September 27, 2019 Message to Members
On Monday, I got off the plane at Victoria International Airport and it was raining as hard as I have ever seen. Through the drops cascading on the tarmac, I believe I saw hundreds of animals marching 2 x 2 toward a very large wooden boat. But I was happy to have landed on the Island!
I traveled straight to Claremont Secondary and met with the team who were coordinating a district-wide professional development day with an Indigenous focus. It was great to see Brad Baker, former BCPVPA Director and District Principal in the SD44 North Vancouver, starting the day off with his powerful keynote presentation.
I was then greeted by a new face from a familiar place, Steve Newlove from my hometown of Trail. Steve graduated from JL Crowe and his stepdad taught there. Steve is the Vice-Principal at North Saanich Middle School and works with Principal Kal Russell, the SD63 Chapter president. After a quick stand-up lunch, Kal and I traveled to the SD63 school board office to meet Superintendent David Eberwein. We talked about the growing population in Saanich and the surrounding areas, and the impact on school enrolments; I enjoyed hearing Dave’s perspective on the strategic planning process as the district begins to engage in a new plan. From there, Kal and I met with his Saanich colleagues where I presented some provincial perspectives, outlined supports that are in place for Chapter governance structures and highlighted the new School Plan module in BetterEducate. It was nice to connect with the Saanich Principals and Vice-Principals, and to hear the local outlook.
I started my next day with Superintendent Scott Stinson in SD62 Sooke. It’s a district that is growing quickly, and although this growth has many positives it also presents some unique challenges. Scott and I chatted about the district’s current strategic plan, and how their leadership team is balancing growth with academic and engagement goals. School community well-being is a focus for Scott, and he shared a number of SD62’s strategies to support wellness. He also talked about the high level of engagement of the district’s Principals and Vice-Principals in the BetterEducate growth planning tools, and looks forward to hearing more about the School Plan module. I could see how busy Scott is, and I appreciated that he found time in his schedule to share his education perspectives.
My next stop was Victoria and I was joined by my good friend and Director, Brett Johnson. Brett picked me up on route to CFB Esquimalt where we met Principals and Vice-Principals from both the Sooke and Victoria Chapters. The setting was stunning and with such an incredible view at hand, I wondered how I could stay focussed on my presentation! It was great to reconnect with colleagues that I met at Short Course (shout out to the team from Sooke!) and with Renee Hislop who was recently in my Nuance Book Club group! I really enjoyed engaging with Directors Tom Aerts, Read Jorgensen and Brett Johnson on their ‘home turf’. It’s great to hear about the many positives that are reflected in our roles and responsibilities.
In the context of presenting a provincial perspective, my conversations continue to revolve around our connectedness, a more purposeful personal awareness to help establish that baseline for balance and boundaries, and strategies that support and sustain leadership capacity development. I continue to be energized by our colleagues and my energy levels truly get a boost each time I visit and breathe your air. Hearing from you directly about new and effective strategies helps me to share with others. Our networking mindsets are supporting each other as we shift from ‘survival learning’ to ‘generative learning’, and processes that lead to creating new practice.
September 20, 2019 Message to Members
On the Road Again
I can hear the sweet strains of Willie Nelson in my head: “On the road again …”
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: the very best part of my role as President is the opportunity to be on the ground and to meet our members. I get to do that when we gather together at events, and I have the chance to breathe your air when I visit your communities.
This week I journied to the Central Coast, SD49, residing on the traditional territories of the Nuxalmc, Heiltsuk, and Wuikinuvx peoples. The district covers a vast area, and I landed in Bella Coola to be greeted at the airport by Dave, who was handing out keys from Bella Coola car rentals. But there were no cars to be seen: the #1 rental is the 4×4 Jeep Liberty… lots of colour choice though! It was a fun reminder that I just landed in the Great Bear Rain Forest!
My next stop was Bella Coola Elementary School where I was greeted by Principal Sharon Beloin. Sharon and I spoke about her transition to her role in the ‘city’, as she spent several years in Shearwater at a one-room school. She is now with students from Kindergarten to grade 4 at the only school in Bella Coola, and supervises both a Strong Start and a licensed day care centre. The kids are very excited about their new playground which is designed to be accessible for all.
I met with Sharon, Chapter President Kevin Gianakos and PLD representative Scott Barnes over dinner at Freddy’s Restaurant in Bella Coola; I was sorry to miss Lela Walkus, who was out of town. It was a perfect opportunity to hear more about local contexts and how the responsibilities of these leaders connect them with their communities. This fulfils an important community value for all of them.
I began the next morning at Nusatsum Elementary in Hagensborg – just ‘up the valley road’ from Bella Coola – with Principal Kevin Gianakos. This is Kevin’s second year at NES and his first year as Chapter President. An interesting personal connection: a good friend and former colleague of mine from Trail, Joel Tremblay, took over the teaching position at Shearwater on Denny Island when Kevin and his family made their move to Hagensborg.
NES is a Grade 5-7 school that was recently re-opened due to an increase in the student population. It’s a close neighbour to the local high school, Sir Alexander MacKenzie Secondary, which is affectionately referred to as ’SAMS’. NES is even closer to the School Board office: the Superintendent’s office is just down the hall from Kevin’s.
After a visit and tour of the school, I met with Scott Barnes, Principal of SAMS. Scott is about 2 months into his new role and he is excited to be supporting staff and students in their 8-12 high school. One of the amazing strengths for both NES and SAMS is the close proximity to the extraordinary natural beauty of the Great Bear Rain Forest. The SAMS outdoor education class has created an outdoor classroom that is also accessible for their neighbours at NES: sharing with each other and connecting with nature are consistent themes in this community.
I rounded out my visit with a chat with Superintendent Steve Dishkin. Steve is a former band teacher and he still enjoys engaging directly with the students in his schools. I was there on picture day and when it was time for the teachers to get their photos taken, Mr. Dishkin was off to help out! Steve and I talked about creating and sustaining opportunities for connection and networking and using BetterEducate.com to overcome the barriers of geography.
It was a beautiful day, and I could sense the relief at the airport terminal as the shuttle bus driver was told there was, ‘no need to be on stand-by to run air passengers ‘up the hill’ to Anahim Lake‘, as the plane was on its way. My visit to Bella Coola and Hagensborg came to a close with an iPad slideshow of Kathleen’s new gazebo. Kathy is a long-time resident and at the airport for her sister-in-law’s departure to Vancouver. When I return to Bella Coola, I have a standing invitation for tea.
Although the surrounding mountains, forest and waterways provide a stunning reminder of nature’s beauty, it’s the people of the Bella Coola valley that warmed my heart and made me feel at home.
Understanding Principals’ Work and Well-being
We invite all members who are currently Principals to complete a survey about their work and well-being. Relatively few large-scale research projects have been conducted on Principals’ well-being in Canada, so we appreciate your participation and voice!
The survey is being conducted by Dr. Fei Wang at the Faculty of Education at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and Dr. Katina Pollock at the Faculty of Education at the University of Western Ontario (UWO), and will be available online starting October 8. BCPVPA Principal members: watch for your email invitation from UBC Qualtrics.
September 13, 2019 Message to Members
Reading and Leading
I’ve participated in a number of book clubs over the years, some for fiction but mostly for books that focus on themes of education and leadership. But here’s the thing: I found it challenging to pair my tremendous book club enthusiasm with successful completion of that session’s selection. Tackling a book for pleasure – even one that I was very keen to read – could be a struggle when there were so many other tasks in the school vying for my attention. I gravitated to reading online articles for my professional learning as that felt achievable and still gave me the personal development that I was craving. But without a book club, I didn’t have a cohort of readers around me who were eager to discuss and debate the content and concepts.
It amuses me now that it took time for me to accept that books have chapters, and that reading a chapter is a lot like reading an online article. So, a book club that is accepting of personal pace – and that encourages members to consume the book in the way that suits them – is my kind of book club. And I’m happy to say that’s the book club that we’re launching next week.
The BCPVPA Book Club starts on Wednesday September 18, the first of four monthly sessions this Fall that will examine Michael Fullan’s Nuance, co-published by the BCPVPA and the Ontario Principals’ Council (OPC) through Corwin Press. Each session will focus on a chapter, and while we will offer support from our committee, our greatest desire is for the book club members to lead their own discussions. Through the Zoom platform, we will break out into rooms for ease of conversation and then will gather back together to conclude. We’ll be encouraging continued dialogue through the weeks between the book club sessions, and you can read more about that later in this issue of eNews.
We see the BCPVPA Book Club as a special opportunity for our members to meet online. You may come into the room with friends, but you’ll definitely have a chance to chat with someone you’ve never met. And while we can’t promise that Michael Fullan himself will drop into one of our sessions, he is interested in what we’re doing and has invited our comments and questions as we get into the book.
If you haven’t yet had a chance to read the book, don’t let that hold you back: the book club’s discussion of the concept of nuance and why some leaders succeed where others fail will be rich and relatable, and everyone will be able to contribute. No need to register or sign up: we’ll just see you there!
September 6, 2019 Message to Members
Expect the Unexpected
We’ve all been there. You have had an amazing lead-up through August, and you’re now a few days into the school year. You’re not exactly relaxed, but you’re feeling confident. It’s the best start-up yet. And then … something happens. It could be an equipment failure in your mechanical room or a missed class in the schedule. It could be a teacher’s unexpected absence or a family emergency for a student. While it’s impossible to plan for the unexpected, there are strategies for being nimble and responsive when the unexpected arrives on your doorstep.
As the lead learners in our schools, our expertise in strategic planning is a powerful factor in our school’s operational success. While planning is key, leaders also need to be skilled critical thinkers who can recognize and swiftly navigate change. I know that as you are reading this, you are thinking of a recent circumstance in your own school – or maybe in planning with families or friends – where an obstacle or a new fork in the road derailed your plans. You can see the cascade of options that came to you, and how you assessed and categorized them before taking action. Whether there was an opportunity for consultation, or whether you had to act decisively and start to build out from your action. Whether there were secondary measures or fixes that spun out from that change of direction.
For most of us, critical thinking is now second nature – it’s a requirement in the work we do. We can learn from the decisions that we make in those pivotal moments and sometimes, in reflection, find another path that may have opened different options. Each time we are challenged, we can improve our reactions and creative thinking. Because we always know that there’s another test around the bend, and we’ll be ready for it.
August 30, 2019 Message to Members
When I think of our members in your schools during August, I can visualize exactly what you are doing. Finalizing timetables. Greeting and consulting with your staff. Updating handbooks, websites and newsletters. Inspecting your schools to ensure safety. And following up on 1001 details that will spell success for your students on opening day.
There’s a mix of emotions on the return to school, a pull between the time you have just spent with family and friends and the excitement of the time ahead as you welcome students back for another year. Some of you will have smooth and routine returns, others may experience hiccups and for a few there may be more urgent matters that draw your attention.
I’ve had the absolute pleasure of serving as President for more than a year now, and reaching out weekly through these columns, so my next words won’t come as a surprise: in the whirl of preparation and the laser focus of leading in these early weeks, make sure that you are taking care of yourselves.
Recently when I’ve chatted with colleagues or presented to groups and committees about personal wellbeing, I typically hear a solid understanding of why wellbeing is important and what wellbeing looks like. But I’ve frequently felt that the how is less clear. When we discuss strategies and supports for ‘work-life balance’ – or as it is being rebranded, ‘life-work balance’ – I find my conversations to be more prescriptive. I might say: We need to give ourselves permission to set boundaries. These boundaries need to reflect our school community and personal shared values. They need to be communicated in a very transparent way with our school community, friends, colleagues and family. How we each achieve this will be contextual, but I hope that you can allow yourselves to consider the how.
A simple start can be changing the way you manage your emails, and letting your colleagues know your communication strategy for the year. Or setting aside time each week for meaningful connection with a peer. Or nourishing your own professional development by setting reading goals.
The process of establishing boundaries is within your control and can be as simple as you need it to be: while it can be hard to let go, breathing deeply away from your working life and changing the channel for just a moment will allow you to recharge and return with energy and increased efficiency.
Good luck to all of our members as you open your schools next week.