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.

Synergy

In simple terms, synergy is defined as the increased effectiveness that results when two or more people work together. (Merriam-Webster online dictionary)

I am fortunate that I work in a field where synergy occurs often – a combined effort is often part of the projects and initiatives on which I work. I am collaborative by nature and I enjoy the give and take of coming together with people who want to work on ideas and solutions.

This weekend synergy was fully evident in the work that has started to refresh the Grand Erie Multi-Year Plan. On a bright, cold, winter Saturday morning a group of Grand Erie leaders gathered at our learning centre in Brantford to begin the work. Calling together a group to work on the weekend is not something that is often done but the need for focused attention to the task at hand, and the need to work around many busy work week schedules, made this necessary. I commend all who participated openly in the session – trustees, including a student trustee, managers, employee group leaders, parents, community members, administrators, our mental health lead and system research leader, and the senior admin team. A diverse group certainly but a group clearly committed to the process and the work.

What I experienced over the six hours we spent together led by a skilled facilitator was energy, enthusiasm, active listening and respect for other’s ideas, views and opinions. We talked openly and honestly about our system’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. We reviewed our current multi-year plan through the lens of the present environment in education and we proceeded with forward thinking for our new plan. We spoke of high expectations for student achievement, staff development and student and staff well-being. We considered the words we will use and the images we will create to communicate to the system and community our plan statements and goals for the next five years.

By the end of the day we had accomplished what we set out to do at this point in the process. The next step is review and consolidation and then an opportunity to hear other voices – those who aren’t at the table. A plan is being developed for greater consultation on this first run at the new plan and we will ensure that our schools, service departments, families and communities have an opportunity to add their voices to the discussion that will lead to the next Grand Erie Multi-Year Plan to guide the work we do over the next five years.

As I walked out to my car at the end of the Saturday session I felt the synergy, the energy, the flow of thoughts and ideas that were the result of a group of people working together to a common goal – to ensure that together we create a plan that our system can identify with, can see themselves in, and one that can frame the good work that we do.

 

Renewed Focus and Wellness

Happy New Year!

Like so many people I don’t really buy into the concept of New Year’s resolutions but I understand the benefits of reflecting on where I am at, both personally and professionally, as the new year begins.

We hear so much about work/life balance and recently I have read articles that suggest this whole idea is a myth and that a balance between work and life is not possible. I don’t necessarily agree with that notion but I do struggle sometimes in achieving an appropriate balance. So much has been written about the ways that technology has made our lives easier but at the same time has increased the pressure to be available all day, every day – in effect to be “on” the job all day, every day. People who are close to me have spoken to me about shutting down my “online” world at a certain point each day and during the weekend. I don’t feel that my role necessarily allows this and I struggle with what shutting down actually means.

I’m sure many of you have a similar challenge as this situation is pervasive in our modern world. This challenge was part of my new year’s reflection on my own personal health and wellness. As I think back I can see that the time between September and December was a blur of new opportunities, responsibilities and challenges for me. I must admit I let my own health and wellness agenda lapse and I recognize that this was not a good situation personally or professionally.

So, I have entered the new year with a renewed focus on how to try and balance my work life and my professional life. I’m sure I won’t get it exactly right but I am more conscious of the way my professional life interweaves with my personal life. This doesn’t mean that I won’t sit down on Sunday morning and answer emails or prepare for the week ahead because these tasks actually support my wellness by framing the week and allowing me to see what needs to be done, who I need to touch base with, what reports I need to consult on and what I need to let my family know in terms of the days when I have evening commitments and won’t be home until late in the day. This weekly planning allows me to handle those urgent things that inevitably crop up in the course of the week and help me to balance competing priorities – at least that’s the plan. I am also trying to better understand the ways that technology is a support for me and not just another thing that interrupts my attempts at balance.

For me, the bottom line is about being conscious of breaches to my work/life balance and being able to recognize when I need to pay more attention to this balance. I hope that everyone who reads this post will be able to reflect upon their own need for balance – it’s not an easy thing to maintain but in terms of our own personal wellness it’s important.