Learning Brain, a series of weekly tips and links in support of member well-being. It is well organized for quick reference, and worth a look. And next week, you will see the launch of our new health series ReCharge, focusing on a range of coping skills and self-care strategies.

The BCPVPA is actively advocating with our provincial leadership to address points which may lower the overall amplification in the sector. Tell us what needs to be dialed down to allow your leadership to find a moderate level: we are listening for your voices.

I wish you a good weekend. It’s a good time to take in a classic flick … just keep the volume low.

BCRPVPA’s Letter of Support to BCPVPA Members

Sept 17, 2020 – “The number of questions which you are having to answer each day must be overwhelming.” Thank you to our friends at the BCRPVPA for your letter of support to BCPVPA members. Read it here.

Darren Danyluk


Sept 18, 2020 Message to Members

‘Look at this photograph…’

I bought my first car in the summer before grade 12. I felt so grown-up – so old – when I pulled into the parking lot on that first day of school. Fast forward to 2020: on the first day of school, I pulled into that same parking lot. Again, I felt old…but it was different. The first Friday of this school year, I was eager and grateful to spend an hour at a school alongside a Principal as he greeted his students. It was a vicarious pleasure, and it was wonderful. To top it off, I arrived as the teachers and the Principal were out front welcoming back grade 12 students. I couldn’t help but wonder how the students felt as they arrived, queued up at a distance, with masks on their faces. So much of the day ahead for them would be familiar, yet it would be so very different, too.

That morning, I could appreciate that feeling. I noted the school parking lot was virtually unchanged by the decades since my own arrival on the first day of grade 12, but now it was reserved for staff.  As I toured the building site with the Principal, courtyards had become enclosed foyers, while lockers and classrooms looked identical. The stairwells were unchanged, but now populated by different mentors. We passed staff and students in the hallways, each with kind and welcoming eyes that were only just visible above masks proudly branded with the school logo. Everything was the same, just different.

Walking down the ‘Hall of Fame’, the Principal and I had to pass many graduation composites, finally reaching the one I knew best. There I was: same guy, just different. Looking at that photograph, Nickelback’s reflective lyric came to mind, “And this is where I went to school…” In ten months, this school will add another photograph to the wall, and the Class of 2021 will celebrate their achievements, but it will be different.

And isn’t that what we are feeling this week? That so much is the same, yet so much is different. For the most part, we’ve returned to sites we know well, but they have been altered by time and circumstance. And the few short months since March have changed us, too. We are not the same, and school is not the same. It’s different.

Despite this, a close colleague shared with me that on September 14, things were great: it was the first day things felt ‘normal’ for him. Interesting that his state of a good ‘normal’ includes frequent hand washing, masks in common areas, and staggered arrival at various entry points.  But I know that it also includes the faces and voices of our students and staff, and maybe that is where we embrace our ‘normal’: with our people.

For all of us, and in many different renditions, the 2020-21 school year commenced this week. And it was different. As our first days of the full return to classes unfolded, the media focused on the challenges we face with COVID-19. In the weeks to come, we recognize that there will be more in the wings to challenge us. It’s important to hang on to your own ‘normal’. Hang on to your people. And don’t forget to take some pictures.

 

 

Darren Danyluk


Sept 11, 2020 Message to Members

“Begin as you mean to go on…”

I can’t remember where I first heard this phrase, but the words of Charles Haddon Spurgeon became a fixture of my Welcome Back address during the first assembly of the school year. Now, for the first time in 50 years, I have not started my school year in a school. No assembly, no homeroom, no students. And I’m feeling a dissonance, as if I’m not where I am supposed to be.

But I can still hold fast to Spurgeon’s statement, simple words which carry significant weight: start well.

As I write this, Principals and Vice-Principals all around the province are welcoming staff to their buildings and anticipating the arrival of students in the days ahead. They have spent nearly all of the summer preparing for this week, knowing that a solid launch is critical to the tenor of the year. And they have been planning for this launch in spite of the gaps and the ever-changing landscape. They have been planning to start well, and to carry on in that fashion with high expectations, and noble aspirations.

If I were in a school, not only would I be planning the school wide start-up, I would be balancing plans for the start of my own classes, with my own students. Our 2019 BCPVPA Member Survey reported that 28% of our Principals and 79% of our Vice-Principals continue to teach – in many cases, they do so for a significant part of each day. It is likely that these leaders have not yet been able to turn their attention to that important facet of their planning and preparation. A critical element of starting well, and beginning as you mean to go on, is readiness. This year, our focus as leaders has been drawn to the changes – new procedures, safety protocols, a flurry of communications and varying levels of anxiety – leaving our readiness for other important start up endeavours to be addressed through late nights and early mornings.

So, what could be considered ‘a good start’? It’s one with clarity, confidence and purpose; one with direction and reliable consistency; one with vision and achievable goals that can be celebrated along the way. A good start is one where we huddle up and dig in together, for the sake of each other and our communities. Can this be achieved in a time where our sight is limited to the immediate? Can we begin well, when our plans will almost certainly face change?  Yes. We can.

We will begin by doing what we always do: connecting with our people. We will greet them, truly see them and hear them. We will support them and build community and security. We will be open, transparent and collaborative. At a time when our education system is experiencing a tremendous shift, when schools are challenged to set aside the established procedures and to respond with innovation, and amid a pervading sense of uncertainty about what will come next, our members will continue to offer the clear and stable leadership that is needed.

As for me, the kindness of a local school Principal will allow me to spend at least a few  moments in a school this week, to see and feel this beginning from the inside, and to participate very modestly in the dynamic which first drew me to this profession. I believe this will dispel the dissonance I feel. Like you, I trust that I am where I should be.

Now, let’s begin.

Darren Danyluk


Sept 4, 2020 Message to Members

In Transition

And, today is Friday: Friday of the long weekend, no less. Labour Day. Can we talk about that for a minute? It’s another interesting word, labour, with an interesting history. On July 23, 1894, our then Prime Minister John Thompson made Labour Day official, passing it into law. According to one source, the roots of the Labour Day observance in Canada lie in strike action that took place nearly a generation earlier, with workers fighting to work fewer than twelve hours a day, their sights set on a nine-hour workday.

The weeks leading up to Labour Day 2020 have seen BC’s Principals and Vice-Principals clocking some very long days of their own. The groundwork required for schools to meet the guidelines of the BC Restart Plan have drawn our members back from Summer vacation much earlier than is typical. Our members have devoted countless hours of creation and innovation towards building a school-based systemic response to the global pandemic, and many additional hours have been spent manipulating data and reorganizing schedules and divisions. The scope, complexity and impact of these preparations have given rise to significant levels of stress for many of our members.

This is stress compounded by the additional apprehension that our members bear on behalf of their staffs and their communities. In August, the BC Ministry of Education heard the voice of families who are anxious about the return to classes, and the BC Restart Plan introduced a new consideration for school districts to better understand the needs of families seeking wider choices for the return to school. Districts issued surveys, and now ‘transition’ plan options are under construction for many communities. Certainly, our Principals and Vice-Principals will play key roles in the development and implementation of these new alternatives, which overlay the plans so thoughtfully and meticulously crafted in the past months.

There isn’t a year in modern memory in which our school leaders have laboured as hard. The education sector’s response to the global pandemic has relied heavily on the skill, resilience, and heart of our Principals and Vice-Principals. Labour Day traditionally isn’t observed with parades or marches but rather – when celebrated – the focus is on leisure and relaxation. This year, our school leaders deserve this celebration more than ever.

So: how are you set to transition to the long weekend? How are you planning to take the time for yourself and your family, time which is so critically needed? How do you put it all down, turn it off, and silence the devices?

Following this column, you’ll find a few links to recent resources from Rochelle Morandini who works with the BCPVPA in support of Member Health & Wellbeing. I encourage you to explore these resources to find techniques and approaches that could work for you. There are many ways for us to pause, before our restart.

Today, I overheard someone talking about a personal strategy to alleviate stress, to “… put on some music and let your body move.” One of the speaker’s favourite artists for this decompression is Rage Against the Machine. This weekend, I might have to give them a listen.

bit.ly/Principled_June20_BrainStrain

bit.ly/LBTS2020_BrainStrain2

BCPVPA The Learning Brain Series

Wishing you peace and rest for Labour Day and a smooth start next week.

Let’s keep in touch,
Darren

Darren Danyluk


Aug 28, 2020 Message to Members

Connected, Between the Spaces

The place I call home is about as far due east as one can travel: we’re less than an hour from the Alberta border. The drive takes a few hours – well, more than a few – and that offers a lot of time to think. As I drove back and forth this summer, I thought a great deal about the space that separates us in BC: there is so much of it! However, we often feel isolated and set apart even when our colleagues are just down the block in a neighbouring school. A vital mission for the President of our Association is to form connections both with and between members. It is important for the President to understand the circumstances of BC’s Principals and Vice-Principals, and to communicate this reality to provincial leaders, our sector partners and the public.

In normal times, the President of our Association spent time with members in their communities, visiting Principals and Vice-Principals where they lead to gather their experiences first-hand. Our President learned of their joys, triumphs, and hurdles by walking with members in their schools. But these are not normal times. As I traveled through the communities that dot our highways, I wondered about my term and the challenge before me to establish those connections and to be ‘present’ for our members even when I may not be able to breathe their air.

Travel throughout BC can be safely achieved, but should it be? This is a question I wish to explore in the weeks ahead – on the other side of September – when Chapters may be more able to entertain such a conversation.

In normal times, the BCPVPA looks for opportunities to connect our members to each other.  Chapter Councils and our annual Connecting Leaders Conference will remain as significant vehicles for connection and networking; however, they will be transformed to put health and safety at the forefront. In the coming months, members can look for a greater frequency of more informal channels for connection, such as the ‘Town Halls’ and ‘Coffee Connections’ launched in the Spring of this year as a response to the needs of our members.

 

‘In normal times…’ It is a phrase now tinged with melancholy and perhaps a sense of longing. I believe I will drop this phrase for the future. We live in the times in which we live, and ‘the now’ is our normal. I appreciate just how precious time together can be, and I embrace the innovations that help keep us connected in the times in between. I look forward to connecting with you in any way that I can!

Take Care,
Darren

BCPVPA’s Statement Regarding BC’s Return to School Plan

Aug 4, 2020 – The BCPVPA released a statement regarding BC’s Return to School Plan: read it here

David DeRosa


June 26, 2020 Message to Members

What’s Important

In my two years as President of the BCPVPA, I have honestly experienced new things every day. Although I had served as a Director on the Board, and had a year under my belt as President-Elect, the scope and complexity of the work and the learning has been profound. For the first 18 months of my tenure – pre-COVID-19 – I had the great pleasure of visiting with you in your communities, spending time in your schools and literally breathing your air.

I gained so much perspective on what you have all achieved, your challenges and your aspirations, and that is what I will miss the most. Being able to sit with you and to understand what matters to you has been the most important experience of my time in this role. I feel well-prepared to take on my next role, in part because I will continue to experience new things every day as the Principal of Rossland Summit School, a K-9 school. Returning to the familiarity of my high school alma mater – with a new context, and a new community, staff and group of learners – will be nothing short of amazing. After 17 years of leading secondary and adult learning, one of my responsibilities will be to ’support the K-1 transition time’ where you will find me locating stray outdoor shoes, helping to zip snow pants and answering challenging questions like ‘Who are you?’. There is a freshness and a promise in supporting kids as they learn to read – as a prelude to reading to learn – and to making connections with students each day, something that I have truly missed.

What’s important in my transition to a new role is that I will carry with me so much of what I have learned in these two years. I will have the opportunity to share what I know about compassion, empathy and equity, and to continue to learn and grow alongside the school community. What’s important, as I move ahead from my role as President, is what you have shared with me, and the gift of your trust as we have traveled on this journey together. I can still remember the first time that I asked a room full of members to close their eyes, and to think about how they arrived that day. Coming to that awareness of how we ‘are’, and the impact of that awareness of how we walk, run, stride or saunter through the day, was pivotal for me. It has led me to refine my core beliefs about ‘wellness’ to become a focus on the strategies that we all need to practice for self-care. Our understanding of ‘systems’ matters: not ‘the system’ but rather the realization that we are each a part of so many systems, and how significantly we impact each other.
I hope that throughout our time together I have been able to express how important your well-being is to me, whether it is through advocating for improvements in your contractual relationships or addressing work intensification. I think we always leave a role wishing that we had more time, and that there was more that we could do.

If I could leave you with one thought as you head into your summer break, it would be to take some time. You have scaled a steep mountain since the events of March, and if you can claim a moment at the peak to pause and to reflect, then you will be better prepared for what is next. Come August, I will be there beside you and we’ll all step across the threshold to lead another year of learning. Maybe we’ll experience new things every day, and maybe some days will have a familiar rhythm.
I hope that you’ll hear my voice in your head reminding you what’s important, to practice some self-care, and to breathe. Remember that we’re here to support compassion, kindness, wellness and learning both for our students, and for ourselves.

Compassion
Health
Inclusion
Leadership
Diversity
Reflection
Empathy
Nuance

Take Care, and see you soon,
David

David DeRosa


June 19, 2020 Message to Members

#DifferentTogether

Words don’t often fail me, but I have struggled to process the brutal racist events that we have all witnessed in these past weeks. While there have been fleeting moments of hope in the horror, I have felt disbelief that this level of hate, violence and inequity exists in 2020. And in facing and acknowledging those feelings, I realize how naïve I am, and that my life as a white man in Canada has been worlds away from what many citizens of the world experience. I know that I am an ally, but I know I can be a more vocal ally.

Do I understand my own privilege, and what it means to balance both listening and speaking out? In my ongoing pursuit of equity, has my scope been too narrow in addressing systemic fairness? These are the complex thoughts that fill my head, as an educator and a leader, as a colleague, friend, father, and husband.

As educators, we have a duty to build a future without racism, to talk to our K-12 kids about inequities, to give context to history, to listen to their thoughts and fears, and to teach them to speak up and speak out. We have a responsibility to prevent our students and ourselves from seeing diversity as something that is limited to a special day here, or a highlighted month there, but rather to see it as part of their lives and ours every day. We are fast to act in crisis, and equally fast to return to our former ways in the aftermath. For many of us, this will be a move beyond silence – and that may feel uncomfortable – but we are beyond concerns about our own comfort when our own colleagues, staff and students may be suffering. This is who we want to be.

As an Association, we represent 2600 member voices. We pledge to bolster our diversity education and advocacy, to better empower our youth leaders through BC Student Voice, and to ensure that we both listen to and advocate for our members who may themselves be experiencing racism and bias.

As individuals and as an Association, we can demonstrate that being #DifferentTogether is our strength. The events of the past weeks have awoken a sleeping and often reluctant world to huge inequity, and we must do our part to grow our personal and system awareness, be informed, be reflective and most of all to take action when we witness racism. This is where a more compassionate journey begins, for all of us.

Take Care,
David

PS: There are many resources that will help you to better understand where we are in history and where we want to be. This link that has helped me immensely: Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man

David DeRosa


June 12, 2020 Message to Members

Graduation

I have been a secondary school teacher and a Principal for most of my career. So, at this time of year, I am usually caught up in the electric sense of excitement that pervades a high school, and that unparalleled feeling that there are bright futures unfolding right before our eyes. My own nieces Chloe and Amanda are graduating this year, and they have each demonstrated amazing poise and a calm acceptance of their circumstances. I have been impressed by their grasp of the priorities as they acknowledge the global impact of the pandemic. There has been some sadness and a sense of loss that was immediately followed by – true to their personalities – a focused charge to find the absolute best ways to commemorate their time in high school.

Graduation is an important time for families and students, but also for teachers and school leaders. Many educators see it as a cherished institution that demands a level of rigour to validate academic accomplishments. For others, there is a glowing pride in what has been accomplished by these young people, many of whom have literally grown up in our care. For students and families, the emotions can vary widely. It is one of the singular occasions in our lives that pull together our awareness of so many things – wins and losses, family and friends, connections and relationships. Everyone linked to a graduate feels something special as they witness this transition, and each of us experiences it quite differently. Those bubbling emotions can catch us off guard: we are struck by an intensity of feeling when the child we have known for so long appears in their cap and gown.

Graduations bring us together to share in this powerful experience. It’s a time that makes us smile as we reflect on what was, engage in what is and step forward into what will be. There are many things in our control, yet so many that are not. We can learn from our past, participate in our present and create a vision for our future together. Our BCPVPA celebration of the graduating class of 2020 is something that I am so excited to embrace, and I can share that – just like every graduating class before them – our 2020 grads cannot predict the future, and they will certainly find their way in this changing world.

Take Care,
David

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