There are certain occupations that tug at our heart strings. We naturally associate warm feelings with kind professions such as the florist, the massage therapist, and the kindergarten teacher. We expect to like them. Contrarily, other professions seem to arouse fear or anxiety just buy stating their title: the cop, the auditor, Continue reading
September is a time of renewal… changing seasons, crisp nights, fall colours and back to school excitement. It’s my favourite time of year. Until yesterday, most of us hung on to some hope that Tuesday would bring upon us this annual sense of renewal. Now we have learned that this will not happen as schools will not open on time.
For months I have intentionally steered away from blogging about the the labour unrest between the BCTF and the Provincial Government. As a school administrator, I am not a member of the BCTF so ‘technically’ I am on the ‘other side’. But not everything can be explained from a technical stance. Matters of the heart are anything but technical. And to me, this is a matter of the heart. You see, I don’t just love the students I get to work with, I love our teachers and support staff who give every day to enhance the lives of kids.
To become an administrator, you need to be a teacher first, and usually an exceptional one at that. I too went into this profession to make a positive difference, share a love of learning and inspire hope for the future. Just like most teachers, I believe I have the best job in the world; not because of the pay or the holidays, but because I get to work with young minds, I get to create, I get to be part of a professional learning community and I get to feel a sense of renewal that comes every time a child or teacher achieves another milestone. Regardless of my job title, at heart, I am a teacher and a learner first (and I feel confident I speak for my admin colleagues).
There are many blog posts that delve into the political unrest and impasse that divides the BCTF and the government. Most of what I read is technical in nature either explaining the history behind the dispute, the current conditions or the financial demands for a settlement. I am not going to write about those things. Why? Two reasons. First, I don’t feel I’m an expert on the situation, and second, I think it all pales in significance to what really matters. So what matters most? The people. Everyone involved in this mess. The students, the parents, the teachers, the support staff, the administrators, the leadership teams, the board members, the tax payers, etc. Each one of us is human, and each of us is somehow connected to this ugly situation that has caused a lot of hurt.
When this dispute started last spring, boards across the province were faced with the impossible task of cutting millions of dollars from their budgets. Teachers were laid off, support staff were let go, some trustees decided not to run again, and schools felt the heaviness. Unfortunately boards made impossible decisions knowing that whatever they decided to do, someone would get hurt. Many meetings saw tears from all ‘sides’. Blame began, dislike spread for those making the cuts and the first ugly signs of ‘sides’ started to arise.
As job action progressed, teachers were instructed by their union to enter phase two of job action where staff meetings and email between administrators and teachers ceased. Again, unnatural ‘sides’ emerged, as both ‘sides’ had different responsibilities they had to meet. Again, on paper, a technical divide emerged. Yet a strong staff is not made up from technical job descriptions aligning together – but instead from human beings that come together to share, grow, celebrate and inspire one another. A strong staff has heart. Asking these ‘sides’ not to work together is like asking a happy couple to break up. It doesn’t feel right. As we were all asked to take ‘sides’ we did so, knowing almost secretly that we are all in this together, not because we have the same political beliefs, but simply because we are human and because we have heart. It saddens me that we had to say goodbye to retiring teachers on picket lines. It saddens me that some jobs were cut completely and not replaced. It saddens me that teachers and students had to miss many year-end activities that they looked forward to.
But here’s what saddens me most. When I turn on the news or social media, I am flooded by opinions of what teachers and the government should or should not do. I am flooded by sweeping statements that judge the character of the people involved. I am flooded by opinions of what should be done, what school should look like and how things should end. This boggles my mind. Yes – I would hope that everyone cares about kids, education and the future, but caring for kids does not make everyone experts in education. Hopefully we all grew up seeing a dentist as well, but certainly unless we have also gone to dental school, we do not feel we are an expert in dentistry. Our teachers are experts in education. They give their lives to their careers and they continually develop as mentors in learning for our children. They are fighting a fight not about wages, but about learning conditions. They know we have one of the best education systems in the world. They know what conditions they need to maintain this. It kills them to see a system erode to a point where they can’t best serve each child. Financially they have paid a steep price, but what saddens me most is the hurt they must feel against their profession and their character as they face public scrutiny from some. Throughout this ongoing dispute I have seen people turn against trustees, against leadership teams, against administrators and against teachers. And every time we take sides or have people against us, we all get hurt.
I do not have all the answers, but here’s what I do know…
My mom was a teacher for years and a principal. My husband works in a support role with kids with special needs. I want the best school experience possible for my two boys. Most of my best friends are educators. And there is something that unites us all – we did not go into this profession because of our technical skills or scholarly success. We became educators because we lead with our hearts. We love our jobs, we love the kids, and we love the miracles we see every day when we connect with a young mind and see one radiate with curiosity, hope and wonder. We love the magic of connecting with other humans. We lead with love.
As September approaches, our hearts are heavy. As students, parents, teachers and administrators, we are all hurt. The excitement of the first day will not be here on Tuesday.
The day will come when ‘technically’, things are all worked out. But just like any broken relationship, it’s hard to forget about the hurt. Our hearts all need to heal. As we move forward I encourage all of us to do so in kindness. If you have an educator who made a significant difference in your life, take a moment to tell them. If you support your local schools, take time for a random act of kindness to show you care. If you have friends struggling to find childcare offer to help. And if you are not sure what do to, stop and think with your heart.
As the picket lines return on Tuesday I will not be taking sides. We are humans first and for that reason alone, ‘sides’ should not exist. We are in this together. May we take care of one another and keep sight of better days to come when the joy of learning will return.
Happy New Year! There’s something about January that I love. Whether or not we keep our resolutions, the simple act of stopping to reflect on the year behind us and look at the new year with optimism gives us a sense of renewal and hope. It also gives us direction for where we are headed. “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” ― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
This coming year I am really looking forward to two exciting education events! I am hopeful that you will join us in one or both!
1) The first of the two events, is Make BC Smile – an initiative that students in my leadership class created. Make BC Smile will take place in BC from Monday May 26th – Friday May 30th. The premise is simple – have students engage in projects that spread kindness and help make people in BC stop and smile. What I love about this project is how it came to be. In October, I showed my leadership class a video I had found on Twitter, created by Massoud Adibpour. He is a university student in Washington DC who decided to make it his mission to make DC smile. He got some friends together and began the ‘Honk if You Love Someone Campaign‘. My intention was simplistic. I thought I would show the video to my students, and then we would repeat the idea by creating positive signs to hold on Lougheed Highway in Maple Ridge for one morning. What happened next was pretty cool. Local media learned of our project because passerby’s phoned the media and asked them to cover it. The Province newspaper wrote ‘Happy Haney students spread the love with streetside rally‘. The secretaries at our school fielded multiple calls from drivers who wanted to thank the students for making their day. One lady broke down in tears in the Starbucks line up sharing the impact the simple messages had that particular day. As an educator, I LOVE the impact this day had on our students. A couple of days later, one of my students, Caroline, approached me and asked if I had a plan for our leadership class the following week. I asked why. She told me she needed 20 minutes of the class. She had taken it upon herself to contact Massoud Adibpour in Washington DC to let him know that we had repeated his project and she had made arrangements for him to join us via Skype to share ideas for positive projects in our communities! On the Monday, during the Skype conversation, two other leadership students, Jenna & Miranda, thought of a new idea. As members of the Maple Ridge District Student Advisory Council, they were in search of a motivational speaker for May for a grade 6-7 leadership conference. What if Massoud & his girlfriend Bonnie could be the speakers? What if the leadership conference could include a district wide ‘Honk if you Love Someone’ campaign with grade 6-12 students lining the streets from East to West through Pitt Meadows & Maple Ridge? As grade 12 students at Thomas Haney (a self directed school), they know how to negotiate, take initiative, and advocate for what they want. So what did they do? They did their research, looked up flights, contacted Massoud & Bonnie and convinced them not only to volunteer their time to come to Vancouver, but also to extend their stay for a week! They then set up a meeting with our superintendent’s office to confirm funding. This ALL happened before they shared the idea with me. I told them I loved it – I just had one question…. where would they stay? They smiled and said “at your house!”. (Which our family is excited about) I love how they have created this all on their own! Their goal is to share their enthusiasm with others across the province. For the week of May 26-30th the Maple Ridge – Pitt Meadows School District will work together spreading random acts of kindness throughout the community in an effort to ‘Make BC Smile’. We would LOVE to have schools around the province join us. If you would like to participate, please comment below and our students will be in touch and showcase your initiative on http://www.makebcsmile.com. I know it will be an exciting week. I’m smiling already!
2) The second event I’m looking forward to is a bit of a dream come true. For those of you that know me well, you know I LOVE education and I LOVE planning events. Well, this year, when a team of educators from our school travelled to Edmonton for the annual CCSDL Conference (Canadian Coalition of Self Directed Learning), we found out that the city scheduled to host the conference next year had to back out. My principal Sean Nosek and I had already been speaking about planning an exciting pro-d event in Vancouver, so we decided to take the plunge and offer up our school as the next host school for this national teaching conference. However, in talking with our teachers, we realized we have all reached a place where our expectations for Pro-D are changing. We don’t want to be ‘talked-to’ – we want to participate. We want to leave the conference inspired, and full of new ideas. We realized we crave something different – something new – something that shakes up education. We want to plan a conference that we would like to attend… a conference that challenges us to be better educators and inspires us to try new ideas. A conference that dares to disrupt education.
After a couple months of preliminary planning our ideas are starting to take shape. Here’s what I can tell you so far…. DisruptED Vancouver will take place over three days, October 23 – 25th 2014. The Thursday will take place at Thomas Haney Secondary and the Friday / Saturday will take place at the Vancouver Convention Centre.
So what is DisruptED? Our ideas are unfolding but here’s a glimpse into what we hope to create….
DisruptED is different. It is not for those who want the future to look the same as today. It is not for those who doubt our education system and what it can become. DisruptED is for those who believe in the future of education and believe that we have a responsibility to create the best system we possibly can. It’s for those who want every student to have an education that is rich and meaningful. It’s for those who are willing to challenge assumptions that hold us back and take bold steps to move education forward.
DisruptED promises to be a powerful 3 day conference in Vancouver, BC where great minds in education will gather together to share ideas that are innovative, promising, creative, hopeful and inspiring. DisruptED invites the rogues, the rule breakers, the ones interested in pushing the limits to step forward. We will provide an opportunity for individuals and groups to come together, to share stories and ideas, united in our belief that beautiful things can happen when we disrupt the status quo.
And we could not promote this idea without living it. DisruptED will NOT be a status quo conference. Expect to participate. Expect to create. Expect to learn. Expect to teach. Expect to think. Expect to laugh. Expect to experience the beauty of Vancouver as you join in walking conversations on Vancouver’s seawall, engage in rich dialogue in one of the city’s casual cafes, or use what you’ve learned to compete in the DisruptED Vancouver Amazing Race. Expect to leave motivated, inspired, connected and ready to shake up education.
It’s time to DisruptED.
I hope that you will consider joining us! Our call for presenters will open this spring and our website will be announced later this month. If you would like to join our mailing list please comment below. For more information you can also contact us via email at Sean_Nosek@sd42.ca or Kristi_Blakeway@sd42.ca
As I look ahead to 2014, I do so with excitement and gratitude. I cannot wait to join with students to Make BC Smile and connect with educators to DisruptED!
As many of you know, I spend a lot of time on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, engaging the homeless in meaningful conversation. The project, Beyond HELLO, captures the untold stories of a neighbourhood often forgotten and misunderstood. Recently, I created a new blog BeyondHELLO.org where I share these stories – and where I encourage others to seize the opportunity to go Beyond HELLO in their own lives. While most the stories I have written about with Beyond HELLO relate to the homeless, the simple concept of buying lunch for a stranger and engaging in conversation could happen anytime, anywhere. This week at school, our students decided to go Beyond HELLO and form some beautiful new friendships… Here’s how the story unfolded:
Last week our principal arranged for our school to host some very special visitors. Residents from a local seniors home filled their shuttle and drove to our school for lunch. In anticipation of the event, we planned the details…. our culinary students set the tables and prepared the meal; our leadership students waited near the door, a yearbook student was ready with his camera and the welcome sign was in place to greet our guests. We took care of the details and everything ran smoothly as expected. From a tangible perspective, the event was similar to what I have seen in other schools. However – this visit was anything but average or routine. This two hours of time was magical.
You see – there are some things we didn’t plan – or at least some things where we could not anticipate the outcome. The first happened just as they arrived. First of all, we did not realize how elderly our guests would be. It turns out that most of our guests were over 90 years old. One spry woman named Dorothy surprised us all when she let us know she had recently celebrated her 101th birthday. As our guests stepped off the bus, some of them struggled to find their footing as they navigated the curves of the sidewalk and waited for their walkers to be unloaded. One woman named Joan reached out her hand and placed it in my hand – not with a sense of panic or nervousness – but just for comfort and a little extra support. Within seconds, I felt a special connection with Joan. Together we stood, holding hands, introducing ourselves, preparing for the walk down our long hallway. A hallway I rush down every day. A hallway that seemed so much more enjoyable when I took the time to go slow.
When we reached the last room down the hallway, our guests sat down to an amazing meal. They enjoyed the lunch and raved about our chef’s homemade chicken pot pie. When the dishes were cleared, we asked if we could invite some students in simply to enjoy conversation. Our guests agreed and our leadership students entered the room. Rather than planning who sat with who, we just let the relationships form. Within seconds, each student had found a senior to connect with. Some spoke in small groups, some in pairs. Together they shared conversation about their high school experiences – marvelling in the similarities and differences of school 3 generations apart. I sat with Joan, and together we discussed her career in nursing, her family, and her love of learning. She giggled as she spoke of Halloween – where she had painted her face black and dressed in costume so the other residents could not identify her. She spoke of her journey learning to paint with acrylics – something she began for the first time just a year ago, at the age of 97. I asked what she would like to learn next year – and she smiled and said she didn’t know yet – but there would be something. Together we chuckled about our dislike for e-readers and and our love for paper books. In one moment, when I looked in her eyes, I didn’t see Joan – instead I saw my grandmother – a woman I miss dearly. A wonderful woman with a generous spirit, and great sense of humour who had also been a nurse and loved nothing more than a good meal and time with family. I know my grandmother would have liked Joan. In fact, we discovered they may have even worked at the same hospital at one time. Holding Joan’s hand and seeing her eyes sparkle was a gift: a delicate blend of new friendship woven eloquently with cherished memories from my past. Looking around the room I could see our students beaming, as they to took time to have meaningful conversations. Their eyes filled with joy as they made real connections sharing stories, building friendships and learning from one another.
Shortly before 2 PM, we thanked our guests for coming, and decided to take one slight risk. You see – our school is just about to embark on an exciting learning journey. One of our fabulous teachers, Nicole Von Krogh was moved by the book and documentary ‘15 Reasons to Live‘. She has decided to weave this into her Family Studies curriculum in the coming months. The idea is simple. She will ask each of her student to be thoughtful and take the time to recognize their 15 Reasons to Live. How they present their reasons will be up to them – some may choose to use technology, others may use photography or spoken word. What’s most exciting is that Nicole’s contagious enthusiasm for her project has inspired many other teachers on staff to join in with their classes. Both staff and students have committed to the ’15 Reasons to Live Project’. So far our staff have found ways to build cross curricular connections blending this project with the learning outcomes for Grad Transitions, Social Justice, English, Learning Support, Leadership and Family Studies. The project has yet to begin but the momentum is growing each day.
Nicole took some time to explain this powerful project to our seniors and we left them with an invitation. Without any pressure, we invited them to leave with ‘homework’. We asked them to think about their 15 Reasons to Live. We also left them with a promise – if they decide to participate – and they are willing to develop their list, our students are willing to use their technology skills to capture the project (perhaps a movie or slideshow that they can pass on to their families). We also left them with the idea of attending a spring exhibit – where students and seniors could shine together showcasing their 15 Reasons to Live.
To our delight, our guests were quite willing to share their stories and think about what really mattered to them. One by one they agreed to do their homework. A retired principal from the group put his hand up and clarified by saying “what I hear is that you are willing to help us with our autobiographies.” We smiled and said yes. With certainty he let us know we could sign him up. Another guest, Frank, chuckled and shook his head in disbelief “We are going to be friends with the Principal! Now this is different!”
In just two hours, our students and our local seniors created magic. They took the time to have conversation that mattered – time to get to know one another on a real level. They took time to go Beyond HELLO.
I’m hoping that this post will inspire you to go Beyond HELLO as well. Whether you are connecting with a senior, a child, a neighbour you have never met, or a passerby whose untold story intrigues you, I hope you take the time to go Beyond HELLO. Invite someone to coffee or lunch and take time to hear their story. If you do, please share your stories at www.beyondhello.org I guarantee you will get more than you give. And who knows – if you are like me, this simple act may just become one of your 15 Reasons to Live.
- Grade 8 Inquiry Project– a team of our grade 8 teachers dedicated the month of April to Inquiry Based Learning. For one month, they put curriculum aside and helped students develop their own questions for inquiry. The month long event culminated in a morning exhibition where students showcased their incredible projects ranging from the creation of video games, new all weather recycled clothing, and a violin performance by a student who had taught herself how to play. As a vice principal walking through the exhibition I was inspired by the excitement and passion that surfaced with these purposeful assignments. Students studied what mattered to them, and in doing so embraced their curiosity and sense of wonder. Many students were so engaged in their learning, they continued to study their topic after the project was over.
- Me to We Night – I was lucky enough to find myself on the invite list to an evening of conversation with ladies from Kenya who were visiting North America for the first time. Mama Monica and Mama Leah shared the stories of their lives, growing up in poverty with no education. Now, in coordination with Me to We, they teach others to make beautiful jewelry that is sold around the world. They now have 600 women working with them, and their lives have changed dramatically as they are able to send their children to school, provide for their families and feel an incredible sense of hope for the future. As we conversed in a waterfront condo at New Westmnister Quay I could not help but wonder if they felt resentment for all that we have. Instead, they spoke genuinely from the heart, finding similarities between us rather than differences. Together, as a group of educators we sang, laughed and celebrated the power that comes from working together.
- Miranda meets Robin. Miranda is a grade 11 student at Thomas Haney. She has already completed two Me to We Trips (to Ghana and Kenya) so I thought I would ask her some questions before visiting the ladies from Kenya. I mentioned that some lady named Robin would be there. Miranda’s face lit up as she asked if I meant Robin Wiszowaty, author or My Maasai Life. I said yes. It turns out Robin had played a key role in Miranda’s life. Miranda experienced many health issues as a child and had to undergo numerous surgeries. In an effort to mentally escape from the hospital, Miranda read Robin’s book. Miranda credits this book as her escape from reality, as she was able to experience Robin’s journey through Kenya and imagine herself there. Knowing Robin was going to to be at Me to We night, I made a few phone calls and we were able to invite Miranda to join us for the evening. She was able to spend time with Robin, bonding over their experiences. After the evening ended, Miranda tagged a photo of the event on Facebook, labelling it ‘one of the best nights of my life’.
- Heart Mind Conference. Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend an amazing conference at UBC focussed on mindfulness, the science behind happiness, and understanding how children thrive. Some of my favour presenters included Goldie Hawn, Paul Tough and Shawn Achor. I encourage Twitter users to search the hashtag #heartmind2013 to gain a glimpse into the conference take-aways on social-emotional learning. Personally, I love the science behind happiness and the discovery that only 10% of our happiness is impacted by external factors beyond our control. When we help students train their minds to experience happiness, we help them excel in school and life. One of my favourite take away suggestions was Shawn Achor’s telephone etiquette tip….. When you are on the phone and someone asks how you are doing, make sure the first three things you say are positive. Rather than whining about busy lifestyles, stress or negative moments, we can reshape our conversations and our own happiness if we focus on the positives. Happiness has a ripple effect…. Wouldn’t you look forward to phone calls if everyone you called shared their happiness before their concerns?
- Project HELLO – I am so grateful that the students and staff at Thomas Haney have allowed me the opportunity to bring Project HELLO with me to Maple Ridge. I am also grateful that the staff and students in Coquitlam have shown an interest to continue the project. Now we have two district working together where elementary students make Christmas and Mothers’ Day cards and high school students invite the homeless to send cards reconnecting with family. This Mothers’ Day students and staff from Charles Best and Thomas Haney spent the day together on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver helping 42 people send cards to their moms. The students then made calls to search the country for mailing addresses, and successfully connected many families including a lady who had not heard from her sister in over twelve years. This year we spent part of the day with Save on Meats and Linwood House, learning how these wonderful organizations provide hope to people in this impoverished community. As an administrator, I love finding time to work with students on projects, committees and events. Sometimes our days get busy, but making time for these meaningful connections bring so much joy to the work we do.
- Professional learning community. As an administrator I am so grateful for the professional learning community that I am part of. Last Friday we hosted a team of student teachers just finishing their practicums. On Tuesday I spent the lunch hour with teachers sharing technology tips with one another. Over the past few weeks, we have welcomed educators to Thomas Haney from BC, the Yukon, and New Zealand. Next week we will welcome guests from Iceland. While these teams have travelled to Thomas Haney to learn about our self directed model, I find we gain just as much as we learn about education around the world. Who knew that Yukon follows the BC curriculum while also implementing a grade seven buffalo hunt? They described the challenges as grade sevens each have their own knives in the school gym for the buffalo skinning. Now that’s classroom management!
- IHIT Team – OK – perhaps what I love best about administration is the unpredictable nature of our jobs. It is a mix of social work, counselling, management, leadership, event planning, and police work all rolled into one. So – last week when two gentlemen appeared in my office dressed in business suits and identified themselves as members of the IHIT team, I have to admit I was intrigued. They wanted our help in their attempt to notify next of kin of a homicide victim. Luckily the tragedy didn’t impact our school community but temporarily helping the IHIT team search for a family was pretty exciting (ok – maybe it’s a bit morbid… maybe I should have been a cop :))
- Property Brothers – Forming positive relationships with school alumni always builds culture, but when Drew and Jonathan Scott from the Property Brothers (alumni from Thomas Haney) happened to swing by for a visit it was pretty exciting. Especially when they mentioned they want to find ways to give back and connect with the school community inspiring others to follow their dreams.
- Yoga – With encouragement from some of our students, I decided to try one of our school’s yoga classes. Taught by Michelle Szakos, the class was challenging yet relaxing. What I loved best was the role the students played learning to teach yoga. Ms. Szakos combined her skills as an English teacher and yoga instructor to guide students through a rejuvenating visualization exercise. What a great way to start a day! I love that our kids have so many unique course offerings!
- Selin Jessa – Selin Jessa is a grade 12 student at Charles Best who has recently won close to $300 000 in scholarship offers for her fantastic work in the sciences and leadership. She visited Thomas Haney to share her passion with science students, inspiring others with stories of her trip to Antartica, and her work with graduate students on HIV. What I loved best was the way she ended her presentation. She compared science to politics and coined science as one of the few peaceful global projects where countries share and work together for positive change. Her message applied to all disciplines encouraging others to work together with peaceful intentions.
- Staplefest – You may wonder what this is…. Really, it’s one of those ‘seeing is believing’ type of things…. It took place in Maple Ridge on Friday where students from multiple schools join together to celebrate the stapler. From staple relays, choreographed stapler dances and stapler inspired music, students celebrate together finding the ‘significance in insignificant things’. I will never look at a stapler the same way.
A man may fall many times, but he won’t be a failure
until he says that someone pushed him. ~ Elmer G. Letterman
Recently I sat down to prepare for a job interview for a Vice Principal position with the Maple Ridge School District. To do so, I created a chart, with a range of topics that I thought may come up during the interview. Under each column I reflected on my career in education, with examples that I could use to demonstrate my skill set. I anticipated there may be a question about mistakes I have made, or things I would do differently if I had the chance to go back and start over, so I created a column just for my mistakes. As I brainstormed scenarios, I found that the ‘mistakes’ column brought back some great memories, and I found that I was laughing out loud, thinking back to some of my career bloopers.
What I started to recognize is that the moments that emerged as mistakes also helped me grow as a leader. Each mistake challenged my thinking, required some creativity, and taught me a valuable lesson. Looking back, these are some of the most enjoyable memories, as these are days I will never forget!
Pam Becker, Vice Principal at Pitt River Middle School recently wrote about mistakes, and the importance they play in our adult lives. As educators, we often remind students and their parents that mistakes make us human, and help us learn and grow. As adults, we don’t always grant ourselves the same permission, and often choose to play it safe. Choosing the safe route may yield fewer mistakes, but it also dampens our creative spirit. JK Rowling offered an outstanding commencement speech on The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination. She describes rock bottom as the solid foundation for re-building life.
Fortunately, I would not describe any of my bloopers as ‘hitting rock bottom’, though I do feel there are lessons to be learned from each experience. I share with you what I consider My Top Ten Mistakes and the Lessons I have Learned.
To commemorate the 40th anniversary of our school, we decided to take an aerial photo of our students on our field spelling out BEST 40. We had a vision, and thought it was possible. I contacted the News 1130 traffic helicopter and they agreed to take the photo. Unfortunately the time they were in the air didn’t correlate with school hours so we went to Plan B. I contacted the fire department and asked if they could use their Tower Truck to take the photo. They agreed, assuming no emergency calls came in. With vision and optimism, we thought we were ready. I went to Costco and bought a gazillion roles of hockey tape to line the field before an assembly where we gave instructions on how to line up. Sounds good right? Well the logistics had some flaws. Teachers called me over to tell me they had calculated the angle and that the photo would not work. The hockey tape didn’t stick to turf, and to make matters worse the colour of the tape almost matched the field colour. Almost everyone suggested we just take one big group photo. However, my principal and I had faith. With completely inappropriate footwear for the weather conditions, we gathered five students to help us and we spontaneously used all the masking tape in the school to outline BEST 40. With minutes to spare, we led the assembly and our plan worked. The Tower Truck arrived, no emergency calls came in and we got our photo. LESSON: Plan ahead but always believe in hope.
Mistake # 9 – Post It Note Chaos
Last June, I was approached by two of my leadership students. They wanted to play a ‘grad prank’ that was safe and in good taste. They had a vision of using thousands of coloured post it notes to line the lockers of the school spelling ‘GRAD 2012’. They wanted to do this on a Sunday evening so the staff and students could arrive on Monday morning to find a colourful and tasteful surprise. I agreed to meet them on Sunday night, so a group of 10-20 students could create their ‘art work’. They brought in music, snacks and thousands of post its. They got to work and I used the time to catch up on work in my office. Life was going well until I heard banging from the floor above me. I quickly discovered that the post it note prank had progressed into an out of control party of sorts. Students had let other students in, and not all of them had the same intention. The pranks were no longer in good taste, and many other minor pranks were being arranged on each of the three floors. I could not believe that I had essentially contributed to an event that had a negative impact on our school. I felt so much shame. Thankfully one of my friends on staff agreed to help me in the late hours cleaning as much as we could before Monday morning arrived. Lesson: Kids will be Kids. Give them the wings to fly but not free reign of the school to plan a grad prank.
Mistake #8 – Emergency Folder Updates
Every room in our school has an emergency folder with information, maps and paperwork necessary to help in an evacuation or emergency. One particular day I decided to box up all the folders with all the updated inserts, and bring the box home. The process of updating the folders took longer than I thought and I was tired. My husband looked at me and said “what are the chances that you will need those tomorrow?”. I agreed the chance was extremely low and decided to get some sleep, leaving the folders spread across my living room to be completed the following evening. Of course, the very next day the fire alarms started to ring mid day and our school had to evacuate without signs, class lists, paperwork, etc. Lesson: Murphy’s Law Exists! Be warned!
Mistake # 7 – The Big Drug Bust
Our school is right across the street from a big park full of trails. It’s a beautiful setting, but also an easy place to hide. I was well aware that one of our students was bringing drugs to school and selling them to others in the park. However, I was one step behind him and never caught him in the act. On a busy day, I saw him cross the road with friends and a big bag. I checked to see if one of our other administrators could go for a walk in the park with me to see what we could discover. They were tied up in meetings, but I didn’t want to let this moment pass by as I didn’t want our students smoking drugs in the park. I decided to linger behind the student group and enter the park alone. In the distance I saw the person with the backpack head off the trail and head into the woods. I decided I would out-smart him. Instead of allowing him to see me coming down the same path, I decided to venture into the woods through a different direction so that we would meet up at the same spot. I climbed over stumps, navigated tree roots and eventually came to the same clearing as the student with the back pack. I said hello. He turned around so we were face to face. There I was staring at a man in his mid 40’s in the middle of the woods. Hmmm. Not so safe. I quickly excused myself and exited quickly. Lesson: Safety First. Plain and Simple.
Mistake # 6 – Caesar Salad for All
In preparation for parent night, and a staff dinner at the break, my principal asked me to pick up romaine lettuce at Costco. I asked how much I should pick up. She said four. So off I went to Costco in search of lettuce. I was delighted to find that Costco has already bundled the lettuce 4 / pack, so I picked up one pack and headed for the till. Ten minutes before the dinner my principal asked me where the rest of the lettuce was. I asked her what she was talking about. Apparently she had meant four packages. Who knew you couldn’t make salad for 80 people with only 4 heads of lettuce! Now, most of you will probably think that I should learn something from this, but really, the lesson here is that we need to recognize the strengths in one another. Funny how Mary never asked me to cook again. Lesson: Know your strengths. Cooking is not mine.
Mistake # 5 – Awards Night during Teacher Job Action
Last June we had difficulty determining whether or not we should host our Awards Evening as the teachers were in Job Action and unable to volunteer their time to assist. We decided that we would go ahead with a streamlined version. Rather than having award recipients approach the stage one by one, we would call them up in groups based on the awards won. Mark Rao MC’d the event, Mary O’Neill shook hands with the students and I distributed the awards and certificates from the table. Minutes in I realized I was way over my head. Students were approaching every second, and matching them with their awards in time for the photo was becoming an impossible task. Deciding the show must go on, I continued to hand out awards and tell the students to smile. Only problem? The certificates did not match their names. Each time I whispered to the student to see me at the end to swap the certificates. At the end of the evening I remember Mark and Mary being pleased, and saying ” Wow – that sure ran smoothly!”. I then explained that our blonde haired top Calculus student actually posed with the Korean student’s Drafting award with the wrong name, etc. Good thing the camera didn’t have a zoom lens and no one noticed! Lesson: The Show Must Go On! Smile for the camera, let the students shine and work out the kinks later. Oh, and pray that Job Action will not return.
Mistake # 4 – Winter Formal Tickets
For years, our school has held a winter formal dance as a fundraiser for school clubs. Tickets have always been a hot item as the venue only holds 250 students. In years past, students camped overnight to get tickets and then slept through or skipped class. This didn’t seem educationally sound so we decided that we would sell tickets after school as a secret location within the building. We decided not to announce the location until after our last class so that all students could attend school, and then have an equal chance of getting into line. We asked one of our teachers to be near the secret location (at the end of a hallway) to help maintain an orderly line once the location was announced. We picked our PE hallway as we have cameras in this location and we would be able to replay the video footage if students tried to sneak into line ahead of others. Again, sounds like a good idea right? OK – now imagine hundreds of students running full speed down the same hallway with one staff member trying to hold them back. The video footage is priceless. Imagine a mosh pit where the teacher, Dave Jones, is all of a sudden crowd surfing with his hands flailing in the air as he is moved down the hall. Sorry Dave! Thank goodness we moved to an internet based system this year. Lesson: Embrace Technology and Avoid the Old Fashioned Line Up Craze!
Mistake # 3 – Fieldtrip Disaster
When I was teaching Marketing at Terry Fox Secondary, I arranged a fieldtrip to Seattle each semester. We rented a coach bus to travel in comfort. I did all the necessary paperwork so the office had all the student information. Students had their ID, and we were ready to go. However, on the way back home, our bus broke down on the side of the I-5 Highway near Mount Vernon. The driver concluded the bus would not re-start and we started to unload. This caused some traffic congestion in the area. Most of our students had moved to the grassy area beside the highway and the final six and the driver were in the midst of exiting the bus. At that moment, a semi trailer failed to see the traffic stopping ahead, swerved to miss the traffic and instead clipped the front end of our bus. The bus started to tip towards the kids and the truck flipped over the guard rail in front of us. As you can tell by the photo, it is a miracle no one was seriously hurt in this accident. However, when I phoned the school to inform parents and administration I realized the school was now closed and I didn’t have the contact numbers for our administrators. Lesson: When planning fieldtrips, leave the necessary paperwork with the school, but travel with the necessary contact information to reach school staff and parents.
Mistake # 2 Hot Air Balloon
While working at Dr. Charles Best, I tried to come up with a creative idea each year to help raise thousands of dollars for the Terry Fox Foundation. These included a ‘Kiss A Goat’ event, ‘Blue Devils on the Run Garden Gnomes’ and a ‘Hot Air Balloon Event’. I approached Remax and asked them to donate their hot air balloon for our fundraiser. They agreed. We sold plastic balls for $10 each, and set a target. The balloon operator then dropped thousands of balls from the sky, and the student with the ball closest to the pin won a $1000 cash prize. The remaining funds went to the Terry Fox Foundation. Again, sounds good right? Over the past five years we have raised closed to $50 000 for the Terry Fox Foundation so I would consider this a success on many grounds. However, when our event ended up on the front cover of the paper, a concerned citizen lodged a formal complaint with the BC Lottery Corporation. In their eyes, we were teaching children, under the age of 19 to gamble, without a lottery license. My apologies to the entire district who had to endure re-training on when and how to get a lottery licence. Lesson: Be creative, have fun, help charities, but get a lottery license first!
Mistake #1: Sandra & Samantha’s Reunion Twist In 2009, we began Project HELLO, helping the homeless from the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver re-connect with family through Christmas Cards. Sandra, pictured on the left, was the first woman to write a card. When we found her daughter Samantha in Alberta they were both overjoyed. Samantha had presumed her mother was dead, and was so excited to find out she was alive in Vancouver. Neither had the funds to reunite, so our students and staff chipped in and paid for an all-expense paid trip for Samantha to come to Vancouver, including flights, accommodation and food. After re-connecting them at the airport, we traveled in my car to the hotel. Mid-route Samantha proceeded to tell the students and I that she would not be accepting the return flight, as she had decided to stay in Vancouver with her mom. She shared a story about just getting out of jail in time for the flight as she had recently taken a Calgary city bus on a joy-ride. Her children were no longer in her care. Shocked and confused my mind was racing. Minutes after dropping them off at the hotel, I was in contact with the Calgary police to discuss the situation. Samantha did decide to stay for a couple months and live with her mother on the streets of Vancouver. This wasn’t exactly what we had pictured, yet when I look back, I recognize that it was still a beautiful act. At the core, a mother and daughter were able to re-connect and share family stories, after a decade of not hearing from each other. They may live lives that are very different from ours, but they love one another and deserved the opportunity to connect as a family. Lesson: Find the positive in each situation. Families come in many shapes and sizes, and helping them connect will never be wrong.
Above all, the most valuable lesson I have learned is that we have to take risks, seek new challenges and be comfortable making mistakes in order to grow and learn. Oh – and in case you are wondering, I got the job! Thomas Haney, I look forward to learning from my mistakes with you!
When the world says, “Give up,” Hope whispers, “Try it one more time.”
Maybe I’m feeling inspired from our recent trip to Disneyland, or maybe it’s the excitement I feel about beginning a new job next month, but as we begin a new year and I look inward to create meaningful resolutions, I find I am fascinated with the topic of creativity and innovation.
I have just finished reading The Power of Why by Amanda Lang and look forward to borrowing ideas from the book to spark creativity and innovation in our schools. As a child, Lang decided she wanted to be an architect. Her family supported her career goal and very early on she knew the steps to take to reach her goal. Unfortunately as she reached adulthood, she asked ‘how’ questions to reach the next step but didn’t stop to ask herself ‘why’. Eventually she realized that she had much more passion for the stories within the buildings rather than the buildings themselves, and she changed directions to explore a career in Journalism. All of a sudden all night assignments became invigorating rather than exhausting and she knew she was on the right path. She now co-hosts the Lang & O’Leary Exchange CBC and is the senior business correspondent for CBC News.
While this book focusses most on the business world I believe there are many valuable lessons that we can take away and apply to education.
- Shift our priorities. Rather than trying to develop creativity while meeting prescribed learning outcomes, what if creativity becomes an outcome itself? Developing creativity as a learning outcome or competency allows us to remain curious, seek to improve, ask questions, and look at problems from new angles. In essence, those who think creatively will continue to learn.
- Find ways to preserve child-like wonder and reignite natural curiosity. In twin studies, research suggests that 80% of IQ is related to genetics but only 30% of our creativity. This suggests that 70% of our creativity comes from environmental factors and can be learned. Unfortunately it can also be diminished if it is not encouraged.
- Focus on the questions, not just a desired answer. Promote questioning to develop divergent thinking. A shift to develop a curious mentality versus an expert mentality allows students the ability to understand how they learn, and develops a skill set that will be beneficial in the future.
- Look at education through the eyes of the customer. Private schools do a great job at this, promoting their strengths and the benefits the customer will receive. Unfortunately the public system often turns to the media to highlight what’s not working in schools rather than highlighting our tremendous strengths and opportunities as one of the best education systems in the world. To stay innovative, we need to continually improve while focusing on our strengths.
- Reflect. If we want to be creative and curious in our work, then we need to start with ourselves. People who have the courage to self-reflect and ask questions of themselves create opportunities for growth and positive change. Lang warns that those who focus on routine and comfort may wake up one day only to recognize they are in the wrong career or wrong relationship.
- Start with individual ideas and then work together. The most creative ideas develop when students have the time to brainstorm alone first and then bring their ideas to the group. Beginning as a group reduces creativity for a variety of reasons including self-censorship, groupthink, taking turns, laziness and a tendency to promote harmony over creativity.
- We need to teach our students that one of the best ways to stay actively engaged in their learning when they feel they are losing focus is to stop and ask a question. Students with ADHD have a natural aptitude for applying ideas from one topic to another – a gift in innovative thinking.
- Shift thinking from ‘How’ to ‘Why’. Rather than asking how we are going to accomplish our goals, or get our daily, monthly or yearly tasks done, stop and ask why. Why do students and parents choose our school? Why do we do things the way we do? Often those who have lived in multiple countries or worked in various industries have a learned ability to ask why and look at situations with fresh eyes. Do we take time to stop and get the perspective from those around us?
So – as we enter a new year, I have decided to set resolutions from a different angle. Rather than asking what I want to do this year, I will look a bit deeper with each resolution and ask why. Gaining a deeper understanding of my goals will help me reflect on what I truly value and what I hope to accomplish. To set resolutions that matter, I plan to use a technique Lang describes that is used by many Fortune 500 companies to encourage innovation: Participants at creativity retreats are asked to generate a list of 101 goals. This seems like a rather long list, but the length has purpose as the goals that are harder to think of often require more stretch or deeper exploration into who we want to be. Goals that are further down the list are often more creative and unique. Once completed, participants are asked to narrow their list to their top fifteen goals. More often than not, goals near the end of 101 list make their way to the Top 15.
I am inspired by this idea, and will try this in order to set my New Year’s Resolutions for 2013. And like a child with natural curiousity, I will ask myself a lot of questions, understanding why and why not. Although I have yet to complete this activity (that’s tomorrow’s task), I have a sneaking suspicion I already know one of my top goals for 2013…. I will awaken the three year old child within me and approach life from a curious perspective, not afraid to ask Why or Why Not. As Lang concludes “asking questions makes life richer, more interesting, more fulfilling and more complete. Better. That’s the power, and ultimately the purpose, of Why”.