imagine a place…

 

For the past few months I have been preparing to open a new school in our district.  I feel so fortunate, humbled and honoured to have this opportunity…oh and not to mention, just a little overwhelmed at times.

I think this is what most administrators would consider a dream…developing a vision, planning the space, the furniture, the schedule, the staff, etc.  And to be honest, it has been for me as well.

I recently had the opportunity to meet with our initial staff.  I spent a considerable amount of time researching, reflecting, questioning, thinking and re-thinking how the meeting should run.  There were sleepless nights and many discussions with colleagues and senior administrators.  I unintentionally “stole” an idea from another school when I came across the picture book, “Imagine a Place” written by Sarah Thompson.  After reading the book (which is a great resource for so many reasons) I decided to ask staff to “imagine a place.”  What would their ideal school look like, sound like, feel like?

So we read the book (actually watched it on youtube) and then crowded around a small table to reflect.  Here is what these amazing educators wrote:

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The remainder of our meeting went beautifully.  The teachers shared project ideas, instructional strategies, ideas around scheduling and school philosophy.  This activity helped to focus our work, our ideas and our reflections.

After taking time to read through the reflections I was filled with a sense of pride, awe and excitement!  This activity affirmed all of the work being done in preparing to open the school. It is a great visual of what we hope to achieve in our new learning environment.  Moving forward, I intend to use this chart as a reminder and as a focus in the work that we do.  Working together, we will “imagine a place” where students can be comfortable and succeed.

:)S

Scattered Reflections

I recently had a colleague mention to me something about my blog and how I hadn’t written anything in awhile…so I took a look, yep, it’s been a year.  :(  Ooops.  Somehow in the “busy”-ness of my life, this important part of what I do has been neglected.

My life has been a bit of whirlwind since last year.  I finished the year in a K-8 school, was transferred to an alternative high school for September-February and now I am in central office getting ready to open a NEW school!!!!

As I look at the task ahead of me I feel excited, overwhelmed, inspired and… scattered.  I feel pulled in many different directions on a daily basis.  This is not uncommon for a school Principal, just different in this context.  I was unsure of why I was feeling so scattered until I sat down and started to map out all the thoughts going through my mind.  Here is what it ended up looking like…

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And I have added more this evening…

My mind is continually racing, reflecting and processing our school philosophy and how to ensure we create a positive, collaborative culture in this new space.  These are two very critical components that speak to my heart about education and what we do every day in schools.  How will I effectively articulate and communicate these important pieces to the staff, families and community? I find myself going back to this question over and over again.

I have yet to come up with a definitive answer to this question.  I keep getting side-tracked, losing focus and being pulled to make other decisions.  My hope is that by reflecting here, I will be able to focus on a little bit of this fun “mess” that I am fortunate enough to be a part of.

And this is only my work life :).  At home, life has not slowed down with our four monsters. :) Hockey practices and games, school work, instrument lessons and practice and our sacred family time make up a week.  As a family, we realize it is vital to hold some time each week as special, time where we can re-connect and just “be” together.  Family supper times, watching a show together or playing a card game help to remind us of what is important.

Maybe there is a lesson in my family life that I could utilize in my work life?  Focusing on the important pieces of my work life and family life will hopefully help me to feel less “scattered” and more on-track.

Suggestions, ideas,  or advice are always welcome…

:)S

Tech Integration Goal

technology

Day 2: Write about one piece of technology that you would like to try this year.  You might also write about what you are hoping to see out of this edtech integration.

And as usual… late with my post for day #2.  :)

This year I would like to support the integration of technology in meaningful ways.

In my teaching assignment this school year, I have developed assignments that encourage student choice in presentation style.  Students have access to technology to research, create and present their learning.  I allow students to use personally owned devices in my class.  My hope is that this practice will become more common in our school.

One specific piece of technology that I am looking forward to learning about and implementing, is iMovie.  I have been lucky to view numerous iMovie projects, but I am not sure about the process students go through as they create using this technology.  I know that students are more comfortable than I am with the software.  I need to be willing to “let go” of control and allow the students to create.

I believe iMovie will prove to be another engaging and meaningful way for students to demonstrate their learning.  I look forward to trying it out!

:)S

September #SAVMP

september

Well, September has come and gone.  What a month!  Being in a new school, I anticipated being busy and tired by the end of the month.  I could never have anticipated being as emotionally and physically exhausted as I was on September 30th.

A new school and a new school year brings excitement, busy-ness and anticipation.

This September brought a new Junior Kindergarten program to the school.  I love, love, love this program!  So, I was through-the-moon excited to have it at our school.  We had to hire an instructor and set up an empty classroom, shuffle Educational Assistants and transition these beautiful 4 year old children into the school.  I love going into this classroom and spending time with these cuties!

This September brought 2 un-well teachers who would be off work for a minimum of two months.  Hiring good teachers quickly is not an easy task.  Being hired somewhat last-minute and being ready to teach is also not easy.  Both teachers have done a fabulous job for us!

This September brought 40 new, unanticipated students to our school.  These new students were welcomed with open and loving arms.  However, again, we had to hire a new teacher and reconfigure classes.  This meant shuffling students from four classes into five classes.  Student’s, parent’s and teacher’s anxiety levels were high.  My role was to calm some of the anxiety and ease the transition.

This September brought 3 expecting teachers.  One teacher, who is expecting twins (yay!) had to begin her leave much earlier than anticipated.  She was so upset to be leaving her little students behind.  We calmed her and told her to go and put her feet up, she would be busy soon enough with her own little ones.  More hiring…

This September brought tragedy to our little district…twice.  Two grade 10 boys passed away suddenly within weeks of each other.  These tragedies greatly affected our high school students, families, teachers and staff.  I am so proud of our school district and how they have worked through these difficult days.  We have been blessed with outstanding  support provided by our Superintendent, Assistant Superintendents, Director of Inclusive Education and Director of Religious Education.  The tragedy also reached four other schools as we all feed into the same high school.  One of those four schools was ours.  One of the boys attended and his younger sister still attends our school.  It has been a difficult time for the students, families and staff.  Being new to the school, I did not know the boy, his sister or his family… I do now.  I found it challenging to navigate my way through each day as I had never previously dealt with the death of a student.  Ensuring that the right supports were in place for the right time and for the right person is a difficult task.  I am proud of our school.  We pulled together to support our students and each other.  When his sister returned to school we had to work closely as a team.  These were difficult days.  Each new day seems to get a bit better for her, her close friends and the staff.

This September brought the death of our much loved family dog, Nutmeg.  She was with us for 13 years and was loved by each of us.   She always made things easy for us, her death was no exception.  She was not well, she could not see or hear well and her back hips were getting worse by the day. So, instead of forcing us to make a difficult decision, she went peacefully in her sleep.  We all spent time petting her and saying good-bye before we decided to bury her close to where my childhood dog is buried.  It was an extremely difficult day for all of us.  Watching my husband and children hurt broke my heart over and over and over again.  Nutmeg is missed everyday, but we are confident that she is at peace, happier and healthier where she is.

This September brought me to reflect on what is important, and what is not important right now.  I find myself spending more time with my children at the end of the day, doing homework, playing a game, reading a story or listening to their stories.  I find myself spending more time in classrooms, in the hallways and outside with students.  I have let go of some committees and commitments for right now.

And that was September…(and I very briefly wondered why I was so tired at the end of it!)

As much as I have gained through my experiences this past month, I am looking forward to October, hoping it may be a little less “eventful!”

:)S

Building relationships…

“Before people decide what they think of your message, they decide what they think of you.”

The importance of building relationships allows you to get to know the students, parents and staff you are working with, but it also allows them to get to know you.  The above quote speaks to me about the importance of building relationships.  I believe that building positive relationships is critical to being an effective administrator.

The more I read on twitter and the more  course work that I do, I am affirmed in my belief about the power of building relationships.  I have spent time thinking about and reflecting on the importance of building positive relationships with students, colleagues and families of our schools.

This summer I have been thinking about the best ways to do this as I will be moving to a new school (have I mentioned that?:)) These are some of my ideas, from the past and from the present…

Students

Being present:   In my experience, the best way to build relationships with students is to be present.  Be present in the hallways, in the classrooms, on the playground, during sport events and extra-curricular activities. Be present before, during and after school.  Be present during recess breaks and lunch time.

Learn their names: At my current/former school I was so proud to say that I knew each student by name.  Students and parents would often ask me, “How do you remember all of our names?”  This was one thing that students wrote about in my beautiful year end keepsake.

Ask questions: During classroom visits, I always ask students to , “Tell me what you are learning about today” and “Can I help you in anyway?”  Quite often, this is the best part of my day. During recess breaks and lunch break I often ask students, “What do you love to do outside of school?” or “What do you enjoy doing with your family?”  Through these informal conversations I learn a lot about a student.

Share stories: Students also like to hear what I do outside of school.  The smaller the student, the more surprised they are that I don’t actually live at the school. :)  They like to know about my kids, my family and what I like to do besides work.

Families

Be present: Be present and available during Meet the Staff evenings, Open House, Family Fun Nights, Parent Teacher Interviews, sporting events…

Share a positive story:  All too often when I have to phone a parent it is usually for discipline of their child.  As often as I can, I like to share positive stories as well.  Taking the time to share the good as well as the bad, lets parents know that you care about their child.

Listen: When parents/families contact me, they have something important to say.  I need to take the time to listen.  Sometimes it takes awhile to truly hear what they are trying to tell me, other times, it’s just a quick chat.

Return phone calls: I understand the busy-ness of everyday, however, if a parent or family member has called, I do my very best to return that phone call in a timely manner.  Parents appreciate the time it takes to return the phone call and they feel valued and respected by this simple courtesy.

Colleagues

Be present: Be present and available through out the school day, during instructional time, during recess and lunch breaks, before and after school, during Parent Teacher Interviews and Professional Development days.

Listen: Similar to parents, I try to ensure that I listen to staff.  They are in the “trenches” and know their students so well.  When they come to me to share a story, celebrate a success, vent, cry or laugh I need to take the time to truly listen.

Offer Support: When and if I can, I offer support.  I often say, “What can I do to help?”

Share stories: I am a pretty open book with colleagues.  I share stories about my family, my life experiences and my teaching experiences.  Over the past 16 years, I have learned a lot and I have stories to share.  Sometimes I have an idea or suggestion to share.  Other times, I share a failure and what I learned from that experience.

Taking time to build relationships demonstrates my dedication to each individual that I encounter.  When relationships are built, people have a better idea of what I am about and they are more willing to listen to my message.

I know there are many more ideas to build relationships and I would love to hear from you…what did I miss???

:)S

Something to Say…

talking

Before March of this year, I had never even thought of blogging about my professional experiences or opinions. I had briefly considered blogging about my parenting experiences. As a mother of four, there are some things I feel I could say, funny stories, silliness and some serious topics. But I had never ventured past the initial thought process.

Then at our teachers convention in March a session titled, “The Networked Leader” caught my attention. I had heard about twitter, but didn’t feel that following celebrities would impact my teaching. :) Blogging was in the session description as well. So, I went…

In the end, I dove into the world of twitter and blogging. And I love it (mostly).

I find myself struggling to write meaningful posts. It is easy to write reflective pieces about my experiences, but the posts with opinion and fact are more difficult. And I am haunted by a statement the presenter of the session (the infamous George Couros @gcouros) made. He said, as admin if you have nothing to say, get out of admin. Now, he went on to qualify that statement and it totally made sense to me.  He also wrote about it in his post, “The Prophets in Your Land”

However, I continued to struggle to find “something to say.”

This process has forced me to reflect on my leadership style. How can I make a meaningful difference at a school if I have nothing to say? How can I effectively run a school if I have nothing to say? So I forced myself to consciously notice when I “say something.”  Through this process, I discovered that I do “say” a lot and have a lot to offer to students and teachers.  Also, moving from my school, my students and staff provided many examples of ways that I “say” things and meaningful examples of what I said.

I attempt to take a gentle and coach-like approach.  I take the time to think about the best approach of  how I can best support and encourage , rather than tell students and staff “the right way” to do things. I provide suggestions, articles, research, and support.  I have never said, I have all the right answers, but I will assist in finding the answers.  I enjoy this part of my job.  I feel that anyway I can help make the job of a teacher easier or more efficient, it is worth my time.

So, I guess I do have something to say.  Maybe my struggle was more with how to put it out there.   I value and respect my colleagues, within my district, city, province and now PLN.  My hope is that they find value in what I have to “say.”

:)S

April struggles bring…

april showers

April showers, bring May flowers…so…April struggles bring…

April is a struggle.  As a Principal I am split.  I have the responsibility to complete the current school year.  There are still three months remaining in the current school year.  30 percent of the year …

But, I am asked to look ahead to the next school year.  What number of classes will we have?  Who will teach which grade?  Will there be transfers of teachers?  How many new students will register?  What presentations should we book? What maintenance needs to be completed? While many of these questions appear logistical, some answers will change the dynamics and culture.

So, my focus is split.  This makes me ineffective and I know it.  I also realize that there is little I can do to change it.  It is the reality of my role.  Hence, my struggle.

Today I spent my morning in classrooms, focusing on the “now.”  I listened to a collaborative conversation in a junior high-class discovering Aztec culture.  I had the opportunity to observe a grade eight girl ask a significantly profound question of her teacher, while another student made a meaningful and powerful connection between the Aztecs and current literature.  In another class I observed a powerful demonstration of the class system as an introduction to a piece of historical literature.  Students shared with me the purpose of a mapping activity in Social Studies.  In one of our more challenging classes, I had the wonderful experience of reading aloud a chapter of their current book.  We predicted, we questioned and we laughed.   In grade one I assisted the students in creating their “Spring” sentences and reminding them that each sentence ended with a punctuation mark.

I could not help but be amazed at the incredible progress of our students and marvel at the dedication of their teachers.  These next three months are going to go by all too quickly.   I have encouraged the teachers to try to slow it down and enjoy some of the little moments each day.

So, while I do need to make decisions for the next school year, I need to enjoy the remainder of this year.  There is still work to be done.

:) S