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David DeRosa

March 8, 2019 Message to Members

Mental Models

A few weeks back I shared with you a brief outline of my introduction to Compassionate Systems Leadership and Thinking. I was incredibly fortunate to be part of the BC team that participated in a 3 day workshop facilitated by Peter Senge and Mette Miriam Boell. The workshop provided a Systems Thinking foundation to build on and introduced participants to a practical set of tools that learners of all ages, cultures and backgrounds can easily put into practice.

The Iceberg Model was introduced at the recent School and Community Mental Health Conference and participants were led through an exercise by facilitator Tracy Smyth in how to use it and apply it to our own professional or personal contexts.

I have posted a more in-depth resource to BetterEducate – An Introduction to Systems Thinking , which outlines 2 models, the Iceberg and Ladder of Inference, in the context of Systems Thinking.

In very brief and simple terms, the Iceberg Model addresses the reality that we all develop mental models over time. Our experiences and interactions build our mental models and they help us to more efficiently make decisions. This ‘efficiency’ can be a positive or a negative outcome of mental model development. Waking up to another cold can be used to demonstrate how the Iceberg Model reveals a more complex set of systems connections [adapted from Northwest Earth Institute].


  1. The Event Level

The event level is the level at which we typically perceive the world—for instance, waking up one morning to find we have caught a cold. While problems observed at the event level can often be addressed with a simple readjustment, the iceberg model pushes us not to assume that every issue can be solved by simply treating the symptom or adjusting at the event level. Solution – buy cold medicine.

  1. The Pattern Level

If we look just below the event level, we often notice patterns. Similar events have been taking place over time — we may have been catching more colds when we haven’t been resting enough. Observing patterns allows us to forecast and forestall events.

  1. The Structure Level

Below the pattern level lies the structure level. When we ask, “What is causing the pattern we are observing?” the answer is usually some kind of structure. Increased stress at work due to the new promotion policy, the habit of eating poorly when under stress, or the inconvenient location of healthy food sources could all be structures at play in our catching a cold.

  1. The Mental Model Level

Mental models are the attitudes, beliefs, morals, expectations, and values that allow structures to continue functioning as they are. These are the beliefs that we often learn subconsciously from our society or family and are likely unaware of. Mental models that could be involved in us catching a cold could include: a belief that career is deeply important to our identity, that healthy food is too expensive, or that rest is for the unmotivated.

I hope you find a few minutes to apply the Iceberg Model to your own contexts and are able to reflect on the mental models that you are bringing to your analysis and decision-making processes.

Take Care,


David DeRosa

February 22, 2019 Message to Members

Issues Forum

Today I feel fortunate to set my sights on learning and connection. While it’s true that we learn and connect each day, a few hours of focused learning alongside your colleagues is truly something special.

For many years, the BCPVPA’s Issues Forum has been an annual opportunity for the Association to gather and present just some of the topics at the forefront of our members’ awareness. It won’t come as a surprise that our keynote speaker Alan Mallory will address mental wellness as one of the greatest challenges that we face: his presentation “Controlling Our External and Internal Focus & Improving Mental Health” will close out a day when our attendees have discussed and learned about youth substance abuse; suicidal behaviours in schools; challenges and opportunities in Indigenous education; focus schools; school growth plans; the graduation program; and the legal side of leadership.

The days of one-sided information delivery are thankfully behind us, and the interactive sessions at Issues Forum will invite dialogue, questions and connection. While we expand our knowledge and awareness, we’ll get to catch up with old friends and meet new colleagues. The shared learning is a catalyst for connection.

We hope to cascade the Issues Forum topics to a platform that will be accessible to all interested members by hosting webinars on these issues and other emerging areas of interest in the Spring or Fall of this year. If there is a potential webinar topic that would enhance your practice, please reach out and let me know.

Take Care,


David DeRosa

March 1, 2019 Message to Members

Pink Shirt Day

This week in our schools, the hallways were awash with a sea of pink in every shade imaginable, colouring shirts, jackets, scarves and sweaters, and even painting cheeks and foreheads with hearts and positive messages. It’s a perfect example of everyone pulling in the same direction but doing it in hundreds of diverse ways.

From a simple act – a high school protest in small-town Nova Scotia, calling out the bullying endured by a grade 9 boy – Pink Shirt Day has made its mark in more than 180 countries.

There is a lot that we can take away from the initial stand made by two teenage boys and their group of friends. First, there is kindness and a recognition that sometimes everyone needs a hand. There is courage, to move beyond being a bystander, to speak up and to act. And there is compassion, and the ability to understand and respond to the isolation and lack of control that people can feel, then engaging to take action.

As Principals and Vice-Principals, those are strengths that we draw upon every day in our work. It’s important that we have the pulse of the social and emotional climate in our schools, and that we are able to balance the fundamentals of our practice with a sense of compassionate leadership and recognition of the many levels of support that we need to provide for students, teachers and staff. It can be as simple as being able to greet students by name, or to be onsite at the big game. It’s often the small acts that let the school community know that you are there, that you are present and that you care. We often refer to these little acts as positive school culture builders.

I hope that Pink Shirt Day brought your school together, and maybe inspired some new projects or innovations. Please let me know! I’d love to share what you’re doing in your schools.

Take Care,


David DeRosa

February 15, 2019 Message to Members


It’s right there on my wrist, telling me that it’s time to stand up, or time to take a breath.

I started using an app on my watch recently, and it’s truly the angel on my shoulder that reminds me to do those small things that are so vital to overall health. It’s made me consider transitions, and how often we’re focused more on ‘getting here’ than on ‘being here’.

A teacher I know uses a projector in the classroom to share that messaging with her students: it’s a visual marker that they all recognize, and it reminds them to pause between activities so that they can mindfully close one door before moving to the next.

I adopted a similar strategy recently on a visit to one of our Chapters. It was clear how challenging it was for some of our members to juggle their many commitments and make it to the meeting: some had only moments to spare on arrival, and you could see the anxiety and pressure they were feeling. I wasn’t sure how people would react, but instead of launching into the presentation as the clock hit the top of the hour, I asked everyone to stop for a moment, to close their devices and just to take a few breaths. Full disclosure: I confirmed that I would not lead them in the breathing: there are limits to my expertise! Everyone put down their phones and their pens, closed their laptops and visibly lightened in their seats. We transitioned.

Whether it’s the option of a sit/stand desk, a commitment with a colleague to run after school or embracing a little app on your wrist, there are cues that we can build into our lives that help us to take care of ourselves. On Monday, we have the gift of Family Day: I hope that day can be a time of transition for you, leaving the work aside for a moment and being with the people who are important in your life. On Monday, see if you can move past ‘getting there’ and into ‘being there’.

Take Care,


David DeRosa

February 8, 2019 Message to Members

SEL and Leadership

This is the second year that the BC Ministry of Education has produced the School Community Mental Health Conference (February 4 & 5 in Vancouver), and it was a timely opportunity for more than 500 participants from BC’s public, independent and First Nations schools to come together with law enforcement and health authorities for conversations and presentations about wellness in schools. The conference addressed mental health and addiction issues and strategies for children and youth, but also extended to wellness for educators and families and the importance of a community approach.

The positive energy in the room over those two days signals the momentum that we are experiencing. The Ministry and the BC government have recognized that we all – as a community – need to talk.

A consistent theme of the conference was the influence that leaders and their relationships have in the early and developing stages of support for at-risk children, youth and adults in our system. In last week’s column, I talked about my experience at the Compassionate Systems Framework in Schools workshop, and how MIT’s Peter Senges’ model is backed by years of scientific research on the impact of positive relationships in workplaces, including the daily interactions that we have with colleagues and our students.

Speaker Mark Greenberg highlighted the holistic need for social emotional learning (SEL) and the importance of connecting families and communities with schools and students. He emphasized the importance of educators investing time and resources in developing their own understanding of and skill with social emotional learning concepts. And he shared these words, that have resonated:

 “… I really don’t think of the role of a principal as being an instructional leader. I think it’s really misconstrued. I think the role of a principal is to be the SEL leader, the person who creates a healthy caring school where everyone feels connected and belongs.”

Mark Greenberg recognized that contemporary principals and vice principals can be overwhelmed by the day-to-day activities in their schools, and that they regularly express their desire to be instructional leaders. But his research and experience suggest that we could reconsider and look at our roles as the social emotional leaders for our schools.

It can seem like a shift of our lens, but I believe that it’s really part of who we are as leaders. As I reflect on my own years as an educator, I smile to recall my early days in the classroom or – more to the point – outside of the classroom. As a biology and science teacher, I spent time with students in the forest, by a stream, on the shore of the pond or just hunting for moss around a playground. I can now see the connectivity as we weave Indigenous ways of learning and thinking with social emotional learning and the objective of mental wellness for our students and colleagues. While I wasn’t familiar with the SEL constructs at the time, my goal in 

sharing outdoor learning activities with my students was grounded in creating an enhanced learning environment, and fostering positive attitudes towards education, discovery, our community and each other.

If you think about your role in your school, both the connections that you have built over time and those that are created every day, do you recognize your influence on the social and emotional climate of your school community? I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts and your stories.

Take Care,


David DeRosa

February 1, 2019 Message to Members

Healthy Thoughts

It’s February 1 and we’ve had a very vital and busy start to 2019, although many of us are looking back and wondering how January slipped away so quickly. I have just re-emerged from the thick of an east coast snowstorm: I was fortunate to attend the workshop Introduction to Compassionate Systems Framework in Schools at MIT, and my few days in Boston were profoundly illuminating. The workshop attendance was diverse, not limited to educators and including attendees from more than a dozen countries. This experiential workshop explored the concept of the interconnectedness of global systemic challenges, and the call to refocus on “international mindedness” and to cultivate a “compassionate systems” framework. There’s a lot to unpack, and I was fortunate to attend with a small cohort of local sector colleagues: we will continue to work together in a mutual-support team to bring the vision and learning to our BC teams and schools.

Spending time in deep discussions about behavioral awareness and a compassionate system fuels my belief that we are witnessing systemic mindfulness when it comes to wellness in the education sector. The Ministry of Education will hold their 2nd annual School Community Mental Health Conference – Leading Mentally Healthy Schools in BC on February 4 and 5, an event that brings together Ministry and education sector partners with health authorities and district representation. The purpose of the conference is to build the capacity of school-community teams to support student mental wellness through a systems leadership approach that focuses on mental health promotion. The Fall 2018 BC School Superintendents Association (BCSSA) Conference took as its focus Transforming Education: Well-being in Schools, and the BCPVPA’s own capacity as an association has continued to grow with the development of the Work Intensification and Well-being Advisory Committee (WIWAC), and our Early Intervention Program (EIP) through humanworks.

Our February 22 BCPVPA Issues Forum will feature a keynote with international speaker and author Alan Mallory themed around “Controlling Our External and Internal Focus & Improving Mental Healthand will also offer breakout sessions that include Schools and the Changing Landscape of Youth Substance Abuse: Cannabis Legalization and Vaping and Suicidal Behaviours and Self-Harm at School. The available resources and sense of awareness are both on the rise.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll share more about the workshop in Boston, and learning from the Ministry’s upcoming conference. In the meantime, I hope the start of the month is a good reset for you, and that you will enjoy the weekend ahead whether it’s in snow, rain, or the advent of cherry blossoms.

Take Care,


David DeRosa

January 25, 2019 Message to Members

Some Very Good News

In an email to all members on Wednesday, I shared news of a supportive first step in our provincial negotiation representation initiative that occurred at BCPSEA’s Annual General Meeting this week.  Our understanding is that the resolution that had been proposed in advance of the meeting was passed by a significant majority. While we were aware of the initial wording of the resolution, we understand that the original motion was revised on the floor and wording of the amendment is not yet available to us. We believe it is likely that BCPSEA Board of Directors will still need to provide some additional information to the BCPSEA Representatives from all 60 school districts before next steps can be considered. Once we have a full and complete understanding of the motion and its impact, we will share it with our members.

 When we were first advised that this resolution would be introduced at the January 23-24 AGM, it came as both surprising and welcome news for us. Surprising because, although we have been discussing negotiation representation for several years, our efforts have been primarily internal to the organization until we embedded the goal as part of our strategic plan and received the mandate from our members in June 2018 to purposefully pursue a provincial negotiation framework. In that relatively short time, we have had the tremendous support of our members whose active voices and candor have helped to surface the many challenges that BC school leaders are facing. 

And welcome, because news of this discussion at a provincial level is indicative of the significant and meaningful relationship that we have with our partners. To be heard, understood and acknowledged is gratifying, and we give thanks to the BCPSEA Board, our school trustees and our government who were willing to engage in this conversation at a provincial level. We all share a vision of public schools that are positive, efficient and collaborative workplaces with a primary focus on student achievement.

I have been so inspired by the volume of positive responses that immediately popped up in my inbox and which have continued to arrive this week, signalling the excitement that has been bubbling throughout the province. And I want to add a very special thank you to our Chapter Presidents for their hard work and dedication on behalf of the membership: your engagement has been critical to carrying this process forward.

Take Care,


BCPVPA Leadership Planning Guide

The revised 2018-2019 guide is available for online reference here.

David DeRosa

January 18, 2019 Message to Members

Looking Back, Looking Forward

What were you doing thirty years ago? Many of you were still in school yourselves, navigating primary or secondary school, teacher education or another early path. Or, maybe you were already working in the classroom, building the skills, knowledge and connections that shaped the leader you are today.

More than 30 years ago, the B.C. Principals’ & Vice-Principals’ Association transitioned from a Provincial Specialist Association (PSA) of the BC Teachers’ Federation to a non-profit professional association. During that time, more than 40 dedicated educators have served as President, and countless exceptional Directors have helped guide our organization.

We rounded out our 30th year last week with a small gathering of long-time friends and current partners, and it was a perfect moment to both glance back at where we’ve been and to look ahead at this year and beyond. The goals and objectives of our Strategic Plan are being realized as we continue to focus on attaining fairness in contract provisions and total compensation through negotiation representation; on supporting the leadership capacity and efficacy of our members through professional development opportunities; and on strengthening engagement with our members, the sector, government and the public. Our 2017-2018 Annual Report provides an overview of the advocacy and development activities that touched hundreds of our members each month.

With nearly six months as President in my rear-view mirror, I can’t believe how quickly time is passing and how much I still hope to achieve! As part of my focus on supporting the well-being of our members, we will have a full implementation of the BCPVPA Early Intervention Program through humanworks by this Fall, and I continue to purposefully collaborate with others in our sector to establish and support health and wellness initiatives. I am hoping to see many of our members at the Ministry of Education’s 2nd annual School Community Mental Health Conference – Leading Mentally Healthy Schools in BC – February 4th and 5th in Vancouver.

I have also been excited to see the growth of our members’ interaction on both the BetterEducate platform and through social media as you’ve shared opinions, resources and support, and showcased the unique activities in your schools and the bonds you’re forging with your teams and students.

Much of my work as President involves building relationships on behalf of the association and ensuring that the BCPVPA is a respected and valued voice in public education. Part of that continuing journey is relating the stories of our members and unveiling the work that we do in schools and communities to support student achievement. What’s your favourite story? I’d love to share it.

Take Care,


David DeRosa

January 11, 2019 Message to Members


In December, I talked about the importance of marking and celebrating your accomplishments when you reflect on 2018. In this first message of 2019, I’d like to continue that thread with a focus on what you learned last year and how you will intentionally carry that learning forward.

Some pieces of learning are bold and declarative but others are less conspicuous, that little kernel of knowledge or subtle occurrence that seems unremarkable at the time but that you later realize has triggered a profound shift in your thinking. 

As I find myself part of a new work environment and with the exposure to other groups and organizations in our sector, I’ve been mindful of what makes associations like ours tick. Organizations pursue their goals using established practices and procedures that guide staff and maintain direction: think ‘strategic plans’ and ‘mission statements’, those visioning tools that are critical to keeping the ship on course. These mechanisms provide the framework for an organization to both measure its progress and be successful.

A key observation for me has been the critical role that relationships play within that framework. When organizations are successful in building sincere mutual trust and respectful relationships, they flourish. If the culture of the organization is genuine, that success doesn’t crumble with the natural passage of leaders and teams as they pursue new challenges or retire. An organization whose leaders, staff and support teams can understand the vision, and truly share and appreciate both the work and each other, has honed a culture built on shared purpose and authentic relationships. Organizations – and the leaders who are responsible for them – find the greatest success when they can achieve this harmony.

This piece of learning has simmered for me over the holidays as I thought about the internal and external relationships that we hold, the ones that have achieved that perfect balance and the ones that are still on a path of discovery.  I hope that this reflection will help me to attain harmony in working with the many teams in my life, and that you can find your own harmony for 2019 by setting a few key intentions based on last year’s learning. I’d love to hear your thoughts: share your greatest 2018 takeaway with us on Twitter @bcpvpa.

Take Care,


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