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Recess & Resilience

October 25, 2015 1 comment

She had fouled off the curve balls that life had thrown her.         ~W.P. Kinsella~

Over my time as a school principal and vice principal I have been fortunate to work in schools where a culture of healthy physical activity is evident throughout the school. My current school, Clearmeadow P.S. is certainly no exception. Come to our school any time before, during or after the school day and you will see first hand what I mean.  Whether it is organized activities like cross country or volleyball, or the wide array of informal playground sports that go on every morning and lunch hour- there is a lot of physical activity going on. On any given day one will see everything from games of soccer, touch football, foursquare, basketball and tag to intricate dance moves and cheer routines. Recently, as a result of the Toronto Blue Jays regular and post-season successes, we have started to see many more sandlot baseball games breaking out all over the school yard (if you are wondering how the grass stains are getting on those jackets, it’s likely that they are being used as bases or home plate).

A lot of important learning occurs during these times. Though our school yard is well supervised, students have a greater level of autonomy and these games and activities provide them with the experience of working together to organize games, negotiate rules and manage the conflicts, struggles and disagreements that are a natural outcome of the social process. John Dewey once said “education is not preparation for life , education is life itself.”  In many ways, the old adage about the school yard as a microcosm of life in the real world holds true.

When things get too heated, or a student makes a decision that is hurtful, unsafe or inappropriate; we are able to step in, provide support and help the student(s) learn from their mistakes. However, for the most part, they manage these matters themselves, using these experiences to find their voices, learn about reciprocity and develop their resilience. Recess is the invisible (and often favorite) subject; one where no tests are assigned and no marks are given but one where the depth and quality of learning that occurs is known by all.  If we want our children to learn how to manage and recover from disappointment they must experience it- recess is one place where this learning is real, sometimes too real, but real nonetheless.

Moving on…

June 3, 2015 2 comments

“Farewell has a sweet sound of reluctance.”    John Steinbeck

 

http://www.fotothing.com/ujbanyiv/photo/1b2acce6300e1ea025fdf3778c26350a/

Photo: The Old Glory   Ujbanyiv’s Fotothing

Our district announces the appointments and transfers for principals and vice-principals for the next school year in early June and last night, my name was on the list. After 3 fun-filled years as the principal at Park Avenue Public School I will be moving on to serve as the principal at Clearmeadow Public School this coming September.

Changing schools is not a big deal for most school administrators; we get the chance to work in multiple schools as vice principals and, as a result, are well versed in managing transitions. We also are aware that we have committed to a school system, and not just a school. In a district like ours, with over 150 schools, principal movement is a reality. Additionally, a big part of what drives those of us who choose this role is an willingness to embrace change and experience the challenges and opportunities that different schools offer. This was certainly one of the aspects that drew me to school leadership.

That’s not to say that I am doing cartwheels about leaving the school I have served for the past 3 years. I’ve had the chance to get to know a wonderful group of students and their families and work alongside an amazing group of dedicated professionals. But I always knew my time at Park Avenue would end and it has.

There’s an old saying the goes ‘it’s better that people think fondly of you of wherever you go, instead of whenever you go’; I certainly hope that’s the case for me (although one never really knows). I know that together we have made many changes in our little school during my time here. Some of them were my idea but, honestly, most of the changes were ideas that our staff, students and community came up with- I was just the guy who said, “sure, let’s try it…” and, sometimes, “how much does it cost?”  Either way, I am proud of the changes we have made and the things we have accomplished.

As a staff we launched a school-wide modern learning professional inquiry on how to use technology to enhance teaching and learning, together, with our parent community, we explored effective mathematics instruction and have taken a much closer look at how we can respond to the mental health and anxiety-based needs of our students. All good stuff- and it will continue.

All this good stuff; the ideas and the initiatives, came from the staff and students at our school- and almost of of them will be staying around. I’m not-but they are; and the work we began will continue with our new principal Bruce Baynham. Bruce will bring a fresh perspective and add his ideas to the mix-this is the way of public schools.

So, soon I will bid farewell. I will miss this place but I am excited about the the next steps I will take in my professional journey. In the meantime, I plan on enjoying every last second of my time as principal at Park Avenue Public School.

The Gifts We Bring

December 19, 2013 1 comment
photo

“Each one has their gifts.They are not for you- they are to give!”             ~Hemat Malak~

A few weeks back I asked our students and staff to join me in a little project. With the holiday season in full roar and the busy-ness associated with this time of year I asked our students and staff to take a moment to think their talents and gifts and share with me one that they felt they shared with others. I gathered all the responses and pasted them into this Wordle word cloud (for those who are new to Wordle, the larger the word, the more often is was used).

A little sappy? Sure. Of course the reason why I thought it was worth a try was simple- empathy. All month long our school has been exploring empathy- what it is and why it is an integral part of an inclusive school and a civilized society. I’ve always believed that private victories come before public ones (credit to Steven Covey).  Before we are truly able to share our gifts or talents with others; we need to have a sense of what they are and know that they are recognized and valued by others.

The essence of empathy is respecting, appreciating and valuing others for who they are and the gifts they bring. There are almost 500 children and adults who work and learn at our school every day. We are a collective of individuals; unique and united- and we make up a wonderful, messy mosaic-we create, we make mistakes, we laugh and we cry. I value and appreciate the gifts and talents of each member of our school community and am happy to celebrate them!

As was the case last year, the Open Office will take a break for the next few weeks and I enjoy the company of friends and family and squeeze in a few trips to the ski hills! On behalf of our school community- I wish you peace, happiness and joy.

See you in 2014!

 

Joint Work in the Digital Staff Room

December 10, 2013 4 comments

Dean Shareski makes me chuckle and makes me think- two things that are greatly appreciated. He has a well-developed sense of the importance of play and joy in learning and asks great questions.  Perhaps it is the amount of time he spends travelling, or those long, cold Prairie winters- but Dean’s blog posts speak to me, they are reflective, transparent and challenging. Because I appreciate @shareski and believe that a network is both a place where one gives and receives; I am happy to accept Dean’s invitation to engage in a (seemingly) random act of web-enabled joint work.

Need to activate some prior knowledge? Click here . I suppose that Dean is looking to engage in a little play and extend a capacity building task- he may have some other unknown goal-or, it could be he’s trapped in the throes of a Saskatchewan winter- who knows?

Regardless, I’m happy to play along…

So here is the task…

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger- in this case it would be me…
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

11 Random Facts About Me…

  1. As much as I love being a principal, my coolest job was working on an Aircraft De-Icing Crew
  2. Though I write with my right hand, I am actually left handed
  3. Between my wife @techieang and I we have taught every grade from Kindergarten to grade 8
  4. But I have taught more grades: 1,4,5,6,7 & 8
  5. I was a Boston Bruins fan until I was 6 years old, then I was told being a Leaf fan was a ‘family rule’
  6. Ever since I was 6, I’ve resented rules
  7. If there is a James Bond film on TV, I will watch it
  8. Answer: Yes   Question: Coffee?
  9. Any challenging, difficult or complex problem is easier to solve after a day of skiing
  10. I am an introvert
  11. I believe it is important to face my fears (see 10)

11 Questions from @shareski

  1. How do you feel about pants?    Levis, please
  2. What was the last movie you saw in a theatre?  National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation at the Retro Holiday Film Fest in at the local cinema 
  3. Where are your car keys?  Hanging by the door on an appropriately key-shaped key holder
  4. What time is it?     EDT
  5. What’s the last tweet you favorited?   Here
  6. Outside of your immediate family; which relative do you like to spend time with? Brother-in-law’s don’t count as ‘immediate, right?
  7. Have you ever been to Saskatchewan? No
  8. How long did it take you to walk to school as a kid?  10 minutes- 5 if I had slept in
  9. Besides you,  blogger should I be paying attention to?   Paul Aniceto
  10. Name one golf course.  Bushwood
  11. What’s your favorite Seinfeld episode or line?  “that’s right- he’s a real sideler.”

 

A reminder of  the task…

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger- in this case it would be me…
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

My Questions for You Are…

  1. Who is your favourite superhero?
  2. What is the most interesting place you have visited?
  3. IOS or Android?
  4. Would you rather be a hammer or a nail-Why?
  5. What was your first part time job?
  6. Left on a desert island, what 3 books do you take with you?
  7. When do you usually write your blog posts?
  8. Pizza- thin crust or regular?
  9. What was the topic of your first blog post?
  10. Did you ever own an 8-Track cassette?
  11. Lennon or McCartney?

Now its Your Turn…

  1. Aviva Dunsinger
  2. Paul Aniceto
  3. Yoon Soo Lim
  4. David Truss
  5. Rodd Lucier
  6. Zoe Branigan Pipe
  7. Stephen Hurley
  8. Mark Carbone
  9. Doug Peterson
  10. Sue Dunlop
  11. Donna Miller Fry

Of course, your participation is not mandatory…if you do remember to link back!

Peace!

ECOO Echoes

October 26, 2013 Leave a comment

In the end it is better to see the world for what it is becoming, instead of what it is. Better to fight for the future, instead of the past.”              Joe Keohane

I spent the past few days at the annual provincial conference for the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario (ECOO). The conference is an important part of my principal learning; it exposes me to the emerging ideas and concepts in my field and provides me with the opportunity to connect (and re-connect) with the many creative and passionate colleagues that make up my online professional learning network.  As an added bonus, this year I was able to attend the conference and learn along with two of our Park Ave PS teachers, Andrew Bernier and Erin Stanojev- a genuine treat!

I’ve embedded an earlier version of the talk given by one of the keynote speakers, Jamie Casap, that really did a nice job of synthesizing the key theme of the 3 day conference: Bring IT Together. In a clever piece of wordplay, the ‘it’ is actually the IT, or Information Technology, that we take for granted, and often make limited use of, in our schools.  Those who know me also know that I am a keen advocate for ‘better’ not ‘different’ – for me, they are not the same thing. Better speaks to the impact our work has on student’s lives and learning, where as different is often nothing more than a change in tools- like how we now use data projectors the same ways we used to use overhead projectors and VCR’s.

For me, the real learning begins after I have returned from an workshop session or conference;and I have just a few reflections from my time away (infused with a Beatles motif) that I wanted to put out there- both from a personal and system stance:

  • Get Back-  I am at my best as a school principal when I get back to where I started from; the classroom. I have to admit, I’ve been a bit of an office cat since the start of the school year and that needs to change.  As I spent the last few days immersed in learning alongside classroom teachers (I’ll get to that point next) it reminded me of how my leadership needs to be situated at the intersection of students and teachers- in the classrooms and halls. Not only when I am co-teaching, but even just sitting somewhere other than my office when I have work to do on my laptop- our school-wide wifi enables anyone to connect and create anywhere- myself included.
  • Come Together- The best part about the ECOO conference for me is that it is almost entirely made up of attendee’s who are classroom teachers. There are a smattering of district IT folks and a tiny number of school and system administrators.  The ideas, passions and frustrations of these most innovative and gritty educators fuel my head and my heart and make a direct impact on my thinking as a school principal. I don’t doubt the importance of the large, prestigious, mega-conferences that administrators typically attend; I just doubt the impact these events have. They are often so disconnected from classroom practice, and lacking in teacher voice, that the transference is limited. I know that time away from the school is a challenge for principals but I would love to see more of my colleagues attending teacher-focussed events like ECOO.
  • The Long and Winding Road- The keynote speakers at this event were thought-provoking, edgy and authentic. @ambermac, @jcasap and @kevinhoneycut each talked about how the changes that the we have seen in the past 5 years will require adaptive, creative and deep evolutions to classroom and school practice and they alluded to the importance that our public schools lead this process. The teacher-led sessions offered ideas that were cutting-edge, creative and impactful. We are in a context where we have to fight against the inertia of traditional school cultural norms; with school and system leaders, with parents, with policy makers, and, in many schools; with ourselves!  Too many in our profession are not looking ahead to the place where our students have already arrived-and are still moving, and if we are not with them we cannot have an impact on them- and they need us now more than ever.

Jamie Casap started his talk with the statement that public schools are integral because,”Education disrupts poverty.” Whether we are talking about a poverty of resources, ideas or opportunities; this is true. If public schools are going to remain a place where they have an impact on children’s lives we need to be both different and better, it’s getting too late to Let it Be.

October 11th Park Avenue Post Weekly

October 14, 2013 Leave a comment

On behalf of our staff I wish all of our students and families a restful and happy Thanksgiving Day. Please click on the link to read this week’s edition of the Park Avenue Post:

Park Avenue Post Weekly 2.2

Courage

June 2, 2013 7 comments

“The secret of happiness is freedom, the secret of freedom is courage.”

~Carrie Jones~

To the best of my knowledge, the above clip represents my official debut on You Tube- courtesy one of our intermediate students- and yes, I did agree to it being posted 🙂

When we get to the end of May and into June  two things intensify in most schools; the heat and the level of stress. It’s true that the last month of school can be a time filled with lots of great memories and traditions but it also a time where families get busy with out of school activities and the nights get later, while students and staff are working to complete the many end of year assignments and responsibilities that are part and parcel of the school year. Included in this time frame is the annual provincial EQAO assessment written by all our grade 3 and 6 students- a two week process that, in spite of our best efforts, always increases the level of stress that both the children and adults in the building feel.

This year, we’ve tried to keep our May and early June as quiet and on-routine as possible and really scaled back some of the events and activities that were previously part of this time of year- and it has helped. Keeping routine is a critical component of an effective school- regardless of what we may think- children crave routine and are quick to let us know through their behavior when we deviate from the norm.

Keeping our routine, however, doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun- especially at this time of year! So, when our students challenged me to perform a Justin Bieber song after they had exceeded the target for funds raised in our spring dance-a-thon I agreed and set to work.

The theme of this month’s assembly was courage so I decided that, rather than lip synch ‘JB” I would put myself out there and belt out a tune at our May assembly for students, staff and parents- scary as it was, it was a lot of fun! I’m very grateful to Shane Jeffers; one of our Classroom Tutors, for his skilled guitar playing and harmony.  The video does a nice job of capturing the moment; you can hear the kids chiming along, see the arms waving and the dancing and the laughter. This dancing and laughter was not particular to my little piece- I was proud to follow a wonderful, lively song and dance by our Mrs. Jagoe’s Kindergarten class and a drop-dead brilliant flash mob by Ms McAlear’s grade 6 class- the same grade 6 students who spent the previous 4 days writing the EQAO assessment!

The dichotomy of a public school is intriguing: as serious a business public education is; it is equally essential that our schools be places of joy and fun- and the adults have an important role in modeling this for our students and families. I’ll close with a great quote from Todd Whitaker; a former school principal who now writes and speaks widely, that has always stuck with me:

“We are very fortunate to work in education; sometimes we just forget how blessed we are. By consistently filtering out the negatives that don’t matter and sharing a positive attitude, we can create a much more successful school. Consciously or unconsciously, we decide the tone of our school.”    ~Todd Whitaker~

Serious business, this fun thing, serious indeed 🙂

Planning Ahead…

While our daily  focus remains on the well-being and learning of our students we are starting to lay the foundation for the school year that will begin next September.  We have scheduled our Welcome To Kindergarten information session for the evening of Thursday, June 6th at 7:00 and are looking forward to meeting our new JK students and families at that event.

We are also starting to plan the class placements for the students that we already have. Class placement is a complex and comprehensive process that involves a great deal of time and consideration. We seek input from the current teacher(s) and our support staff and Special Education staff when needed. We also seek input from parents and guardians.

The following link is the Class Placement Form 2013  that parents may download so they may have an opportunity to provide input into the class placement. On the form you will have the chance to share some information about your child that we may not know- emerging interests or peer concerns that you feel may help us in making our placement decisions. Please note that there is no space on the form for a parent to request a teacher. Staffing changes and circumstances present too many variables to make this viable and I don’t believe in offering something unless it can be delivered.

Though we value your input, the placement decision is ultimately one that we make here at the school.

Home for the Holidays

December 20, 2012 Leave a comment
A big thanks to the parent volunteers who supervised our students during our staff holiday luncheon.

A big thanks to the parent volunteers who supervised our students during our staff holiday luncheon.

“The most valuable thing we can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of room, not try to be or do anything whatever.”     May Sarton

The muggy days of early September are a faded image in the rear mirror of our school year and we find ourselves at the end of the first third of our school year. In the true sense of the word we’ve had an eventful start to this year, especially in the past few weeks. In the midst of these events is important for me to note a few things that, I believe, truly reflect the essence of our Park Avenue PS community.

Our staff, students and families led another successful Holiday Toy & Food drive and we are grateful to the staff, School Council and Student Council members who sorted and organized our hampers in preparation for delivery. Our staff were also very grateful for the parents (pictured above) who provided lunch hour supervision so the entire staff could gather for a holiday luncheon. These little acts of kindness, accumulated, are what make our school a special place.

I’ve had the chance to spend a great deal of time in the halls, dropping in to classrooms and out in the yard over the past few weeks, spending time talking with students and getting to know them in a variety of authentic contexts and they’ve had the chance to get to know me better as well. They’ve learned that the least likely place they can usually find me is in the office and that they can usually count on me to greet them as they arrive in the morning and wish them a pleasant evening as they leave. Being visible, being available and being involved; for staff, parents and students, these are the most important things to me as our school’s principal.

One thing I have noticed is the student’s growing awareness of my presence online, through this blog, my own Twitter feed, @bharrisonp and our school Twitter site @ParkAvenuePS. More of them are reading this blog, more are stopping by the Twitter sites and some are even following. This is a good thing; my goal is to help create another source of connection for us as a school community and model for our students the positive ways that we can use social media. A reminder, you do not have to have a Twitter account to access the feeds, just type either name in a search bar and the link will pop up.

I’ve been talking a lot with our older students this week for lots of reasons and one of the suggestions I’ve made to students and parents as we approach the holiday is to unplug for a bit; turn off the connection devices and invest some face to face time with family and friends. That’s what I’ll be doing so you can expect our school social media spaces to go dark for a few weeks while I rest, let my thoughts wander and relax.

So, on behalf of our Park Avenue PS staff; I wish you a happy holiday season and a New Year filled with opportunity and will look forward to continuing our work together on Monday the 7th of January, 2013.

Peace 🙂

Learning by the Yard

November 17, 2012 1 comment

“Authority is granted to people who are perceived as authoring their own words, their own actions, their own lives, rather than playing a scripted role at great remove from their own hearts.  When teachers depend on the coercive powers of law or technique, they have no authority at all.”           Parker Palmer

The video linked above is one of my all time favorites for lots of reasons; yes, the cool animation is one of those reasons. But the key reason is the way Dan Pink prompts us to think differently about the traditional practices we use in schools and the assumptions those practices are based upon. Because schools are usually large, complex and laden with ‘tradition’, we tend to use rather blunt tools to manage and maintain order. We develop policies, and codes of behaviour and implement them with a one-size for all approach.

Using rewards and punishments (or carrots and sticks) is one of the traditions that is deeply embedded within the culture of most schools and classrooms and it is something that we are beginning to reflect upon as a school community. I’m careful when I approach this topic because it tends to pick at the very essence of our beliefs as educators and parents and can lead to rather heated conversations and responses. It is, however, important for us to talk about these practices because, in my experience, truly inclusive school communities and classrooms do not require carrots and sticks and, it turns out, the research tends to support this.

Daniel Pink’s synthesis of the research focuses on three concepts; autonomy, mastery and purpose, as the critical components for motivation and engagement. He also points out that rewards do work in contexts or circumstances where the task requires lower-level thinking or application of skills. Of course, this is the great challenge; if we think about the knowledge, skills and beliefs that we know our children are going to need to be caring, successful and healthy in the world we now live in, our focus must be on higher-level thinking and skill development. Let me share an example of what this looks like in my practice

I’ve remarked to many, that Park Avenue is perhaps the most active and athletic school in which I’ve ever had the chance to work. Every corner of our yard is occupied with children playing some type of game, and the intensity of the soccer and football games played by our older students is remarkable.  Over the past few weeks we have been working with the students in grades 4 to 8 to resolve some conflicts and mangage the challenges that pop up during these games. Some of these conflicts have led to some words and actions that are just not okay, and both students and parents have raised this concern with us.

Of course, the easiest (and bluntest) response would be to just use the ‘stick’ and ban the games. We have not chosen that path but instead have engaged our students in a critical and reflective inquiry about why and how these conflicts are arising and how they can use these situations as a context to learn about self-regulation, cooperation and creative problem solving. They have written about their issues and concerns, we have met to talk about these issues and we have made some decisions about how they want to play and what they want to happen when hurtful things are said or done.

A few key decisions were made. The first was to stop keeping score; since many of the conflicts were the direct result of arguments over scores, we hypothesized that eliminating the score might help reduce the conflicts (and it has). Another decision was to be clear about how we would manage name calling and rough play; the players agreed that this was a problem and asked for support in monitoring and intervening when this occurs. As a result, I’m watching a lot of recess soccer and football games these days and providing that direct support through conversations, reminders and, occasionally, time outs.

I’m impressed with the passion and honesty that our students have brought to this issue and have appreciated the chance to use this situation as a chance to  both model and put into practice, my beliefs for our students, staff and community.

 

 

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