Monthly Archives: August 2017

The Sound of Smiles


Administrators and teachers make many phone calls home. The “call home” is often made due to a concern that we are having with a student’s attendance, behaviour, grades…and these calls can be difficult to make. When a family member picks up the phone on the other end and finds out that it is the school calling, often their first thought is that there is a problem and you can instantly hear the apprehension in their voice as they brace themselves for the dreaded “call home”.

When I was a student I never received a “call home” though I clearly recall being threatened once by my Grade 10 English teacher. I hadn’t done my homework and he was having a bad very bad day. He ended up sending me to the principal’s office to be “dealt with”. Lucky for me, the principal was away that day and Mr. Glavine, my favorite teacher, was filling in so we chatted about the need to do homework and he had me wait out the rest of the block in the office. No phone call home was made…thank goodness!

One morning in May I was making several calls following office referrals about behaviour. I was sitting in my office after hanging up the phone with a parent and I started thinking about positive referrals. I had recently been reading Lead Like a Pirate by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf and they were talking about the impact of positive phone calls home. #lightbulbmoment !

I decided that I would head off to a classroom to find a recipient of a positive phone call. It didn’t take long to find students doing great things! I visited a Grade 7 class where students were working on projects about Ancient Egypt. They had chosen their own topics and were sharing what they had learned with peers and other teachers and staff who had dropped into the class to visit. There was a papier mache Anubis, a replica of a village made from Lego, ancient games sculpted from river clay, Rosetta Stones made from slate and chalk, mummies and more. Everyone was engaged in the learning. I visited with each student, asking them about their project, what they had learned that they found most interesting and took photos of the students with their projects. Students were so confident and enthusiastic about their work and their teacher was so proud of the work they had done, the energy in the room was amazing!

When I returned to my office I made several positive phone calls home. Each time a parent/grandparent/caregiver answered and I introduced myself they responded with an “Oh?…” that was heavily laden with apprehension. I quickly explained that I was making a positive call home to let them know what a wonderful discussion I had just had with their child/grandchild about their learning. I went on to tell them about the projects and the confidence that each student had shown while talking to me about what they had done. Each person told me that they had never received a phone call like this from a principal. They were so happy to get the phone call, I could actually hear the sound of their smiles! At lunch time, two of the grandparents that I had called actually showed up in the office. They were beaming with pride, and asked if they could possibly go to their grand daughter’s classroom to see her project. The Grade 7 teacher was eating her lunch in the staff room and when she heard about the visitors she stopped eating her lunch and happily hurried off to greet them. She them escorted them to her classroom, chatting with them about the projects along the way.

Later that day I uploaded the photos I had taken onto our school FaceBook page and posted about the wonderful time I had chatting with students about their learning.

So go ahead, take the time to make those positive phone calls. You won’t believe the positive impact it will have on students, families and you!






Getting Out and About


When our children were little, we strongly discouraged whining and complaining. We would say things like, “Whitmell’s Don’t Whine” whenever their voices changed to that tone that as parents we all know very well. As parents, my husband and I encouraged our two children, who are only 21 months apart, to use their words and explain their problem(s) but the expectation was for them to always try to follow up with a solution. Problem solving has always been a big thing in our family.


After all, complaining without offering a solution is simply whining. At times they would have a complaint about something we had done as parents (I know, hard to believe!) but we would say, “Sorry, the complaint department is closed. It will be open on Sunday at 6:30am and remain open for half an hour. If you wish to lodge a complaint you will have to wait until then. We are very sorry.” This was successful… 99% of the time, it stopped the complaining and often led to humorous discussions about fairness. However, there was this one time when we were woken up at 6:30am on a lazy Sunday morning with the two of them, aged 6 and 5, standing at the side of our bed, prepared to lodge their complaint about why they felt it was unreasonable to expect that TV time be limited on weekends. They had a valid argument and were just so darned cute that we agreed and changed their time allowance. We are very reasonable people and not immune to absolutely adorable determination!

Why do I tell you this story? Well, as a principal there are have been times when I have complained about my day to my husband. (I know, hard to believe *innocent smile*) This has occurred on days when I have looked up at the clock after wondering why I’m so hungry and realized that I missed lunch completely because I was busy answering emails (I get a few of those *hint of sarcasm* ), doing paperwork, answering phone calls…I know that in my position, this is to be expected. However, I was noticing that at times it was making me feel stuck behind my desk and preventing me from getting out into classrooms.

I started to notice that on these types of days, I came home after school and I had nothing left to give to my family. I was exhausted. One day I was complaining to my husband that I had been caught up in my office all day and that this was not how I had envisioned my role when I took on my position as principal. His answer to my complaining was simply “Well, how can you fix that?”, exactly what we say to our kids. In other words, he was gently reminding me to stop whining and come up with a solution.

Just as Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf say in their book Lead Like a Pirate, 

As leaders, we can show up to work each day with nothing on our to-do list and still be busy all day simply reacting to what’s thrown at us from the moment we walk in the door. We can be exhausted at the end of the day and hope that what we did that day helped our school to change, but hope on its own doesn’t create change. Action does.”

I had allowed the short term tasks to get in the way of my long term goals. I had allowed management tasks to encroach on the time that I wanted to be out and about, in classrooms with teachers and students, having conversations and immersing myself in the learning. So, I made a decision to limit my office time and increase the time I spent in classrooms. The difference that this made was incredible. I was no longer exhausted at the end of the day. I was energized. I was having exciting conversations with staff about kids and their learning.

As I prepare to head back to school at the end of the month I plan to spend more time getting out and about with my sleeves rolled up, working side by side with staff and the school community. Immersing myself in work that has an impact on student learning and being more intentional with my time and energy.





#LeadLAP Challenge Accepted


Lead Like a PirateA while ago I started a blog… and started it again… and started it again. You get the idea. I had the best of intentions to write in my blog regularly and at first I was doing fairly well but then my efforts waned as I began to feel a little crispy. You know, that feeling you start to get at certain times of year where you are not quite burnt out but you are definitely feeling crispy on your edges. So I started to become more active in Twitter and found that chats and 140 character limits were working well for me. Through Twitter I learned about the PIRATE movement. Educators were talking about the books  TEACH Like a Pirate and LEAD Like a Pirate and how they were life changing. After reading about how much teachers and leaders in education loved LEAD Like a Pirate and seeing photos of people with broad pirate hats and even broader smiles, I was “hooked”.

I bought the book and it was such an inspiration that I devoured it in days and then went back to #BookSnap my way through it again.

Like many of the people who have read and embraced the Pirate philosophy, I love learning new things (so much so that my children have been known to lovingly mock my love of learning and the joy that I get from it). I believe in challenging myself to take risks and encouraging others to do the same. So, when Beth Houf and Shelley Burgess put forth the #LeadLAP Challenge I decided that now is the time to jump back into blogging!

Here are the 5 things that I am committing to doing differently this year as a result of my journey:

  1. Last year I started a school Facebook page and Twitter account. I am committed to continue using Social Media to share the learning that is happening at our school and celebrate all of our successes. I would also love to pursue a “Year in the Learning” blog. I learned about this idea from Shelley Burgess while in a chat on Twitter and look forward to touching base with Shelley to discuss getting this started. I am passionate about letting the community know about all of the wonderful things that are happening both school and district wide. There are so many stories that ought to be shared.
  2. I plan to engage in more ANCHOR conversations with staff. I strongly believe in the impact that appreciation has on all of the people who work in our schools. Everyone wants to feel appreciated for what they do to make the school a success. I am committed to schedule more classroom visits and “drop anchors of appreciation”.


3. I am committed to continuing to build my PLN. Connecting with other educators,  whether we support or challenge each others views, can help us to grow both professionally and personally. Technology allows us to make connections with people all around the globe who can share expertise and resources and provide some invaluable professional development.

4. During staff meetings I would like to continue to move away from the “laundry list” model. By encouraging teachers and support staff to share what they are doing in classrooms and having prize draws for books that provide inspiration I hope to make staff meetings more engaging and effective.

5. I recently purchased a beautiful agenda/journal that I plan to use to keep track of the day’s highlights. (I love a pretty journal and a colourful set of pens.) While I have been documenting important events during the day I plan to shift my record keeping somewhat so that I can use one book to plan, record and reflect. Let’s call it my “journalog”.

I look forward to reading the blogs written by others who are accepting this LeadLAP challenge. Special thanks to Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf for your inspiration!