To Thine Ownself Be True


I spend a lot of time each week reflecting on what has gone well and what has gone not so well in our school, as I am sure a lot of you do.

I consider my actions and reactions, thinking about whether or not I need to make changes in my focus in order to support the growth of the school team.

Lately I have noticed a sense of urgency and almost robotic panic in our building seemingly based upon the number of things everyone is juggling. I hate to see people so tired and overwhelmed to the point of not enjoying what they do.  One thing I never doubt, not even for one minute, is each member of our team being focused on our students- always.

We can be bombarded with requirements, committees and changes coming at us from various directions outside and inside of the school.  It can be a difficult task to balance the expectations and requirements coming at us,  with what has to happen in our classrooms, with our students, and in our school, on a daily basis.

I know as an administrator I often feel overwhelmed by the number of things we are expected to balance and complete and spend a lot of time thinking of how to make that easier for teachers.  I don’t think we really stand out in the educational crowd with these feelings.  I also feel it is something that is not going away anytime soon.

On Thursday of this week, we had the opportunity to have the home town and much-loved, hockey team players from The Estevan Bruins,  spend the afternoon in our school.  There were 25 of them, spread out, working in every classroom for an hour and we ended the day with a floor hockey game in the gym involving as many students and staff as possible.  What a fun way to spend the day!

I am not going to lie, it was a bit of an over the top frenzy for the whole afternoon.  The students were so excited and it was nice to just take time to have a whole lot of fun together.

Estevan Bruins
Estevan Bruins

Looking back at that afternoon, I have wonder if that is what we are missing right now.   Do we give ourselves permission to  shut it all off occasionally and just have fun with each other without feeling guilty about it?

It seems like we can get so caught up with all of the expectations we are  balancing we can let those expectations control our actions, rather than us controlling how we will fulfill those expectations.  We have many things in our profession that we can’t control.  I am always trying to bring our conversations back to the things we can control and reminding myself about those things often to refocus.

For example, we can’t control parental actions and reactions.  We can promote, encourage and assist, but in the end we will always have some parents that do not support all of our actions.  Should we focus our energy on those few by allowing their negative feedback to control us?  Or does it make more sense to focus our energy on forging relationships with all of our supportive, eager to partner, parents and see what we can accomplish?

Now I would never say we should stop reaching out, encouraging and trying, but when they do not reach back, we should try not to take that personally and feel bad about it.  Our energy is better spent on ways that we can reach out to the majority and the benefit it will be to all of our students.

Another example…

Many expectations are put upon schools by different departments at the school division/district level.  The intent of all of them is  based on best practice, school division/ministry goals and improving the way we do things.  The desire to improve our practice is strong, and good intent is there,  but it can be overwhelming when there are too many changes.  Once again, however, are we concentrating and spending energy by becoming too focused on things we can’t control?

We do need to continue to improve our practice.  We do no need to continue to drill down our data. We do need to continue to improve team function so we can meet individual student needs and improve academic achievement.  No one can argue that.

At the same time, however, we do not need to lose our individuality in the process.

We can stay true to the good practice and routines we have developed and feel are important in our classrooms and schools.  We do not need to change who we are, what we are, or the things we feel are important to our school culture.

Let’s spend more of our energy supporting relationships, reaching out to each other to meet our goals, having fun with our students and families, enjoying reading and the love of learning, meeting in the staff room for a quick chat at recess rather than working alone, letting ourselves walk out at the end of the day and not looking back, rather than dragging home our laptops and book bags for a long night ahead.

The long list of expectations and things to do will keep coming.  Where we decide  to spend our energy and focus each day is up to us.  I have a feeling the expectations will be met much easier if we allow ourselves to be true to who we are and what we stand for.

Any thoughts?

“To thine own self be true.”  

              -William Shakespeare-





Getting off to a Positive Start

We are almost a month into the new school year and I am feeling motivated by many things.  I love the fresh start of the new year when everyone is rested and full of energy.  We can forget about our mistakes of last year, re-celebrate the successes and plan for a fantastic year ahead.

The first day of school when the students come back fresh faced and loaded down with new school supplies.  Smiles and hugs are shared.  Even our middle-year’s students have to admit they are at least a little bit glad to be back with their classmates and friends.  The fresh start allows so many to shine, while welcoming new students and adjusting to new teachers.  One of the favorite things I do at the beginning of each year is read to every group of students in the school.  I try to share my love of reading and choose my books to leave them with the message of working hard, not giving up and learning from our mistakes.

Grade 2
Grade 2

I have been lucky enough to spend the two days this month with our school division admin team listening and learning from Tom Hierck.  His message is clear- do as many positive things as possible to build up every student in our schools to reach their potential.  We do not give up on kids!

During these two days of learning and discussion we were able to think and share about all the ways we are being positive in our schools.  I think our staff does a great job of trying to meet the needs of all of our students and look for ways of celebrating their individual talents and abilities.  As I walk from classroom to classroom, I am amazed by the things I see happening on a daily basis. I know I am lucky to have such a dedicated, hardworking staff and our students benefit from that hard work.  I am proud of each and every one of them and wonder if I can ask them to do even more than they already are.

Another part of  Tom Hierck’s message was about  the need for collective buy in to what we feel is important in our schools.  It takes hard work to create and maintain  positive attitude and culture every day.  Are we doing everything we can to model those behaviors we would like to see in our students?  Are we taking the time to build relationships that create safe and engaging environments?  Are we reaching out to our parents in a positive way so they feel like they are an important and integral part of our learning team?

Last summer as I was reading and reflecting on the new school year I came across a post written about positive office referrals. I wish I had taken a better record of where the idea came from because I would like to thank the author of that post.

The principal who wrote the post was describing how much he enjoyed doing positive office referrals and how it had helped forge a positive relationship with students and parents.  Basically the idea was simple, teachers and support staff refer any student down to the office for any positive reason.  It might be academic, social, like being a good friend, helping out in the lunch room or in some cases something as simple as just getting to school on time.

Meeting students where they are, setting the bar high, but not too high and remembering one thing:  building positive relationships are the most important thing we do to make a difference in a students emotional, social and academic growth.

Once the school year starts, it seems to move along at lightening speed.  I hope we can slow down to catch those small moments where we can all make a positive difference in a students life, even those students who test us the most.


Students Leading the Team


This post is strictly about bragging.  My parents always taught it wasn’t nice to brag, but I feel like I have something to brag about.  I have to admit one of my favorite things to observe in our building is when our older students willingly step up and help out our younger students.  It is something that happens all the time and in many ways and it causes me to have a great sense of pride as their principal.

Last Wednesday our entire student body, staff and a number of parents set out on our annual Toonies for Terry Fox walk.  We usually organize ourselves in our buddy groups, older grades with younger grades and off we go with our vice-principal leading the pack.  It just so happens that the day of our walk it was very hot and humid.  We really hadn’t gone too far when some of our kindergarten students were getting a little tired and the little cheeks were turning red from the heat.


When asked to help, our big grade 7 and 8 students did not even hesitate.   I usually try to move through the line so I can talk to various students, take pictures and then end up near the end to help bring in the stragglers.  Everywhere I looked I could see older students holding our little students by the hand, talking to them, encouraging them.  I asked some of the boys to offer a piggy back or two and without hesitation, most of them were up for the challenge even though they were hot, tired and thirsty themselves.


Once again on Friday of last week, I had the opportunity to watch our students at work, lending a hand without hesitation.  We have been working very hard at our school to first raise money for a 2 phase playground installation.  The first part was a large play structure for our grade 3-5 playground that we installed a year ago last summer.  The second phase was swings, tire swings, a climbing dome and some picnic table mainly on our grade 6-8 playground.  We asked our grade 8 students to help with the installation on Friday.


First of all I know that the thought of all day outside on a beautiful Friday was pretty tempting, but even so, I was so impressed with the way some of them tackled the job with enthusiasm and stamina.  With the music blasting across the playground, we worked together to figure out difficult instructions, bolt many pieces together and solve problems when we got stuck.  I was so impressed with not only the attitude many of them had, but also with the skill level many of them possessed.
Maybe bragging isn’t nice, but I can’t help it, I am a very proud principal.

5 Things I hope Our Parents Know

One of the things that I have learned over my years as a teacher and school administrator is the importance of parents and home support in the success of children.  I spend a great deal of time thinking and reflecting on the things we do, in the hopes of improving home school communication and relationships.  These are 5 of the things I hope our parents know…

1.I hope you know we feel thankful you trust us with your children every day. I remember the feeling I had when I sent my oldest daughter to kindergarten. For the first 5 years of her life I had been able to plan for her, shelter her and let her experience things within my control. All of a sudden I was turning her over to another team of people for many hours of her day. I had feelings of apprehension and I am afraid I did not handle her transition into school as well as I might have. The transition did not seem to get much easier for me as I sent child number two or three.  Now that child number 3 is in grade 10 and I have been part of a school team for a number of years, I have realized  it takes many people to raise a child and a strong team of people is what every child needs.

2. I hope you know we want to work as a team.  We know the importance of teamwork in the success of children.  When we make phone calls or send notes home, they are not meant as criticisms, but rather part of our desire to work as a team to help your children and our students be as successful as possible not only  in their academic growth, but also their physical, emotional social and spiritual growth.  We also try to remember when you contact us about your concerns and questions that you are not trying to criticize us, but rather you are being the advocate that all children need. I hope we come across as willing to listen and address your concerns. If we do not, don’t give up, because we are human and trying to do our best.

3. I hope you realize we understand how busy you are. We understand how busy life can be-most of us are working parents too or we were certainly raised by working parents. We understand that some of the things we ask you to do for us and your children add to the business of a full day. I certainly have to admit that studying for science exams or helping with ELA homework has come at times that I have found very frustrating and have had to dig deep to find the energy needed. We understand that sometimes you will not be able to meet our expectations and that is ok, because sometimes we may not always be able to meet yours.

4. I hope you know we are trying our best. I never have to doubt the hard work I see in our school every day.   It makes me proud as a principal when I see that everyone is trying their hardest to do the best we can for children.  In know that despite our hard work, we will make mistakes sometimes and I hope that you will be patient as we try to make things right.

5. I hope you know we appreciate everything they do for us. I am amazed by the generosity and support of the parents and families in our community. We are constantly receiving donations of time, money and effort. We cannot thank you enough and some days it is what keeps us going when things get busy and frustrating like they can at times.

Together we CAN accomplish great things, so keep calling, keep writing notes, keep asking questions. You are the most important part of your child’s team.

Tooting Our Own Horn

bulldog logo

I finally received my copy of Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times, by Eric Sheninger. I am over 1/2 way through already taking advantage of a 2 hour drive to my son’s hockey game yesterday and some reading to my cell phone light on the way home. The book is very motivating and thought-provoking as I thought it probably would be. There are many ideas for using social media for communication, public relations, engaging students, professional development of staff and much more. It is amazing what some of the schools mentioned in the book are doing simply by taking advantage of opportunities available to us by various forms of social media.

One thing I don’t think we do a very good job of is tooting our own horn. We have so many good things going on in our school, but because they are just part of our every day workings we do not share them or brag about them. A few times so far in my reading Mr. Sheninger has written, “If we do not tell our story, somebody else will. Unfortunately, more often than not, the story that is told is negative.” It is hard not to agree with this because we often see public education and schools portrayed in a negative way in the media.

As a digital leader in my school it is my responsibility to do a better job of building capacity through positive public relations. I can say my plate is full, or what if something negative happens, or I do not have time for one more thing, but in a lot of ways, that is a cop-out. We avoid doing things because of the “time” excuse and later realize that time spent pays off many fold and was well worth it.

I have seen links on twitter about branding, but honestly I have not really paid much attention because, like a lot of people, I usually associate branding with big business and I am in the business of children and people. What does branding have to do with that?

Branding is creating an identity that people will recognize and buy in to. We are in control of what is happening in our schools, for the most part, and we know there are many awesome, experiences, moments, techniques and celebrations happening every day so why not spread the word.

We have put a lot of effort this year into using twitter as a communication and public relations tool with developing and promoting a school twitter account @PDaleSchool and classroom twitter accounts for all of our classes. I think we have done a great job and parents appreciate the effort put into being able to see those small moments happening throughout the day, receiving notices of things happening at the school and links to parenting or educational information. I also think it is a great professional development tool for many of our teachers.

We have made a great step toward positive branding of our school. The question now is…what is the next step?

Getting Better At What We Do

I spend a lot of time thinking about improvement. Mostly about how I can improve my teaching and leadership and hopefully, in some way, have some influence on improvement in in our school and our system. Right now I am reading “Effective Supervision” by Marzano, Frontier and Livingston. The basis of the book is about building an atmosphere of collegiality in which teachers can share effective teaching practices. The hope is to try and help teachers, myself included, to become what is termed “expert teachers”. We all know countless research tells us the teacher in the room has the greatest effect on student achievement. I feel like we should never quit striving to improve our craft.

Today I followed a link on Twitter that led me to George Couros’blog, The Principal of Change. I was especially interested in a post he had written about making assumptions in education. As part of the discussion he writes, “Once you are done learning as a teacher, you are done.” I could not agree more. We do need to keep learning and we do need to keep striving to get better despite the obstacles that get in our way.

I am a strong believer in reflective practice and have a vision about education and what I think we need to do to prepare our students for whatever their future holds. I also believe in life long learning and never want to come across like I know more than any of the teachers and support staff that I work with. Together we are a knowledgeable and powerful team. We need each other to accomplish all that we do.

I am continually amazed when I walk around my building and watch my teachers in action. I see so many great things accomplished every day and our recent reading benchmark data and other assessments indicate that students are making improvements. It is in moments like this that I wonder if I can really expect more from my teachers and support staff then they are already giving?

Probably the biggest frustration teachers have is TIME. It seems like things are added to our plates on a regular basis and we often go home wondering if we will ever get caught up. How do we fit concentrated efforts for improvement in teaching practices into an already full load?

I was struck by another link posted on Twitter to a blog post written by Jordan Campbell, a fairly new and very wise teacher, who writes about letting go of what we cannot control and concentrating on the great things we do, especially the parts we really enjoy. I could not help but think that maybe this was one of the keys to finding time for improvement. Do we spend too much time on things that do not matter? The post encourages us to not waste time complaining about teaching, but instead, spend our time celebrating and talking about the good things that keep us doing the job day after day.

Leadership in education is about learning. The learning of myself and needs to be at the heart of my decision making every day. I think George in right…once we are done learning, it is time to go.

Designing My Own Life Plan

It is amazing what a break can do for attitude and rejuvenation. It has been a stressful fall term for a number of reasons, but sometimes I think I can get caught up in a circle of negativity that can be difficult to break. Having the opportunity to remove myself from the school over break has allowed me to reflect on the reality of my circumstances.

  • I love my job.
  • I have a fantastic, creative and innovative staff.
  • I have a strong supportive admin team with my vice-principal.
  • I enjoy my students and am glad to be back in the classroom.
  • I have a large group of hard-working and generous parents.
  • I work as part of school division team that challenges me.

I came across an article posted on twitter over the holidays, written by Franchesca Warren, titled “Taking the Bitterness Out of Teaching: Four Ways to Find Your Professional ‘Breath of Fresh Air’.” In the article she describes a similar mind frame to mine before our school break. It is easy to get caught up in the negative things that are going on around us. Most of these things are out of our control and it does not really matter how much we complain about them or to avoid them, the reality is they exist.

In the article Warren includes the following quote:

If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much. Jim Rohn

Five years ago my family made a huge change leaving our family farm and a teaching position I had been in for 20 years and relocating to another province. Our  children were fantastic at making the adjustment to a new school and community and the move has been positive for us all. At the time of our move I was very ready for a professional change and felt I was being overcome by the negative things in my professional life that I could not control. Looking at the move as a fresh start I vowed I would not allow myself to get into that negative frame of mind again.

Taking time to reflect has made me realize the importance of designing our own life plan. We cannot allow things out of our control to proliferate and overwhelm us to the point they are controlling our lives and not us.

As we start a new year, and start back to school after winter break, it is the perfect time to design a new life plan.

My Attitude Adjustment

Every week my brain gets fixated on one topic that I just can’t quite seem to get off my mind.  This week’s topic seems to be how to let go of the things we cannot control.   After another long week filled with office visits, parent communication (not always supportive or positive) and meetings, my general attitude lately has been kind of negative and feeling overwhelmed with my inability to solve issues.  I keep looking for a magic wand, but I have not found one yet, so I have come around to something I said myself a couple of years ago when talking to a fellow administrator about the state of affairs in her building- If you are not happy with the way things are, then fix it.

That sounds simple enough…just a minute I need that magic wand again …

I buckled down in the car yesterday on our way back from a hockey tournament to read a book written by Baruti K. Kafele, called “Closing the Attitude Gap”.  His general premise in the book, as it seemed to me, was to not settle when it comes to our students.  We need to hold them accountable and make them believe that they can accomplish great things by not giving them excuses.  Many of them come from lives that are not ideal and bring baggage of various kinds with them when they come to our buildings every day.  I know it is easy for us to slide into that mode where we start thinking all of these extraneous influences are overwhelming and we cannot fight against the tide.  It can seem that no matter what we do at times, it won’t matter that much.  Compound this with having large numbers of students in our classrooms, overwhelming curricular demands, assessments, report cards, conferences and the list can go on and on.

I have said many times to my staff, “we have to concentrate on what we can control and do what we can do to help these children for the hours they are in our care.”  Principal Kafele challenges everyone reading his book to take a long, hard look at ourselves and remind ourselves why we are teachers.  What made us become teachers in the beginning?  What do we want to accomplish as teachers?

If my attitude is negative, how will I ever have a positive affect on the staff and students in my building? I think it is time to start following my own advice.  I need to start with the things I can control such as my relationship with kids.  I can make a better effort to get to know them, build relationships with every student in the building.  Last week I had a conversation with a student who told me he was not comfortable telling me things because he had only had negative feedback from me.  First of all, good job on the part of that student for being so brutally honest with the principal,  because I know that wasn’t easy.  What he told me stung, but also moved me to change my attitude.  I will make a better effort with this student and many others in the building who I do not know well yet. Now that is something I can control and I can’t think of a better way to spend my time.

The other night I had a phone call from a parent after supper in the evening.  This parent works long hours and it can be difficult to reach her during the day.  I had sent a note home asking her to call me when it worked for her.  We had a great talk on the phone about her child and what he needed for support.  She was not aware of what a positive effect that conversation had on my state of mind at that time.   That is just it, isn’t it?  We can be unaware of what affect the smallest act can have on our students, both positive or negative.  Just as this parent lifted my spirits by what she said, she could have just as easily left me feeling down had she reacted differently.

Students need to know we care and will make an effort to get to know them.  We need to make their lives important, but not an excuse for bad attitude. We need to remind ourselves of the reasons we went into teaching to begin with.  We do not teach curriculum, we do not teach outcomes or subjects, we teach students.

Week in the Life of a Principal-Day 4

Thursday, November 14

7:00- I came out this morning to rain which seems weird considering I live in Saskatchewan, Canada and it should be snowing.  I arrived at the school with the usual things on my mind. I wanted to get my day organized, work through the emails that I had ignored at the end of the day yesterday, and make a list of the students that I needed to see this morning.

8:15- Week at a glance meeting.  Every Thursday morning we meet as a staff and make a calendar for the upcoming week to send out to our families.  They can be mini-staff meetings and we usually have a couple of laughs together-not a bad way to start the day.

8:40-Morning announcements and off to teach social studies to grade 8.  Our grade 7/8 boys and girls volleyball teams had district tournaments today so I had a small class.  We did our 2 minute news podcast to see what was going on in the world and then decided to have a small competition in groups to see how much we remembered about social studies topics.

9:25-I started seeing students.  I had some students to see from yesterday’s escapades when I was away at my meeting and some other students that I needed to check in with, but had not had time.  I only ask three things of students that are brought to my office for discipline reasons-be straight up (be honest), own your part and do what you can to fix it.  I try to keep my language simple and my expectations high but reasonable.  I managed to see 6 students and talk to 2 parents and one classroom teacher before noon. When the school division security person returned with my laptop, and needed my desk,  I just moved into the vice-principal’s office and carried on.

12:00- I am on lunch supervision in the 3-5 lunchroom.  I check on my middle years students in our canteen and try to find the 6-8 lunch supervisor to tell her that I will be sending a younger student her way to walk the playground and then I head down to see what my grade 3-5 students were up to.  All was pretty quiet-only one lunch was accidentally spilled.  We headed outside to play until 12:50.

1:00- Inside again to do afternoon announcements and then back to grade 8 for career education and then grade 6 health.

2:10-I needed a coffee and believe it or not I had not gone to the washroom yet today!  I ran quickly out to the playground to check on my little runner only to find he was not running, but standing to visit with some friends.  I walked out to speak to him and then back in to sit down for a moment.

2:25-When I got back to my office after recess, a crying student was waiting for me on the couch.  I asked him to come into the office so I could find out what was wrong.  He explained what had happened on the playground and I decided to get the other student out of class and have them talk it out.  By this time I only had time to quickly send an email and then head outside for after school bus supervision.

3:20-Heading back to my office.  I had phone calls to return and I had to wonder who made the big mess on my desk…that would be me.  I spent the next 2 hours answering emails, filing discipline sheets both electronic and paper, cleaning my desk and organizing my day tomorrow.  We had a computer refresh this fall and so our school division allows us to give away the older computers to families from our school community.  I photocopied some more computer request forms and went through the ones I already had.  I will start handing them out in the morning.

5:30-I left the building to meet a friend at the indoor track for a quick walk and visit before home.  I took the hot lunch orders with me to organize so we can put in some food orders tomorrow.

Crossing my fingers for a good nights sleep tonight!

Week in the Life of a Principal-Day 3

Wednesday, November 13

7:10- I arrive at school knowing that I have a bit of work to do on my sub plan for today, I send out some emails, sign out computer carts for my sub and finish finding the books we were requested to take to our administration meeting today.  I also needed to touch base with one of my new teachers about a plan he is making.  I have been unable to check in on his progress all week and he will be away tomorrow.  We had a quick chat about what was going on and even though I wished I had more time at that moment to really dig deep and be helpful I had to run get announcements ready and leave messages for various people before I was being picked up for my meeting.

9:00-Picked up for admin meeting. Travel with fellow administrators is always good.  We have time to touch base, talk about issues pertinent to all of us  and catch up on what is going on in the other schools in the city.  We have a 35 minute drive and a little Tim Horton’s coffee-all is good!

9:45-We arrive at the meeting with our big stack of books in tow.  We have reams of paper to pick up as we enter and I use the next 15 minutes to speak to some of my colleagues that I do not see often-really once a month at our meetings.  We were introduced to a new format for our meeting today.  Instead of having the information given to us at the meeting by the different division level personal, we were sent the information yesterday, were to have read the information and if we had questions we could ask them at the meeting.  I like the idea of the format, but we need to get the information earlier.  I do like having more time for the learning portion of the meeting and this is the format that I like to follow for the staff meetings we have at our school level as well.

3:15-Our meeting is finished, we have covered various topics from math, to technology, to reading score to HR requests.  I can’t help but feeling a bit discouraged at the number of things we could only do if we had time to do them.  I hate feeling negative about my ability to do this job, but I have to admit this year has brought on many doubts.  I constantly reflect on how I can use my time better, do things faster and wish I had more time to do things I feel are the most important.  I hate seeing members of my staff also feeling like we are constantly playing catch up.  I also know that negative feelings breed negative feelings so I have to figure out some way to let go of that and concentrate on the positive things that I can control.

3:40- Back at the school to find that quite a few things have gone down during the day.  The teacher I have left in charge has had a busy day dealing with quite a few discipline and behavior things and my list for tomorrow has just increased.  Volleyball games were happening in the gym so I wandered down there to see how the students were doing and chat with a few parents that were in the building.

4:45-Meeting with some parents of two new students just starting in our school this week.  We have some planning to do and need to have some information from them to get things in place.  It was good talking to them and getting to know them a bit more.  It is also a great feeling to once again see my teachers working to do what is best for kids.  One thing I never have to doubt is the team in my building and that makes me a lucky principal indeed.

6:10-After looking at my to do list for tomorrow and glancing through but not answering my emails I went home to find something to eat.  I was starving and tomorrow will be another day.