Looking Forward With Excitement; Looking Back With Pride
Pardon the delay of this post. It was originally written a week ago but the flu hit our family and it never got posted.
As I begin the next exciting journey of my career with the honour of being the principal of James Hill Elementary in the Langley School District, I have had many moments of excitement as well as many that have caused me to pause and reflect on my time at Kent. Prior to the final week at Kent, I found myself looking back with a critical eye – looking for all the things I could have or should have done differently. Maybe this was because I was handing my “stuff” over to the next principal, maybe it was because I was struggling with leaving a school and community I love, or maybe it was just me reflecting on how I need to continue to grow as an educator… but I think this caused a bit of a shadow over the many truly wonderful things I was privileged to be a part of at Kent. After talking to a great friend and teacher at Kent, Stacey Garrioch, my sadness, nervousness, and minor regrets began to turn into happiness and pride.
I then made a list of the positive (major) moments, ideas, and changes that occurred during my time at Kent. I have written about many of these in my blog before (linked below) but as I add closure to my journey at Kent, I wanted to describe the proud moments and changes that stick out to me and pay tribute to the efforts of the staff, students, and community of Kent Elementary and the Fraser-Cascade School District. Please note that these changes were not my doing; these changes often arose from an individual or group on staff or in the community and I just helped to make the change a reality.
- Ending awards This conversation began prior to my arrival at Kent but I was honoured to be part of the final decision to move away from student of the month and year-end awards. Rather than award a select few students for strengths in which we chose to be the most important, we decided to honour each child at one point during the year for the strengths and interests they brought to our school. Our year end ceremony moved from an awards ceremony, in which often only parents of award winners attended, to a grade 6 honouring ceremony in which our gym was packed as each child had family members there to support him/her. Death of An Awards Ceremony and Rethinking Awards.
- Moving away from rewards and punishment This is another conversation that was initiated prior to my arrival but I was proud to be part of its evolution. We moved away from sticker charts and behaviour prizes to instead place emphasis on students doing the right thing… just because it is the right thing to do. When negative behaviours arose we placed the focus on determining the lagging skills, putting supports in place to teach/coach the lagging skills, providing opportunities for restitution, and working to ensure their is a positive sense of belonging. In the past few months, the school has also created a team to implement self-regulation strategies into a few classrooms. My Issue With Rewards, Creating the Conditions: Student Discipline, They Need Teaching – Not Punishment, and Movement Is Not A Reward.
- Focusing on student interests, strengths and passions Too often we place all the emphasis on the deficits of our students and staff. The previous principal of Kent, Roxanne Watson, helped to show me the powerful shift that occurs when we start with strengths. One of the successful initiatives that we have had at Kent for the past 6 years is the Choices Program that provides the opportunity for teachers to teach in an area of their passion and for students to choose to learn in an area of interest or passion. Kent has a tradition of strong athletics, music, Aboriginal culture with dedicated staff that support this each year. Honouring A Student’s Strength: The Story of Daniel and Giving Students Choices
- Putting a focus on outdoor play It started with a group of teachers working together to create a beautiful garden in the back field. Parents then built a sandbox. We then built a hill! All of these provide the students with so many more opportunities to be inquisitive and active in the outdoors. The Power of Outdoor Play: We Built A Hill.
- Making the school library (and the teacher-librarian) a priority Kent School has shown me the impact a passionate teacher-librarian and well-designed library can have on literacy (not just skill but, more importantly, a love of stories and reading). In addition to literacy as is traditionally defined, a teacher-librarian can be a leader in the areas of research, education technology, inquiry and professional learning. The staff at Kent have also shown me that we do not need pizza parties, prizes, nor points to encourage kids to read. Creating the Conditions: A Love of Reading.
- Fostering a partnership with our First Nation Communities Although Kent School has a effective relationships with a number of the First Nation communities, the working relationship with Seabird Island is one that should be a model for others to follow. The Seabird Education committee consists of band leaders who are passionate about creating positive change and working to ensure all children get the best education possible. The admin and (passionate) FN Support Worker met with the education committee four times a year (in addition to other less formal meetings) in which we discussed evidence and actions that could help the students. The education committee supported and challenged Kent School in ways that created change that benefited not only First Nation students, but also all the students. This was REAL collaboration with REAL trust in which there was a dynamic tension that allowed for intellectual collisions to help move us forward. We have a long way to go to ensure more success of our Aboriginal students in BC but Seabird Island and Fraser-Cascade have made significant gains in this area. Seabird Education Committee: Learning Together
- Increasing parent communication with technology A key belief of mine is that in order to best communicate with families, we need to meet them where they are. At Kent, we moved beyond the paper newsletter to include more frequent information (that can initiate 2-way dialogue) sent out in our blogs, Facebook Page, Twitter feed, Remind101 (SMS), Flickr, YouTube, etc to create a variety of ways to share the wonderful things that happen at the school. Using Tech To Meet Parents Where They Are, Parent Communication: To vs WITH, and Your School Needs a Facebook Page
- Shifting the focus away from grades This is not as significant of a jump at an elementary school as it is at a high school; however, a focus for our school has been to put less emphasis on the grade and much more emphasis on growth minsdset with descriptive feedback, success criteria, and clear learning intentions. This has helped to create better evidence of learning, decrease anxiety, and increase confidence. 6 Big Ideas of Assessment Practices
- Continuing to make inclusion a priority This was nothing new for Kent School as we just continued down the path that was set in motion long before I arrived. I was always proud to see all students fully included with support throughout the day; not only does this help the child with special needs but it also has a huge impact on all students as they learn communication skills, empathy, care, and (most importantly) friendship. Modeling and Teaching Our Kids to Reach Out and Include
- Creating time within the day for teachers to meet and tinker with ideas We often say that collaboration is important and that we want innovative practices in schools yet we often fail to provide the structures to make these a priority. In the past, I have tried some extra preps for innovation (“FedEx Preps”) but this year, we placed time in the schedule for innovation and collaboration. FedEx Prep: Time For Innovation, FedEx Prep: A Reflection, and Creating Time for Teachers To Tinker With Ideas
- Providing opportunities for student leaders Student leadership is part of the culture at Kent School. Whether it is through buddies, supervision, help with decisions, or running activities to improve the culture of the school, the students worked hard to lead. I recall someone asking what our “leadership program” was and, although I am sure there are some great programs out there, I responded with “we had dedicated teachers that model and encourage it… they create the conditions for students to lead.” When we moved to a “Play First Lunch”, our staff, along with the grade 6 students, made sure that the younger students were supported in the transition.
- Increasing opportunities for students and staff to connect with others Encouraging and supporting the use of technology and social media to connect and learn from others had a significant impact on our school. Although we did provide release time for staff to visit other schools, the technology provided the opportunity for staff to connect with and learn from other passionate educators around the world. I am proud of the many ideas that were ‘stolen’ from others to benefit students at Kent. How Social Media is Changing Education
- Continuing to foster community partnerships Being in a small town in which relationships are key, the school has a lengthy tradition of community partnerships. Here are just a few examples: twice a week before school, retired community members come in and read aloud to children (one-on-one) in the packed library; students regularly work with the Fraser Valley Regional Librarian to help support stories and literacy; the choir regularly travels to community halls and care homes and performs for others; the grade 6s reach out to the care homes to play games, read, and do crafts with elders; the Kent athletes participate in tournaments and playdays with nearby First Nation communities of Seabird and Sts’ailes; students also attend celebrations such as Sto:lo New Year at Seabird each year; the high school leadership students are regular helpers at a variety of events we host; students and staff from the Agassiz Centre for Education buddy up with Kent students and also partner in a number of “Senior-Teen Luncheons” at the Legion Hall to promote generational relationships and understanding; then at Christmas, the school invites the community supporters in for a huge turkey dinner in our gym. One of the most memorable (and heart-wrenching) moments was when our community embraced Lilee-Jean and her family as we welcomed this beautiful 2 year old in to spend her first and only day at school. These community partnerships help the students learn far beyond the school walls. The Most Beautiful Morning Spent Dancing in the Rain
- Embedding Aboriginal ways and culture Some key staff members have worked hard to make sure that Aboriginal education and knowledge of First Nation language and culture moves beyond being a “field trip”; culture, language, history, and story-telling all occur across the curriculum and throughout the day. The idea of honouring a child for the gifts he/she brings to us is just part of what is done at Kent.
- Showing pride in who we are We worked hard to honour children for who they are. We challenged and supported students to grow and excel and also remember the strengths and interests in their lives that help to create their identity. One of the most memorable activities I have been a part of was Identity Day in which each child in the school did a project on themselves. The conversations and learning that resulted from Identity Day spilled over into days and months following the event and helped to create better understanding and more confident learners in the school. I will always remember a luncheon/honouring ceremony when a cousin (a young adult) of one of the students nervously and emotionally spoke up; she said, “I went to Kent 8 years earlier… and struggled… and I am so proud to see my cousin go through Kent school and be PROUD of who she is”. Identity Day: Pride in Who We Are
I am so thankful for all the opportunities that were offered to me during my time at Kent School and the Fraser-Cascade School District. Writing this post has shown me the awesome power of having a blog as I was able to look back and read about the learning moments that occurred during my journey.
As I finish the chapter that is my journey at Kent, I look back at powerful learning, close relationships and wonderful memories. As I start my new chapter at James Hill, I look forward with excitement for the opportunity to create new learning, new relationships, and new memories. I have only been at James Hill a few times now and I am already learning so much from the staff. One of the greatest aspects of education is that, although we may have similar goals, things are done differently with a variety of perspectives in different communities and contexts. Each school community has its own ‘ecosystem’ and these new perspectives and relationships inspire me and help me grow that much more. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to be part of this community and write a completely new chapter of my life full of moments that will make me proud to be a principal and educator at James Hill. Hopefully I can add a few small pieces to the already strong cultures and traditions at our school.
Thank you so much to the communities of Kent and James Hill along with the districts of Fraser-Cascade and Langley.
If you are interested, here is the video I created for the community of Kent School that was shown on the last day of school.