November 1, 2019 Message to Members

Connecting With Leaders

As I noted last week, my road trip to visit with members in our Okanagan area Chapters followed a bend in the road to the BCPVPA Connecting Leaders Conference in Penticton. More on that a bit later in this column, as I have a lot to relate about my visit to our Okanagan colleagues.

My trip started in Oliver, where I met with Superintendent Bev Young and had a great discussion about BetterEducate and the BCPVPA Leadership Standards as the framework for the growth planning process. Then it was on to Southern Okanagan Secondary where Principal Tracy Harrington and Vice-Principal Stacey Smith gave me the school tour and generously accommodated my aspiration to be the ‘I’ in ‘Kind’. We also had an opportunity to chat with staff and students in the library and theatre spaces, and then I was able to see the foods and cafeteria team in action as they prepared another amazing lunch for the school community.

On route to Grand Forks, I stopped in at Boundary Central Secondary School and spent time with Principal Bo MacFarlane. Although I had been to BCSS several times over the years – primarily as a rugby coach – Bo gave me a tour of the school, including the drama and theatre facility which he calls the ‘heart of the school’. Just outside of the main entrance to the school is a very special place, their outdoor Indigenous classroom space which features a rich cultural history and incredible rock sculptures by a local Indigenous artist.

A little further down the road, in Grand Forks, I chatted with Superintendent Ken Minette and we talked about the importance of keeping student success in the forefront of our decision-making processes. Ken is a fan of BetterEducate, and last school year used the BackBEat Channel function in eliciting feedback and inviting response from community members when developing a shared vision for the District. Grand Forks Secondary Principal Brian Foy and I talked about some of the challenges rural schools are facing with specialty teacher recruitment. Creativity and flexibility are a big part of the strategy, sprinkled with a fair bit of resiliency and a whole lot of team work at all levels.

At Christina Lake Elementary, I was met by Principal Shawn Lockhart and was invited by teacher Sarah Stoochnoff and her grade 1 class to practice mindfulness. I was impressed by the poise and focus of the students as we moved through the session. When prompted to share with me why they were doing the activity, the students informed me they were “developing their pre-frontal cortex.” I know: amazing! As I walked through Christina Lake Elementary, I could feel the calming influence of Sarah and her colleagues’ work with breathing, mindfulness and contemplative practices. This purposeful work is reflected in the evidence and artifacts in their School Plan which was shared with me by teacher Kirsten Rezansoff.

That evening, I met with the other SD51 Chapter members and enjoyed talking about my work with Compassionate Systems Leadership and the tools and projects in development through our MIT cohort.

The following day featured a memorable drive through the Boundary, Similkameen and South Okanagan regions. The fall colours were incredible and memorable! Fueled by a coffee and butter tart from the Deadwood Junction Café in Greenwood, I arrived in Penticton in the late afternoon in time to meet Chapter President, Heather Rose. We made our way to Theo’s Restaurant, where our SD67 Chapter colleagues had gathered for an opportunity to hear some of my provincial perspectives and to ask questions about current trends. It was wonderful to hear SD67 members’ perspectives, and I learned about how they have engaged in a research and evidence-based plan for Wellbeing in Leadership, with their ‘Wise Friend’ initiative, which “serves an important purpose in creating a sense of connection and belonging for our members”.

The next day, prior to the initial registration and kickoff for Connecting Leaders, I met with Superintendent Wendy Hyer and enjoyed a rich conversation that touched on recruitment, retention and enrolment challenges, and also many of the positive opportunities that are part of the SD67 leadership experience.

My Penticton visit concluded with the Connecting Leaders Conference, and the experience was full of reminders of the importance of ‘Cultivating a Climate of Leadership’ in our work. There was so much to take away, and I will just note some moments that made an impression. Peter DeWitt started his Friday morning keynote by reminding us that we teach the kids we have, and not the ones that we want. Gabrielle Scrimshaw talked about how children are born into their life dynamics, but that it can take only a small ‘nudge’ from a supporter to make a difference in their life journeys. John Chenoweth offered that blaming the system no longer works – we are the system.

A successful conference is the result of a great deal of work and planning: thank you to the Co-Chairs Burt Bergmann and Raelyn Larmet, Site Chair Kirsten Odian, and the 2019 Committee. I’d like to thank our staff for their behind-the-scenes coordination: Jessica Antosz, Liz Bell and Amorie Kruger who made it all run, Don Boyd who supported our exhibitors and prize draws, and Sandra Murphy who wrangles our information and brings our work to life visually. And a big thank you to the members who – as Breakout presenters – prepared for their sessions while managing and leading in their diverse roles. You gave a very special gift: your time!

I know that for myself, occasions like the conference give me a chance not only to gather new learning but also to catch up with our members. I hope that the conference attendees were able to connect with new materials and strategies that they can bring back to their schools, and to connect with colleagues both established and new, as we shared the experience of Connecting Leaders.

Take Care,

David