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Fred

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Have you ever encountered something, someone or some situation that challenges you to the point where you feel as though you are going to lose your mind? But…when it’s all over you smile and think, ” Well, that takes the cake!” I think we can all say yes to this but did your challenge actually take the cake? Mine did, it took the cake, the coffee pods, the Kentucky Fried Chicken and more. Let me explain.

Last summer our school was undergoing some renovations, new flooring, a new roof many more things were being done by various contractors to help keep our 50+ year old school looking good. With all of this movement of people and construction materials in and out of the building, a little friend decided it would be a great time to move in and make himself at home. Now you may think I’m talking about a mouse but no…Fred (as students affectionately came to know him) is a squirrel.

At first we did think we had a mouse. The evidence indicated we had a rodent for sure but the droppings that were left behind were different. Throughout this experience I am sad to say that I have become somewhat of an expert at identifying the difference between mouse and squirrel droppings. Let’s add that to my list of skills for my resume. As the summer went on we saw fewer pieces of evidence that Fred was still in school so we assumed that he had moved on, or so we hoped.

By the time school started up in September we had forgotten all about the squirrel. Things were very busy and he was the last thing on my mind. Until…I get a call from an education assistant, asking me to come to one the classrooms because she needed me to see something. Off I went and when I got there she showed me the droppings. At first I thought that maybe these had been there since the summer, surely the squirrel was gone by now. After all, there was no one in the school for the past month leaving any food for him so why would he stay? I told her how we would have the mess cleaned up right away and to let me know if she saw any other evidence.

Turns out Fred had not left at all. Maybe he had gone on the occasional excursion outside but he was definitely a resident. The maintenance department was notified and they tried to catch Fred. As a school we can’t put out poison, we can’t have traps that could potentially harm children and traps cannot be placed where children can get at them. The professional pest control company was called and they made several visits to the school, setting up traps in the ceiling after school hours and collecting them in the early morning before students arrived but…no luck. ( It should also be noted that the traps were live traps, after all we didn’t want Fred dead at this point, we just wanted to evict him)

As time went on, Fred was becoming more accustomed to people and was clearly a very clever squirrel. He was going to school everyday! He was stealing the used Keurig pods from the trash, scurrying out from under bookshelves to visit students during classes, running along the ceilings while teachers were trying to teach, and if you left any food in the trash he would scoot in and grab it and be off in the blink of an eye. Needless to say, this was not at all distracting for students! Each day I would get squirrel updates. One particular evening, one of the custodians was very upset. She had brought left over KFC for her evening snack and when she went to get it she found that her lunch bag had been chewed all around the zipper and all of her chicken was gone. Fred was very clever indeed and heaven knows where will find the chicken bones one day! Another day, one of our teachers went to work on a Saturday morning to do some prepping and Fred just didn’t want to get off her desk. She had to move to another room! Her entire class had to be moved to a new room that Monday because Fred was just not interested in leaving. Now this all may sound silly but it was exceedingly frustrating for the adults. I was in constant contact with maintenance. Each morning they would check to see if Fred had been caught and report to me the bad news. I remember one morning at 7:30am sitting in my office with the maintenance supervisor having a conversation about a squirrel that sounded eerily like a mafia hit was about to go down. He was telling me he could “take of the squirrel” and I replied with ” At this point I don’t care how it’s done, I just need it taken care of.”

This seemed to be never ending. Fellow administrators would call to touch base, as we often do, and they would talk about the challenges they were facing in their schools. When they were done I would say, “Yes, but do you have a squirrel?”

Everyone was doing their best to cope with the frustrations of Fred. Lysol wipes were put to good use cleaning down surfaces that he may have run across, students had pictures of Fred on their cellphones and even wrote stories about him. Teachers were sending each other gifs about squirrels titled ” I wonder what Fred is doing tonight?” He was becoming a legend.

We located his favourite hiding spot, complete with partially eaten Keurig pods, no wonder he was so fast, he was hopped up on caffeine! Teachers and students came up with ideas about how to catch him. Plans were hatched, “What if I stand here with a garbage can and you chase him towards it…” all the while Fred became more brave and more clever. He would get into the live trap, steal the food and leave without a hitch. Easy peasy!

One day a grandparent of one of our students showed up at school with his homemade “live squirrel trap”. Now you have to picture this, an older German gentleman shows up in the office with this huge trap says “This will catch the squirrel.” By this time we have had pest control in many times, there was practically an army of people trying to solve the squirrel problem, I had even been on the phone with the Secretary Treasurer trying to come up with a plan. But believe me, we were giving this trap a try, after all we had nothing to lose. So we set up the trap.

The next morning at 7:10am I received a text from the maintenance supervisor. It was a photo, no caption, none needed. In the photo was the trap and inside the trap was Fred. It was finally over. I was so excited, but not quite as excited as the maintenance supervisor. Lol. Right away I texted my friend who is the daughter in law to the gentleman who brought us the trap and I told her to thank him! A little later, the maintenance supervisor showed up and we chatted about the squirrel. I asked where the squirrel was now and he said that one of the other maintenance workers had brought him to “Squirrel Park” which I took as code for, squirrel heaven. But…turns out this is actually place by the river where locals and tourists have put up squirrel houses and signs and called it “Squirrel Park”…I’ve lived here for 25 years and this was the first I’d heard of it. Guess you learn something new each day.

I posted a graphic of a cartoon squirrel in a cage on the staff room door to share the good news. The caption was ” We caught him but don’t worry he’s alive, just relocated!” At Christmas time the EA that had first pointed out the evidence gave several teachers and myself squirrel ornaments to commemorate the events.

Fred taught us all so much. Challenges bring people together, never give up and no matter how bad your day is, be thankful you don’t have a clever squirrel living in the ceiling!

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Challenges help develop skills for your next great adventure!

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Recently I have felt as though I am carrying a yaffle of balls that just keep coming and I am desperately trying to keep them from hitting the ground. (Btw, yaffle is a Newfoundland term meaning “an armload”) Each day I deal with many different people from different walks of life and each one has their own point of view about what happens in a school. When I discuss the challenges that I am facing with my husband he always tries to help me reframe. He will say to me “Think about all of the skills that you are developing as a result of these challenges, these skills will help as you move on to bigger and better things.” He always encourages me to look at the challenges as learning opportunities. I’ll be honest, there are times when I want him to stop being the voice of reason. I just want to vent. At times when I’m really tired I have responded with, “Yes, but when will the learning stop ?!” But in truth, he is right. We have both used this type of reframing talk with our own children and students in the past, it’s just that when you are in the midst of it all you need time to slow down, reflect and look for the positive.

This morning as I sat in bed with my steamy cup of coffee looking out the window at the snow gently falling, I felt a calmness that I haven’t felt in weeks. I think it was the first time in a while that I felt time slow down. I was in the moment, enjoying my coffee, the house was silent and my mind suddenly cleared. I was reminded of an interview I watched once with Eckhart Tolle and Oprah Winfrey when they talked about how “Stress comes from wanting a moment to be different than what it is.” That was it! I had been wanting the recent “moments” to be different. When instead, what I ought to have been accepting the moment(s) as my reality and being grateful for what they have to teach me.

I searched for the Tolle interview on the internet and watched the clip then I started scrolling though my Twitter feed as I typically do on Sunday morning. I came across a tweet by @jaydostal that jumped out at me:

“The #Road to Awesome is paved with unique challenges and opportunities designed solely for you. You get to decide if you will embrace it or call an Uber. #ownyourepic ”

As I reflect on the challenges I realize that I have learned so much in these past few weeks. Things you simply cannot learn by attending a workshop, brainstorming in a meeting or reading a book. Things you can only learn from experience. Which now reminds me of a discussion I had with my son when he came home from UVIC at Christmas. I asked him how he felt about his first semester. As a mother, people often ask me how he is finding it at UVIC so I specifically I asked him “If someone were to ask me how you found the first semester what is one word I could tell them?” He responded with “fun”. I was so happy to hear that! I asked him to explain and he talked about how we, his parents, had tried to prepare him, telling him that it would be challenging but really he had no idea what that would actually look like. He had to experience it for himself. Sure, it did pose a whole new set of challenges for him but it was fun, he learned a lot and knew now how he could move forward with the new skills that he had developed. (Proud mama moment)

While I cannot control all of the challenges that come my way, I can embrace them and treat them as learning experiences, being grateful for the new skills that I gain along the way. After all, they are preparing me for my next great adventure. No Uber for me!

My #oneword2018

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This year I found the process of selecting my #oneword to be very challenging. I’m not quite sure why it’s been so difficult. Perhaps because last year my word was balance and I admit that I fell short of achieving it. I had started out with such high hopes of finding balance but half way through the year I found myself making excuses about why I was unable to get there. I was just too busy…too busy with work, too busy with the kids, too busy with life…the excuses went on and on. Reflecting on that now I think the problem may have been that I was trying to find balance but what I needed to do was create it.

In searching for my #oneword2018 I read many inspiring tweets and blogs about the beautiful words that people have chosen. I spent a lot of time reflecting on possibilities and managed to narrow it down to three words. I wanted a word with a positive feel that would help to move me forward. Truthfully I was a little scared to choose my word…I know that sounds silly but it’s true. I am a little superstitious so the word I chose could not turn into a self fulfilling prophecy. For example, I couldn’t choose courage because I feared that life would throw me a curveball that would require me to muster up more courage than I bargained for. I blame my superstitious nature that on my grandmother who knew every superstition in the book! You know what I’m talking about; don’t walk under a ladder, never open an umbrella inside, don’t meet anyone on the stairs, don’t exit a room from a door you didn’t enter through, never put shoes on a table, don’t wear green on Thursdays, never gift anyone with anything sharp ( scissors, knife) without first taping a coin to it, if you put your shirt on inside out don’t change it…oh dear, I’m getting off track. Well you get the picture, I am a little superstitious, only a little though!

The three words that I had shortlisted were dream, hope and recharge. While these are all great choices neither one felt quite right. I needed a word that suited this next stage in my life, the stage when my kids are heading off University. Our oldest left home to go to UVIC this year and our daughter will be heading off to University in September. Life sure looks different when your kids leave home. While it is a little sad it is also exciting. After all, as a parent I will miss not having them home however I am thrilled to see our children pursue their dreams. But I don’t want to dream about what I want next in life, I don’t want to hope for things. I want to make things happen. My thoughts brought me back to my struggle with finding balance and the realization that I had to create it…so there was my word, staring me right in the face…create.

I need to create what I want. No more excuses. It’s time to start writing that book I’ve always wanted to write, to get back to my creative side and resolve to do the fun things that fuel my energy, create experiences and make memories.

Years ago I was an active member of a writing group and I wrote a piece that fits in with my one word, it was called:

Create a Life

We all get so caught up

in the little things in life

that keep us moving through each day

We don’t take time to stop

and consider what we want

to reflect on steps we’ve taken along way

Don’t wallow in your own self pity

Don’t say your time for change has passed

determine what it is that makes you happy

and resolve to keep that feeling in your grasp

Don’t let fear and apprehension slow you

Don’t let an opportunity pass you by

accept that change can be a great thing

How will you ever know unless you try?

Your time in this crazy world is finite

the life you choose to live ought to be fun

Don’t sit back and spend it all making a living

Create a life and enjoy it with loved ones

The Sound of Smiles

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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!

happycalling

 

 

 

Getting Out and About

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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.

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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

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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”.

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!

 

Giving Credit

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credit

 

Educators from all around the globe are taking part in conversations where ideas are being shared, discussed, tweaked and re-shared all the time. The internet allows us to access information from so many sources in such a short time. (Check out this article which describes What happens in an internet second ) We often see ideas from many years ago resurface and get recycled and labelled with a catchy new term. It can be quite challenging to pinpoint where the original idea came from without extensive research.

Educators are taking risks and trying new methods in their classrooms. Methods that focus on  21st Century learning, that often involve the use of technology, that are bringing about transformative systemic change in education. I have been in many conversations recently where someone is sharing the wonderful new approach that a teacher is exploring. They’ve been excited to share a success story only to have someone respond with, “Yes, I’ve heard of that before”, “Oh, that’s the flavour the month is it?” or “That’s not their idea you know”. These types of energy zapping comments are an attempt to diminish the idea and/or its impact.

Does it really matter where the idea originally came from? Isn’t the main thing that this particular teacher is trying something new?  Taking the initiative and working to enhance the learning experience for their students? That they were willing to step out of their comfort zone and take a chance with a new approach?

I am not saying that you shouldn’t give people credit. Not at all! Did you read a book and were inspired to try something that was suggested? Give the author a shout out on Social Media. Did you attend a conference and the speaker’s story gave you the courage to try a new approach in your classroom? Write them an email or tell a colleague about the wonderful conference that you attended. Did a colleague down the hall invite you into their classroom to observe their lesson and you decided to put what you observed into practice? Give them kudos at the next staff meeting. By all means, acknowledge those who have given you inspiration.

Sure, it can be very frustrating at times to deal with people who take credit for your idea or make it a point to say that the original idea wasn’t yours. But if you reflect on the situation you will most likely come to the conclusion that it doesn’t really matter in the big picture.

For those of you who are taking risks, who are willing to try something new to enrich the learning experience for your students, I applaud you. Invite a trusted colleague into your classroom to share and help give you feedback. Reflect on how it went, revise if necessary and remember to never stop doing your best because someone doesn’t give you credit.