The Value of New

The Value of New


New sounds exciting: new job, new house, new baby, new clothes, new car.  When we hear the word new, we think of something modern, untarnished, cutting edge and desirable.  There’s a reason that people buy new: they want the product in the best condition possible.  New is the coveted state. New sounds exciting.

But, what if new isn’t a possession, but a person? What if new is a child on the playground, a neighbour on your street or a colleague at work.  Do we respond with the same curiosity and excitement as we do with new possessions? What if new is the idea you have never heard of, a culture you don’t understand, or a mindset you have not explored?  Is new exciting then?  Do we see new as an opportunity to learn, or do we see new as different, wrong or scary?

A few years ago, I read somewhere that when you hire a new employee, you should not search for the person who best suits your organization.  Instead, you should hire the person who has the ability to move your organization forward. Hiring the person that can move your organization forward perpetuates a culture of rejuvenation and learning.  In job interviews, applicants need to prove they are the best candidate: someone with ideas, experiences and energy to make a positive impact. And yet, when that successful applicant gets the job, employees around them ‘show them the ropes’, ‘get them caught up to speed’ and essentially show them how to conform. There is certainly value in past practices and the history of an organization, but there is also rich knowledge in a new perspective: something hard to see when you are immersed in a culture.

As a school principal, I worry that as educators, we sometimes miss the value of ‘new’.  This year, we have 45 new students and 14 new staff at our school.  Over 10% percent of our students and over 25% of our staff are ‘new’.  We ask our students to embrace new all the time: new classes, new friends, new projects, and even new curriculum.  As educators, we operate at a crazy pace, and sometimes we don’t slow down enough to embrace the opportunity of learning from  ‘new’.

  • Do we approach new staff and students with curiosity or do we focus on what they need to learn from us?
  • Do we presume competence and engage in dialogue hoping to learn new ideas?
  • Do we invite new staff to share and collaborate?
  • Do we see ourselves as the experts or do we see ourselves as learners?

Last week I decided to bring in lunch and chat with the staff new to our school this year.  I wanted to know:

  • How has their transition been?
  • What can we do to support them better?
  • What did we forget to share?
  • What great ideas do they have from their past schools that we should learn from?
  • What kind of first impression did our school make?
  • What is wacky or wonderful about our school?
  • What is missing?
  • What strengths and passions do they have that could help our school continue to grow?

The conversation was progressive, positive and insightful.  New staff have the ability to see through fresh eyes. They have the vantage point to ask great questions and they prompt me to wonder about old habits or practices that exist merely because they have existed that way for years.

As the school year progresses I hope to learn from our new students, new staff, new families and the TTOC’s who get to visit different schools each day. Their rich and diverse experiences are an untapped resource and and their unique ability to look at our school through fresh eyes reinforce the value of new.


Sharing what Matters: My Only Post about Donald Trump

Sharing what Matters: My Only Post about Donald Trump

It’s summer holidays and as one lazy day rolls into the next I find myself having much more time to scroll through facebook than I do during the school year. Like most, my newsfeed consists of three things: vacation photos, Olympic updates and stories or videos of Donald Trump.

I am not a very political person and yet the current presidential election in the United States interests me. It interests me because this particular leadership race has less to do with politics and more to do with moral character. While I don’t care too much about politics, I do care about leadership, citizenship and finding good in people.

I am fascinated by the comments that are emerging about education during this political race. News headlines blame a broken education system for the spread of ignorance, racism, and intolerance. Canadian headlines urge our politicians to invest in our schools now so this does not happen here. The public wants schools to produce graduates with a strong moral compass. There is a demand for schools to educate both the heart and the mind. In generations past, schools were a place of academic development focusing on reading, writing and arithmetic while the family and / or church took the primary responsibility of character development. A shift has occurred and the expectation of schools to participate in character development has become more and more prevalent.

This expectation of schools to create good citizens and critical thinkers mirrors the shift in the BC Curriculum. In September, we launch a renewed curriculum based in core competencies: communication, creative thinking, critical thinking, personal and social responsibility. These skills are woven into the curriculum from grades K-12 so that we in BC, can help students become academically ready and personally and socially ready to thrive in society. We want students to graduate with the skills they need to care for themselves, care for others and care for the world we live in. It appears that Donald Trump would struggle to graduate in BC with our new focus.

As I scroll through facebook, the bombardment of Trump’s outlandish behaviour takes me back to my days as a high school marketing teacher and the well known lesson “there is no such thing as bad advertising”. And I wonder, are millions of Americans actually contributing to this campaign by sharing stories through their outrage? I am also a big believer that we control where energy goes based on our conscious attention. Does our focus on the ridiculousness of Trump’s behavioiur actually build momentum for the campaign? I believe it does – and although I cannot vote (as I am Canadian), I intentionally will not share stories of Donald Trump, regardless of how shocking they may be. Instead, I will share stories that inspire, stories of great leadership, and stories where I hope energy follows.

As you spend your summer days scrolling through facebook, think of where you want to put your attention. Whether it’s with family, friends, community or a national issue, find the good in our world, put your energy on stories that spread hope and joy, and remind one another that there are wonderful examples of human character all around us – we just have to look for them and decide what we share. Have faith, focus on good and love will win – it always does.

Turning Points

Turning Points

Another turning point
A fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist
Directs you where to go…

We are all connected.  The bonds we form with friends, family and colleagues give us our identity, a purpose, a reason to love and a sense of belonging in this world.  And yet, despite these connections, there are times we need to travel alone.  Times to move forward, times to try something new and times to say goodbye.

In the past week, I have witnessed the love and pain that comes from turning points of life.

  • An educator, saying an emotional goodbye after teaching for 37 years
  • A brave six year old boy saying goodbye as he leaves our school, knowing he will finally be adopted and have a forever family next week
  • My father, after fighting death the past few months, succumbing to his illness and leaving this world early this morning

These moments are different than one another, and yet there is something similar amongst them.  Despite the connections we have made, and relationships we form, there still comes a time when we all walk alone and say goodbye to life as we know it and hello to something new.

So make the best of this test
And don’t ask why
It’s not a question
But a lesson learned in time

The strength of our connections give us the courage to walk alone.  The possibility of what is to come gives us hope for what may follow next.  And yet, as right as a turning point may be, goodbye is always hard.  Good and bad memories flood our minds and cause us doubt – we often wish we had just one more day.

So take the photographs
And still frames in your mind
Hang it on a shelf
In good health and good time

As I watched Keith retire, I saw a community come together honouring a career that inspired children for almost four decades.  Staff, students, parents and family told stories of how an educator had changed the lives of children.  His vivacious two year old granddaughter with a bright smile beamed at her grandpa, only slightly aware how much more time she would have with her favourite person.  Keith, knowing his decision was right, fought the tears and reminded us, his head was ready but his heart wasn’t.  A career well served was hard to walk away from, and yet it was time for him to leave.

One of my favourite students, whose name I will avoid for anonymity looked up at me with brave big eyes “Ms. Blakeway – I’m getting a new family!  Do you know if they collect rocks?”  “Yes, they love rocks!” I assured him as I made a mental note to email the adoptive family and suggest they have some rocks ready. At such a young age, he has lived through neglect, removal from his home and five years of foster care.  I know with certainty that his forever home is the turning point that he needs.  But saying goodbye to my favourite little man was hard.  I admire his courage, his optimism and his endless curiosity.  In one week, he will make that step alone from one home to another.

Tattoos of memories
And dead skin on trial
For what it’s worth
It was worth all the while

Last night, and for the third time this year, we received a call from the hospital that my dad would not likely survive much longer.  My brother sat with him, as did his fourth wife, and later in the evening I took over and sat beside his bed.  When I got there he was still responsive and mumbled a little, squeezed my hand and showed understanding through his eyes.   When the others left and I sat in the chair beside him, in a stark hospital room, I realized how alone he was.  A man with few connections in this world, most of them strained, was dying with few at his side.  The hospital had suggested a hospice to provide more comfort and dignity but the hospice was full so the typical room in the trauma unit made do. After a few hours I said all that I wanted to say, touching on some of the good and bad experiences with my father, and asked him to try to forgive himself.  My dad never found peace in this world and my hope for him is that peace is just around the corner.  When I left, his body was no longer mobile, his hand felt heavy but as I spoke one tear fell from his eye.  I said goodbye and left.   He passed away alone at the hospital at 3 AM this morning.

It’s something unpredictable
But in the end it’s right
I hope you had the time of your life

For all of us, there are moments we will face alone.  But if we live life right, the connections and love we build with one another will give us the courage we need at each turning point. Even when life is unpredictable, in the end it’s right.

Time to Go

Time to Go

It’s that time of year. April 1st…a day when we play practical jokes on friends and family. For educators, it’s also about this time of year that our minds start to play tricks asking us if we are where we are meant to be. As spring arrives, districts begin to prepare for the following school year and teachers and support staff have the opportunity to ask themselves  “Is it time to stay, or time to go?”.

As a young teacher, I remember the excitement of my first full time position. I loved my job, loved teaching new classes, experimenting with ideas and  getting involved with the school community. Changing schools wasn’t really on my radar. I will never forget a conversation I had with my vice principal after my fifth year of teaching. It was near the end of the year, and he had learned he was leaving for a new opportunity. He asked if we could talk for a minute. I thought he was was saying a nice goodbye but instead he asked me if I had taught at any other schools. Besides my practicum, I had not, so I told him no. He told me it was time for me go. At the time I was surprised… why leave? I loved my job! He nicely explained the professional growth potential that he saw in me and suggested that a variety of school experiences may be something worth exploring. He also explained to me that each school has a very unique culture – and sometimes you don’t realize its time to go until after you leave. At the time I was surprised. Looking back, I am so grateful for his words of wisdom. His words left me with curiosity to explore and shifted my direction. Since that conversation I have changed paths a few times moving from teaching to counselling, counselling to vp, from one district to another, from vp to principal and from secondary to elementary. With each shift I have realized that change isn’t as scary as I once imagined. Change keeps our ideas fresh, allows us to make new connections, renews our practice and gives us the opportunity to take the best from each school. It’s also an opportunity to escape routine. Schools have a habit of expecting the same person to take on the same responsibilities year after year. (When I came to elementary I was told quite clearly who was responsible for the laminator. This is great as long as that person wants the responsibility but it’s also funny how little things like this can become a burden over time if it’s not a role you want to have). Change allows educators to re-invent themselves and become who they want to be rather than who they have always been.

So… how do you know if it’s the right time to go? Of course, this is an individual choice. Some people thrive on change and like to move every year or two. Others complete their entire career at one school. One of my good friends has been in the exact same classroom for 22 years. She is an excellent teacher, happy with her assignment and has no interest in moving.  She has made great connections with the staff and students and is part of a dynamic team. She can feel renewed and energized without changing grades or schools. I have another friend who due to layoffs has worked at seven schools in the last seven years. Unlike most, this process doesn’t bother her as she has met great people and loved the breadth of experience she has gained in a short time.

So – Is it Time to Stay or Time to Go?

Throughout my career I have heard some traditional wisdom that may help:

  • The five year rule.  There is an unwritten rule that five years is about the right amount of time to spend at a school and make a difference but also short enough to stay current and rejuvenated.  For some, this works.
  • The perfect posting.  Perhaps you didn’t plan to leave but you happen to see a posting that screams “This is YOU!”  It’s never a bad idea to keep your eyes open.
  • The Pro / Con List.  Many people would advise you to create a pro / con list.  Personally this is my least favourite tool for making decisions.  Perhaps because it cost me $50 000 + when I made the wrong decision.  A few years ago my husband and I wrestled with the idea of moving to a new community.  We made list after list and eventually decided that the list to move was longer than the list that said stay.  We moved.  We hated it.  Despite the practical reasons, our hearts were not in the other community.  Three months in we asked our kids and each other if we should move back.  It took about six seconds to decide we should so six months after purchasing a house we sold it.  Our realtor did the happy dance and went on another vacation while we sucked it up and paid all the expenses associated with moving for a second time in a year.

Here is my random list of unconventional wisdom that you may want to consider:

  • Create your own job.  What would be your ideal teaching assignment?  What need exists in your school or your district?  Maybe this is the time to suggest something new for next year.  (team teaching, a new program, multi-grade classrooms, etc)
  • What do your colleagues think? See whether they feel you are ready for a new role.  A superintendent once gave me this advice.  He said “If you think you are ready for admin, go ask a friend on staff to start staff room conversation asking who would make a great administrator.  If you don’t hear your name, you are not ready”.  I shared this with a  teacher once who was considering admin and she shook her head and said “but no one here would see me as a leader”.  We sat in awkward silence as the reality set in.
  • When you walk in the front door of your school how do you feel?  Do you feel like running for the hills or do you feel at home?  If you feel like your school is an extension of you then you are in the right place.  If it feels like a burden, it’s time to go.
  • Do your colleagues drive you crazy?  Do you see them for their strengths or have their weaknesses become your focus.  It’s easy to blame someone for being ‘hard to work with’.  It takes much more effort to see what you can do differently to be collaborative.
  • Does your school get the best of you?  Are you a professional continuing to learn or have you become so comfortable that you act like a crazy relative?
  • What is your gut feeling?  If you are still not sure,try this.  Pretend you have accepted a new job. Drive to your ‘new school’ and park in the parking lot.  Trust your gut – if it feels right, it is.
  • Follow your heart.  As I told one of our teachers last year, I would rather ask a teacher to follow their heart than ask them to stay if it didn’t feel right.

Whatever you choose, I hope you find the assignment that pushes you slightly beyond your comfort zone and gives you the opportunity to shine.   Happy April.





Goodbye Guacamole: Finding Balance in the Crazy World of Education

Goodbye Guacamole: Finding Balance in the Crazy World of Education

12814244_10156710943540134_2235263687946280847_n.jpgI have spent three of the last four weeks in Mexico. On our last day here in the sun, I realize that this is likely the first and last time (until possibly retirement) where I will have the opportunity to relax this much mid-year. For the first week, I was invited to participate in We Move Forward – an amazing Wellness Retreat for Women in Isla Mujeres where I presented on the Science of Happiness and Impact of Giving. After four days back at work I was packing again and heading to San Jose del Cabo for Spring Break with friends and family for two weeks in the sun.

Three weeks of time to reflect, connect, sleep, eat, drink and enjoy the sun leaves me feeling full of gratitude, optimism, hope and contentment. I feel awake, aware and light (ok … I mean in mind…maybe not in body… thank you guacamole). In this present moment, I recognize the stark contrast to how I felt at the beginning of March: tired, stressed, pulled in many directions and in desperate need for some down time.

During the final week of classes, our school book club met to discuss our book ‘The Way of Mindful Education’. At this particular gathering, we focussed on the wellness of educators. What do we do for ourselves? What do we do to support one another? If we are not mindful of our own wellness, how can we genuinely teach kids to self regulate? We often ask children “What do you need to be ready to learn?” but we don’t often afford ourselves the same question. Personally I know that I am guilty of this… It’s unlikely that I will back out of a commitment with others, but I will easily forego a commitment to myself so I can ‘get work done’. Sometimes I really should ask “What do I need to be able to lead?” Doing so may justify the much needed workout in place of an additional meeting.

As our book club chat became more personal, we recognized that we were all feeling stretched. Teachers shared stories of stress, tears, lack of sleep and an inability to let go of work once they got home. Our teachers care deeply about their kids and sometimes it is hard to unwind in the evening when there is so much to wonder about. When the day ends, it’s not just marking and prep work our teachers take home… it’s the life stories of 20-30 children. While schools are full of the newest trends and decorative cupcakes, they are also full of stories that tug on your heart strings… students living in poverty, students awaiting adoption, students impacted by divorce or stress at home, etc. Children come to school with diverse learning needs, health needs, social needs, and more. What works one day, doesn’t always work the next. As educators we understand the importance of educating the heart and the mind. We understand that for children, the time is now. We know that the most powerful predictor of success is a strong connection to an adult who believes in them. Our teachers care so deeply that they empathize with their students, wishing desperately that they could help each and everyone of them thrive. As the year progresses, the multitude of needs in addition to professional responsibilities can take weight. From good intentions come new ideas, new programs, meetings to attend, school events, community events, and a constant whirlwind of communication between parents, staff and students.

Sometimes, as an educator, it feels like you are captive in an all you can eat buffet when you are craving a simple salad. Don’t get me wrong. I like lasagne. And chicken. And salmon. And fruit. And vegetables. And nainamo bars (especially nanaimo bars). But sometimes, too much good takes away from the pleasure of simplicity. Choosing between many great things, or trying to do a little of everything, stops you from being mindful and engaging fully in one meaningful moment. The buffet mindset leaves us feeling stuffed rather than nourished.

And so, as spring break winds to an end, I ask the classic question that all educators are feeling right now… How can we maintain a balanced lifestyle once school returns?

I don’t have all the answers – but would love to hear your ideas. Here are some ideas that I am trying, and some ideas our book club generated at our last meeting.

  • Taking time to be present. I just signed up for a free 21 day meditation series with Deepak Chopra.  I am 4 days in and committed to finding time over the next 17 days to continue.
  • The sun is rising earlier and so I will once again commit to boot camp at the ungodly hour of 5:45 AM.
  • Find the positives. The negatives can always weigh us down. it’s the positive stories and successes of children that build us up. Chris Wejr recently gave a great TEDx talk on starting with strengths.
  • Our bookclub group came up with the following ideas to try in the spring:
    • Bring in an after school yoga instructor to offer classes for staff at our school a few days per week
    • Start each staff meeting with celebrations where everyone is invited to share personal or professional moments they would like to celebrate
    • Just as each of our classes have ‘buddy classes’, we hope to invite our staff to identify at least one person on staff who they can go to when they need some support or ideas
    • Rolling our book club into a wellness club so we can continue to check in as a staff and find ways to promote wellness
    • Creating a clutter free, calm and inviting staff room that we can all enjoy.
    • Remembering that ‘fun’ is important.

Let’s hope that when April hits us at 1000 miles a hour we can resist the mindset of ‘all you can eat’ and make choices that value simplicity and nourishment.

Goodbye Guacamole. I’m heading back to reality.

Dear Future Teacher…

Dear Future Teacher…

When we look forward in life we have so many questions, and yet when we look back, answers seem so clear.  Perhaps you have seen the popular video clip “How to Age Gracefully” where people of all ages give advice to their younger selfs.

As a school principal, I want  two things:  I want our students to thrive in a safe engaging environment and I want our staff to feel the positive energy that comes from a blend of compassion, hard work, learning, and collaboration.  Teaching is an incredibly tough job.  There are stories that break your heart.  There is never enough time to prepare and plan as much as you hope.  There is always a child you want to reach but can’t.  The year is unbalanced with incredibly long days and nights followed by long vacations.  There are joys (often known as teachable moments) where miracles happen and you can see the spark in a child’s eye as they understand something for the first time.  There are smiles from youth where you know you have done more than educate their mind – you have touched their heart.  It is an exhausting and rewarding job.

This year, our school has two student teachers completing their practicum.  At our recent staff meeting, our teachers took the time to watch the video above, and then wrote their best advice to future teachers.  Here is the advice from teachers (ranging from 1-30 years in experience):

Dear Future Teacher:

  • Breathe Deeply.
  • Hear each child’s story.
  • Take care of yourself.
  • Drink wine.
  • Enjoy the small moments.
  • Write down the funny things kids say to you.
  • Leave your work at work especially on the weekend! Always make time for yourself.
  • Stay strong even when things get tough.
  • Always try to find the positive.
  • Stay balanced.  It’s hard but so important.
  • Try to relax and go with the flow!
  • Don’t sweat the little things.
  • Be Flexible.
  • Fake it until you make it.
  • It get’s easier – and when it’s too easy – it’s time to learn something new. Keep relevant.
  • Remember to take your prep time.
  • Eat your lunch.
  • It’s all about relationships.  Invest your time in this and the rest will seem easier.
  • You can’t help everyone and that’s ok.
  • Keep smiling.
  • Follow your instincts. You do know what to do.  That’s how we learn.
  • Listen to your gut.
  • Have fun.
  • You don’t have to fit it all in.
  • Remember your friends and family are just as much of a priority (actually more).
  • Take time for yourself.  Put down the marking and enjoy a night out.
  • Laugh all the time.
  • Live in the moment.  No matter what you plan, each day will be different.
  • Keep smiling even when you don’t feel like it.
  • Have fun.  Kids love it when you are interested, engaged and happy.
  • Take time to smile and celebrate the small successes.
  • Ask questions.
  • Every child learns differently. Every teacher teaches differently.  Be true to you.
  • Work smarter not harder.  Some prep can be done while watching TV.
  • Know what you do matters.
  • Journal.  Take photos.  Before you know it, you will be an experienced teacher wondering where the time went.
  • It’s ok to cry.  Live. Love. Learn.


Great advice, from great teachers.  I hope our student teachers look forward to an exciting career, finding joy in the moments that matter.








Judging People We Don’t Know: How Stories Can Change Perceptions

Judging People We Don’t Know: How Stories Can Change Perceptions

We often judge people we don’t know.  Without knowing their stories, we allow our stereotypes or fears to influence our judgement.

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of presenting at the Social Justice Conference in Maple Ridge.  I had 90 minutes to spend with teens from Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, ranging in age from 13-18.  With an increase in the number of homeless people living on streets in our community, homelessness has become a hot topic receiving much attention from local media.  As a starting point, I asked the students to share their own experiences associating with people who have experienced homelessness.  Some students had participated in clothing drives, others had volunteered to prepare food but very few had ever met someone who is homeless.  I asked them to think of words that describe their perception of the homeless.  This worlde captures their thoughts:

Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 11.24.19 AM



The students then had the opportunity to learn from other students who have spent time on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and in Coquitlam Shelters.  They saw photos of local homeless people and heard about their journeys in life. I shared with them my experience with Project HELLO – as outlined here in a talk I gave at TEDx WestVancouver.

At the end of the workshop, after knowing the stories behind the faces of homelessness, the students took some time to once again anonymously post their perception of homelessness.  This worlde captures their perception of homelessness, just 90 minutes later:

Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 11.09.18 AM


As I read the anonymous post in notes I shed a few tears. In just 90 minutes, after hearing stories, our students used compassion, empathy and kindness to see homelessness through a different lens.

It makes me wonder how often we all judge our neighbours, co-workers, and strangers that surround us. When we open our hearts and lead with love we recognize that we are all human, we all have a story, and we are all more alike than different.