Aug 4, 2020 – The BCPVPA released a statement regarding BC’s Return to School Plan: read it here
June 26, 2020 Message to Members
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.
Take Care, and see you soon,
June 19, 2020 Message to Members
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.
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
June 12, 2020 Message to Members
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.
June 5, 2020 Message to Members
As we wind towards the end of this first week of re-integrating in-class instruction, I have no doubt that you have all been thinking even farther down the road: to the end of June, to the summer ahead, and to the shape of your working life once we reach August. But before we accelerate our thoughts, let’s take a step to the side, and acknowledge your collective achievements this week in meeting the complex needs of your school communities. You have supported your teaching and support staff with scheduling, the implementation of safety guidelines, and the formulation and application of new roles and responsibilities. You have supported parents and families with detailed communications and friendly videos, describing safety procedures and helpful resources. You were there every day with the warmest of smiles as your students returned. It’s been quite a week, and you guided this process with skill and care.
So, looking ahead. We can’t help it: we’re humans, and it’s what we do; we’re school leaders, and it’s definitely what we do. This week, I’d like to introduce some additional voices that may help you in framing your thoughts and conversations about what comes next. Gail Markin is a Social Emotional Learning District Teacher in the Langley School District, and I met Gail through my Compassionate Systems Leadership work. I have quickly grown to appreciate her understanding of school systems, the stresses and pressures that emerge at different support levels, and her genuine enthusiasm for making a difference for others. Gail has shared some thoughts about our passage through the pandemic so far, and what we may find beyond, in her article Well-being in the Time of COVID-19 & Beyond. Rosa Fazio is the Principal of Sir Sandford Fleming School in SD39, a recipient of the 2019 Canada’s Outstanding Principals award, a colleague and a friend. Rosa models an exceptional work ethic, while balancing time with her family and her own reflective practices. In her article What Parts of the ‘New Normal’ Do We Want to Keep? Rosa examines the transformational systemic changes during COVID-19, and what to keep in mind as we consider designing a future while ensuring that instructional leadership is at the forefront. I am grateful for Gail’s and Rosa’s voices as part of this week’s column, as they each share my passion for education, the desire to see equity and inclusion in our systems and the compassionate understanding of the exceptional work of educational leaders.
I’ll close out this week’s column by wishing you a restful first weekend of June knowing that you have accomplished so much. If you are looking for some relaxing listening, don’t forget to pick up our new podcast, with thanks to our member from SD73 (Kamloops) Chris Horton. Or if you want to dive into a good read, curl up with the Summer issue of Principl(ed) Magazine. And, as always, whatever you choose to do, and wherever you find yourself, I hope that you can take some time to breathe.
May 29, 2020 Message to Members
The Power of Connection
While we frequently soldier through tasks and projects without support, the reality is that most things are just a little bit better, a little bit more solid, and little bit more thoughtful when we have a team alongside us. We have seen that in the formulation and operation of remote learning, as a preliminary vision is tweaked and enhanced with a new component added here and modification made there.
As a sector, we have truly been #InItTogether as our BCPVPA members, the Ministry of Education, Boards, teachers, education assistants, support staff, parents, caregivers, families and – of course – the students themselves, have participated in building something remarkable to ensure that there is a continuity of learning, and that our schools are a safe place to be for the staff and students on site.
I am grateful for the focus and determination of everyone in the sector: without those cohesive relationships, our experience over the past months – and our experience ahead – would be very different. This week, we also recognized the power of community partnerships through our 2020 BCPVPA Partnership Awards. Our Chapters understand the importance of those intricate community connections and their ultimate impact on students and schools: we appreciate all of our community partners who so generously mobilize their special skills, their ideas and their networks in support of BC children and youth.
The other powerful connection that I’ll recognize this week is the one that we build each year within our organization, through our members’ collective voice in selecting their colleagues to join our Board of Directors. My congratulations go out to the members who were elected this week, and my thanks extend to everyone who ran as a candidate in this election. Your Board represents you as a member, and that is an important link. Don’t hesitate to reach out to any of the Board members with questions, concerns or ideas because that flow of communications makes us stronger, especially during times when connection is more important than ever.
I know that you will all have a full week ahead of you, and I hope you will reach out to a friend, a colleague or our staff if there is any way that we can support you.
May 22, 2020 Message to Members
We have all made significant adjustments to our ‘normal’ lives since March, both personally and professionally. While I’ve heard a lot of commentators talk about the ‘new normal’, none of us yet have a sense of what the ‘new normal’ might be. In BC, the path ahead is looking clearer, there are fewer overhanging branches to dodge, and we can see a bit more sky. We have had the benefit of focused and informed leadership to guide us along this strange and shifting journey, and it reinforces for me just how important a good leader can be.
Part of our role as an Association is to offer professional development opportunities, and to ensure that our members, as leaders, have the tools and training that they need to be successful. For more than 40 years, we have offered a significant foundation in leadership through Short Course I, a pivotal and immersive experience for many new leaders where the curtain is drawn back, information flows and lasting relationships are formed. This year, we are unable to offer Short Course I & II, but we recognized that our new leaders – those who will be moving from teaching to either a Vice-Principal or Principal role in September – still need our support to get their bearings and embark on the new challenge. On May 20, we opened registration for a new online offering, Essentials for New School Leaders to be held July 6-9. This is not a replacement for Short Course, but rather a critical touchpoint that will introduce new leaders to the Leadership Standards, and provide context to the essentials of the work. I encourage you, as established leaders, to share this opportunity with your colleagues who will be transitioning to a new role in the coming school year.
And one last thought (for today!) on leadership: good and effective leadership is truly a pillar that supports the efficacy of everything that we do, and that is true of our Association as well. From May 26 – 28, we will hold our annual member vote for new or returning Directors to join our Board, and it’s so important that we hear from all of our members via their vote. Your Board sets the direction of the Association, and helps support our members: your vote is your voice in how we continue down this path.
Take Care, Be Well
May 15, 2020 Message to Members
The Ministerial Committee
Since March, BC educators have been Apollo 13-ing the system. While I can’t take credit for this striking description, it has resonated for me and I’ve thought about it again and again in recent weeks. It’s hard to completely fathom the innovation, responsiveness and effort that has been dedicated to the continuity of learning in our province over the course of two months (albeit two months that seem like two years). Our BCPVPA members have tirelessly led and listened, and together we have all brought remote learning to an entire province of learners. When you had to step out of your schools, you took that extra step outside the box and we salute you.
I also know that – in varying degrees – you find those revolutionary accommodations, tweaks and corrections in your work each day: it’s what you do as leaders. Right now, we have an opportunity to bring your work to light in a very specific way, through the efforts of a special Ministerial Committee that is working under Ministerial Order M057. This committee has been struck by the Honourable Rob Fleming, Minister of Education, to inspect and evaluate the work experience of public school Principals and Vice-Principals in all of BC’s School Districts. Their work includes reviewing and gathering data on the terms and conditions of employment, identifying anomalies between Districts, and examining the statutory and actual responsibilities of the role.
It’s an exceptional opportunity. The committee – comprised of former Principals and Superintendents Tom Hierck and Jim Cambridge, and human resources leader, Lisa Castle – has been very welcoming of our support and very generous with their time as we have included them in several recent meetings with our Board of Directors, Contract Advisory Committee, Chapter Presidents and staff Directors. We have introduced the committee to our colleagues at both the Ontario Principals’ Council (OPC), and the Public School Administrators Association of Nova Scotia (PSAANS), and to many other knowledgeable sector contacts who can help to more fully inform their work. The committee has met with representatives from all 60 School Districts, and has reached out at random to school leaders across the province for candid conversations that offer them a current picture of the experience of school leaders in BC. BCPVPA has provided the committee with significant support documentation and research that we hope will support them in crafting their final report for the Minister on June 1, 2020.
We thank the Minister for his commitment to ensuring that the contemporary responsibilities, experiences and challenges of BC’s Principals and Vice-Principals are represented and documented, so that government can find the best path to support school leaders in the months and years ahead. As you work each day – in your schools or remotely from your homes – supporting your staff and safeguarding continuity of learning for all students, it’s important to know that you are recognized and appreciated as leaders. While you’re not returning a lunar craft safely to earth, you are Mission Control for your teachers, learners, families and school communities and we respect the work that you do.
May 8, 2020 Message to Members
Sunshine, On a Cloudy Day
This week I was in a bit of a funk. I’m not sure if it was the steady cycle of Zoom meetings in a basement office, my attempts to plan for a future that is marked by unknowns and constantly moving dates, or the recent rainy weather. Or, perhaps, a confluence of all those things. Fortunately, a bit of sunshine appeared in the form of Chris Horton, a Principal in SD73 Kamloops – Thompson.
Chris and I connected using Zoom, and we recorded the first episode of the new Principl[ed] Podcast. I enjoy a number of podcasts from a wide range of genres including Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend, Under the Influence and The Chief Wellbeing Officer. I am hopeful that the Principl[ed] Podcast will offer a fine blend of practical information and leadership perspective along with entertaining anecdotes that can be appreciated by our Principal and Vice-Principal colleagues in British Columbia and beyond.
As I reflected on the process of recording the podcast, I realized that chatting with Chris about my leadership journey not only cheered me up but energized me. The questions that Chris asked to initiate our conversation helped to remind me of why I love this work and how important it is. I don’t think I’m giving anything away if I share a couple of the questions and my responses, and hopefully you’ll find time during a drive or a walk to listen to the Principl[ed] Podcast when it debuts in June.
Chris: How did you arrive at your current role, and what are two to three reflective take-aways from that journey?
Me: “My journey started with the impacts that others had on me. I was, and continue to be, so fortunate to have been influenced by exceptional coaches, educators and leaders. Really wonderful people, making a difference in their capacities. I saw, and see, the impact they make and hold myself accountable to them.”
“Indirectly, kids and the future are what I am all about; the further away from the classroom my roles take me, the more focussed this has become. As complex and nuanced as the leadership work can be, keeping the focus of the system on student success is my north star. Systems thinking requires a certain discipline and an appreciation for the stories of the past, present and future: these threads are interconnected and influence how I think, plan and act.”
Chris: What advice would give to a new or aspiring school leader?
Me: “If I could go back and give my younger self two pieces of advice around leadership, the first would be: slow down. I don’t mean take days or weeks to accomplish something. I mean to consider that we often focus on and give so much time to dozens or hundreds of things in a week, that we typically end up forgetting about ourselves. Taking two or three minutes a day doesn’t sound like much … so why don’t we do it? Slowing down is directly connected to self-care and sustaining our own capacity. This leads to an increase in our awareness of self and when we find ourselves in very challenging times, we can feel confident in our ability to support others.”
“The other thing I would suggest: lean into empathy. Empathy and how it connects to compassion are foundational for the relationships necessary for successful leadership. With empathy, we can appreciate how others are arriving in their day – and in their roles – as part of this larger system. We aren’t isolated ‘cogs’ in the system, we are part of it, and we are interconnected social and emotional beings. With an awareness of empathy and by practising compassion, we can bring purpose and practice to sustaining ourselves and our relationships.
Chris: So, how do you do this, David?
To hear the rest, you’ll need to stay tuned and watch for the launch of the Principl[ed] Podcast!
My sincere thanks to Chris Horton for reminding me why I started down this path and – in these challenging times – why quality leadership is so critically important.
May 1, 2020 Message to Members
In the past 18-20 months, I have written regularly about the importance of social emotional learning (SEL), self-care and maintaining an ongoing awareness of our needs as leaders in our complex and nuanced roles. In our current reality where we are in a time of crisis and find ourselves confronting the unknown every day, our capacity to sustain ourselves and our school communities is more challenging than ever. Our ability to sustain kindness, empathy and compassion for others is connected to our own self-awareness.
… a dysregulated leader cannot effectively
co-regulate and lead their community.
So, what can we do to first attend to ourselves?
I recently reached out to my friend and SEL mentor, Miriam Miller, and asked her to recommend some simple self-care reminders and strategies for incredibly busy people who are leading change in a time of crisis. During our discussion, she acknowledged that there are personal actions we can take to ‘shore up’ our reserves and – most importantly – to be pro-active, even in our busy leadership roles. Miriam has shared with us three reminders for (S.E.L)F CARE in her article at this link. It is a quick and impactful read.
I hope that you can take a few minutes to catch your breath, grab a cup of coffee or tea and invest some time in your own (S.E.L)F CARE.