Giving Thanks and Giving Back

As we get ready to celebrate the Thanksgiving weekend, I think it’s important to give thanks for what we have and to consider how we can help others.

Thanksgiving is an ideal time to consider those who may not be as fortunate or have the same opportunities that we enjoy. At this time of year in connecting with staff across Grand Erie, I have heard how various groups are giving thanks and supporting their communities by helping others.

One way we are supporting our Grand Erie community is through the annual United Way campaign at our schools and our board offices. We know that 1 in 3 people will be helped by United Way funded programs. A donation to the United Way is invested locally towards programs that deliver multiple levels of support ranging from temporary relief in crisis situations, to preventative solutions that ensure people have the tools and support that is needed in order for them to prosper. The United Way funds programs that support the most vulnerable people in our local communities, many of whom live below the poverty line – families, seniors, individuals and children. The United Way invests in programs that are guaranteed to change lives in the community which helps to build an overall better community. I will be donating to the United Way this year because I know my donation will be well invested to improve the lives of people in our own community and will have a positive impact on the children and families in our school communities.

This year I am challenging the entire Grand Erie District School Board community to ensure 100% participation in the United Way campaign – by this I mean that we will see donations coming from all our schools and board offices. This can mean one donation per building or many – I know we can do this!  I ask staff to join me in contributing to the great work that the United Way does to support many member agencies.

This weekend I will reflect on the opportunities that I have been given and the ways in which I am fortunate in both my professional and personal lives. I continue to be grateful for family and friends who support me and remind me to seek balance throughout the year.

I look forward to spending some time outside enjoying the beautiful autumn season while taking care of my own wellness agenda.  I also look forward to my home filled with family as we celebrate our traditional Thanksgiving dinner and catch up on everyone’s busy lives.

I thank each of you who work in Grand Erie and contribute every day to supporting our goal of Success for Every Student. I hope that all of you are able to spend this Thanksgiving long weekend being grateful for all that you have and for everyone in your life who is special to you. I can certainly think of no better way to celebrate Thanksgiving.

 

Leadership

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This past week, Grand Erie held its annual Leadership Gala, the purpose of which was to kick off our leadership program for the school year. Participants heard from staff in the Board about their own leadership journey and various people shared their challenges and successes in the area of leadership.

A key message  shared at the gala was around learning from mentors, both formal and informal, who help guide us through our leadership journey. Taking risks was also mentioned as those risks help to define the direction we go as leaders and though sometimes those risks lead to failure, it’s in failure that we learn and grow and move forward. While I wasn’t able to attend the session as I was off working on my own leadership with other school board Directors that evening, I did send a video taped message connecting leadership to our Multi-Year Plan goal of Success for Every Student and I highlighted that we can reach our goal through a culture of high expectations with a focus on students and staff. The Grand Erie leadership program is one of the ways we focus on our staff to provide excellent opportunities for professional learning.

Every day I see leadership all around me in so many different forms. Just this week I was involved in an activity that required leadership from a teacher and leadership from students in her class. Earlier this month, Liana Clarysse, a teacher at École Dufferin connected with me to comment on my welcome back blog post. Through email we continued a conversation and Liana invited me to be part of a FaceTime interview with her students. Her goal is to give her students the opportunity to see how people in a variety of professions integrate math into their daily lives at work. She wants to observe whether this activity increases for her Grade 3 and 4 students the relevance of what they are doing in the classroom. Of course I jumped at this interesting opportunity to interact with students. Liana’s leadership in seeking out this opportunity for her students was clearly evident but so was the leadership of the students who asked me questions. Prior to the FaceTime interview, the students were briefed on some questions but they had no idea who they would be interviewing that day – to them I was just the FaceTime Friend of the day. I was impressed with the poise of the students and at how competently they asked their questions. I can only hope that I provided them with a clear message about the importance of math in my own position.

We often think of leadership as only being connected to “formal” leaders in our organization, but to me leadership includes all those people who lead in whatever form that takes. Formal leaders direct the way based on the task that needs to be done; however, anyone can step up and show their own leadership attributes and potential. It’s what makes our organization work and makes me proud to be part of the Grand Erie District School Board. I see leadership examples every day and if you look around you, I’m sure you will see them too.

 

 

Welcome Back!

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As the 2016-17 school year is about to begin, I want to welcome back students and staff and wish everyone a great start to the year. Our schools are ready due to the hard work of our Facilities staff over the summer. Construction and maintenance projects have been completed and our schools are clean and shiny. School administrators and teachers have been at school this past week preparing for the return of students on September 6th.

My welcome back message for the 2016-17 school year is on the theme of success.

Ask a number of people what success means to them and you will likely get a variety of responses based on their own life experience, worldview and opinion. I am fine with this ambiguity as I believe there are a number of ways to describe success. Looking up the definition of success online not surprisingly there are a number of meanings. The one I like best is “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose” because this allows for a number of aims and purposes.

As we launch the new school year in Grand Erie we are setting a new direction to help guide the work we do for our students. Success for Every Student is at the centre of our new multi-year plan. We will achieve this goal through a focus on students and staff in a culture of high expectations and we have six indicator areas to support our goal: Achievement, Well-Being, Equity, Environment, Technology and Community. It’s important that we have a shared understanding that success – the accomplishment of an aim – can look different for each and every student.

As I enter my second year in the role of Director I am excited about the path we are forging with our new multi-year plan. My first goal is to bring awareness of the plan to all Grand Erie students, staff and communities. I want people to see themselves in the plan and to recognize how the indicators support our goal of success for every student. I look forward to sharing the plan at various meetings with staff, parents and community groups and to working with staff to implement the goals and strategies that we have set out. I also look forward to working with my dynamic senior team as we support the work of schools and the system.

Our Grand Erie students get ready for success each and every day. Each student is special and has their own story to tell. Check out this video:

http://youtu.be/jKYiUMWsfWI

It’s the beginning of a new chapter. Let’s continue our journey in education.

 

How I Spent My Summer Holidays

pathwayThe summer break is quickly coming to an end and I have taken this opportunity to reflect on my summer holidays.

The weather this summer was great if you like sun, hot temperatures and humidity. I’m actually fine with all of those conditions and together with family and friends we spent a lot of time hanging out in the backyard under the shade of patio umbrellas and awnings. Our pool offered a welcome relief to the heat. Our barbecue got a good workout and we ate lots of fresh fruit and vegetables we picked up from the local farmer’s market which runs every Wednesday not far from our house. Walking around the market and sampling this and that became a highlight of our summer. We also walked to the local ice cream parlour that is only open for the summer months – coconut ice cream became a quick favourite of mine.

This year we didn’t travel too far from home but had a classic “staycation”. My husband and I challenged ourselves during his two weeks off to hike trails we had never hiked and to find patios we had never visited for some refreshment afterwards. We hiked the waterfront trail several times and various sections of the rail trail. We headed down pathways without really knowing where we would end up and had several pleasant surprises as we found new pathways, streams and even waterfalls on our journeys.

We ventured out to restaurants we had never tried before both with friends and by ourselves. We played lots of games of Backgammon and Scrabble sitting on our patio as the sun set and the light faded away. During July we watched the fireflies dart in and out of the darkness. We spent many sultry summer evenings by our fire pit listening to music late into the night and chatting about life, plans for the future and what the fall might bring.

We caught up with friends and family that we don’t get to see as often as we would like due to busy schedules, geography and other dynamics. We went to movie matinees, timing our entrance to when the previews were just ending and racing up the steps of the theatre to sit in the top row and enjoy the coolness of the air conditioning as we lost ourselves in whatever story we had chosen to view that day.

I read many of the books I had on my summer reading list – mainly fiction of the mystery and thriller genre but also some non-fiction. I did a little professional reading from the folder of articles I saved through the year waiting for the moment when I had some free time to dedicate my attention to my own learning.

Like many educators I took a course this summer. I participated in mentor coach training in Toronto and learned a great deal about the power of professional coaching. I got together with other Ontario Directors of Education during the annual Directors’ meetings that are held in mid-August. It was great to reconnect and to network while learning about Ministry priorities and sharing our own plans for this next school year.

I feel like my summer was the perfect balance of activity and relaxation. I am rested and rejuvenated and ready to embark on a new school year. I hope that you have also had a wonderful summer and are preparing for the journey of the school year ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Break

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Here we are at the end of another school year and ready to welcome the summer break.

As I finish my first year as Director, I reflect on all the things that have happened during the 2015-16 school year that is now behind us. We experienced many challenges this year and worked on shared solutions. We worked together in a collaborative manner to find positive resolutions to these challenges. I commend our staff, our students, families and our communities for their willingness to come together to listen, to learn and to move forward in the spirit of maintaining positive relationships.

We also had many successes this year.  I’m sure that all of you have highlights of your school year that come to mind. For me, the highlights of the year were found in my school visits where I saw learning in action and heard about the successes of students and staff. I would also highlight my own learning within new portfolios including First Nations, Métis and Inuit education and working closely with our Trustees on various issues. A major highlight from my perspective is the journey that began in January as we worked through the process of developing a new multi-year plan.

In May, Grand Erie Trustees approved our new strategic directions to guide our work throughout the next four years. In the centre of this multi-year plan is Success for Every Student. We will achieve this through a focus on students and staff and in a culture of high expectations. The indicators that will support our goal include Achievement, Well-Being, Equity, Environment, Technology, and Community.

As we complete one school year and plan for another, I hope you share my excitement for the important work that lies ahead for Grand Erie. There will be many opportunities to share in the Board’s new and exciting Multi-Year Plan starting in the new year.

I thank all of our students, families and staff for their continued efforts in making Grand Erie a great place to learn and work. I wish all of you a summer break where you can enjoy time with family and friends so that you can relax and recharge.

I look forward to moving away from the routine of the school year for a couple of months and to spending time with family and friends as I also reflect, relax and recharge in preparation for the next school year.

Please look for my next blog post in late August when the routine will start again as we prepare to welcome students and staff back to school.

Have a great summer!

School Visits

For the past few weeks I have been visiting secondary schools. The visits usually start with a chat in the Principal’s office and then a tour of the school. I learn a lot about the school, staff and students on those tours and I always leave the school with a good feeling about the educational programs we are providing in Grand Erie.

I have seen many innovative programs so far and I am only halfway through my visits. One of the things I look for is student engagement and I have seen many examples of this. From observing a drama class in action to students hard at work in a greenhouse or preparing food in a kitchen classroom there are many examples of programs that mix experiential learning with academics. I have seen displays of success criteria and descriptive feedback and listened as students engage in purposeful talk as part of subject area inquiry. In discussion with students I have heard about staff who challenge them, inspire them and support them in their learning. In conversations with staff I have seen a real passion for the work they do each day.

One of the highlights of my visits is the presentation of gifts to staff who have reached the 25-year mark in their career.  As I present the gift I ask the staff member if he or she remembers their first day of work with the Board and I have heard some great stories about those early years.

Visiting schools is a wonderful part of my job. I get to see what is happening that is influenced at the system level and I witness first hand the work of staff and students. I also get a first-hand account of both the successes and the challenges at our schools and this allows me to be more informed in decision-making. My travels through Grand Erie also offer me the opportunity to experience the various communities that make up our Board and how those communities are reflected in the work and activities of each school.

This week I am scheduled to visit five more secondary schools and I am looking forward to interesting conversations, school tours and an expansion of my own learning.

 

 

Ability

Rotary Classic 2016Today a group of us from the Ed Centre participated in the Brantford Rotary Classic. It was a great day for a walk and it was wonderful to see all the school teams out taking part in the various events. Most of our group has been there before – we have done the 10k run, the 5k run and today we did the 3 mile walk. We walked because most of us hadn’t been training or have injuries that prevent running at this time. It’s all about knowing our abilities and working within those abilities.

This past week our Student Trustees presided over the final Student Senate of this school year. At this meeting the Student Trustee elections are held for the upcoming school year. So when I think of abilities I also think of this amazing group of student leaders who represent their schools so well. I think of the students who applied to be Student Trustee and how poised they were as they presented to the Student Senate. I think of how they responded to questions from the group and how they were able to focus on their abilities and their assets in describing what they wanted to accomplish as a Student Trustee.

Also this past week, the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, Elizabeth Dowdeswell and the Minister of Education, Liz Sandals, visited Brantford Collegiate Institute. Her honour, the Lieutenant Governor spoke to the audience of staff and students about the importance of being good stewards of the land and specifically the Great Lakes due to issues facing our Great Lakes. The message I took away was that people in powerful positions believe that our students have the ability to make a difference and I couldn’t agree more. It’s important for us to support the capacity of our students to be change agents.

As I visit schools and speak to staff and students I am constantly impressed with the talents on display – in every classroom, in the things I see exhibited in the hallways, and in school events and activities. What is most satisfying to me is how the programs we offer allow for students to choose the pathway that best reflects their own aptitudes and ability. Whether a student shines in technological areas, the arts, or athletics, there are opportunities for those students to find an area where their talent and skills can best be demonstrated.

Ability by definition is the quality of being able to do something. In education we build ability in our students through the teaching and learning process. We can also recognize those talents and skills that our students have and encourage them in those areas.

For me, I will continue to reflect on the abilities I see on display in our classrooms and schools. And, I will determine my own abilities – where I need growth, where I need change. Maybe next year I will be able to run again in the Brantford Rotary Classic.

 

Welcome Spring

It’s spring! March has chosen, as the old proverb states, to “go out like a lion”, but we shouldn’t despair as the mild temperatures of spring will soon be here and summer is not far behind.

Here in Grand Erie we have seen some exciting events and initiatives over the past little while. We began our monthly Student Recognition celebration at the Board Meeting on February 22nd and honoured two very worthy recipients. The recognition continued at the March Board Meeting where six more students were recognized for their accomplishments. It is truly inspiring to see what our students accomplish in academics, athletic events and the arts and it’s great to be able to recognize those achievements in the Board Room each month.

Our mental health and well-being initiative – #GEBeWell kicked off a few weeks ago and is a great reminder to focus on our own professional and personal wellness. And, in mid-March, the Grand Erie Focus on Youth program saw 36 secondary school students employed as support workers at a number of March Break Camps in Brantford and Brant County. We look forward to expanding the Focus on Youth program in the summer. In the midst of all of these events and initiatives, a team of Trustees and staff has been working hard on the next Grand Erie multi-year plan to provide strategic direction for student achievement and well-being from 2016-2020. Our goal is to share the new plan by the end of this school year with a full roll-out of the plan in the fall.

This year March has only 16 instructional days due to the annual March Break holiday and the Easter holidays falling within the same month. This means there have been lots of opportunities to devote time to wellness. Recently I spoke with some staff and students about how they focus on their own wellness and I learned about new fitness routines, the location of some great bike trails and various Fit Bit type challenges. As a few students spoke about their focus on nutrition and the challenges of eating well when they rush from school to part-time jobs and activities, several other students shared how they spend time making healthy snacks to grab and go. What I realized through these conversations is that the focus on wellness has led to a lot of people reflecting on routines and habits to see what they need to change in order to support their own physical and mental health.  It is clear that the ongoing dialogue about well-being is the starting point for a positive move forward. That’s a great thing.

So as the saying goes, we spring forward – to new opportunities, new initiatives and new directions.  Spring is the perfect time to set new goals for health and wellness.  I’m setting my goals – both personal and professional.  How about you?

Innovation

The concept of innovation has different meanings depending on who is defining the word. Last week I attended a one-day conference organized by the London Professional Network Committee of the Managing Information for Student Achievement (MISA) group. The theme of the day was innovation and while I was unable to spend the whole day with the group, I was there for the activity where people put their ideas forth about what innovation means. The ideas and definitions were diverse. As I was driving back to the office that day, I thought about innovation and innovative things that are happening in Grand Erie and I challenged myself to land on a definition that worked for me to frame my thoughts.

While I’m sure there are lots of great ideas out there about innovation, for the moment I prefer how the late writer, professor and management consultant Peter Drucker described innovation – “as change that creates a new dimension of performance” (Peter F. Drucker, remarks on the Peter F. Drucker Award for Nonprofit Innovation). I make the assumption that Mr. Drucker meant an improvement in performance.

Mr. Drucker’s definition works for me in an educational leadership context because it helps me view practices in schools, classrooms and service departments through the lens of performance. Do these practices improve or enhance performance?

Recently I had the great opportunity to visit Valley Heights Secondary School to observe the Grade 8 students from Houghton Elementary School finishing up their five week welding camp. The camp, funded and organized through the Canadian Welding Association Foundation, is called Mind over Metal and under the leadership of Valley Heights Manufacturing Technologies teacher John Dabrowski, the elementary students spend two mornings a week at the secondary school to work on welding techniques. I spoke with students who were excited about the program and fully engaged in their learning. The students shared the products they had made and were able to describe the processes and the terminology used in welding. The program provides an early exposure to a skilled trade area but also allows the Grade 8 students to experience secondary school before finishing Grade 8 which provides the experience of a much larger school and allows the students to build their comfort level in the building. To me this program fits with the definition of innovation as change has been created in the way that students leave the comfort of their elementary school and experience a program that could not be offered in the typical Grade 8 setting. The new dimension of performance evolved over the weeks of the program as students who were apprehensive about working a grinder or even holding a welding torch became confident in their skills and were able to demonstrate their learning and skill development in very practical ways. Even if the students don’t pursue this trade in the future, they have learned that they can take on an unfamiliar and challenging task and through instruction, guidance and their own willingness to learn, they can be successful. That is a great outcome of an innovative program.

I look forward to learning about and sharing the many innovative practices across Grand Erie.

The Rhythm of the School Year

 

Over the 30 years I have spent in education I have come to notice that the school year has a definite rhythm.   There is a point in the year when there is a shift that is just almost perceptible.

This shift begins to take place when semester two begins in our secondary schools and term one moves into term two in our elementary schools. The change is more pronounced at the secondary level because there is an actual point where students and teachers end one set of courses and move on to the next. We do have classes that don’t have this distinct switch but even for those classes a change is felt as we “turnaround” at the end of January. In elementary schools the shift is less obvious but becomes clear when the term one report cards go home as they do this coming week.

So, even though it is only February this is the time of year when we move to having one foot in this year and one foot in next year. This phenomenon can be seen as our Grade 8 students and secondary students begin to choose course options for next year, as Trustees begin pre-budget meetings in initial planning for next year, as Principals consider staffing needs for next year and as our service departments share the focus on this year with an eye to planning for the next school year.

The second semester or term of the school year has just about the same number of days as the semester/term before it but ask anyone who works in education and you will hear that the second part of the year seems to move much faster than the first. Perhaps the reason for this perception is that at this time in the school year cycle planning starts for year-end trips, graduations, our summer camps and summer school – all this preparation begins now even though the events won’t happen for a few months.

I feel the change with each passing day as we move through the winter. The days are getting longer, it’s light in the morning when I drive to work and the sunsets look different as we move towards spring.

The school year’s rhythm is beating fast now as a new semester and term begin and the excitement of starting something new abounds. A new course, a new sports schedule, new activities and new things to look forward to as the last five months of the school year wind down. The rhythm is also winding up as we keep that one foot firmly planted in this year and move the other foot to planning for the next school year.

It’s an exciting and busy time in our schools, service departments and at the Board table, as we focus on what’s important to carry on with this school year while at the same time actively considering what needs to be done to plan for the next year. I am proud of our Grand Erie staff and the work they do together to keep the focus on what is best for our students and school communities as the school year rhythm continues to play on and the pace quickens. I hope everyone has had a good start to the second half of the year and I look forward to great things happening across Grand Erie from now until the end of June.