Education Can Save Your Life

A Previous Graduation Speech-Shared Again

Interesting Ideas

Below is the final graduation speech I gave to the Class of 2021. A recent visit to Newfoundland and a request from a previous staff member has pushed me to share it again. This is one portion of that speech.

Quotations are a very common device to use in a graduation speech and speech writers hope to have a saying, or a line that everyone will remember.  Maybe it is from a famous politician, or public figure, a philosopher or religious figure.  But the idea is to have something so simple, yet so profound that it gets repeated, and remembered long after the speech is done.  

So what would be my quote?  What will be my saying? What would I like attached to my name?  When students leave Boyne and they think of Mr. Marshall what is it I would want them to remember. 

I’m going to guess that you think it is this….

That is a pretty important quote. But, for this one special occasion you are incorrect.  I have a different quote to share with you.  The quote did not come from a famous politician, or public figure, a philosopher or religious figure. The quote I will share came from just a regular guy, just a regular everyday man, it came from my father. 

Education can save your life.  

Now, having said about looking to the future, and graduation is all about the future, I am going to go back. and back to the year 2001

In the same year, 2001 that the book was written, another document was written.  But I did not receive it in 2001, I didn’t receive it until 4 years later.  After my father passed away. In 2005 my family found a document he had written.  The document was written in 2001.

Painting of my Father

The art work that was hanging behind me at the beginning of this talk is a painting of my father.  This painting has been hanging in every office that I have worked in since becoming an administrator in that same year, 2001.  If you have ever visited me in the office area you would have seen this hanging out with me each and every day. 




My Father Looking Sharp
My Father Looking Sharp

His writing was about how his potential, was put on hold.  After finishing high school, and beginning his life as a young man, his life was put on hold because of the second world war.  Sometimes things happen, and we have to pause, we cannot go forward.

He didn’t talk much about the war, he was great at changing the subject if any of my brothers and sisters or myself brought it up.  He was a pacifist, he believed in peace, he was a real gentle man. There were events and situations from his time in the war, that he would just not share with any of us.

In 2001 he sat down and wrote out his story. He titled it: I Remember

In his very first lines, he has written. “this is not the usual war story.  There is no glamour or daring or heroism”. And that sentence really does describe my father.

As a young man a world event occurred that changed his path in life, it was an event that changed the course of history.

Education Can Save Your Life

And throughout his writing, he comments: Education can save your life.  On those nights I wanted to go and be with my friends and not do my homework or attend to my studies, my father would share with me the value of an education.

My father earned his high school degree and studied a trade.  He became a carpenter, and he believed that by having this education it saved his life during the war. By finishing his schooling at the time, and developing a skill and a trade, it saved him from the horrors of war.

Once out of school he obtained work at deHaviland aircraft, as a joiner, the British term for woodworker/carpenter, building the wings for the plane the Tiger Moth  

He was paid 75 cents per hour and he felt like a rich man.  He was happy, he was using his education, doing what he loved and earning money.

In 1939, Canada joined the Second World War.  And In August of 1940, the government issued a proclamation that all unmarried men between the ages of 21 and 25 had to undergo military training, in particular infantry training in preparation for any possible invasion of Canada

Globe and Mail Newspaper Headline


At this same time De Haviland Aircraft also started making the Avro Anson, and they needed my father for his skills.  Since he was a worker with an education in a wartime industry, he was exempt from military service.

He said: Education Can Save Your Life

Seeing some of his friends and neighbours go off to be in the infantry and leave the country, with their futures unknown, my father took his education and training and enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force.  He shares that even though he could be exempt from military service and stay close to home working in a factory building planes, the patriotic climate at the time convinced him that he should volunteer and see where the Air Force could use him.

He was part of the war effort, but his education kept him working and contributing without being shipped overseas or put in a combat role.

He did share that some of his friends from high school, those without a trade or training were not so fortunate, and he did not see them again.

Education Can Save Your Life

If an aircraft was damaged at the station, a crew was sent to repair it on site.  If however the crash occurred off station, a salvage crew was sent out to bring it back where it was assessed as repairable or was written off.

My father spent 1941-1945 as part of the ground crew.  There was a rule of thumb that to keep one man in the air, required ten men on the ground.  My father was one of those ten.

Throughout his paper he continually returns to the comments about education saving his life, but there are lighter moments.

His co-worker and best buddy was nicknamed Tubby, (the men obviously were not so kind in their choices of nicknames) and one day Tubby and my father were sent out to make some modifications to the Norseman float planes.  The Air Force wanted cameras attached to the bottom of the fuselage in order to capture Aerial Views of enemy territory.

From his papers he had written about this major contribution to the war effort, “It was a hot, sunny day and as we were entirely on our own, we soon discarded overalls and any vestiges of uniform and worked in our shorts.  The water where the plane was tethered was about six feet deep and very inviting.  We found that for some unknown reason our tools had the habit of slipping out of our hands and as we could not allow government property to be lost, we had to dive down to retrieve them.  A most refreshing day!’

Early in 1944 my father was told to report to the Overseas Posting Depot, and he thought, I’m finally going to England.  His education was needed. And it was needed…

…in  Gander Newfoundland.  As Newfoundland would not become a province of Canada until after the war in 1949, it was outside of Canada and considered to be overseas.

Gander was an important airport.  As a final stop before travelling over the Atlantic Ocean it was a busy place.  It also was the place where returning planes brought back the Canadians that had lost their lives, or were severely injured.  Once again, my father spends time in this section sharing how fortunate he feels for having an education, being able to do his trade and remaining closer to home instead of in the front lines of battle, like so many other young people.

Education Can Save Your Life

Gander Newfoundland’s Airport will become famous again long after the war.  The year, 2001.  The same year of the book I shared, the same year that my father wrote his memours, the same year I began my administrative career. In 2001, September 11th occurred.  It was the airport in Gander Newfoundland that accommodated all the air travel that needed to be grounded that day.  September 11, 2001, another day that changed the course of history.  My father was so proud that his home in Gander was able to make this contribution.

You may know of the stage show, Come From Away that tells the story of Gander Newfoundland and how the community rose to prominence in their support of people impacted by 9-11. A small town that welcomed the world.

It was in Gander, that my father started to do repairs on the Hudson and Lancaster Bombers.  

When my children were little they would stop and point to one of the last remaining flying Lancasters, kept at the Hamilton Warplane Museum.  The Lancaster sounds different when it flies, and you can hear it coming.  Where we live in Burlington, it flies over many times each year and my children would stop and point and say ‘Papa’s Plane’

Father Back Home on a Visit

So why share his war story?

Why share the story of my father?

It is because of the quote, education can save your life.

I chose public education for a reason. Our school is a reflection of our community, it is a place that welcomes all, all the best things about the Milton Community are inside of Boyne.  But as a public school, we do have all parts of the community, the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, and we support and love you all



My fathers story connects to two life changing events, WW2 and 9-11, and this year, we have all experienced numerous life changing events.  You will never forget that you are a graduating class, in 2021 when our graduation needed to be done on line.  

This year, I have never felt so strong in my belief that education can save your life.  The events of this year have shown as all the importance of education.  

The events of this year have shown us all that we need well rounded children moving into the future.  

Children that are bright, intelligent, but more importantly young adults that are tolerant, compassionate and loving.

I know this is not how you wanted to celebrate your graduation but that doesn’t make your accomplishment smaller or any less significant.  You have potential, and the whole world to explore and make better.  Right now it probably feels like the world is pretty small, we have all needed to stay very close to home, but the world will grow again.  Just like you have. Just like we all have.

We need all of you for our future, it has been a tough year, but education is going to get us through it.  

We need the educated to make the world a better place and it begins with you.


Building Your Classes for Next Year

Interesting Ideas

An Interesting Idea came to me when we were beginning our new school. Originally I thought we would only need this process in the first couple of years, but I was incorrect.  We ended up repeating this procedure each year around this time as a ‘way we do things around here’ .  The response from staff was so strong and the results of the process were so successful that we continued the tradition from that day forward.  It does take some time but like many things in our schools, we can give it the attention it deserves when you first do it or you end up having to spend way more time with it later when you are trying to repair it.  

I wanted to share this Interesting Idea with you today. 

At about this time, schools in Ontario are winding down the year and you are beginning preparations for a new school year to start in September.  One of the big tasks that is done at this time is creating the classes of students for the following year.

Prior to coming to the school I had been an administrator in four others schools and had seen lots of examples of how this process was done.  Going to a new school I had seen the process that was in place and I’m sorry to say that in some cases I left the meeting feeling awful about what I had just witnessed and been a part of.

Teachers were coming to the meeting with predetermined ideas of where students should be placed the following year.

Teachers were coming and making sure their colleagues in the next grade got particular students in their classes

Unprofessional comments were made about students and what kind of year they had had

The use of deficit language to describe the skills and abilities of students and even the ranking and listing of students from struggling to highly able was done in order to sift and sort.

The entire process was done in one session, with names on post it notes and teachers just placing them on posters with little or no discussion.

It was not going to be this way.  We were going to take our time, we were going to get lots of information ‘on the table’ and we were going to involve many stakeholders.

Tom Hierck's Seven Keys To a Positive Learning Environment in Your Classroom
Tom Hierck’s Seven Keys To a Positive Learning Environment in Your Classroom

In Tom Hierck’s book, Seven Keys To a Positive Learning Environment in Your Classroom he comments,

‘Establishing positive learning environments-collaboratively created, systemically sustained-is focused, powerful work that every school should consider’ (p.1)

Hierck, T. (2017). Seven Keys To a Positive Learning Environment in Your Classroom

We were going to do our class building, one grade at a time in a process that respected and utilized the following keys:

Common expectations

Collaborative teams

Data-driven dialogue

School wide approach

As a school we shared the process and the proper use of language.  We were going to speak about students from a strengths and needs standpoint.  After all, in our school we honoured our posters that said, ’positive comments spoken here’.

Positive Comments Poster
Positive Comments Poster

We were all reminded that each child is someone’s child and we were going to discuss their DNA (desires, needs, assets)

“ When teachers and learners work together, they can isolate the individual’s learning DNA…Such data are invaluable in the teaching and learning process’(p. 41)

Hierck, T. (2017). Seven Keys To a Positive Learning Environment in Your Classroom

We asked teachers to fill out cards on each student.  These cards could be manipulated on the table top and grouped so we could all see.  After names were recorded that data could be given to the receiving teachers.  The information on the card included important school wide data we were tracking as well as some learning skills (behaviour skills such as organization, self regulation, problem solving).  There would be a section for friends that the students should have in their class as well as a section to suggest partnerships that should be prevented and of course a section titled “DNA”.

Many teachers had asked students for their involvement by having a discussion during class meetings about peers that were helpful to them and friends that would distract them from their learning.  Students were invited to list some peers and teachers brought these notes with them.  Of course this was done in a kind and caring manner and our teachers’ professional judgment was hugely important for final decisions.  However, as a school we felt we needed some student voice.

One of the best outcomes of this entire process became apparent in September. When teachers were building relationships with students during Significant 72 the DNA section provided really important information about each child.

Since we were following a school wide approach, we standardized the class building process, and repeated it each after school for a different grade.  We did one grade a night, so a grade two teacher was asked to attend twice, once as a giver (grade 2 to grade 3 building) and once as a receiver (grade 1 to grade 2 building) if they were remaining in the same grade.  Of course, snacks were provided and lots of up front work was done.

To assist with all the work and philosophy around our RTI program (we called it WIN-Whatever I Need) we asked staff to consider instructional groupings as they came in with their information. As a teacher, which students could be grouped with similar strengths and needs in literacy first, and then looking at mathematics.  If the social dynamics were fine, a receiving teacher would receive an entire group of students with similar educational needs.  Along a continuum, you would have students that were below, at and above grade level in each class but within those categories you would have clusters.

This Interesting Idea was really helpful for our combined grade classes.  You may have two grades in your classroom for next year but you will be able to manage better because of the instructional groupings that are made within those two grades.

The final aspect of our class building that I consider an Interesting Idea was how we used the ‘receiving teachers’.  They were not simply spectators to the entire process but instead they were integral to beginning the entire process.  You see in the first few years of the school we were growing and new staff were coming in each year as we added class after class.  Our staff did not know each other.  How can you send off a child into the following year to a teacher you know nothing about?

The receiving teachers would each take a turn to introduce themselves to others and share a glimpse inside their classroom.  As the educators listened to the story of our newcomer teachers you could see them moving and shuffling the cards in front of them in order to optimize the educator for the learning needs of the students.

I would speak to the receiving teachers ahead of time so they knew that this was coming.  They did have time to think about it.  It was not a job interview, they already had the job and we were happy to have them! 

We did this every year even for those teachers that had been at this school since the start.  Every ‘giving’ teacher was able to see inside the classroom of the ‘receiving’ teachers.

We suggested they comment on things like:

Do you prefer a noisy, active classroom or a quiet classroom?

Describe their literacy program, their math program?

How do they like to have their timetable?

Which subject areas are they most passionate about teaching?

How do they start their day?

When do they schedule aspects of the day such as arts, drama etc?

Which students seem to really thrive in their classroom?

Which students do they love to work with?

How do they like to communicate with families?

Face it, we think we know how our colleagues teach, and maybe you are lucky to team teach and really get a picture of others. But how often do you get opportunities to go into each others’ classrooms?  In reality the classroom down the hall from you can be a mystery and you are about to collaborate with others and make decisions about where students will be the following year.

You may really like the teacher as a person, as a friend, but are they the right teacher for the student?

One of the hiring questions I asked myself all the time was not, ‘’who is the best teacher from those that I have interviewed’, but instead, ‘who is the best teacher for the students that they will have in front of them’ it is a slightly different question, but an extremely important one.  The context of your school and the DNA of your students is a key factor in making the proper decisions for students.  This Interesting Idea is a potential way to slow down this important decision, build staff trust and cooperation, and set each classroom up for success in the following year.


A Staff Learning Library

A Interesting Idea to get great resources into the school for staff professional learning

Interesting Ideas

Here’s an Interesting Idea to expose your staff to great professional learning.  This idea will show staff that you are investing in their learning and change the focus of your staff meetings.  Bottom line, staff that are learning and developing are having an impact on your students. 

There are so many wonderful professional resources available for educators. The adult learners I have met are hungry to continue to develop their program, their understanding and their skill set for working with students and families.  Why not make it easy for them to learn?

When used properly there are some benefits achieved when an entire class uses the same textbook or completes the same novel study, but most would agree that when students have choice and a variety of resources are available,  they achieve greater outcomes and are more invested in their learning.

The same is true for staff.  

The adults in your buildings should be exposed to a wide variety of resources so they can make individual decisions about what they want to read and research.  When staff invest in their own learning it has a greater chance of changing practice.

So, make available the opportunity for staff to select professional learning resources that are going to benefit them and the students in your school.  By doing so, you can increase the number and quality of professional resources in your school and the collaborative learning opportunities organized by your staff.

Here’s how it works.

This can be started at any time in an established school as well, you just have to share the concept.

To start a new school I wanted to get a professional library up and running. We had a section in our school library devoted to professional resources for staff so they could sign out and borrow new, current, high quality books. I didn’t want to be the one to stock it with books I thought they might use.  I wanted their input on resources.

I let all the staff know that if there was a professional resource that they wanted, I would get them a copy. At an early meeting I brought some of my favourite resources.  These were books that I had on my shelf, that I used often and had an influence on my as an educator.  I announced that the school wanted to make a commitment to their professional learning.

At any time, if there was a book that they had seen, or heard about I wanted to be able to get them a copy.

At the beginning of the year teachers were responsible for goal setting and making their Annual Learning Plan (ALP).  As an administrator, going through these documents is an important support for teachers and I encourage you to read a previous blog about this.  Found here.

If a teacher referenced a book in their ALP I would write back and tell them the school would look after the purchase.

But I would also go through the ALPs and connect staff with great books.  Using Solution Tree Canada as an example I would be able to take the teacher’s suggested area  of development and send them a resource list in that area.

This idea is simple, it can be a bit costly, but it is worth it. 

I created an expense line in our school budget and would purchase two copies of the book.  

Let’s say the educator was interested in this fabulous book……

Eller and Hierck's Trauma Sensitive Instruction
An example of a great book to purchase for the school’s professional resource section

I would purchase two copies and place one copy in my office. This was a visual reminder to me that I had made the purchase and who had a new book. I would give the other copy to the teacher and it was theirs to keep.  They needed to make me one little guarantee or promise.  We would pull up the school year calendar of staff meetings and look for a month where they could offer a session highlighting the book, sharing with staff how it had informed their program and what they were doing different in their classroom because of it.  They had to show me and others how their practice had changed because of this book.

At a future staff meeting we would have multiple opportunities for staff to travel to different presentations put on by their colleagues.  They would share the book, talk about its influence, do an activity and/or presentation for half an hour and then repeat the presentation for a second audience.

From a staff members’ perspective, they win.  They get a valuable resource to keep and it only costs them the time and effort to read it and present it.

From an administrators’ perspective, I win.  I am supporting the professional development of my staff.  I am having staff meetings turn into learning opportunities facilitated by the staff.  And I am getting high quality professional resources into the school for others to read and use.

After the staff meeting presentation was over I would take the second copy that was in my office and place a bookplate inside the front cover with their name on it. 

Bookplate inside front cover of a professional resource
Bookplate Sharing with staff who is our ‘expert’ for this resource

Then we would place that copy of the book in the professional learning section in our library for staff.  Great books started to accumulate.  Staff could see who on staff had read the book, used the ideas from the book and become a bit of an ‘expert’.  Some staff started going out and purchasing a copy of these presented resources on their own so they could have their own copy. 

In a few months, staff started finding resources that were not in the library that they wanted.  They would come see me and pitch the idea, I could do a little investigating to make sure the resource was from a reliable and trusted source.  If it was in an area where I had little experience I could reach out to colleagues at the central office or others that I knew to find out if the book was known and if it aligned with the mission/vision of our school board. 

Great books…Staff learning…Investing in your staff…Changing staff meetings…Changing classroom practices…Appreciating your people….It may cost a few dollars but it is an Interesting Idea that has great value.


Friday Phone Calls

A small amount of time can make a huge difference for a child.

Interesting Ideas

Another Interesting Idea that I adopted early in my administration career was something I heard at a conference from Todd Whitaker.  I heard him speak when I was a teacher and considering leadership and this one Interesting Idea stuck with me.  I remember how practical his session was and that aspect became a promise I made to myself as a presenter and facilitator.  A goal for me each session was going to be to inspire and motivate my audience to take even one or two ideas and incorporate the skill/idea into their practice the very next day.

Now ideally, in training, you want educators to take what you are sharing and utilize a lot of it but we all know that we have left training sessions with  a few good stories, a chance to catch up with some colleagues and meet some new people, but unfortunately sometimes that is it.

I want to speak about two Interesting Ideas this week.  The first is just a simple reminder as a presenter to highlight in your presentations the things you want the people to go back and do right away. Make it part of your objectives. Give them an opportunity to write it down, make a commitment to do it, maybe get a critical friend and together they can be each others’ accountability partner to make sure the practice is going to be done.

The second Interesting Idea in this blog is the actual new practice that Todd Whitaker shared many, many years ago and then I did it as part of my weekly practice as both a vice principal and a principal.

photograph of school office, desk and phone

Find a moment to call on Friday Afternoon

Each week I would make Friday phone calls.  I would make three phone calls Friday afternoon to the families of three of our students and share some great news about their child.

I kept a list of the classes and teacher names and would rotate through the school on a regular pattern.  Something like, Kindergarten, grade 4, grade 6 and then the following week grade 1, 5, 7 to make sure I got different grades and different classes each week.  If you are mathematically inclined this is three phone calls a week, for forty school weeks, so in total 120 phone calls so I could brag about kids to their parents. And here is the beautiful thing, each one only took a couple of minutes but the impact was immense. 

These were phone calls, not emails. You know the reasons why the phone call would be so much better than an email.

Approaching a teacher on Friday morning I would ask for a good news story about a child in their classroom.  I explained what I was going to do and asked them which child needs a good news story.  The variety in the stories was huge.  Some were about academic improvement, some were about working so well in class, about being a good friend to others.  You can probably guess, based on our school mantra, the stories were all about Working Hard, Being Nice and Making a Difference.  We all know the students in our schools that deserve and would benefit from this kind of attention.

I would jot down a little about the story and then in the afternoon I would make my three phone calls.  I would often have to call parents at work, on a Friday afternoon!  Sometimes they would have to call me back and often I would have to interrupt what they were doing.  Quickly I would explain that I am calling for a fabulous reason and then share the story.  Or in my message I would ask them to call me back and I promised I had good news. 

I would start off with something about walking through the school and I overheard your child’s teacher bragging about your child, or that the teacher approached me and shared the good news because they know I love to hear stories like this, or that the child was asked by the teacher to have a ‘walk of pride’ and come down to the office to share with me their good news (another school tradition that we made sure staff included in their practice, having students come to the office to share good news, proud moments with us).  I would end by saying since I had heard such wonderful things I just felt I needed to call you, not keep it to myself and share it with you.  I’ve had parents tear up.  I’ve had parents call their partners to the phone and ask me to repeat it.  I’ve had parents ask if I had the wrong number.

Imagine getting a phone call on a Friday afternoon from your child’s school?  Imagine the thoughts going through your mind?  Now imagine the sense of pride.

I like to think about the first thing that will happen when that adult gets back to work and shares, ‘you know what, that was my child’s school and they called to tell me that….’ What a great promotion for the school and the hard working people inside the school.  Imagine the weekend that child is going to have at home and the reaction of the parent when they first see their child Friday after school.

All of these good feelings.  All of this positive energy, and how long does it take from my day?

If I never made the phone calls, simply hearing wonderful stories about the students in our school was enough to get me in the right frame of mind going into the weekend.

There were Fridays that were hectic and I just didn’t think I wanted to make the calls.  I was too busy, and one week off is not going to make a big difference.  No lie, although difficult to get started some times, I was always so glad I made the calls when it was all over and done.  The parent reactions were worth every second.  

Try it.  Try it this Friday.  See what you think. I’m thinking it is something you are going to start to do on a regular basis.

There you have it, another Interesting Idea, for you to consider. This one takes a total of about 10 minutes once a week but worth so much more. 

As always I appreciate when you email or comment back to me about using the ideas and if you start this tradition I would love to hear about your experiences.

Be well.


Mornings Are Hard

How students start the day doesn’t have to be.

Interesting Ideas

Mornings are hard.

How can you make coming to school comforting and predictable for students?

For each of us we know how difficult mornings can be.  Not only getting ourselves ready but others in your life.  Your morning routine is probably set (same time waking, same routine) before heading out the door. 

Even the smallest things can set us off our preferred path. Now imagine coming from a home where the morning routine is impacted by upset or trauma?  Our senior students may have the responsibility for younger siblings and just getting everyone ready, dressed, and fed can be a challenge.

When leaving the potential chaos or mild upset at their home, what is their reception like at your school?

When students arrive at school we want to welcome them.  We want them to know they have come to a safe place. School is a comfortable place and the adults are ready to support them, teach them and are excited that they are there.

Welcome Bulletin Board
Welcome Bulletin Board

You can tell when you are at a ‘happy school’.  Families know when they are in a welcoming school.  And the students experience it each and every day.

The adults are smiling and happy and the students are too.  Schools are really joyful places.  I think that is why there are so many career educators.  It is nice to get up in the morning and go to a place of work where the adults want to be there.   As educators we  get the double benefit of interacting with youth and connecting with our colleagues.  Working with students energizes us and it starts the moment you arrive on campus.

What are the interactions like at your school?  Who greets students and lets them know we are going to have a great day together?

I’m sure you are lucky to work in a location as described above.  I imagine if you are reading this that you are one of the many educators that is out in the morning greeting students and their families. Or you are at the entrance to your classroom with a huge smile on your face welcoming the children for another day.  It does not matter the age of your students, it never stops being good for us.  We all like to feel welcomed

We had designated entrance ways for our students.  Our Kindergarten students had their own entrance and area of the school and our primary students were met by their teachers and brought in a main door.  But it is our senior students, our grade 7 and 8 students that really had a special start to their day.  They were greeted at the entrance, on the stairway and at the top of the stairs, outside their classrooms every day.  And, consistently, every Friday in my time at the school, and I understand it is still happening today, the students walk up a particular flight of stairs and a magical thing happens.

intermediate stairway at Boyne PS
Intermediate Stairway at Boyne PS

Ready and waiting for them at the top of the stairs every Friday, from September to June would be the Intermediate team of teachers.  Music would be playing and the students would be “played in”.  Staff were clapping and singing in the hallway and students would have to walk past, through this team of teachers, like a receiving line at a wedding.  What a way to start your day! 

They knew it was coming. I would often see students at the bottom of the stairs before they headed up and they would group together so the quiet ones could move through quickly.  They would be thinking about the song and wondering which teachers would be there.

It was really interesting on days when we had supply staff.  Our occasional teachers really did not know what to make of it, but they would stand near the back of the crowd and clap along.  Talk about a first impression to our school.

The majority of the students would move through the gathering and head to their lockers to store their belongings and gather their materials for the morning classes.  But many students would pause and do a little dance and show the adults their moves.  Even those that moved quickly passed had smilies on their faces.  They were ready to face the day and welcomed into their school by the staff that had supported them, cared for them and taught them since the beginning of the year.

Now at your school today, you might have music playing on the loudspeakers to welcome students.  Maybe it is playing in order to speed them up or make them aware of the time before class started.  While this is a good practice and adds life to the school, our teachers did not do it for that purpose.  They did it to celebrate Friday, the end of the week and  start the entire day with a positive feel.

Put yourself in the position of your students.  What do you first experience when you come into the school?  Do you have a place to go if you want to start the day calmly and quietly?  Is there a safe place to gather before the day begins?  Are there adults you could find if you needed a comforting presence? Are there any activities in the morning for you to join?  But most important, what is the feeling you get from the adults when you arrive?  Do the adults in your school want to be there and are happy you are there too?

Here’s an Interesting Idea…Would the younger you want to attend your school?


Be Visible

Interesting Ideas

What do I consider the number one leadership behaviour that has the greatest impact on school climate and culture?  

Actually, when you think of the deep connections in all effective school research you could easily make the argument that this one behaviour impacts academic achievement, sense of belonging, engagement, etc.  You name it and it most likely is improved by this one leadership action.  

What is it?  I’ll reveal in awhile, I’ve got some explaining to do first.

Poster Sharing Student Thoughts
Poster Sharing Student Thoughts

Towards the end of my administration career I got into the habit of double clicking.  During conversations with staff, students and parents I made the point of asking lots of questions.  People feel a deeper connection with you when you are curious, inquisitive and show that you are interested in what they have to say.  When people are speaking with you, they are watching you listen to them.  What do you look like when you are listening? We all can tell when someone is not giving you their attention. 

You know when you are using tech and you double click on something in order to go to a deeper layer?  I started doing the same with questions and comments.  I would double click to get to a deeper level.

For example, if a parent stopped me outside to say good morning or hello, they would often comment on the school.  There were some that had a comment or suggestion but for the most part I was blessed to have worked in schools where the community was happy and supportive of the school.  If they made a supportive statement such as, ‘we love the school’, ‘our children are so happy”, ‘It is wonderful that you are at the school, Mr. Marshall’, I wanted to know more.

It would be easy to accept the compliment and say thank you and be off on my way, but I would remain in conversation and I would double click.  I would thank them for the comment and ask them about their statement. ‘Thank you so much for your kind comment, may I ask?  What do you notice or hear that makes you say this?

The vast majority would say something along the lines of ‘we see you’, ‘the parents notice you are around’, ‘you are here every morning saying hello and greeting families’.  To those that spoke with me, I was effective at my job because I was present!

There it is…the leadership action I feel makes the biggest difference!  Be there.  Show up.  Be present.

Do families see you?  Can staff find you in the building?  Do they see you in the classrooms and hallways?  Do students see you outside during non-instructional time?  Do you attend special events and community gatherings?  Be there for your families, for your staff and most importantly, be there for your students.

So many of my colleagues make sure they are present.  This is a daily routine for them.  Our very best administrators make this a part of their day. Families are present in the morning and after school, you should be too.  When families are on or near the school property, make sure they see you, no matter the weather. Remember in Canada, there is no bad weather, just poor clothing choices!

Outside Under Umbrella
Outside Under Umbrella

The parents and families are not inside the school seeing you work on policies and procedures.  They do not look over your shoulder when working on budget or sitting in the room when conducting interviews.  But your effectiveness is elevated in their minds when they see you.  You need to be where they can find you.

The same goes for students and staff.  They are there during the school day and need to see you.  While they are in the school, you should be in the ‘school’ as well, meaning, out of the office.

Students and Teacher working on the carpet
Students and teacher working on the carpet

Be present.  Get out of your office area and make sure staff, students, and families see you.  When out and about make sure to be modelling what you stand for.  In our case as I stepped out of the office area for a little bit of ‘show time’ it was the opportunity to show all that we Work Hard, Be Nice and Make a Difference.

At the beginning of the day I would walk the perimeter of the property and see how things looked after the night.  We had a busy play area and often there would be the need for clean up after the night, or weekend before.  While out surveying the property it was the perfect time to welcome families as they came to school.  

Say good morning, let them know you are happy to be spending the day with their children.

At the end of the day I would walk the asphalt area and the sidewalks to say goodbye to our buses, our students on bicycles, and our families walking home together.  

This connection with others will do you good!  It is a great boost of personal positive energy! These interactions with your community are good for your soul. And in the past few years, we have had too long without it.

Others cannot see inside your head, they don’t know how you are thinking or how you feel but they can see what is important to you based on your actions.  Build trust by living it out daily, consistently over time.  

It’s such a simple idea, an Interesting Idea, yet so powerful.  Get out of your office. Get out with the important people. Be present.


End the Day With Joy

Hanging Out With My Kindergarten Friends!

Interesting Ideas

Five minutes could make all the difference!  The Interesting Idea this week is all about five minutes I would honour at the end of the day in order to finish the instructional day on a high note.  Regardless of what happened earlier I knew these five minutes could turn around any difficult day.

The end of the day is a happy time in school, for both the students and the staff.  One of my favourite activities to do was to go hang out in the kindergarten bus lines.

Waiting for the buses to arrive with Kindergarten students

At the height of our school population we had 16 buses and getting all the students on their proper bus was a well orchestrated, total team effort.. For kindergarten students it begins before the final bell because of the coordination that was necessary.  We may not be rocket scientists but we can get kindergarten students on the correct bus.  I’ll debate anyone about which is more difficult.   

A full team effort.

Class instruction was still going on in our gymnasium so it meant using the hallways of our school to gather and properly place our youngest learners.  At the end of the day when all the other grades were sectioned off in the gymnasium, our kindergartens would remain in the hallways and be placed on the bus first.  Large posters using both numbers and symbols were placed on the walls and each student had a laminated bus card attached to their school bags.  Attendance was taken and cross referenced with the daily attendance.  Heads were counted before leaving the hallway, while walking and when sitting in the bus waiting for the older students.

While all of this was beginning I would pick a line and go sit with them for the final five minutes of the day.  The principal sitting on the floor with the kindergartens in the bus line certainly created some excitement.  I was a rock star.  Of course I had to make sure I rotated my groups so I would be with each at least once in three weeks.  That is a long time between visits!

Staff would see me sitting among our students and this sent an important message about the school and our values.  I have written this before and this action is another example of an important personal belief. 

Leadership is not a title, it is the actions that happen day in and day out. 

I would get really important questions/comments when I sat with my Kindergarten friends:

Do you know there is a Marshall on Paw Patrol?

How come you have no hair on your head?

How come you have no hair on your head, but hair on your ears?

We were able to talk about all kinds of things and I found out so much about what was happening in our kindergarten program. Some of it I actually believed.

On some days we just need to chill and relax.  We work hard during the day, that is part of our mantra.  And in winter when we dress up, all warm and snuggly, waiting for the bus to arrive sometimes we just can’t hold on any longer.

Kindergarten students are going to be in our school for ten years.  This is a significant time for the adults to influence, teach, inspire and support.  For our students it is the longest time they will be in one educational setting.  Lots of opportunity to ‘Work Hard, Be Nice and Make a Difference’

Five minutes a day!  That’s all it was.  Sitting and engaging with students.

Want to finish each day in a happy place?  

Hang out with the kindergartens about to go home and 99.9 % guaranteed you will hear something that will make you smile, laugh and feel blessed to be an educator.


Record Holders

Create Your Own School Book of Records

Interesting Idea

Each year around this time we would run an annual event to bring some joy and enthusiasm into our school.  Coming out of winter and heading into spring, we all needed a boost of positive school energy.

The Book of Records!

We would involve our intermediate students, grade 7 & 8, in a series of events showcasing their talents while trying to make a name for themselves that would live on past their graduation date.

The first time I shared this idea with the school I borrowed a copy of the Guinness Book of World Records from the library and brought it to an assembly.  I would ask our teacher librarian for some data because It was always one of our most popular books.  The current edition was always in the Top Ten of borrowed books and when students came into the library to chill, read or relax, students often asked for this book.  When we had book sales at the school it was always a popular purchase.  The students knew this book! 

I explained that I knew “of” some of the people in the book but I didn’t “know” the people in the book. We were going to start our own Book of Records.  The Boyne Book of Records.  Inside this book, we would know the people that were highlighted.  As long as their record stood, they would have a page dedicated to them.

I created a book in every school where I was an administrator: the Pilgrim Wood Book of Records, a Heritage Glen Book of Records, a Pineland Book of Records and a Tecumseh Book of Records. 

The events in the book were suggested by the students and many of them were ones I had done in all the other schools.  As I went from school to school I was able to share what was in the other books.  The event needed to be standardized so it could be repeated the same way each year.  It needed to be something that could be measured, or counted.  They all had to be safe, and we did not have any eating contests or activities that presented a risk to students.

For example, students wanted to have a floor hockey shoot out against a goalie, where you could see how many goals you could score out of 10, or consecutively.  They soon realized that this could not be repeated in future years because it required the use of a goalie and I was not going to play net during this event!  So they came up with consecutive goals shooting at an empty net the length of the gymnasium.  This could be repeated the same way each year.  We created a book of rules, explaining the number of attempts or which painted lines in the gym were used to show a start line or boundary.  This way it could be repeated exactly the same way in the following year.

Activities included:

  • with a partner, consecutive badminton passes over the net
  • With a partner, consecutive volleyball passes over the net
  • With a partner, consecutive catches of a football, the length of the gym
  • With a partner, consecutive frisbee catches, the length of the gym
  • Consecutive hockey goals shooting the length of the gym
  • Consecutive soccer goals shooting the length of the gym
  • How long can you skip rope
  • How long you can hula hoop
  • How long you can keep two hula hoops rotating around your outstretched arms
  • Keeping a soccer ball up off the ground, consecutive touches
  • Free Throws in Basketball, how many in a row
  • 3 Pointers in Basketball
Volleyball Record Holders

We would select one day and have a large assembly to see if anyone could break an existing record.  We included a few younger grades as spectators because they could participate the following year.  

On that day the students would try to beat the record in the book and have their name and photograph entered.  The book was placed in the library and students could look at this book as well as the Guinness Book of Records!  They knew the people in this book.

During the assembly we could have two or three events occurring at the same time in different areas of the gym (three ring circus) and often the crowd of students would have to be moved from one area to another depending on the equipment and area needed.  The events that took a long time needed to start early in the day so we would not run out of time before dismissal.  We found we got better each year running the final event because of what we had learned in previous years.

For a few weeks prior to the assembly we would have open gym periods during the break times and students could come down and try their hand at the different events.  We would do a different event each day. We would record scores and have the top three identified. These students would do the event again during the assembly in front of their classmates.  On the big event day we only had three students or teams try to beat the record, however, prior to this we would have the gym full of students trying to make it to the final three.  Huge school participation.

So the scores during the ‘tryouts’ did not count in the record book only the result they achieved on the day of the event.  Inside the front cover of the Record Book we had a paragraph explaining the process and then the date each year that the event took place.

One of the lovely outcomes, and at first I was concerned, was that students proved me wrong with their enthusiasm and support for the students that were doing the events.  It was explained that they all received the three highest scores during a trial and today they would be having a shot at the record.  Some students would not have a great day but still they were supported by their classmates.  Regardless of result students were cheered, received high fives and given a special memory.

Football Record Holders

I found it best not to share the current record ahead of time.  Many in the crowd knew the records because the book had been in the library and they knew some of the records or looked them up when they or a friend were in the final event.  I learned it was best to remove the book from the library as we began the lead up to the event.

In the first year it was amazing because every ‘winner’ of an event at the assembly got into the record book. In my final year I think only one record was broken, but the enthusiasm to try to get into the book was huge.  Over time it will be more difficult to get into the book which just makes it an even more special accomplishment.

Staff came and assisted with the record book assembly as timers and crowd control but I always gave the option that staff could be free and working on reports at this time.  As long as they worked in teams and had some of the staff in the gym with me I was fine with them getting this extra time which was always appreciated.  

Inside the Record Book we would dedicate an entire page to the activity. 

Student Record Holder

It would include a description of the event, the record result and a photograph of the student or pair of students.

There you have it, another Interesting Idea that will build school culture and have your students buzzing with excitement.


Students Building School Culture

School Ambassadors

Interesting Ideas

Consider starting a School Ambassador Program at your school.  These are students in multiple grades who are your school spirit culture promoters! 

We had so many students in our school who were multi-lingual and knew we needed to tap into this resource. Not only to give them the opportunity to volunteer their time and contribute back to the school. (Work Hard, Be Nice, Make a Difference) but we also knew they would be a huge draw for our school and  a valuable resource for special events when involving our community.

Welcome Wall Inside Front Entrance

Our Community, Well Being and Engagement Goal for the first few years of the school came from the School Effectiveness Framework and included:

– Indicator 2.5 Staff, students, parents and school community promote and sustain student well-being and positive student behaviour in a safe, accepting, inclusive and healthy learning environment.

– Indicator 3.3 Students are partners in dialogue and discussions to inform programs and activities in the classroom and school that represent the diversity, needs and interests of the student population.

– Indicator 6.2 Students, parents and community members are engaged and welcomed, as respected and valued partners in student learning.

Our School Ambassador Program was a positive example of how we were addressing these three indicators.

Our Ambassadors had many roles in our school but let’s begin with School Tours.

We wanted to support our new families and students beginning at our school.  In our first few years we had a constant arrival of new students and we wanted those students to feel welcomed, involved and included right away.  So many of our families were coming to us from outside Ontario or new to the country.  School systems are so different and schools have their own culture and climate even within the same neighbourhood.  We wanted our new families and students to receive an amazing first impression.

We were proud of our school and wanted to share that news with everyone.  And who better to promote the school than the students themselves?

Students were invited to fill in a short application expressing their interest and our English Language Learner Staff would then sit and talk with those interested.  Because students were coming in at every grade level we tried to have ambassadors at all age groups but the majority of our team were senior students.  Each year we would add to our pool of ambassadors and it was a very sought after position of responsibility.  Students were eager to show their school pride. 

In the first year the team of students and staff developed a school tour that could be used when new families arrived and they wanted to see the school.  They developed a script, with descriptions of our beautiful classrooms and learning spaces.  They practiced and auditioned by taking staff members, including administrators around the school to share what they would be saying with parents and students.  We were able to give them up to date numbers in regards to registration, languages spoken in the school, number of classes and really unique behind the scenes information about the building and maintenance of the school.  We knew this information was not just saved for tours but also shared with peers in their classes.  Building school spirit and pride one conversation at a time.

When a new family contacted us about registration our office staff would share information about our Ambassador Program and ask if the family would like to come for a school tour.  We would honour the time the family had available and would end up doing tours before, during and after school hours. 

We would inform staff ‘most times’ if a tour was coming through the school but staff became accustom to seeing people being walked through the building.  Staff were open and receptive to the idea and smiled and welcomed the people walking the hallways.  They would not enter classrooms unless invited and the majority of time just looked in at the beautiful learning environment from the doorway.  I’m sure that families saw and heard things that happen in a school, it was not a performance or show.  Students may not have been on best behaviour in the hallways moving to other locations, but we know the families had an authentic experience. 

Our Ambassadors would meet students and their families in the front foyer and then take them on a tour.  If administration was available the tour would end up back outside the office so we could answer any ‘adult questions’ that may have come up.  We instructed our Ambassadors to speak about being a student at the school and to direct their comments to the child.  We wanted the experience to be for the student who would be coming to the school.  We also made sure the Ambassador was able to speak the language of the family in order to answer any questions if this was needed.

Our Ambassadors did so much more than school tours.  They came to our Kindergarten Orientation Sessions for students and families.  Imagine being a new family and bringing your child to our school?  Maybe a first child that was being enrolled.  Families got to experience early in their relationship with the school the importance of our students, the talents of our students and the pride they had in the school.  They saw and heard that we were inclusive of multi languages and that there were many, or some, other families and students in the school with the same language.

Kindergarten Passports
Kindergarten Presentations

They also came to every other special community event like: movie nights, guest speakers, curriculum nights and graduation.

They were easy to identify in their beautiful school T-Shirts and wore buttons to share their name and the languages they could speak. 

Boyne Bear Ambassador T-Shirt

I was at a basketball tournament one weekend with my son in a high school outside our district.  In between games I went for a bit of a walk in the school.  I noticed on a few lockers a large magnet affixed to the top that said in two languages, “I speak…” and then a language, written in English and in the language identified.   What a wonderful idea for students to be able to walk through the school and see that there was someone that they could speak with. What a wonderful welcoming gesture for new students to know they were not alone.

We stole this idea and made badges for students to wear at special events.

Badges Worn By Ambassadors

When we had special events in our school it was not uncommon to have multiple generations attend our events.  It was very heartwarming to see an elderly guest in our school, most likely a grandparent speaking with one of our ambassadors.  The number of families that would come to me to share their impressions of the school and our Ambassador Program were too numerous to count.

Because of our Ambassadors we noticed that school events increased in attendance, there was now support in the school if you wanted to ask questions.  The content of the conversations were never heavy, but having our team of students available increased the likelihood that families would engage with our school and our special events. 

Think about how you can use some of this information in this Interesting Idea?  Think about the positive impressions you create in your community? Think about the leadership opportunity you can provide students?  Think about the pride in your school that you develop and foster?

A simple idea, with huge benefits.


Ed, the Superstar!

Interesting Idea

As the leader in your school do you know everyone’s name?  Do they all know you?  We have all experienced that frightening feeling when you are out and someone comes up to you (in my case, very much younger) and says, “Do you remember me? You were my teacher/principal.”

Who is the most popular at your school?  Is there anyone that you could say without doubt that every child, every staff member and even most of the parents know by name?

In our case, it was Ed!

Ed !

When I was tweeting the 30 Things I Will Miss About Being a Principal I placed Ed at #10 on my list of things I will miss when retired.  Ed made my top ten!  

That particular tweet generated quite a few responses from staff at the school.

From someone who had moved onto another school, ‘I miss Ed’.

Another knew Ed from a previous school and tweeted, “I had ‘Ed duty’ at EFT, carried him outside with me every Friday for a year…all the while thinking he was a turtle.”

Another shared how, “Ed works so hard to make a difference for the community at Boyne that he often deserves some much needed R&R and extra special vacation time” with a photograph of Ed in a store surrounded by wine and 5 staff members on a Friday night on their way to a weekend retreat.

And the simple, ‘I love Ed’ or ‘Ed is the best!’

So who is Ed?  

Ed was the universal name given to six different large plastic ‘people’.

Ed was a gift from the photography company we had a contract with, Edge Imaging.  ‘Ed’ was used as a visual symbol every day to signal where we could safely and comfortably be playing when outside during breaks and recess time.

If Ed was on a field, you could go on that field.  Ed was the first to go on the field to show everyone that it was okay to join him.  No Ed on the field, meant that field was ‘out of bounds’ for the break time.

This was all done originally to protect instructional time.  I had been in too many schools as a staff member and as an administrator where the public address system was being used to tell staff and students that the fields were closed.  Or that bad weather would mean we would have to stay off the grassy areas.  We could only use the pavement areas of the school.  

And you know when this announcement is made, right?  It is broadcast with a few minutes to go in class, just as staff are working hard to get instructions completed, or assessments done because we were about to go on a break. The entire school interrupted, learning stopped, so we could announce our areas of play outside.

Right now, count the number of interruptions that someone using your PA system makes during instructional time in any given week.  Our school was going to be different. We were not going to interrupt important instructional time with an announcement that could be provided in another way.  Ed was our way of sharing that information.

When we first opened the school, we had our Eds ready to go but didn’t use them right away.  Our fields were closed when we first opened, and large construction fences blocked entry to the grassy areas.  Since we could not use the fields and were restricted to the pavement, this was the perfect time to get our expectations in place prior to the fields being available to us.

Each day we would take a photograph of ‘Ed’ somewhere inside the school.  Since it was a brand new school we would ask students on the morning announcements ‘Where’s Ed?’  And they would have to work with our staff to figure out where Ed was hiding based on the clues in the picture.  We also placed a few ‘Ed’s’ around the school so students would see exactly what Ed looked like up close and personal. 

Ed Hiding By the Water Fountain

Another way we protected instructional time was in regards to announcements.  All the announcements were created on a shared document that every staff member could access and view with their classes when they wished to do so.  We did not start the day with announcements over the loud speaker, which often contained news of the day that was not applicable to many of the ages and grades in our school.  Each individual classroom was responsible for how and when they would share announcements. More on how we did announcements can be found in this previous blog.

After a couple of weeks playing  ‘Where’s Ed’ we had an assembly to announce that the fences were coming down and we could use the field.  An Ed was in the assembly tucked in the corner and I asked from the front of the assembled mass of students, ’Where’s Ed?’  By this point Ed had become a Rockstar. Hundreds of students yelled out as they pointed to Ed standing guard in the corner.  Ed was moved to front and centre and we explained who Ed was, what Ed’s job was for our school and that students need to continue to look for Ed each and every day at school.  But from now on Ed was going to live outside.

Some of the creative writing that took place was out of this world.  Ed at Night.  Ed on the Weekend.  Ed During Holidays.

Ed did have an adventurous life.  Staff felt that it would be hilarious to continue the Where is Ed as an adults only game.  Remember we had about 6 of them.  Ed would be taken on weekends and holiday trips, photographed having all kinds of fun (better weekends than most of mine!) And the pictures would make their way around the staff portals on the following Monday.  Lucky Ed!  You know your staff are buying in and loving the culture that is being developed when they continue a school tradition in this way.  All done in good taste and continuing to build our staff morale.

Ed Playing in the Snow with Students

Each day, right before break time, because weather can change in Canada from first thing in the morning until the timing of our first recess, one of the admin would go out and place Ed on the fields that were accessible that break.  Students went outside and saw where they could go.  Class learning time was not interrupted.  Staff outside on supervision also knew and could reinforce with students where they could play based on the presence of Ed.  Staff would even look out the window and see Ed on the field meaning we were going outside.  No more calls down to the office to find out if we were going outside or staying inside.  “We always go outside, unless you hear different.”

Ed was so popular we knew we had to find a way to include Ed in the official school opening.  During our large official school opening ceremony with politicians, education leaders, architects and builders in attendance Ed was involved as well.  At the time of the official ribbon cutting and the official photo opportunity, Ed was there!   Two Ed’s held the ribbon that was being cut by our dignitaries.  

Official Ribbon Cutting With ED!

Every child got a piece of the official school opening ribbon.  We bought lots of extra ribbon and had it cut into small squares.  Every child received this keepsake.  I still have mine.  

And I made sure that my piece was from the section held by our two Ed’s.

Ed was also a popular Halloween costume!

Ed as Costumes

There’s the Interesting Idea!  How can you preserve instructional time by preventing interruptions?  How can you share important information in a visual format so staff and students know what should be happening?  Find flags, find numbers or symbols.  Find Eds if you are able, but find a way to honour instructional time.  Stop interrupting learning.


The Newcomer Has A Plan

Interesting Idea

I have returned to a school for the past three weeks as an occasional principal during an absence of a colleague.  It is a wonderful school with lots of amazing things happening for students. 

The ratio of technology to students is very high.  Every classroom is well equipped to provide technology for student use.  This school would certainly check off a lot of the boxes for the qualities that make for an effective school.

One particular ‘next step’ did stand out however, and I wanted to address it during my time.  After week number two I knew I needed to stick my neck out a little and have a conversation with staff and students about the use of cell phones.  Very few students could tell me the school expectations in regards to cell phone use.  Instructional time was not being used optimally and the potential for student online behaviour concerns was imminent. There were inconsistencies between classes, students were sneaking into washrooms to use their phones, and parents were texting students in the middle of classes instead of calling into the main office.  Sadly, during break times, both inside and outside, the students were having online conversations with others instead of face to face interactions with their classmates.  After being on screens for the last few years, and slowly having our restrictions lifted it was a shame to see students not interacting with each other like in the ‘good old days’.

Knowing that I was going to be at the school for only a short amount of time, I laid out a plan with the absent administrator as well as the vice principals in the school and collectively we decided to move forward.  

I knew time would not allow me to have focus groups with students.  I would not be able to gather student voice by poll or survey.  Instead we were just going to adopt a policy and then review after my departure.  We all felt that the ‘visitor’ to the school could share his observations and the plan going forward.

So this past week I visited all the grade 6, grade 7, and grade 8 classrooms and shared with them what was going to happen during the month of March.  I shared that a focus group would not work in this case and that we wanted their involvement at the end of the month.  They were reminded that there is a Spring Break!  I also shared that my belief was that no student could debate with me that cell phones were being used properly by all students in the school.  They had witnessed it themselves, and knew that there must be common agreements when it came to cell phone use in schools.

Teachers have been, or will be working on persuasive writing and using this cell phone/technology plan as a real life example the students and staff will come up with a long term plan after I leave.

Below is an original blog from November 8, 2021 reprinted again in its entirety in order to share the technology plan adopted by the school at this time.  This is what we are doing. My hope is that the current grade 6 and grade 7 students especially (I’m not too popular with grade 8’s at this particular juncture in time) step forward and together with their talented staff develop something that works for them in the remaining months of the year.  And then use this plan going forward into the next school year.

Original Blog:

We had a problem with cell phones at our school!  

I want to share one school’s story on how we worked with students, staff and families to address the issue.  

I will start by saying we are an elementary school so our solutions are based on one thousand plus students in Kindergarten to grade 8. 

While walking in the hallway it was not uncommon to see someone walking with their head down and staring into a screen.  Or walking past a classroom and glancing inside to see someone in a group of students with their heads in their phones. Or off to the side of the room while everyone was working, on their own, on their phone.  And in all of these examples I am speaking about the adults in the building. Adults on their phones when working with/for students.  Not okay.

How we discussed this and solved this as a staff professionally and respectfully is going to be the topic of a future blog.  (insert that blog) I’m sharing this as a bit of a tease because in this blog I want to share how we encouraged proper technology use by students in our school.

We were a BYOD school (Bring Your Own Device).  This was especially important in our first few years when our student population was high and our number of school owned devices was still low.  Senior students were invited to bring their own device to the school to use in their classrooms.  It was not a requirement.  We made sure families understood we always had technology available for student use.  We did not want students going home and saying they had to have technology for school!

Letting students use their own device did really help everyone at the beginning.  Everyone likes using their own devices for comfort and ease.  We know how to navigate our own tools and where we keep files and work.  We were confident that done properly, and with student voice and family input we could create a process that would work.  We wanted it to work, technology is an important tool and part of the learning process includes how students use technology effectively, properly and respectfully.

We followed all the board issued mandates with families about loss, theft and damage.  We gathered all the required paperwork and then started on our journey with students to formulate how this was all going to be operationalized.

Staff created schedules in order to share the technology we had on hand.  Most importantly the staff developed an understanding that the technology is a tool to be used by students when needed and really limited the amount of time where every child needed a device at the same time. We have moved way past a time when all students are using the same program at the same time, in the same way and instead allow students’ choice in how they demonstrate their learning. With a heavy emphasis on differentiated instruction and student choice, gone are the days when you would see the entire class in a computer lab or each child at a workstation.  Computers, and tablets are in the classroom available to students to use as needed.  Also available to students is their own device if required.  So how do we monitor the proper use of these powerful tools?

I can remember very early in my administration career, when cell phones were just becoming a thing you would see at school.  They were considered a distraction, a nuisance and we banned them.  We could not understand why any elementary student would need a phone at school if there were pay phones and office phones.

We now have a better understanding of the power of the devices in student hands.  It is not the cell phone itself that is the issue, it is what the cell phone is being used to do.  Parents provide or allow cell phones for their children for many reasons. It is important for our families to know that when at school the cell phone is being used in a responsible and respectful way. Cell phones are a wonderful tool that when used well, and used properly can and should be a learning tool that students learn to use appropriately. They are not going away.

Listening to student voice was always a key strategy in our school and how we were going to use technology in our school was another opportunity to hear from students.  Using our school motto of ‘Work Hard, Be Nice, Make a Difference’ we developed our agreements.  These were developed with our classes, shared with everyone and are reinforced with students multiple times in the year (Significant 72 opportunity).  You will see that students did come up with agreements around non-instructional time as well as instructional time. A copy of the poster that hangs in each room is shared with you here.

Technology Agreements Used at Boyne PS
Technology Agreements Used at Boyne PS

We noticed on line that schools could purchase locking mini cabinets that could be installed in classrooms so schools could secure cell phones when students entered a classroom. As an elementary school we went ‘low tech’ and purchased for each classroom a numbered pocket chart.  Students were assigned a number based on their class list and when students entered the room for their class period they were asked to place their cell phones in their corresponding pocket.  The pocket chart was hung in a safe area of the classroom, i.e., a corner behind the teacher’s desk.  There, the cell phone would remain until the end of class or until the teacher had a section of the lesson where students could use their own device.  One big issue this solved was that washroom visits, quick trips to the hallway or back to their lockers did not include checking in with their cell phone.  At the end of class the teachers would monitor the retrieval of the cell phones based on numbers, seat locations etc.

Pocket Chart Used to Store Cell Phones
Pocket Chart Used to Store Cell Phones

If they did not place a cell phone in the pocket chart it was because of one of three reasons

  1. They do not have a cell phone, or they did not bring it to school that day
  2. Their cell phone was not brought to class and instead is locked safely in their locker
  3. It is in their bag, or backpack in class and will not be seen or brought out during the class, they are planning on using the technology provided within the class

When teachers provided class time for student work that could involve the use of technology a ‘Tech Time’ poster was placed on the board at the front of the class and announced to the class.  At this point students could retrieve their cell phones and use them if they wished. A simple visual, you see the sign, it is okay to use the technology in the room including your own device.

Poster Used to Signal Time for Technology
Poster Used to Signal Time for Technology

We did not have any difficulties with this process.  Students were respectful of others’ property and I believe this was all because of the preliminary work and relationship building done by our staff before starting, during lessons and discussed fairly regularly.  As well, students were part of the process to develop the plan.

What did we do if the agreements were not followed?

If teachers saw a student breaking an agreement they would ask for the cell phone and keep it with them until the end of class.  At the end of class they would ask a colleague to assist them with any responsibilities they may have so they could have time with the student.  A conversation would take place putting the onus on the student to talk about the commitment and why the phone was taken.  After a conversation the student had their phone returned.

The expectations were reinforced during the conversation and it was shared that the next time would involve a learning exercise done on their free time.  Students were ask to write or assisted in writing, using the common expectations in order to explain what they had done, what they should have done and what they would do next time (simple three paragraphs).  Depending on the situation, the teacher would date this and keep it on file or decide to have the assignment taken home by the child and have it signed by a parent.  

The parent would be reading something written by their child about the expectations in the classroom.  It was not a formal letter or email from the teacher or school. Written from the child’s perspective, it showed understanding of the expectations and always received great support from the family.  

And finally, if necessary, if difficulties still remained the teacher would give the cell phone to me and I would place it in the school safe.  We asked the child to explain to their parent why this had to occur and I would return the cell phone once I was able to have a phone call or face to face meeting with the parent.  At the end of the day I would contact the families so they were aware we had their personal property in our school safe.  Often parents would drive to the school in order to pick up their child at the end of the day and this provided an opportunity for parent, child and myself to meet.  These conversations were easy to facilitate because the child knew the expectations.  They knew the order of the consequences, and had already done a parent letter. In six years at the school we did not have a child repeat the cell phone in the safe process.

Parents were appreciative because it was all carried out with respect and transparency.  We never shamed the child because we all wanted the same outcome.  We want our students to use the technology.  The parents and the school just want the technology used in the proper way. Students are not sneaking glances at their phone to do school research. 

Once parents found out how the child was using the phone in the school we were able to have a great conversation about the use of technology in schools.  The conversation often turned to why this elementary aged child had the phone to begin with and that the school did have the  ability to supply technology.

Over time we purchased enough technology for student use that the need to bring in their own device was not as necessary, and we remained a BYOD school.  Students still like to bring in their cell phones.  We are okay with that, because of the learning that is involved in creating our agreements as a community and we value the importance of understanding the proper use of technology while at school.  A key lesson even for the adults!


Spread Appreciation

Interesting Idea

Your Interesting Idea for this week is all about providing time each and every opportunity you have with staff to increase positive school climate.

Have your staff start to share appreciations.  

Getting together as a staff is such a gift.  It is something that has been missed in the past few years, so when you do get together make sure you use that opportunity to strengthen the relationships among staff as well as deepen everyone’s understanding about the important work you are doing.  After spending time together if collectively we do not have a better concept of our work, processes or procedures and/or we don’t have a deeper committed relationship with each other than we have failed as a leader of that meeting.  Deepen the content, deepen the relationships, each and every time. 

Once “Appreciations” is explained and modelled once, it never needs explaining again.  I simply said, does anyone have any appreciations they would like to make public.

A staff member would then indicate they wanted to acknowledge a colleague and share the sentence, “I would like to appreciate (name) for…” .  They then would share a story about this person doing something that made the lives of those around them better.  It may have been a direct impact on the person sharing or could be something they witnessed the person doing with a student/students that they felt needed to be celebrated.

It is the best way (the only way) to end a session together so people are leaving with good feelings about the people they work with.  I still remember each Professional Activity Day prior to Thanksgiving weekend, when the sentence starter changed to ‘I am thankful for…’ (insert tears)

I see you as magnets on a board
Photo by Eva Elijas on Pexels.com

It was common for our new staff to our school or new to teaching to appreciate the mentorship of others.  It was common for grade team partners to thank the other for taking on more of a load during a difficult time.  It was common for an educational assistant to thank a partner for stepping in and assisting during a tough moment.  

It was heartwarming to hear about someone performing continual random acts of kindness.  It was heartwarming to hear someone appreciate a colleague’s programming, or their interactions with students.  It was heartwarming to hear about a coaching session about a difficult conversation that needed to be practiced. 

All of these were shared in the presence of the entire staff. One after the other.

Acknowledging some of the amazing, unknown, quiet brilliance that was happening in the school had a profound effect on the overall climate and culture in the school.  Since this became part of our rituals, people were more willing to step forward and take on tasks.  People stepped out into the spotlight and volunteered to run events and organize activities that were great for students.  Momentum is a powerful thing. 

It was never a popularity contest.  People knew we wanted many stories, from many areas of the school, capturing many employee groups and job descriptions.  And because they were not speaking about themselves it allowed all of us to hear about things happening that we would never have known.

Those that did not really enjoy speaking in public, would be more comfortable when it was about filling the bucket of another.  Key to all of this? It is not just the individual being spoken about, but how it made the entire staff feel knowing that they work with amazing, dedicated, loving people each day.  And don’t we all want that? It is important to acknowledge the acts of kindness that are happening in the school.  It draws everyone in, and creates commitment to  the place where they work.  The relationships between and among the adults are important, especially in education where a great deal of your day may be spent away from other adults.

To get it going each time there were always two or three people that I could eye and they would get it started for me.  No shame in having plants in the crowd.

The activity sends a subtle message to others about collaboration, and working positively with others.   It illustrates the kind of working relationships that are possible in the school, and truly are a must.  Difficult staff relationship conversations are easier when people can see what we are aiming for.  It is inclusive because different teams and departments do not get to see the work of the entire staff, especially in a staff of 125 like we had. You may not know these people very well, but you are hearing great things about them, so you know they are in the right place.

There have been times when we have had to say, ‘okay, only two more’ because we could have kept going.   We always share that if you did not get a chance to do it publicly would you find a time in the coming days to have a conversation with the person you want to recognize to share with them how they are appreciated by you.  It is easy to start the conversation with, “I didn’t get a chance to share at the meeting and wanted to express to you my appreciation…’

Social science research is clear.  Many adults comment that their unhappiness stems from a lack of recognition for the work they are doing.  

If you have a concern that there is negative talk happening in the school, behind closed doors, or in the parking lot, then create a process where positive talk is modelled and celebrated.  Combat the negative talk.  Drown out the negative talk.  As a great friend once said, it is hard to be a Eeyore, (Eeyore quote, ‘I was so upset, I forgot to be happy’) when you are surrounded by Tiggers (Tigger quote, ‘Put some bounce in your smile’)  Like our students, staff need to hear way more positive comments then negative comments. 

I appreciate that you have read this far in my blog!

Appreciations brought pride.

Appreciations brought laughter.

Appreciations brought tears. 

Most importantly, appreciations brought us together.


Connect With Your Community

Interesting Ideas

It is Family Day in Ontario, so it is fitting that I write the blog this week sharing another Interesting Idea in relation to your school community and connecting with families.

One of the single biggest impact initiatives we had at our school was something we called Community Connections.  The benefits were huge and provided a service to members of our community when it was needed most.

Front Entrance Sign for Community Connections
Front Entrance Sign for Community Connections

It was organized and run by our English Language Learner teachers as well as our teacher librarian. It provided a regularly scheduled opportunity to reach out to our families and have an event early in the morning right after they dropped off their children.  Parents were invited into our school for some connecting and information sharing.

We were aiming for our new families.  Many of them new Canadians but depending on the session we would have many others that would attend.  We felt it was important to really be thoughtful about who we targeted to attend the sessions.  We discovered a real need in our community to help our new families and wanted them to feel safe coming to an event that was catered to their needs.  So often they would not attend a big school event because of a perceived language barrier or they were overwhelmed by the scale and number of people that would be attending.  They had different needs on top of a desire to be entertained or seeing their children involved in events.

We arranged to have interpreters there for each session.

We would adjust schedules and have teachers or other staff come and introduce themselves and possibly do a presentation.

We would partner with many organizations and services in the community so they were able to share what was available for families really close to home.

Some of the most important topics included:

  • the local community centre, summer programs, programs during breaks.
  • the Public Library outlining some resources and programs available for families, including summer programs. 
  • clothing in the winter ‘winter is coming!’
  • the Police department discussing a sudden rise in fraud cases and what to look for to be careful
  • our School Community Officer joining us to discuss social media. They were able to address social media sites and on line safety with gaming and communication
  • the Ontario progress report card, and term report cards and how reporting may be different
  • what to expect during Parent teacher interviews, and student led conferences
  • how to communicate with your child’s teacher
  • an overview of some well being and mental health resources available to our Milton families.
  • how to get involved in our School Council and/or volunteering in the school
  • the Town of Milton and all the programs and activities they have in their parks and recreation department
  • the services provided by our school English as a Second Language and Special Education Resource Teams
  • After school Tutoring, and child care options for before and after school

Often the returning participants would share with us their suggestions for things that were needed, or what they had discovered and should be shared with others.  It became a very tight and cohesive community group that were always looking for ways to support one another.

Parents attending a Community Connections Session
Parents attending a Community Connections Session

At every session we would have our Settlement Specialist attend in order to explain her role and how she can help families settle in the community. Provided by the Welcome Centre in our school board the job title was  Youth Settlement / Community Connections Specialist and they were extremely important to us.  From a posted job advertisement here is the short description of their role,

“The H.D.S.B Youth Settlement/Community Connections Specialist will work with schools, parents and community partners in specified communities to develop school community activities and projects which address the needs of students, families and schools in those communities. These activities and projects will support school and system initiatives relating to community outreach and parent engagement, equity and inclusive education, literacy, numeracy, tutoring/mentoring, and interventions for students at risk”

We welcomed all the important people into our school and placed them in the same learning space.  They met each other, and formed connections, friendships and support networks.  Those families that attended in the first few years of the school continued to come back in future years in order to share and support new families that were arriving.  The school building and our team were the connectors.

Think back to the blog discussing the well being of our students.  I highlighted the importance of five words in the work that we do at our schools.  Now that you know a little bit more about this Interesting Idea, look at the words again.  This Interesting Idea is another example of how the important work in our schools is all about: Welcoming, Including, Understanding, Promoting and Partnering.

Enjoy Family Day!


Annoy Your Staff

Interesting Ideas

I’m sure that title grabs your attention! Before we get to that…

It is an honour that I have been asked by the Halton Learning Foundation to be their Guest Speaker at their Annual General Meeting on Thursday, February 24th.

The Halton Learning Foundation (HLF) were, during my time, and continue to be a big part of our school story.

From myHDSB, the employee hub for the Halton District School Board

“The Halton Learning Foundation (HLF) is a registered charity whose mission is to ensure all students of the Halton District School Board have equal opportunities for participation, engagement and success.

HLF helps eliminate financial barriers to learning by providing emergency funds for HDSB students in need and support for their inclusion in extracurricular opportunities. HLF also disburses grants that help pay for school programs and resources, and offers a number of student bursaries and post-secondary scholarships. “ 

Their own website provides a great deal of information about this marvellous organization.

In my presentation to the donors I will share how we have utilized the HLF in our school in order to support students and their families.  I will be sharing the kinds of requests we made, and how the funds were used for individual students.  I will also be highlighting the school grants we received in order to support our music program, our physical education program and our environmental work.

One aspect of the HLF that I really admire is their understanding that “Within Halton, there is economic diversity from community to community. Some school communities and parent councils have a harder time than others raising funds to assist with additional purchases above and beyond core education funding.” (HLF Website)

Of course, part of my talk will be on the importance of giving.  One reason I was asked to speak is because they know our family has made the HLF one of the organizations that we support financially. I was blessed during my retirement that the staff at Boyne PS made a significant contribution in my name to the HLF.  It is a cause I believe in.  I want to continue to support them and lending my voice to their story is a privilege.

I shared in a previous blog about the idea of having three fundraisers a year.  Work Hard, Be Nice, Make a Difference.  That blog can be found here and although we never really got it off the ground because of the pandemic the plan was in place to have our ‘Be Nice’ event benefit the HLF.  We had planned an Arts evening with a dinner served as a way to highlight the work they do in our school and as an opportunity for our students to shine.  Every parent and grandparent of a performing student would have been in attendance.  Important people from the HLF were coming to address the crowd and a good time would have been had by all.

Back to the AGM. I will be structuring my talk around the AIM model, the Aligned and Integration Model (AIM) for School Mental Health and Well-Being.  You can find out more about AIM here.  We had worked really hard at our school to make sure we ‘welcome’, ‘include’ ‘understand’ ‘promote’ and ‘partner’.  Even with our plans being detailed, thoughtful, and structured we cannot do all this important work on our own.  The needs were too great and that is why we value the HLF.

I am going to finish by sharing that our staff always got involved in supporting the HLF because they saw the work they did to support our families. A lot of our requests were to support new Canadians with food, clothing (winter clothing!) and school supplies.  

One of the staff fundraising initiatives I am going to share is ‘Annoying Song of the Month’

The first week of the month was generally our staff meeting on the Monday, an important Community Circle question to do with students that week AND it also became Annoying Song Week.

For one week, five days, I would play a song over the loud speakers and throughout the school.  It would come on about 10 minutes before supervision began and the students were entering the building.  

You know those final few minutes before the students and all their energy come streaming through the door?  Remember those quiet moments before your tranquility was broken?  Well, I would interrupt those final ten minutes with a song, played on repeat over and over again.  It was the same song every day, and the songs switched each month.  

I don’t want to mention any songs here, just in case anyone happens to be a big fan of any of them, like that one about the new born large fish and their family (sorry, if you now have that earworm floating in your brain!)

We had a lovely decorated container in the main office with HLF printed on the side.  We were requesting pocket change from our staff in order to stop the music each day.  The music would play until we had $20 each day.  Five days in a week, $20 or more a day, $100 or more in a week, ten months in the school year and we were proud to hand over to the HLF more than $1000 at the end of the school year.

One time a teacher called down to the office to inform us that they were having a parent interview at that particular time.  We asked them if they had any change!  Their teaching partners bailed her out and came running down to the office in order to get the noise to stop.

We did multiple genres of music.  The worst in my mind being the heavy metal month, where the song I picked had some not very kind language.  Thank you to my much younger staff who were able to hear the actual lyrics and alert me to the problem I created.  A different song for the remainder of the week!  

You will be able to find many websites that list the most annoying songs of all time.  Hopefully, none of your favourites are there. In the final few months we had many staff suggestions, some I think chosen in order to poke good fun at their colleagues. (maybe a few inside jokes in those selections)

Check out the HLF, they do marvellous work, important work, needed work.

Try out my Interesting Idea for a fun, quick, fundraiser idea to support a local charity or organization.  Annoy your staff for a good cause!  

Halton administrators, annoy your staff for the Halton Learning Foundation.


Show Your Appreciation

Interesting Ideas

Of course you do numerous things to show your staff that you appreciate them.  I always believed it was the daily interactions, done consistently with love and care that showed I valued all staff and their contributions to our students and school.  While grand gestures are nice, and they have a place in the way we celebrate, it is the day in, day out connections that I had with staff that made the bigger difference.  Really, you can’t be a jerk most days of the week and then try to make up for it with a special treat or event on Friday.

A habit that I picked up early in my career came after a professional learning experience with Todd Whitaker.  If you ever have the opportunity to attend any session run by Todd, I highly recommend it.  So many practical ideas and the energy he gives out each time he speaks is tremendous. You will walk away inspired.

I don’t really remember what he called it, but I adopted it and started calling it Thank You Thursday.  It is a practice I did for over twenty years.

In my work calendar I put a standing appointment every Thursday called Thank You Thursday.  While I know you should not use your calendar as a to do list I put this as an all day event in my calendar because it had to be done on that day.  It would be the first thing I would see when I reviewed my calendar but obviously over time, it was just Thursday, and I did this every Thursday, so even though is was written down, I did not need to be reminded.

Every Thursday I would write three hand written thank you cards.  Most times they would go to staff members, but every once in a while they would go to a parent in our community, the crossing guard, bus drivers, even students.

We had cards made up that included our two school logos and our mantra of Work Hard, Be Nice, Make a Difference.  Inside I would write a note thanking the individual for living our beliefs.

During the week, at the back of my notebook, I would capture something that I had seen, or heard about a staff member going above and beyond and on Thursday I would write up a card and place it on their work desk, mailbox or work area.  

Any time we had a new staff member join our school I would write a note to welcome them to our school, also to say goodbye, but most of the time it was for a small, yet powerful random act that they had done.  I always connected it to our saying of Work Hard, Be Nice, Make a Difference in order to continue the common language and to model our beliefs.

Many times it was a positive, heartwarming or comforting interaction I saw with them and a student.

Or a particular lesson that I saw when I came around into their classroom.

Watching them interact with parents outside during drop off or pick up times.

How they used break times to run a club, or provide a safe place for students to hang out.

I started to notice that the cards where kept, they had value for those that were receiving them.  They were placed on desks, or hung on the bulletin board close to their work area.

Those that became administrators from our school and were going off to be leaders on their own would often ask me if I recorded who had received them and did I try to make sure I got everyone.  We had over 130 staff members, so only doing three a week would not get me everyone during the year but I did share the following strategy.

We all know the staff members who could get one every week, it is in everything that they do, you catch them being fantastic all the time.  So I did keep track and I did attach a staff list in the back of my book.  I would often scan the list of names to see who should be getting a card or most importantly those that I noticed ‘needed’ a card.  The cards were always sincere, never made up just to get one done. I would not write one just because a name I saw had not received one recently.  But it did light a fire under me to go out and catch them being amazing.  My belief was that everyone in the building was a fabulous educator and were there for the right reasons.  It was my fault for not finding the opportunities to recognize this.  You have never done a card for someone? That is my problem as a leader.  If I didn’t know much about a staff member I put that on me that I had not made it a point to get around to see them

I had heard once about Superstars and Rockstars.  

The Superstars are the teachers that do amazing things in the school, and really stand out.  Their presence is felt and everyone knows them.  You hear them at meetings and in the building.  The parents know them. They stand out in the crowd.

Then there are your Rockstars.  Solid, like a rock.  They are not looking to stand out.  They create magic in their classrooms and their purpose is not to be noticed.  They are one hundred percent in it for the students and their families.  And unless you have systems in place to share good practice and get people into classrooms to see what others are doing, no other staff really sees the incredible work that is being done by your Rockstars.

You need both in your school, but I have always believed it is the Rockstars that are most important.  Thank you Thursdays highlight to you and to them their importance, their value to your mission and acknowledges that you are so glad they are there with you. This is why I did Thank You Thursdays.  To acknowledge all those that fly a little under the radar but do such amazing things for their students and their families.

Another habit that formed because of this was during my walk abouts.  I would make sure I had a pen and post it notes with me.  Going into a classroom I always interacted with the students, asking them what the learning goals were, how they knew they understood, to teach me back etc. When I left a classroom I would jot down a positive statement about the lesson, class, atmosphere, something, not feedback, just an affirmation and I would stick it on the teacher desk, or work place over their binder, on their phone, in a spot where they could see it.  Something like, ‘These students are on fire with this concept!”  ‘Awesome student participation’.  ‘I really like how your students interact with each other’.  ‘What a lovely feel you have in this room’.  A thirty second task on my part that acknowledges and affirms.

Recognize your staff every way you can.  And if you like this Interesting Idea, give it a try. Every Thursday! Three hand written cards! Less than five minutes of your time!  Show them that you notice.  And for you, giving actually feels pretty good as well.


Upcoming Professional Learning

Interesting Ideas

If you will excuse me, I am going to do something a little bit different in this blog and promote something.  I have been writing in my blog about my experiences and sharing some ideas that I found to be beneficial to my career as a school administrator.  

I therefore must share that certification in Crucial Conversations was/is one of those important initiatives in my career that has had a profound influence on how I interact with staff, students and their families.  I wish I had the training very early in my career because I can reflect back on some interactions that did not go so well and immediately thought that it was all because of the other person, when in fact having better communication skills on my part would have moved us to completely different outcomes.

I have been asked to facilitate a couple of sessions of Crucial Conversations for the Halton District School Board and I am so very much looking forward to getting back into the content.  Not only is it wonderful to be working with staff again, but the content is strong, I learn something new each time I present the work, and I get to sharpen my skills.

Some of my regular readers of this blog were actually part of a class that had to be stopped way back in 2020.  A course had started back in February of 2020 and was shut down first because of employee sanctions and then the pandemic hit and we were not able to continue the course.  At that time we decided to pause the course so we could continue in a face to face manner when we got through all of this.  Who would have known?  Certainly back in March of 2020 we could not have predicted all that has gone on and the impact on us all.  We are getting in contact with the 40 participants now to see if they will commit to completing the course in a virtual learning environment in order to get their qualifications.  I look forward to catching up with these wonderful people.

I will also be running a new group of individuals through the course. Details will be coming out soon.  I will tweet out information about registration once this is established.  Follow me @petermconsult.  Lucky me to be doing two sessions, almost back to back to provide such valuable learning for these people.

During my time away from the material there has been a rebranding.  Crucial Conversations is now called Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue which is a marvellous title that captures the essence of the program. The company even went through a rebranding and is now Crucial Learning, leaving behind their previous name of Vital Smarts.

Read the entire article about the name change from the Crucial Learning website found here.

A small section from that article states, 

“The company’s new name Crucial Learning communicates two powerful ideas that embody the company’s mission and focus. First, the courses teach essential or “crucial” skills for the moments that have the greatest impact on life’s most important outcomes, including the strength of relationships, career satisfaction, happiness and ability to manage stress.

Second, the word “learning” emphasizes that learning and growth do not end with a singular course or even an advanced degree. Life itself is a continual learning journey that presents different challenges at different times. Being equipped with the right skills can lead to better outcomes and improved relationships.”

A little bit more about Crucial Learning

“Formerly VitalSmarts, Crucial Learning improves the world by helping people improve themselves. By combining social science research with innovative instructional design, we create flexible learning experiences that teach proven skills for solving life’s most stubborn personal, interpersonal, and organizational problems. We offer courses in communication, performance, and leadership, focusing on behaviors that have a disproportionate impact on outcomes, called crucial skills. Our award-winning courses and accompanying bestselling books include Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, The Power of Habit, and Getting Things Done. Together they have helped millions achieve better relationships and results, and nearly half of the Forbes Global 2000 have drawn on these crucial skills to improve organizational health and performance.”

I am a certified trainer in Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue, Crucial Conversations for Accountability, The Power of Habit and Getting Things Done.  I wrote a previous blog about Getting Things Done on September 27, 2020 and it can be found here.

Why I support Crucial Learning programs and continue to teach for them is because the courses focus on these vital behaviours that improve relationships and accomplish key results.  It is all based on solid social science research while teaching practical skills.  And while these skills never are perfected because interactions with others involve many contextual nuances having the skills is comforting when approaching a crucial conversation or when you suddenly find yourself caught in the middle of one.  The learning is fun, interactive with modern training scenarios and videos that really have you reflect on your communication style and work towards improvement.

My success as an administrator was strongly influenced by these courses and I continue to use the skills daily in my personal and new professional life. 

Many of you have taken this training with me in the past and received certification.  I was really pleased to see that the content has been redesigned.  New video content, new modern work place scenarios have been included as well as some important changes due to current research.

If curious, read about the new course material for Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue here.

A key difference is the coming together of two courses under the Crucial Conversations name.  I have shared content from the Crucial Learning website here.

Crucial Conversations® for Mastering Dialogue (formerly Crucial Conversations)

“At the heart of healthy and high-performance organizations are people willing and able to hold Crucial Conversations. The award-winning Crucial Conversations® for Mastering Dialogue gives people the skills to transform disagreement into dialogue for improved relationships and results. With skills to speak their minds honestly and respectfully, people collaborate better, make better decisions, and foster workplace cultures of trust and respect. The course is available in on-demand, virtual, and in-person learning formats.”

About Crucial Conversations® for Accountability (formerly Crucial Accountability)

“Crucial Conversations® for Accountability teaches a process for managing performance—from coaching through behavioral challenges to helping people identify and achieve goals. Anchored on principles of effective dialogue, this course teaches skills for holding peers accountable regardless of power, position, or authority. The course is available in on-demand, virtual, and in-person learning formats.”

It is a wonderful feeling to be a student again.  Sometimes in our role as leaders we learn as we go and many times don’t necessarily pick the content. Invest in your professional learning and if you ever have the opportunity to take one of these courses I strongly recommend it.   As an instructor I love learning alongside others and each class reinforces and teaches me again and again.  I appreciate my relationship with the good people at Crucial Learning and I am really looking forward to facilitating again in the coming months.


Cell Phone Problem

Interesting Ideas

Back at the beginning of November I wrote a blog about the cell phone problem we had at our school.  Those that read the blog were able to learn how we worked as a school, staff and students, to make sure we had a co-created plan in place so technology could be used in the correct manner.  In the blog I spoke about the fact that the problem was not necessarily the cell phone, it was what the student was doing on the cell phone.  As educators we all know the proper use and purpose of technology.  It is not ‘that’ a phone was used, it is ‘what’ the phone was being used to do.  Using the device as a learning tool is what needed to be clarified and understood by everyone.  When phones are used for this purpose all is good.

But admit it, it still troubles you as an administrator to see a student with their head buried in their phone because you are questioning what they are doing.  Go back to that blog if you want to know how we came up with common expectations for student cell phone use.

I teased in that blog that our cell phone issue was not a student issue, it was in fact an adult problem in our school and in a future blog I would write about dealing with staff cell phone use.  That blog is now.

 I had much more difficulty as an administrator when I saw an adult with their head buried in their phone because I was questioning what they were doing.

So while some may have come to the blog immediately thinking I was speaking about the student population I actually spent more time thinking about, worried about and trying to problem solve as a leader about the adults not using their cell phones in the proper way in the school.

We had adults in the hallway in front of others on their phones.  Remember, it is not the phone, it is what they are doing on the phone.  During work hours, when the adults are working with students, there is proper use of a device and there are times when it is not appropriate.  If they were using their phone to capture notes, take a photo, record a memo for the purposes of our students and learning that was a different issue.  

I have walked passed classrooms and looked in to see adults working with a small group of students and on their phone.  I have seen adults caring for a single child requiring an individualized program of instruction, and on their phone.

Do your staff have their phones out while with you at staff meetings or professional learning sessions?  What are they doing on their phones during those times?

So what to do?

We can all agree, there is a time and a place.

As a leader?  You say nothing, and you allow it to continue.

There are situations where it is not acceptable for the adults to be on their phones while working with students.  So do you speak up?

Now obviously we need to be connected to our families.  The young ones we care for and older family members that may require our support. There was a time when the only option for someone outside the school to contact me was through the school office.  I understand when staff members share with me their need for their phones to be with them in order to stay in contact.  If an emergency would arise, we would find another adult to take their place, ensure students are properly supervised and allow that staff member to go to a quiet, private place to make sure everything is okay.

As a leader you have a standard in your mind about student and staff interactions.  How staff use their cell phones while working with students must be an expectation that you have.

If you have set a standard, you either lower the standard when people cannot match the expectation, or you don’t want to enforce it. Or you have good conversations with your team about the expectations and coach and help people to achieve the expectation.  Over time, has the expectation slipped to the point where you have an adult cell phone issue in your school?

We were problem solving with our students about the use of cell phones in the school. We wanted student voice to come up with common expectations. It was during our classroom community circle conversations that we had each month (Significant 72…72 minutes a month, read about that in the blog on August 30, 2021) that some senior students shared that the adults in the building were being hypocrites.  “They are always telling us to get off the phones, put the phones away, but they are on them all the time”.  Even some of our students were seeing the modelling done by the adults.  Is this the example we want to set in a school?

We would always share the comments from students each month after our Significant 72 work, so here was a great lead in for our next staff meeting.  Are we bad role models?  Table groups were able to have a conversation about what the students were saying.  Some wise voices in the group got it, they understood and were embarrassed. It really was a great conversation starter and after some discussion we came up with the following plan.

We were all going to do a better job of being on our phones and modelling for our students the proper use of technology. 

We were going to announce to the students whenever there was a moment we wanted to ‘capture’ in the class or working with a group.  We were transparent to those around us when the phone was out and being used, and sharing how it was being used.  What a great example to set for our students when they are using their phones!

When we were going to use our phones to catch up on our lives, it was during our breaks in common staff areas such as the staff room or workrooms.

And if we saw another staff member in a common area, where students could see the adults using their phones, they would smile at their colleague and simply say, ‘It’s work, right?’ And jog their memory.

Some of us would smile and say, ‘what good stuff are you capturing right now?’

Often people would smile and say, ‘yep’ and then put their phone away, but the point was made.

We policed each other.

It may sound heavy handed, but the message was sent to staff and reinforced.  We are here for the students.  When working with the students they have us 100%.  

We are not asking you to use your own phone for school purposes, in fact we would prefer that you don’t use your personal device.  We have lots of technology available in the school for you to have a classroom device for tracking, recording, note taking, photographs etc

As a leader, if it bothers you, say something.  Do something about it.  Start with some candid, respectful conversation about what you see as an issue.  All our staff had been trained in Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue, so we were accustom to having uncomfortable discussions at times.  Take the course if you get the chance.

A hard conversation to have at the start, but so much nicer than being a leader that has to say, ‘put your phone away’.

Do cell phones in the hands of the adults bother you at school?

Be really transparent. Use your phone for work if you wish but announce what you are doing. And if you see others, smile, and discretely remind the person of our common commitment to ourselves and our students.

Put your phone away while working with children or other staff (staff meetings included!) 


What is Fair Chance?

Interesting Ideas

Never stop teaching.  Strengthen your school climate by giving your students the skills to work through issues with classmates.

I don’t want to downplay the effects that bullying has on our students.  Bullying behaviour has life long impacts on students.  Schools are meant to be safe, comfortable, learning spaces for all students.  Staff in schools work hard to teach far more than academics.  Our ability to get along, negotiate, apologize and care for each other has its learning roots in our schools.

I just want to start off with the statement that not all student negative interactions are bullying or should be labelled that way. It is wonderful that we have bullying awareness week, and have classroom lessons focusing on this important issue.  But when every comment from a child about another child starts with, ‘they are bullying me’, there has to be a better way to help students understand the distinction between bullying and conflict.

By helping your students understand their behaviours, and giving them the skills to problem solve, you will have less ‘smaller issues’ come to the attention of your staff and/or the office.  And, most importantly, by developing a common language that the entire student body understands and uses, when issues do come to your attention all parties can problem solve using a similar common language.

I was recently filling in at a school and assisting two students with a disagreement they were having.  A teacher had sent them to me because she was not comfortable watching their verbal exchange on the stairwell as they were heading outside for break.

We went into an empty classroom and I did some teaching.  I shared with students the concept of ‘fair chance’.  

Each year in our schools I would visit classrooms or have a large assembly, and then have teachers reinforce and re-teach the idea of fair chance.  Senior students were always wonderful at acting out a scenario for our younger students so they would begin to understand about speaking up and trying to solve their issues on the playground, in the locker areas, hallways etc, on their own.

The scenario would be something like this.  While playing a game, or walking quickly in the hallway one student would bump into another.  The child would not apologize for the contact and instead would make an insulting comment to the person that they collided with.  And then we would pause.

The student that had received the comment or the contact would say to the person, ‘I don’t like…’ ‘Please be careful..’ A comment that is kind but appropriate in the circumstance.  And then we would pause again and ask the question.

‘What would a kind person, a Boyne student who understands Work Hard, Be Nice, Make a Difference, do at that point?’  If it truly was an accident or a mistake, or an event that occurred because of the game or sport that you were playing, what would a good person do?’

Every student knew the appropriate response.  When our students called out other students about their comments or behaviour and gave them ‘fair chance’ we would expect an apology, a ‘ya,  you’re right’. This acknowledgement from the person showed they understood that they had caused a problem and together the two of them could work towards a resolution.

Now, I’ll stop for a moment and share that these conflicts are minor in scale.  Absolutely!  Hurtful comments, physical violence and behaviour of a much more harmful nature require more than someone pointing out to a student that it is unacceptable and giving them a ‘fair chance’. Our students were aware of the Harmful Language Protocol and when staff intervention was required.  This Interesting Idea is around the smaller mishaps that occur during play. What it does do for the school is prevents the constant misrepresentation of daily occurrences as being bullying behaviours.

Students are taught that after a person gives a polite fair chance comment, they should listen to the next statement from the person involved.  If they are unkind, if they are participating in bullying behaviour they would comment , ‘I don’t care, you are still…’. ‘or swear’ ‘ or tell them to shut up’ or other negative comments.

One of the students common lines was often, ‘remember fair chance?’ or directly, ‘I’m giving you fair chance, was that on purpose?’

I still remember the situation where the child responded to the fair chance statement with, ‘I don’t care what Mr. Marshall told us, you are still a …’. And remember, the words used here were not indicative of the Harmful Language Protocol, they were unkind words from a primary student.

In that case we ask the receiver of the comment to look around for others in the game or in the area and ask, ‘did you hear me give him/her fair chance?’  When they have others that heard that fair chance was provided, we now have witnesses to events we do not want to have occur at our school and problem solving with everyone involved is so much easier.

It changes the wording. I would much rather have a student come to me and say, ‘I gave (name) fair chance and they didn’t listen to me’ than ‘(name) is bullying me’.  This is a great opportunity to do some learning with the students involved using language that both parties should understand.  Some times the problem started with how the student provided fair chance.

Problem solving with students about issues that occur in the school become so clear, when a fair chance statement is given, and the person does not ‘make a difference’ in the moment and start to repair the problem.  You still need to investigate the entire event but you don’t have layers of statements to wade through.

Parents were so appreciative when we debriefed and shared the fair chance common language.  Parents would hear that when their child was given ‘fair chance’ they still continued to bother, harass, and upset the other child.  This continual behaviour is bullying behaviour and was upsetting to hear as a parent.

Many parents have commented that they think it is wonderful the school is using fair chance, and they are starting to use it at home with siblings.  Students were provided with ‘homework’ at the beginning of the year, and after breaks (Significant 72) to explain fair chance at home.

The other situation that you are probably thinking about is the child who receives fair chance constantly,  Every day, the same students are getting fair chance comments.  Again, a different issue and one that needs to be addressed.  Working with families to support the child that would ignore fair chance would then occur so students could maintain their friendships. We created the opportunity for lots of great family discussions at home. 

There are situations in our schools more severe and important to correct than these ‘little’ instances that occur. However for these common interactions provide your students with common language like the ability to give someone fair chance.  All students understand the words and it prevents every minor disagreement in the school being labeled as bullying. It provides language for your students to begin to work on disagreement with their peers in a comfortable setting. 

You will be amazed at the number of students who will share with you, ‘I gave (name) fair chance when we were playing and now we are friends again’.

There’s your interesting idea.  I hope you have enjoyed your chance to read it.


Story Time

Interesting Ideas

This week I want to share an Interesting Idea to use when public health regulations allow you to have parents back in the school.

We had parent volunteers come into our school during break time and read to our students.  I know this does not sound like a revolutionary idea but continue reading.  You will soon see what was unique about our idea and how it aligned with our culture building work.

Why did Story Time become an important program within our school?

When I held the position of Principal of Leadership and Staff Development I had the pleasure of meeting Karen L. Mapp and arranged for her to come to our district to speak with our school leaders.  Karen L. Mapp is a senior lecturer on education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) and the faculty director of the Education Policy and Management master’s program. Karen is one of the authors of Beyond the Bake Sale which speaks to the importance of including families in your school initiatives. The Nebraska Department of Education has an excellent summary of the book here: 

Nebraska Department of Education

Therefore, when I left the central office position and returned to a school I knew I needed to take many of her important concepts into consideration.  Opening a brand new school created the opportunity to have one of the major school goals be our connection to the community.  It was going to be a new community for me, a very diverse community and a newly formed community.  We were often told that we were beginning a school in the middle of a field and that was truly the case.  There were absolutely no other structures in the fields surrounding the school and over the coming years we watched as the homes were built. 

It was a school where 75% of the student population would be designated as English Language Learners.  Most of the students were Canadian born however the primary language at home was not English and for a large number of students the first time they had any daycare, education, or instruction in English was when they came to us for Kindergarten. Making sure our communication was available in multiple languages would be key to valuing and welcoming our families into the life of our school. For some of our parents they were learning English along side of their children.

As part of our opening year plan we involved the school staff and community in a process to develop an “If Then” statement to guide our work for the first year.  We purchased for each staff member a copy of Tom Hierck’s book Pyramid of Behavior Interventions: Seven Keys to a Positive Learning Environment and concentrated our efforts on creating common expectations and highlighting relationships.

Also: https://www.solutiontree.com/ca/seven-keys-positive-learning-environment-classroom.html

Our statement: IF we​ ​use​ ​the​ ​beginning​ ​years​ ​of​ ​a​ ​new​ ​school​ ​to​ ​develop​ ​a​ ​strong​ ​mission,​ ​vision​ ​and​ ​values​ ​with​ ​common​ ​expectations​ ​and​ ​a​ ​major focus​ ​on​ ​developing​ ​relationships​ ​with​ ​goals​ ​that​ ​focus​ ​on​ ​student​ ​well​ ​being​ ​we​ ​will​ ​THEN improve​ ​student​ ​engagement,​ ​achievement,​ ​equity and​ ​well​ ​being​ ​for​ ​this​ ​cohort​ ​of​ ​students​ ​and​ ​future​ ​Boyne​ ​students. 

In real estate?  Location, location, location.

In education?   Relationships, relationships, relationships!  

Speaking about relationships? A plug at this point for a great professional learning opportunity coming up on January 22nd.  One of the organizers is Tom Hierck and I will share that he is a good friend. I’m promoting this because it is important content, especially at this time.  The price is right and the speakers are terrific.

Find out more here:



So, what is the connection to parents reading to our students and why do I consider it an Interesting Idea

Part of our planning involved the examination of the School Effectiveness Framework.  http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/sef2013.pdf Using this resource we identified three key indicators to guide us in our work with our Community, Well Being and Engagement Goal.

– Indicator 2.5 Staff, students, parents and school community promote and sustain student well-being and positive student behaviour in a safe, accepting, inclusive and healthy learning environment.

– Indicator 3.3 Students are partners in dialogue and discussions to inform programs and activities in the classroom and school that represent the diversity, needs and interests of the student population.

– Indicator 6.2 Students, parents and community members are engaged and welcomed, as respected and valued partners in student learning.

Our story time activity was developed by our amazing English Language Learner teachers and our teacher librarian in relation to the three indicators above.  It was a key initiative to align our school activities with the Effectiveness Framework.

We had four different Story Time days in our school.

  • Arabic Story Time
  • Punjabi Story Time
  • Turkish Story Time
  • Urdu Story Time
Students with parent voluteer in library listening to story read in their first language.
Students-Story Time-Boyne-Milton, ON

During student break time community members would come into the school and have a reading time with students in their first language. Students were invited to come down to the library on designated days to hear a library book read by one of our parents in our community.

One of our favourite stories was from a teacher who questioned why a student would attend during a day where they would hear a story in a language they would not understand.  The students replied, ‘Ya, I don’t know what it is about but I love hearing the words, it is like music”

With students speaking about it at home and with the school sharing the initiative with our community, we had more volunteers than we had spots or times available.

We used our own school resources that had been purchased by our teacher librarian from our dual language section of our school library.  This highlighted to our students and the community that we valued the importance of having multi language resources in our library for our students.  The books read were then popular choices for students to sign out and take home to their families.  Imagine the pride in our families when students were bringing home resources in both English and their first language. Many parents commented that they did not know such books existed and how amazing it was that we had them in their school.

Another Interesting Idea for you.

Support all the students in your school with resources that families can access to show you are building a school that is accepting and inclusive to all.  Invest in resources in multiple languages that reflect your diverse school community.  Include quieter break time activities, like story time, that allow students choice in order to cater to their needs and interests. Welcome and engage with your parent community.  Invite the community into your school to do much more than just ‘bake sales’.


Protect Instructional Time

Interesting Ideas

Moving from school to school is part of the job for an administrator.  It is both exciting and anxiety provoking.  Starting with an entry plan for the new location is key.  Each time I have moved I have done an activity with staff that I called ‘Successes and Barriers’.  I want to find out what creates the greatest pride in the school and also what are the ‘things’ that get in their way and prevents them from doing their absolute best for the students they have in front of them.

The most common response for teachers listing their barriers, is “time”.  Every teacher wishes they had more time.  They wish they were not impacted by a sudden bell that rings and interrupts the amazing lesson that is happening, when all students are fully engaged and in a flow.  At times they wish they were not interrupted by the public address system or other school wide events that do not pertain to them. They also wish they had more time with their teaching partners or division or same subject teachers during preparation periods in order to ‘talk shop’ with someone that understands their assignment.

Instructional time is so important for student learning. How we use it and abuse it is an important thing to consider within a school.  As a school leader there are numerous structural things that you can do that impact the sanctity of preserving instructional time.

The school board that I worked with for 33 years now has a balanced day schedule.  The Canadian in me always described this to my American friends as the classic hockey game.  We had 100 minutes of instructional time, then a 40 minute break (intermission), another 100 minutes of instructional time, a 40 minute break and ending with a final 100 minutes of instructional time.  This was not always the case and I remember beginning my teaching career with two 15 minute recesses and an hour lunch in the middle of the day.  This model is still used in numerous school across North America.

Think of the time spent in transition?  Students needing to get ready for break, getting dressed to go outside, grabbing a lunch or snack and then repeating the process in reverse to start up again.  I read somewhere that each transition loses approximately 5 minutes (if done well) off of instructional time.  Teacher contracts mean that there is a clear distinction between break time and instructional time.  If students and staff don’t utilize opportunities during non instructional time to prepare for instructional time then all the time lost comes from the instructional day. Three breaks in a day equals 15 minutes a day of lost instructional time, which is over 46 hours in a school year.  Even with our balanced day schedule we were still losing close to 32 hours in the year.

What could I do as a leader to show I value instructional time and then structure the school in a way to maximize our time in class? By modelling the importance of instructional time to staff the message became pretty clear that class time was going to be used well.  It helped me as a leader have the conversations with staff when students were not active users of class time. We can all think of class activities that are not a good use of time, we also know the importance of slowing down, having breaks during instruction and having fun and building relationships with students.  All of these examples are important to do during instructional time, I’m just commenting that there are some classroom practices that do not honour the importance of using time well.

In the creation of the timetable we wanted to make great use of the full 100 minutes of the instructional block.  This most commonly meant students staying with their teacher for the entire 100 minutes before the next break.  Some classes needed to be scheduled for shorter lengths of time (French, physical education, music, visual arts etc) so we would work to make sure two classes occurred during that time.  If a class was going to leave their teacher for a French class, they were also going to have another subject not taught by their teacher during that 100 minute block.

This allowed us to be targeted with our preparation time schedule.  For example, one grade four class has French/music, while another has music/French.  Now those two teachers have a common prep period together for half the time, and the other period could be used to provide coverage to two teachers (primary teachers) of another grade so they are together.  As much as possible the timetable was written with the idea of giving the opportunity to teachers to be with others in their grade, division or same subject

Teachers of home room classes loved having their classes to begin the day.  The first 100 minutes were considered golden time and they did not want their classes moving through the school to other subject areas.  So our coverage teachers and specialist teachers without homerooms would have preparation time in the morning.  And if a class did have an interrupted first block, we made certain that it occurred only once in a week.

One of the best ways to honour instructional time revolves around announcements.  We put all our announcements in a shared document that could be read/displayed by teachers when they wanted to share it during the first large block of time.  Announcements needed to be done some time prior to the first break so students were aware of any extra curricular activities that may be happening during that time.  Our primary teachers in particular loved not having the morning learning time taken up by school wide messages that had little to do with their students. 

Our national anthem was integrated into our bell system and would start to play at the same time every morning.  It indicated to students, families and staff the official start time of the school day.  If you arrived at school after O’Canada, you were late for school that day.  I did not get on the p.a. system and ask for everyone’s attention, did not ask them to stand for the national anthem, it just started playing.  Everyone would stop, stand and begin the day.

As mentioned, teachers appreciated using the announcements in a way that best served their students and their instructional time. They often found that the content in the announcements did not pertain to their students.  We found lots of ways to celebrate the accomplishments of our teams, bands, clubs and individual students outside of using the PA system to stop the entire school.  Teachers would review the announcements in the morning and determine ‘when’, ‘if’, and ‘how’ they would share the news of the day.  Birthdays were recognized within individual classrooms.  

Some classes wanted to give the leadership opportunity of reading announcements to their own students. One of the classroom roles for students would be the ‘announcement reader’,  a rotating group of students who would share the announcements with their own class, a joke of the day, birthday wishes etc.  Relationship building, class togetherness, leadership opportunities within each class instead of one or two special students getting to do it for the entire school!

At each transition time we had a warning bell.  It would ring two minutes prior to the bell that signified the start of the next instructional period.  This bell signified to staff that students would be starting with you in two minutes and since instructional time is your teaching time, the expectation is that you are with your students at the start of that time.  Therefore, you have two minutes left in your break before you need to be where you need to be.  At the start of the instructional time, every staff member who was on schedule for that time was in the hallway, on the stairs, outside at the doors and greeting children.  No one was in their classroom waiting for their students to get to them.

Every administrator knows that it is during this moving time when trouble begins.  Since transition time was not built into the timetable, and we had over 1000 students, all staff teaching at those times was working and therefore visual for the students moving from outside to inside, and inside to outside.  It allowed our staff to engage with students, welcome them, high five, fist pump, ‘so glad to see you today’.  A simple thing that is so important.

A common phrase outside with our students was ‘beat the bell’.  After the first bell (warning bell) would ring students were asked to be in their lines, or in the school before the next bell rang.  We had a large field, so after the two minute warning bell, it would take that amount of time to clear the field and get students onto the pavement and near their entry door.  Because the second bell was the start of instructional time, they were greeted by all the staff that were beginning the next class period to get them into the building, into their classrooms and ready to learn.  It allowed transitions to be done quickly, done safely and smoothly because every staff can be involved.  I can guarantee that it did not take 5 minutes out of instructional time to be ready to go because of the use of the warning bell and then all staff ‘working’ to get students settled.

And finally, how often does your school allow someone to get onto the PA system and make an announcement in the middle of instructional time?

How often is a child called down to the office to receive a message or item left at home?

Are messages broadcast through your entire school that are targeted to a single student or class?

I cannot say I value instructional time and then allow office staff or myself to continually interrupt the learning in the school.  Find another way. Don’t interrupt the learning of the entire school to get a message to one class or one individual.  The first year at a different school would be an interesting time as they got to know me, because I did not allow anyone in the office to use the PA system without asking me first.  I’m curious what they said under their breath if they were used to doing things a different way in the past.  In almost all cases I would take the message or item to the classroom or student myself, right in that moment (two minute rule) and I didn’t do it for that particular family or child.  I walked through the building to see everyone, I was visible in the school delivering items in order to protect the learning time of the other 1000 students in the school.

Walk the walk, talk the talk and protect instructional time.  When you become a school leader who has worked with staff in order to protect and optimize instructional time it is now easier to begin those conversations with teachers when class time is not being used well.  Hard conversations for sure, but having been very public in our beliefs about the importance of instructional time it is now easier to begin to ask good questions about the practices occurring in classrooms.


Parents Coming for Student Meetings

Interesting Ideas

This week I wanted to share some ‘interesting ideas’ about meeting with families.  

As a school we would often discuss parents coming to the school for a meeting and what we could do as a staff to make sure the parents were heard, they were comfortable, they felt safe and we had productive conversations in order to support their child.

While the pandemic has really changed how we engage with families, the ideas shared here can and should be transferrable to an online meeting as well.  In the future, I believe I would ask a family which they would prefer, virtual or face to face meetings.  And, a day will come when we have our families back in our schools and parents in meetings to discuss their child.  The last many months have showed us that we can still use great communication skills to have effective meetings.

The first thing we must recognize is that not all parents are comfortable coming to the school.  For some, they may have had negative experiences as students and coming back to a school reminds them of this. No matter what we do to make our schools warm and welcoming they are still a formal setting that we know parents are, at times, nervous to attend.  Add to that the worry that they must feel when we are speaking about their child and it all means we have to work really hard to make the experience as positive as we possibly can.  If the only communication a school does with a family is to share bad news it is no wonder they do not want to come and spend time with us.

One of the key points we shared with staff is that we have parents coming to our space and then we are the ones that do all the talking? This was not going to happen at our school. We were going to concentrate on ensuring there was an equal dialogue with our parents.  We were going to encourage an equal sharing of air time.

If parents came for special education meetings with a long agenda we increased the amount of time we had for each family.  If we ended a meeting early we would utilize this ‘found time’ to do other things, but we definitely did not want to cut our meetings short or be rushing parents out the door.  The rationale behind this was simple, not only are we speaking about their child in a support context, but it may be the only opportunity we have with this family.  They were going to get our best.  This starts by giving them the time needed to make sure they had their questions answered and their thoughts expressed.

It is sometimes important to coach staff prior to the meeting about how much to say, what things to say etc. This is an excellent way to increase their comfort level by making them aware of what may be coming up and ensures that your meetings run as you expect them to run.

We would display an agenda with ‘Student A’ ‘Student B’ etc listed with times.  Families could see the posted times and we would highlight the length of time we had together as we started.  This built understanding that we were on a timed agenda and we all wanted to respect the time of the other families we would see that day.  We would do our best to make sure our meeting was completed in the time allotted, however, we would share how we would continue the conversation if time did run out.  Setting this expectation before beginning assisted us greatly in staying on task.  As we were approaching the end time we would summarize ‘who would do what, by when’, and how this would be followed up.  If more time was required we would set this up at this time so families knew they had our support.

The other analogy we would share with staff comes from Crucial Learning and the program, ‘Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue’.  We asked staff to think of taps that flow into a basin or sink.  There would be both a hot and cold faucet and we shared how this relates to conversations with families.  Most important was the idea that everyone must contribute to the ‘shared pool of meaning’ which requires everyone to have their taps on.  

When someone is sitting in silence we must have people skilled in making them feel comfortable and safe so they will turn on their taps and contribute to the conversation.  As well, if someone is running hot and have their taps on full we must have the skills to have them turn down the flow and contribute in a shared manner to the conversation.  Sometimes they need to be provided with an opportunity to just ventilate, but there is a line and requires someone skilled in conversation to make sure that a family does not step over that line and we can return to a proper dialogue.  I cannot emphasize enough the importance of Crucial Conversation training.  It is an extremely valuable tool for yourself and your staff.  

Link to all courses provided by Crucial Learning.

We wanted to use this taps analogy to make sure we allowed and invited parents to turn on their taps and contribute to the conversation.  One person in the meeting was always asked ahead of time to monitor the contributions in order to work towards sharing the air time.  As a school we did not want to overuse the time. At the end of the meeting the parents should speak an equal amount or more than the staff at the school and we must invite this contribution.

Another important aspect that shows respect for the family and the child is to have only one person taking the notes of the meeting that will later be shared with everyone in attendance.  Others in the meeting can then concentrate on really listening to the conversation and focusing their attention on the speaker.

Introductions are made at the beginning of the meeting and everyone’s role in connection to the child. If possible place name plates in front of the staff so the family know who they are speaking with. 

After introductions and the purpose stated it is important to ask the family if that was their understanding of how the time would be used.  If there is anything else they would like to share or talk about while we are together you can then make adjustments, since we are there for the parents and their child.  Or,  you may have to address the added content at another time.  Asking this clarifying question at the start makes sure you are beginning the meeting with everyone having the same purpose in mind.

boxes and bows celebrating Christmas
Photo by George Dolgikh @ Giftpundits.com on Pexels.com

This is such a wonderful time of year in schools.  December includes so many celebrations, holy days and special occasions.  We share many key similarities in these events: family, friends, food, remembering, celebrating love, joy and happiness.  My family celebrates Christmas and as such I would like to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year.  I’ll be taking a break from writing blogs until 2022.  Be well everyone.


Students At Parent Meetings

A benefit for all. A benefit for you.

Interesting Ideas

I am writing to you this week from Bloomington, Indiana where I have spent the weekend working and learning with some amazing educators at Solution Tree. I still wanted to keep my consecutive weeks of writing streak alive so this is going to be a short, but still a really important “interesting idea” for you to consider.

As a school administrator consider inviting a student or students to your School Council meetings.  Whatever the set up and/or name for your parent organization, be certain to find a way to invite a student to attend the beginning of the meeting.  

Let me explain.

I had the pleasure of working in a terrific school that also had a very strong, vocal and active parent organization.  In Ontario this is called the School Council.  Along the way they had lost sight of why they existed as an organization and while they still did amazing things for the students and the community they also spent lots of time on political issues that were outside their mandate.  They ceased to be an advisory council and instead focused on broad system content that had little to do with the school.

I started inviting students to the council meeting in order to do a little presentation or performance to remind all of us why we all connect to the school.  At first they did not want to give up time on their agenda, but I persisted. The students would be invited and I would contact families to brag about the wonderful things their child was doing and asked if their child could share the news with others.  I asked parents to bring their child to the school in the evening for the beginning of the meeting and then leave when their section was complete.  Students were always first on the agenda.

This exercise had so many benefits.  

Parents of the invited students were able to stay and see the beginning of the meeting and would sometimes become interested in returning to future meetings or get involved in council positions for the following year.  Often they were not aware of the council, its role or that they were invited to every meeting.  Our parent involvement increased through these new parents.

For our students it was an opportunity to share their good work, or highlight an aspect of the school.  Students felt really proud if they were asked by the administration to attend because of something they were contributing to the school.  Sometimes our staff would invite a group of students to come into the meeting to demonstrate something that was happening with our learning. Council went on a ‘field trip’ in the school and were able to travel to parts of the school they may have never seen.  Parents of young students were able to see the science lab, the application room or music room and realize the resources that were available to students in our school and would one day be used by their child as they aged into the program.  We were able to share some of our specialized programming we offered in our school so parents could see for themselves the care, support and learning that occurred for some of our high needs students.  It broke down barriers and answered questions that they may have had about some of the impressions they may have formed about sections of our student population.  Teams were celebrated, clubs were able to highlight extra curricular opportunities, the arts’ program were given an additional opportunity to perform after all their long hours of practice.  All great things.

And, the parents on council were reminded of the work we do at the school.  A gentle nudge about what our agendas should be about, how we are all working together to support students.  And maybe, some of the other talk would decrease in volume.

These events were always really proud moments for all and as an administrator another opportunity for you to reach out to your community to highlight the amazing work of your staff and the talents and skills of your students.

Try this interesting idea, start every parent meeting by having a presentation with students. It is a win-win-win situation.


School Mental Health

Interesting Ideas

A few years ago I was invited to speak at a meeting in Toronto for some financial auditors who were working in school systems across Canada.  Each of the provinces and territories were represented and when I asked what they would like to see presented they responded with Mental Health in the school.

They did not want to see policy, or documentation, instead they wanted to learn about a single school’s story and how we constructed a community to support our students. Since I could not bring them to the school I video taped and photographed aspects that contributed to our success as a caring, thoughtful, community focused and safe home for students.

We started our conversation by discussing the stigma that hangs over any conversation of mental health, and how when we use the phrase physical health we paint an entirely different picture in our minds. 

I shared some statistics that spoke of one in every five students struggling with mental health, but wanted to focus my discussion with them about five students of every five.  What are we doing for all students?

I had them picture a pyramid divided into three sections to illustrate the percentage of students at each of three levels. Section one at the base of the pyramid is the majority of the students, referred to as tier 1 with no mental health issues but having occasional upset.  The second tier of students, a lower percentage, had some mental health distress and the top of the pyramid, our students with mental health disorders requiring medical intervention.  With this in mind, I then wanted them to focus with me on the base of the pyramid.

To assist me with this presentation I used a marvellous resource; School Mental Health Assist and have included the link to a the pdf INFO SHEET.  It is their Overview of Mental Health and Well-Being at School.  I gave the participants of my presentation a ‘walk through’ of my school by utilizing the descriptors within the model.

The Aligned and Integration Model (AIM) for School Mental Health and Well Being is what I used to tell our school story and you should use it as well.

From the INFO PAGE: ‘The Aligned and Integrated Model (AIM) for School Mental Health and Well-Being brings together fundamental elements of Foundations for a Healthy School, within the framework of a multi-tiered system of support.  Educators can welcome, include, understand, promote, and partner to enhance the well-being of ALL students.  We can prevent risk, offer support, and bolster protective factors to build the well-being of students who are experiencing difficulty with their mental health. School and community mental health professionals can collaborate to intervene with the FEW students exhibiting significant mental health disorders’

Aligned and Integration Model (AIM)
Aligned and Integration Model (AIM)

Notice that between all the tiers the model uses the phrasing.

Foundation-School and classroom leadership

Notice-Early identification

Bridge-Mobilize board and community services.

Foundation is a key word, and it is truly here, where we as educators have the greatest amount of impact.  As a school leader I can work with our staff to focus our attention on the key aspects of tier one, moving to our need for ‘early identification’.  My talk was about mobilizing staff to focus their attention on these tier one key words. Readers of this blog will recognize the importance of these words in the previous content.

Using all of these key words within the AIM I then shared examples of what we were doing at a school level to ‘welcome’, ‘include’, ‘understand’ etc

If you are given an opportunity to share what you are doing at your school in order to support all the students during tough times, and particularly now as we return to a new normal, I highly recommend you use this resource.

Not only are you able to align the initiatives you are currently doing, you would be able to see if a gap exists and what areas you should place more of your time and attention.  On page two of the INFO SHEET there is a wonderful check list for some ideas on how you can achieve representation across all the key words at Tier 1.

Want to tell a great story about your school and don’t know where to begin?  Connect your good work with the Aligned and Integration Model (AIM) for School Mental Health and Well-Being.  

Of course it is not about presenting yourself and your school in the best way possible, it is about supporting students. 

The resources available from School Mental Health ASSIST which, ‘works alongside the Ontario Ministry of Education to support student mental health and well-Being in Ontario schools’ are must reads.  If you are not familiar with the resources please do yourself a favour and check them out.  If it has been awhile since you have reviewed them, re-introduce yourself to the marvellous materials that are available.  

Our students will not achieve, have a sense of well-being and positive mental health without the adults in their lives making this work a priority. Have a look.


Charities & Schools

Having a Process.

interesting ideas, light bulb to indicate a great idea

Interesting Ideas

I know and understand that it is extremely important for a school to be involved in the work of local charities.  The learning that students acquire by giving to others is a key part of any curriculum.  The positive feelings and acknowledgement you receive as a school for giving back cannot be measured, but is certainly felt when the school rallies around a great cause. 

A lot of organizations have committee members, volunteers and employees that create materials for schools in order to promote their charity.  Some of these are classroom activities, materials for the students or events that can be run to show school spirit and bring awareness of the need. 

As a school you may have particular causes that are near and dear to your heart because there is a direct connection to a child or family at your school.  With a large staff, it is difficult to find someone on staff that has not been impacted by an illness or event in their lives or to their loved ones or family.  By their very nature, those in education are very giving people.

For the purpose of this blog I am writing about fundraisers that involve the school where 100% of the donations are passed forward to the organization.  There are other school fundraisers where families participate in an event for the school, or purchase food, spirit wear clothing etc where the funds remain with the school or remain with the parent run School Council.

Early in my administration career I moved to a school as the Principal where there was a special event-fundraiser for charity each month.  Every month a notice would go home to parents from the school about how funds could be given to a particular organization for that month.  Therefore, in total, 10 different organizations were provided access to our community through our school.

Each event and every charity had a story.  It might have been a student from the past and the school continued to work with the organization.  I came to understand that over time it had grown to the point where every month was designated as a special event/charity month. I was provided with a calendar when I arrived.

As I was doing my entry plan into the school I did hear from parents, and staff about this.  It was almost a ‘undiscussable’ as most people were uncomfortable bringing it up and not wanting to look uncaring.  They did want me to hear their concerns and had some difficulty finding the right words.

The loudest voices I heard were from the parents.  They felt pressure because it was supported and run through the school and they wanted to assist because their children were watching and listening to the attention that was given each month.  Many families spoke about how they have their own charitable donation plan as a family.  They were good people who wanted to assist, and were in a position where they could, they just really felt uncomfortable with ‘so many from the school’.

I also heard from staff who felt the burden of promotion, collection and discussion each month.   Since many of the organizations had activities or events, they felt it was taking away from classroom instruction. They became tired during the year, as one event ended and another was about to begin.  Staff that had been at the school the longest were the ones that were looking for change.

The fundraising initiatives were strongest at the beginning of the year and by the end of the year the total dollars collected showed a noticeable drop.

I heard from others that were proud of the school’s reputation of caring so deeply for those that required support.  Some felt it was the essence of the school.

So, how do you still participate in such a valuable endeavour?  How can you show your community that you understand there is a responsibility to the community and our student’s learning?  How do we model to the students that we are here to ‘make a difference’ by giving to others when we are in the position to do so?  

And, at the same time (the power of ‘and’) not step over the line when it simply becomes too much.

It was a hard task to pull back on those habits and traditions that had become established.  You can probably imagine the investment in some of the events, the connection to some of the organizations and how difficult those conversations became when in the second year we cut the number of school charitable events in half.  We shared with families our plan, still encouraged families to participate as a family as they wished, however, using the rationale of classroom time and connection to our school at the current time, we would be moving forward with this new plan for the year.

When I moved on and had the opportunity to open a new school I was not going to have a repeat of this.  As I have discussed in previous blogs, it was the use of our school mantra, “Work Hard, Be Nice, Make a Difference’ that provided us with the rationale, and purpose behind our decisions.

We were only going to do three.  If the School Council wanted to organize an event for charity they were welcomed to do this, as it was their initiative.  In my time at the school, our council only did events to supplement the finances of the school.  The school itself, however was only going to do three in a year and they were going to connect directly to our mantra.

And the three we were going to do would be done in a spectacular fashion.  We involved the entire community, and all classrooms because they were special events done one each term.

The three events were organized as this:

One event that was connected to the mantra section, ‘Work Hard’.

One that was ‘Be Nice’ and a third, ‘Make a Difference’.

It is easy to see how our partners in the charitable organizations could work with these descriptors and as a school it was another way for us to connect with students and families the importance of the wording in our mantra.

For example, the first major event in the year was right near the beginning and was done under the description of ‘Work Hard’.  In my time at the school this event has been the Terry Fox Run/Walk for cancer research.  Students learned all about Terry’s story through the additional lens of ‘Work Hard’. As an entire school event we were able to incorporate assemblies, classroom lessons and incentives while students new to us learned about the importance of working hard.  Senior students were partnered with our youngest students and our entire community was able to witness our students dressed in their red and white to bring awareness to this cause.

Senior Students Participating in our Terry Fox Event with Little Buddies

We would have another event in the middle of the year targeting a different charity tied to our mantra piece of ‘Be Nice’ and a third and final one at the end of the year to ‘make a difference’.

In my final year at the school:

Work Hard…Terry Fox Run/Walk for Cancer Research, 

Be Nice … the Halton Learning Foundation to support students and families in our own community, and

Make a Difference, Jump Rope for Heart for the Ontario Heart and Stroke Foundation

Each year we would have what is called a School Directions Meeting to review with staff the three events we held and what should/could be done for the following year. 

We felt this meeting process was transparent and it was open to all staff.  We invited all staff to attend and share their ideas.  As the meeting was advertised well in advance staff knew they were coming to participate in a process to select our three events for the following year.  Staff were able to participate in a facilitated discussion and the problem solving and selecting that would need to occur in order for us to come down to our final three.  This was an opportunity for me to share with staff how to facilitate this kind of discussion where a decision was needed to be made while valuing differing view points. Every year we had changes and over the course of the time the school has been in operation a wide variety of charitable organizations have been supported by staff, students and families.

This process also allowed us to have something in place when an idea or need was brought to us in the middle of the year.  Also as new staff members were hired, they brought ideas from previous schools and wanted to get something up and running in their new location.  We were able to describe our School Directions Meeting and that a process was in place.  Remember, process is your friend!

If a community member suggested a charity event, or donation activity for the school we were able to provide the same explanation and offer them the opportunity to provide us with materials to be shared.  Or, they could approach the School Council at a regular meeting to share.

If a cold call came into the office from the hard working people that work with local charities we were able to provide them with an answer right away and the process to provide them hope that the answer of yes may come in the future.  Many organizations appreciated our honesty and transparency and congratulated us on having something connected to our school mantra that made sense. 

Connecting your school, staff, students and families to charitable organizations by holding school events is a great way to showcase your school and illustrate to students that we live in a time when those that are able should assist those in need.  The individual stories of the families in your community are varied. Striking a balance is a difficult task.

Here is another ‘Interesting Idea’ of how you can use your school mantra to assist you with your communication and decision making in this area.


Starting a Movement

Interesting Ideas

I wanted to do something slightly different this week in my blog.  I want to promote a book and illustrate how this books aligns with the important work we did at our school in regards to building and maintaining our positive school culture for staff, students and families.

The book is Starting a Movement: Building Culture From The Inside Out in Professional Learning Communities by Kenneth C. Williams and Tom Hierck.  It was published in 2015 by Solution Tree Press and I highly recommend it to the readers of this blog.

The book delivers on its promise, printed on the back cover,

“Educators will:

  • Learn to express, clarify, and align their beliefs so that they are meaningful to teachers, staff, and other stakeholders
  • Create maximum buy-in among all members of the school community
  • Use the authors’ authentic alignment model to help keep their actions aligned to their schools’ mission and vision
  • Reinforce the researched, results proven PLC within their school culture”

It is time for you to take a close look at your school’s mission statement.  If it is working for you and you feel that it is well established, then at least look at the benefits of working with staff, students and the community to develop a school mantra.  This book with help with this process.  Your leadership will receive a major positive boost by doing this important work with your school.  The outcome of this work will impact many aspects of your school culture.

Our school started in September of 2015 and the book was published the same year.  I did not have a copy of the book prior to the school opening so it is after the fact that I noticed the connections. 

Prior to the school opening I had already used the saying “Work Hard, Be Nice, Make a Difference’ at other schools where I had been the principal.  Those other schools had a mission statement, created before my arrival.  So like many of you, I inherited a mission statement. There is an interesting discussion in the book about existing school mission statements and if they are known, utilized, understood or believed.  This particular section of the book will allow you to have a really critical look at your school’s mission statement.  

I didn’t realize it at the time, but by adding that saying into those schools on top of the mission statement, I was doing something that the authors share as a really positive action.  And it is not just the saying itself, it is the process and the actions taken in order to develop the saying.  Most importantly it is what  you do with the saying once established.  Don’t allow it to simply be writing on the letterhead.

Now is the time to reexamine your mission statement and the authors provide a process for doing just that. 

Although I did not have a copy of the book, I feel I had something better in place prior to the school opening and that was the guidance and mentorship and friendship of one of the authors, Tom Hierck.  With Work Hard, Be Nice, Make a Difference established in my mind to share with staff I had long conversations with Tom about bringing something ready made or developing it with the staff in the first year of the school.  I was put in a tough spot in a sense because the school needed to exist on line, on paper and in communication with the community prior to the bricks and mortar being in place.  The school officially started without staff in a sense. The school also opened under teacher sanctions and I was not able to have access to the staff to do this planning work.  

The saying was discussed with staff, and the rationale provided.  I started to use the phrase when visiting the students that would become Boyne students.  From the first time I met students, they heard, ‘Work Hard, Be Nice, Make a Difference’.  At parent evenings prior to school construction, families were meeting me, learning about my vision and plans, and hearing, ‘Work Hard, Be Nice, Make a Difference’. In a presentation for prospective staff interested in beginning this new school journey with me, they heard, ‘Work Hard, Be Nice, Make a Difference’. 

In all honesty it would have been difficult if staff were not in agreement or if they wanted to develop something right from the start.  It would have been a hard conversation for someone to speak up and say we should have something new that I had not used before.  I believe I was open and transparent in that work, and have come to understand through their acceptance, adoption and love for our saying that they are happy with the results.  Students and families continue to comment positively as well.

So for this blog I will be sharing key quotes from an important chapter in the book and reflecting on the quote with practical, real life examples of the work in action.

I have been using the term ‘saying’ and ‘mission statement’ in the first part of this blog. In fact what we have according to the authors is a school mantra. ‘Work Hard, Be Nice and Make a Difference’ is not a mission statement but in fact a mantra based on our mission, vision, values and goals.  It is longer in length than Williams and Hierck would suggest for a mantra but I’ll get to that later.

I want to introduce you to Chapter 3 in the book, entitled Exploring: The Why

‘the Why, is the process of examining your fundamental purpose and core beliefs.  Your goal is to capture the essence of your school’s mission in a guiding mantra to help strengthen that mission’

Starting a Movement: Building Culture From The Inside Out in Professional Learning Communities by Kenneth C. Williams and Tom Hierck (p.55)

All the things we do at the school connect to our mantra.  Our commitments to each other come from these three statements.  Our classrooms begin the year by using Significant 72 (a previous blog) and developing with students how we are going to be a community by illustrating working hard, being nice and making a difference for ourselves and others.

Consider your existing school mission statement…

‘We propose taking one small and powerful additional step in this process: extract a non-negotiable ideal and distill it into a three to five work expression known as your guiding school mantra. Develop a mantra that captures the essence of your school’s mission in a concise and repeatable way.’

Starting a Movement: Building Culture From The Inside Out in Professional Learning Communities by Kenneth C. Williams and Tom Hierck (p.62)

So all this time I may have felt we had our school mission statement when in fact we had our school mantra. It is longer than the 3-5 word suggestion, however its simplicity makes it stick.  The three aspects of the mantra allow us to use each part separately and all together.  I still see it as concise and definitely repeatable.

‘Schools should identify the fundamental purpose, then use that purpose as the lens through which to guide decisions. We know it works for some schools, but often the outcome is a product; the mission statement.  We rarely see a unifying force that empowers educators to examine, clarify, and align every aspect of the school.’

Starting a Movement: Building Culture From The Inside Out in Professional Learning Communities by Kenneth C. Williams and Tom Hierck (p.56)

‘Because the typical mission statement rarely serves as a guide to inform your choices, behaviours, and decisions, it is, in essence, ‘fluff’. When you consider the time spent creating a mission statement versus the fact that its ideals seldom trickle down to the daily work of teachers and leaders, it’s easy to understand the cynicism that arises.’

Starting a Movement: Building Culture From The Inside Out in Professional Learning Communities by Kenneth C. Williams and Tom Hierck (p.58)

There are times when we need to support students and some of the choices they make.  We would use our mantra continually. Some students need a reminder conversation from staff about how we were going to work together and how the adults can support them with their lagging skills.  Their troubles began with a situation where they were not working hard or not being nice.  A conversation out of class or in the office area would start there.  They are removed from their peers in order to get support because they are not working hard or not being nice.  Now that we have that as a starting point, what are we going to do to go back to the situation and make a difference for yourself and others and how can we help you?

‘Yet in almost every instance when we ask staff members to identify agreed-on ideals around which the entire school rallies, to identify a non-negotiable idea that guides the daily work of their school, to state the agreed-on purpose that serves to both compass and guide for every important decision made on campus, we almost never see agreement on what that guide is’.

Starting a Movement: Building Culture From The Inside Out in Professional Learning Communities by Kenneth C. Williams and Tom Hierck (p.56-57)

‘the conversation turns to the school mission statement-the statement that everyone knows exists but no one can connect to the daily work of teaching, learning, and leading’

Starting a Movement: Building Culture From The Inside Out in Professional Learning Communities by Kenneth C. Williams and Tom Hierck (p.57)

‘The stated mission should permeate every aspect fo school life.  It should serve as your school’s rallying cry and ultimate litmus test to determine what is best for improved student learning; you should not view it as an opportunity for positive public relations that eventually fades into obscurity’

Starting a Movement: Building Culture From The Inside Out in Professional Learning Communities by Kenneth C. Williams and Tom Hierck (p.57)

Every classroom, and every student is involved in the process at the start of the year and then monthly check ins (Significant 72) about our commitments to each other.  Kindergarten students are able to share with staff what it looks like and sounds like to work hard and be nice.  During nutrition breaks when we are eating in our classrooms prior to going outside, grade eight students are able to share what this non instructional time looks like using ‘Work Hard, Be Nice, Make a Difference’.  Our School Council of parents are able to create their meeting norms using ‘Work Hard’ ‘Be Nice’, ‘Make a Difference’. In the gymnasium, students are able to articulate the mantra. 

An interesting aspect of the chapter comes later when Williams and Hierck offer a caution. They guide you and want you to avoid something they call ’t-shirting’. 

‘It means you place more emphasis on slogans for t-shirts, lanyards, coffee mugs, bumper stickers, and banners than on how your statements actually guide instructional and assessment practices and interventions.  In our experience, few can articulate how their statement explicitly manifests itself in daily work’

Starting a Movement: Building Culture From The Inside Out in Professional Learning Communities by Kenneth C. Williams and Tom Hierck (p.59)

To be honest we have t-shirts for staff, and the mantra is on the walls, but it is so much more than wallpaper.  Our interventions program named WIN (Whatever I Need) is driven by making a difference, it is in Significant 72 (previous blog), establishing our agreements (previous blog), in report cards learning skills(previous blog), in our graduation ceremony(previous blog), in Kindergarten celebrations, and in our fundraising initiatives.  An event does not occur, a report is not written without using the lens of our mantra. 

We got this!

‘Ideally, your mission statement would permeate everything you do at school – embedded in your school’s culture, committed to memory, modelled, and intrinsic to daily life’

Starting a Movement: Building Culture From The Inside Out in Professional Learning Communities by Kenneth C. Williams and Tom Hierck (p.62)

‘It can be a short, energy-infused statement around which your school organizes; it defines what you are and guides all internal decisions.  Further, it’s a powerful chant that everyone inside your school can instantly understand, recognize, and repeat-a constant reminder of what you can expect from each other.’

Starting a Movement: Building Culture From The Inside Out in Professional Learning Communities by Kenneth C. Williams and Tom Hierck (p.62)

At assemblies I would often begin the mantra and only have to say ‘Work Hard’ before the students would complete the phrase in unison.  We have yearly student and parent surveys and we are able to insert our own questions at the end in order to get specific data or feedback.  We have inserted the statement and asked participants in the survey to complete the phrase, ‘Work Hard, Be Nice, ….”  98% of our students completing the survey were able to answer correctly, our parent responses were not quite as high but still a large majority or our parent community were aware of our mantra.

Hopefully, I have been able to share with you the power of having a school mantra.  Not only the development process is important to the school culture, but the continuation of a positive school culture is predicated on having common expectations that everyone, like Williams and Hierck write, ‘instantly understand, recognize, and repeat-a constant reminder of what you can expect from each other’ (p. 62)

So I leave you with two thoughts.  The first, do your staff, students and community know your mission statement?  The authors make a terrific point,

“We often ask our workshop participants to share their schools’ mission statements from memory.  What follows is often a complete loss of eye contact, uncomfortable shifting in chairs, the sudden emergency cell phone call, the impromptu bathroom break, the nervous laughter-all clear signs that people don’t know’

Starting a Movement: Building Culture From The Inside Out in Professional Learning Communities by Kenneth C. Williams and Tom Hierck (p.57)

And finally, check out Starting a Movement: Building Culture From The Inside Out in Professional Learning Communities by Kenneth C. Williams and Tom Hierck. On page 65 look at ‘Creating Your Guiding School Mantra: The Tip of the Iceberg’ 

Do this exercise!

Re-culture if it is needed, rebrand with a mantra. It is so beneficial for students, staff, families and for your leadership.


Cell Phones at School

One School’s Story

Interesting Ideas

We had a problem with cell phones at our school!  

I want to share one school’s story on how we worked with students, staff and families to address the issue.  

I will start by saying we are an elementary school so our solutions are based on one thousand plus students in Kindergarten to grade 8. 

While walking in the hallway it was not uncommon to see someone walking with their head down and staring into a screen.  Or walking past a classroom and glancing inside to see someone in a group of students with their heads in their phones. Or off to the side of the room while everyone was working, on their own, on their phone.  And in all of these examples I am speaking about the adults in the building. Adults on their phones when working with/for students.  Not okay.

How we discussed this and solved this as a staff professionally and respectfully is going to be the topic of a future blog.  I’m sharing this as a bit of a tease because in this blog I want to share how we encouraged proper technology use by students in our school.

We were a BYOD school (Bring Your Own Device).  This was especially important in our first few years when our student population was high and our number of school owned devices was still low.  Senior students were invited to bring their own device to the school to use in their classrooms.  It was not a requirement.  We made sure families understood we always had technology available for student use.  We did not want students going home and saying they had to have technology for school!

Letting students use their own device did really help everyone at the beginning.  Everyone likes using their own devices for comfort and ease.  We know how to navigate our own tools and where we keep files and work.  We were confident that done properly, and with student voice and family input we could create a process that would work.  We wanted it to work, technology is an important tool and part of the learning process includes how students use technology effectively, properly and respectfully.

We followed all the board issued mandates with families about loss, theft and damage.  We gathered all the required paperwork and then started on our journey with students to formulate how this was all going to be operationalized.

Staff created schedules in order to share the technology we had on hand.  Most importantly the staff developed an understanding that the technology is a tool to be used by students when needed and really limited the amount of time where every child needed a device at the same time. We have moved way past a time when all students are using the same program at the same time, in the same way and instead allow students’ choice in how they demonstrate their learning. With a heavy emphasis on differentiated instruction and student choice, gone are the days when you would see the entire class in a computer lab or each child at a workstation.  Computers, and tablets are in the classroom available to students to use as needed.  Also available to students is their own device if required.  So how do we monitor the proper use of these powerful tools?

I can remember very early in my administration career, when cell phones were just becoming a thing you would see at school.  They were considered a distraction, a nuisance and we banned them.  We could not understand why any elementary student would need a phone at school if there were pay phones and office phones.

We now have a better understanding of the power of the devices in student hands.  It is not the cell phone itself that is the issue, it is what the cell phone is being used to do.  Parents provide or allow cell phones for their children for many reasons. It is important for our families to know that when at school the cell phone is being used in a responsible and respectful way. Cell phones are a wonderful tool that when used well, and used properly can and should be a learning tool that students learn to use appropriately. They are not going away.

Listening to student voice was always a key strategy in our school and how we were going to use technology in our school was another opportunity to hear from students.  Using our school motto of ‘Work Hard, Be Nice, Make a Difference’ we developed our agreements.  These were developed with our classes, shared with everyone and are reinforced with students multiple times in the year (Significant 72 opportunity).  You will see that students did come up with agreements around non-instructional time as well as instructional time. A copy of the poster that hangs in each room is shared with you here.

We noticed on line that schools could purchase locking mini cabinets that could be installed in classrooms so schools could secure cell phones when students entered a classroom. As an elementary school we went ‘low tech’ and purchased for each classroom a numbered pocket chart.  Students were assigned a number based on their class list and when students entered the room for their class period they were asked to place their cell phones in their corresponding pocket.  The pocket chart was hung in a safe area of the classroom, i.e., a corner behind the teacher’s desk.  There, the cell phone would remain until the end of class or until the teacher had a section of the lesson where students could use their own device.  One big issue this solved was that washroom visits, quick trips to the hallway or back to their lockers did not include checking in with their cell phone.  At the end of class the teachers would monitor the retrieval of the cell phones based on numbers, seat locations etc.

If they did not place a cell phone in the pocket chart it was because of one of three reasons

  1. They do not have a cell phone, or they did not bring it to school that day
  2. Their cell phone was not brought to class and instead is locked safely in their locker
  3. It is in their bag, or backpack in class and will not be seen or brought out during the class, they are planning on using the technology provided within the class

When teachers provided class time for student work that could involve the use of technology a ‘Tech Time’ poster was placed on the board at the front of the class and announced to the class.  At this point students could retrieve their cell phones and use them if they wished. A simple visual, you see the sign, it is okay to use the technology in the room including your own device.

We did not have any difficulties with this process.  Students were respectful of others’ property and I believe this was all because of the preliminary work and relationship building done by our staff before starting, during lessons and discussed fairly regularly.  As well, students were part of the process to develop the plan.

What did we do if the agreements were not followed?

If teachers saw a student breaking an agreement they would ask for the cell phone and keep it with them until the end of class.  At the end of class they would ask a colleague to assist them with any responsibilities they may have so they could have time with the student.  A conversation would take place putting the onus on the student to talk about the commitment and why the phone was taken.  After a conversation the student had their phone returned.

The expectations were reinforced during the conversation and it was shared that the next time would involve a learning exercise done on their free time.  Students were ask to write or assisted in writing, using the common expectations in order to explain what they had done, what they should have done and what they would do next time (simple three paragraphs).  Depending on the situation, the teacher would date this and keep it on file or decide to have the assignment taken home by the child and have it signed by a parent.  

The parent would be reading something written by their child about the expectations in the classroom.  It was not a formal letter or email from the teacher or school. Written from the child’s perspective, it showed understanding of the expectations and always received great support from the family.  

And finally, if necessary, if difficulties still remained the teacher would give the cell phone to me and I would place it in the school safe.  We asked the child to explain to their parent why this had to occur and I would return the cell phone once I was able to have a phone call or face to face meeting with the parent.  At the end of the day I would contact the families so they were aware we had their personal property in our school safe.  Often parents would drive to the school in order to pick up their child at the end of the day and this provided an opportunity for parent, child and myself to meet.  These conversations were easy to facilitate because the child knew the expectations.  They knew the order of the consequences, and had already done a parent letter. In six years at the school we did not have a child repeat the cell phone in the safe process.

Parents were appreciative because it was all carried out with respect and transparency.  We never shamed the child because we all wanted the same outcome.  We want our students to use the technology.  The parents and the school just want the technology used in the proper way. Students are not sneaking glances at their phone to do school research. 

Once parents found out how the child was using the phone in the school we were able to have a great conversation about the use of technology in schools.  The conversation often turned to why this elementary aged child had the phone to begin with and that the school did have the  ability to supply technology.

Over time we purchased enough technology for student use that the need to bring in their own device was not as necessary, and we remained a BYOD school.  Students still like to bring in their cell phones.  We are okay with that, because of the learning that is involved in creating our agreements as a community and we value the importance of understanding the proper use of technology while at school.  A key lesson even for the adults!


Teacher Evaluation=Leadership

Interesting Ideas

I wanted to write this week about the Teacher Performance Appraisal (TPA) process and share with a you a few Interesting Ideas as you make your way through your evaluations this year.  

No matter where you are located or what your process is for teacher evaluation in your district I imagine we share enough similarities that these Interesting Ideas should resonate with you.

Based on the size of your school and the cycle that is employed there could be years where you have many evaluations to carry out.  In my time there were extremely busy years and years where the cycle meant there were less.  Now, always being in large schools still meant that even quieter years still came with many teacher evaluations. It would be a shame if your teachers did not get the best from the process or from you during a year that there were many evaluations. 

While you may have countless evaluations to carry out, for the experienced teacher, they are going through the process once every 5 years in Ontario. Administrators transfer schools and teachers move schools, therefore it is most likely that the evaluations you will be doing this year are the only time you will conduct the evaluation process with those individual teachers. For that reason I always tried to put time and energy into the process regardless of the number I needed to carry out in a year.

In order to motivate me to do the best that I could do for my teachers, my self talk revolved around this need to do it well since the process is once every five year.  I wanted to give the evaluation my full attention and for the teacher create a supportive process that would strengthen their teaching and our relationship.

There is a document for you to consider. Supporting the Ontario Leadership Strategy: Principals Want to Know, Issue #19 from April of 2012. That particular issue was called Annual Learning Plans and Teacher Performance Appraisal. It is now dated in a sense, but contains lots of still relevant information on this topic.

What could be considered a managerial task by some, really is a leadership opportunity of us all. In the document a question is raised, ‘How can I augment the learning culture of my school by effectively engaging teachers in their Annual Learning Plans (ALP) and Teacher Performance Appraisal (TPA)?” 

What a great question.

The answer is provided in the section of the document titled ‘Five Tips for Success’

  1. Embed learning focused conversations in your daily interactions with teachers
  2. Collaborate with teachers
  3. Build coherence between ALP/TPA and other school, board and ministry initiatives and priorities
  4. Align professional learning and resources with teachers’ ALPs (a huge part of my previous blog)

And, finally the focus of this blog

5)   Use the TPA as a growth-oriented opportunity

Remember, for each teacher it is once every five years!

The TPA provides you with an opportunity to really dig deep, to ask important questions and provide the support requested from your teachers.  All along you have been having conversations, providing support, being in classrooms, and seeing teachers in action daily. The TPA process allows you to slow down (as much as an administrator can) and really bring value to the experience.  This formal process allows you to peel back some layers and go much deeper.

First off I go to the teachers’ classroom.  I go to their environment.  I don’t conduct the meetings in my office.  In their classroom is where they make the magic, it is where all their resources and materials are kept.  Comfort will be increased if I go to them.

I ask permission to review their professional resources on my time, not their time.  If they can leave a ‘resource section’ of a table or desk for me I can come and go and pick up a binder or notebook to look at on my own time, and not waste valuable discussion time flipping through their resources with them present.  I should be able to tell what is happening in practice when reviewing each resource!  Their parent communication binder, their short and long range plans, their connections to the curriculum, their assessment and evaluation binder, their occasional teacher resource binder etc, etc.  If I have questions, I place the question on a post it note and discuss it with the teacher when we are together.  I can take my time, look deeply at the work they are doing, and save them time by not having to explain what in many cases is self explanatory.

The same review process is used for online resources.  I ask permission for things to be shared with me so I can review and take notes during times when we are not together.

When we do get together we can have a targeted discussion about their annual learning plan, what I saw in their resources, the notes from my classroom observation and provide support and advice that is forward thinking feedback. Feed forward, not feed back!

The most important outcomes for our time together include acknowledging the great work they are doing; filling their bucket; discussing their goals; and asking how I can help. 

Now is an important time to clarify this is a completely different process if the teacher is struggling and may receive an unsatisfactory evaluation. I will say that if you are waiting for the formal TPA process in order to get into the classroom to coach, model, support and have difficult conversations about their commitment or performance then you are not doing what is expected of you. You cannot wait for those conversations, the students in those classes and the families of those students are trusting in you that a qualified dedicated professional is working each day.

The comments I have been making about the collaborative TPA process with administration and teacher is for the large percentage of our educators that are doing wonderful work.

The 5 domains in the Ontario Teacher Performance Appraisal come from the Ontario College of Teachers’ Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession.  The five domains are:

  • Commitment to Students and Student Learning
  • Professional Knowledge
  • Professional Practice
  • Leadership in Learning Communities and
  • Ongoing Professional Learning

After the formal classroom visit(s) I view our post observation discussion as having two areas of focus.  The first area of focus revolves around their view of the lesson, their comments, corrections, next steps etc as well as my impressions.  This conversation revolves around the first three domains listed above.  While viewing the teacher working with students in a classroom an administrator is able to find evidence of commitment to students and student learning, professional knowledge and practice.  Goal setting and next steps are generated based on this classroom aspect and as an administrator I provide my support for the growth of the teacher in this regard.

The second area of focus stems from the final two domains that cannot be gleaned from a classroom visit, but instead, require a rich conversation with lots of questions.  Leadership in Learning Communities and Ongoing Professional Learning are not seen during a classroom visit.  It is during this second part of the conversation that the relationship is strengthened, support is provided for areas identified, and you really get to know your staff members’ goals, dreams and wishes.  This conversation has been an important beginning conversation for those staff members that have left the classroom to move towards positions at a board, or system level and/or to move into the administration role.

The Ontario College of Teachers have many amazing resources and documents.  One in particular that has assisted me with these final two domains of the TPA process is the OCT Professional Learning Framework for the Teaching Profession June 2016.  In the middle of this resource is a placemat about the Conceptual Framework for Ongoing Professional Learning.  Using this placemat as the basis for our conversation, together we are able to see potential pathways for more learning.  Opportunities such as: Community and Social Justice Experiences, Professional Inquiry, Curriculum Design, Development and Assessment, Research and Scholarship provide a potential road map of considerations for your teachers.

The entire Teacher Performance Appraisal process is a tremendous opportunity for you to appreciate and acknowledge your teachers.  It is a chance to bucket fill and provide a document that they can magnet. on their refrigerator to share with loved ones.  

Five years!  They are deserving of positive comments that for a moment in time make all the hard work worthwhile.

Think of the conversations you can have. Think what you can learn about your staffs’ fabulous teaching practices.  Think about how you can motivate and appreciate.  Think about how you can influence. Think about how you can direct and give support.

It does take work on your part.  Yes, there are so many other things that need to be done with your time.  It is a necessary process, a management piece that can have a huge impact on your relationships and culture.  Take a deep breath, convince yourself that it is an important aspect that requires your best attention.  Done well, it provides so many benefits.

References (Placemat)

Ontario College of Teachers. (2006). The ethical standards for the teaching profession. Toronto, ON: Author. 

Ontario College of Teachers. (2006). The standards of practice for the teaching profession. Toronto, ON: Author. 

RRO 176/10. Teachers’ Qualifications Regulation of the Ontario College of Teachers Act

References (Supporting the Ontario Leadership Strategy)

Robinson, Viviane (2007). The impact of leadership on student  outcomes: Making sense of the evidence. Melbourne: Australian  Council for Educational Research  

Stronge, J. and P. Tucker (2003). Handbook on Teacher Evaluation:  Assessing and Improving Performance. Eye on Education  Publications  

© Queens Printer for Ontario, 2010 ISSN # 1923-9653 (Online)


Never Stop Being A Teacher

Interesting Ideas

This week I wanted to share with you some resource ideas and a simple point for you to consider that will assist you with your work building climate and culture in your school.  It is a leadership move that will aid your teachers, benefit your students and give you a huge pat on the back for a job well done.

Never stop being a teacher.  It sounds simple enough, however we can often get swallowed up by the management aspects of the administrator role and lose touch with our past.  And in the past you were a great teacher.  Not all great teachers become administrators, but all administrators are/were great teachers.

It is really satisfying as a leader to see your influence find its way into the classroom.  No longer being a teacher in the classroom is one of the most difficult aspects to give up when moving into an administrator role, but it doesn’t have to be.  It is still a wonderful feeling to know you never stop being a teacher and you can continue to grow and develop your staff long after you have left the classroom.

I am not speaking about interacting with students.  It is obvious that we continue to get into classrooms, support students, read with them, participate in their group work and get down on the carpet with our youngest learners.  I am writing this week about being a teacher to staff.

Every opportunity I had to work with staff during staff meetings, learning meetings, divisional meetings, professional activity days etc I made sure I was modelling activities that can be used in the classroom by the teachers with their students.  Each piece of content that needed to be shared, presented or read I would attach the ‘product’ or outcome of the content with a ‘process’ or teaching strategy to interact with the content.

Any time you have your staff in front of you it is an opportunity for you to model an activity while you present the content.  I would name the activity or process, I would write it on a poster or in a digital presentation and have the staff acquire the needed information by activating and applying a process.  My agenda for the meetings would always include two columns, one column for the content and one column for the activity or process I was going to share.  

There are many famous facilitation techniques such as ‘think, pair share’, ‘3A’s plus 1’ ‘Just Like Me’, ‘3,2,1’ but many more out there that can be used with your staff so they are getting the content of the meeting and also a collaborative activity that they can use with their students.  I also find time at the end of the activity to have staff turn and talk with others about how they would use the strategy, how they would adapt it for the age and stage of their children and in which content areas.  Could they give an example of how they will use the strategy in the coming days?

As a leader, it is incredibly gratifying to find evidence of the activity done at a meeting in a classroom with students later in the week.  Or having staff share with you, ‘hey, I used that strategy you showed us on Monday with my students today’

While teaching the principal qualification course I make sure I deliver the content in a variety of ways and each time we have a grouping activity I share with the candidates a process or protocol while interacting with the content.  When the activity is done we speak about where you would use the process in the future and they begin to understand that this modelling is important with staff, during parent council meetings, learning days etc.  

Never, ever miss the opportunity to share great instructional practices when you are learning with your staff.  It pays huge dividends when you inject some life into your meetings with effective, interactive learning strategies that can be taken away and used with students.

You can find lots of great resources on group activities in categories such as:  Activities for Getting Started, Activities for Information Processing, Activities for Generating Ideas, Strategies for Dialogue and Discussion  I have found the work of Bruce Wellman, Laura Lipton, to be very helpful with lots of ideas, activities and protocols to use.  A book that has caught my attention and has many ideas for facilitating is Crafting Your Message: Tips and Tricks for Educators to Deliver Perfect Presentations by Tammy Heflebower with Jan K. Hoegh.  It is available through Solution Tree.  Send me a message if you need any assistance locating the resource.

As always I love hearing from you when you have taken one of my “Interesting Ideas” and made it your own.  I’m honoured that you continue to read, use some of the ideas and then let me know.  Keep the messages coming.


Support Your Staff

Interesting Ideas

Administrators, you are presented with an opportunity each year to make a profound impact on your staff and school climate. Why not utilize something that is a must do task and turn it into a school culture accelerator?

As part of the Teacher Performance Appraisal process teachers are asked to set goals using a document named the Annual Learning Plan (ALP).  I imagine in many districts some form of goal setting is done with, done to or done by teachers in order to move forward in their professional development.

What an amazing opportunity to assist your teachers, lead by influencing and move staff toward the desired practices and learning that connect with the school and the system goals. Do you use this opportunity or is it a ‘task’ that gets little attention?

And, yes, while the ALP is a teacher document and they drive the decision about what their learning goals are going to be for the year, there are some steps you can do as a leader to improve this process for your teachers and most importantly improve the conditions for your learners in the building.  As a leader you do have a role.

Start by being really honest with yourself about this aspect.  What does this annual expectation look like in your school?  What is the buy in by staff?  Do you see high quality, stretch goals by your teachers?  Do teachers put thought and effort into this process or is it just ‘get it done’? Do they recycle the same goal year after year because no one ever discusses it with them? Do you read their goals at all? And if you see them what do you do with them?

Effective Schools researcher Kyla Wahlstrom (2010) has stated that there are three high powered practices that really assist leaders in their buildings.   These are the ‘difference makers’.  

  1. “ focusing the school on goals and expectations for student achievement”
  2. “ creating structures and opportunities for teachers to collaborate”

And the big one in relation to this blog

3. “keeping track of teachers’ professional development needs”

So once again, ask yourself do you know the pd needs of your teachers?  Do the needs you identify come from them or put upon them?

The buy-in for any goal is critical. It is really difficult to accomplish someone else’s goal, or a goal that is suggested to you during a performance review.  Even if it is good for us.  But a goal created by the practitioner themselves is a really successful start.  ‘If you can name it, you can tame it!”  How do you get your staff to start to goal set in areas of need or in relation to school and district goals?

It starts with you investing in their goals.

There is such a strong connection between leading and learning.  My leadership stance has always been that am going to support our people to the best of my ability in the attainment of their described learning needs.  News travels fast. And when teachers know that you are supportive and involved, the quality of the goals and the involvement of the teachers escalates.  

The Ontario Leadership Framework defines leadership as “the exercise of influence on organizational members and diverse stakeholders toward the identification and achievement of the organization’s vision and goals.”  A goal setting process involving both the administrator and the teacher checks off so many ‘boxes’ within the leadership framework.  Working with the teacher on their self created goal is all about ‘setting directions’, ‘building relationships and developing people’, ‘developing the organization to support desired practices’, ‘improving the instructional program’ and ‘securing accountability’.  Working alongside your teachers, supporting them in the achievement of their goals is a high leverage leadership practice.

On-going learning is so important.  Our very best teachers, every year, find ‘something’ that they want to add to their program or their practice.  They are constantly refining what they do and how they do it.  I want staff that work hard at being effective and investing in themselves in order to support the students that are continuing to change and develop.  We need our teachers asking, ‘What do I need to learn?’ And then set goals that lead them on a journey of improvement.

Here is what I did…

I made the whole process very transparent.  Those that have been with me in the past know that this is coming and each year new staff are introduced to the process.  Their goal setting document, the Annual Learning Plan is due each year by October 30th.  Once they are collected I go through each one and create a large master document indicating the goals for every one of my teachers on staff. The document has their name with a brief description of their goal.  I share with the staff during a learning session a photo of the document with names crossed out or get the permission of a few staff to share a section of the document with everyone so they can see it exists.  It looks something like this…

Since our goal setting document is done electronically, it is easy for me to go in one at a time and copy and paste their goal beside their name.  I highlight any key initiatives such as collaborative problem solving, math instruction, inquiry, technology, communication with families, documentation etc and look for common themes.  Remember these are goals our staff have selected.  Yes, some have required a conversation.  Ultimately I understand that it is their goal and the collective agreement with the teachers’ union indicates the goal cannot be given to them.  A self created goal based on the professional judgement of the teacher is the intent of this process.  However, that does not mean there cannot be a supportive conversation. I will share with you that without a doubt, the quality of the goals improve when there is a history of involvement, interest and support from the administration.   

With the goals on a master page, it is displayed prominently on the bulletin board in my office. You can begin to look for partnership opportunities.  You can look for book study opportunities.  You can look for professional activity day content, staff meeting learning content etc. When resources came into the school I can check the list and make sure those that are interested in the content are exposed to the opportunity.  When our school board asks for a representative to learn at a session in a train the trainer model in order to come back and share resources and/or practices with others. I know who to ask.  When I am fortunate to receive a new resource through a conference or workshop, after I am finished with it I know who to give it to.  After reading a professional journal or article I know who to share the information with.

In a previous blog I wrote about staff meetings becoming staff learning sessions and this process will allow you to group staff in order to share their learning goals.  What a wonderful opportunity for the leaders on your staff to assist those that are looking to increase their knowledge.  A definite win/win for both the giver and the receiver.

And a big one, it answers the question, ‘why did so and so get to go to, or do that, or get that?’.  They were selected because it is part of their professional growth goals for the year.

I guarantee the quality of the goal setting you will see in your building will improve when you make public your process of reviewing and supporting their goals.  Better goal setting leads to better learning by the adults and stronger connections on staff.  And I don’t have to tell you, this creates a better learning experience for your students.  Many of my blogs discuss school culture and climate.  Consider what this investment of your time, because yes, it takes time, demonstrates to the adults working in the building about what we stand for and what we believe in.  I believe in them, and will support them to become better.

As an administrator I am accustom to looking at others and saying, ‘How can I help?’  This is your opportunity to take something that already exists and invest in your staff.  This is your opportunity to make sure your building is a place of learning for both students and staff. This is your opportunity to bring to the forefront the desired practices and resources you would like to see being used.  This is your opportunity to guide your staff to the most current, relevant and responsive resources.  This is your opportunity to show your love for your people by having their goals acknowledged, supported and accomplished!


Build School Culture With Reporting – Learning Skills

Interesting Ideas

While reading and signing hundreds of reports cards is not always the most pleasurable task for an administrator, reading excellent report cards can and will restore your faith in what happens when excellent educators work their magic with students and families.

I remember spending time in Australia and seeing an elementary report card.  The entire first page was a photograph of the child and organizational information like age, grade, teacher name and school.  On the back side of this first page was a section on work habits and goal setting, prior to page three and four which had all the subject grades and comments.  I always felt this was such a great way to highlight the student, emphasize them as an individual and illustrate to families and the child the importance of their work habits and life skills before showing grades in subject areas.

In Ontario we call this work habits section of the report card “learning skills” and it is also prominently displayed front and centre.  It is a great opportunity for thoughtful, talented educators to illustrate they care for and understand the child and think of them as a unique individual with talents and skills that are noticed and appreciated.  As a leader, emphasizing the importance of assessing and commenting on learning skills will aid in your desire to build and maintain a wonderful school climate.

Assessment is provided in six different learning skills on the report: responsibility, organization, independent work, collaboration, initiative and self regulation.  These six areas of development are so key to student learning that they are placed at the beginning of the report in order to be read first and understood prior to looking at subject grades and comments.  It is not uncommon to hear families say, it is the only section of the report card they truly read and discuss with their child.

Learning skills and work habits are not included in subject grades unless there is a clear link to the achievement of curriculum expectations.  Achievement in subject content areas is based on the knowledge/skills categories and could be the topic of an entire blog as its own discussion.  Let’s just say I am old enough to remember having items such as organization, and responsibility included in my grades and as a teacher including marks for behaviours and skills unrelated to subject content.  I am so glad we now see the error in our ways and keep these two aspects of evaluation separated and discussed on their own as unique important sources of information.

One way to think of the evaluation of learning skills is to consider they are always work in progress.  We have a responsibility as educators to assess and assist!  Since these are life long skills, we should be constantly goal setting with students, helping them develop these traits in order to have full and productive lives.  Therefore we are assessing for and as learning based on the age and stage of the child.  Learning skills should never be consider assessment of learning.  It is never summative.  This work is never done.

If we are going to elevate the importance of these learning skills then students should receive explicit instruction and feedback about these skills.  Students should be involved in co-creating success criteria for each of these learning skills to know exactly what they mean and how they can recognize success for themselves in relation to these skills.  It all starts as a teacher’s responsibility to instruct and assess these skills, and to provide opportunities for students to demonstrate these skills in a context where students understand what is being assessed.  The criteria can be updated and revised into student friendly language as children are given tasks where peer and self assessment are utilized.  Continually working towards self assessment would be an important target in all classrooms.

It is essential to have both process and product assessment during classroom time.  While assessing a subject specific expectation integrate one or more of the learning skills into the assessment.  At the end of the assignment or task, students should receive feedback on both the subject expectations as well as the learning skills on the same rubric or assessment tool.

Setting and monitoring goals within these learning skills is therefore a key role for the teacher. Illustrating to students how this is done is an important focus during teaching and while conferencing with students.  There are numerous ways to create learning skill data for students to use: peer assessment, self assessment, rubrics, teacher observations, checklists, conferencing, descriptive feedback, rating scales (smiley faces)

There is great research on the importance of goal setting for students.  Setting personal goals and monitoring these goals while receiving feedback help students gain a greater understanding of who they are as a learner.  And isn’t that what is is all about?

As far as how the learning skills are written within the report, we have from the Growing Success Document

Teachers should strive to use language that parents will understand and should avoid language that simply repeats the wordings of the curriculum or the achievement chart. The comments should describe in overall terms what students know and can do and should provide parents with personalized, clear, precise, and meaningful feedback. 

~ Growing Success, p. 64

At our school we asked our staff to incorporate ‘Boyne’ language with specific examples of how and when the child demonstrate these skills.  Our school mantra was, “work hard, be nice, make a difference.”  Our staff were asked to connect this wording with the learning skills and make connections on how the child is illustrating our key school beliefs when they, for instance, ‘work hard’ on their organization, with an example that is unique to them.  It is easy to see how the six learning skills fit into our school mantra.  It was lovely to read about and hear parent’s comment about how their child was ‘making a difference’ through their behaviours in school.  

Does your school motto/mantra fit into your assessment of work habits or learning skills?  Build your school culture by including aspects of your mission and vision within your assessment comments.

We asked staff to make sure the comments were individualized with specific evidence.  Therefore the child could speak to the work being referenced or the family may be familiar with the task.  We want the use of the child’s name!  The comments should vary from student to student as they are all unique individuals and this is one part of the report card where that is abundantly clear.  Here is an opportunity to really show the family that you recognize their child as a unique individual with their own talents, needs and attributes.  It would drive me mad when I saw repeated comments used for numerous children in this section of the report.  Yes, a template is beneficial when you are writing numerous reports, but the goals, the activities, the examples and student voice in each must be differentiated.

It goes without saying that it is going to be written using asset language, positively phrased for all students highlighting what they can do, and not what they are not able to do (YET!).  There will be an opportunity to highlight goals for the remainder of the school year and this should be done in a positive, and confident of success manner.

Learning skills provide an excellent showcase for student voice.  And, if student voice is one of your hallmarks in your school,  you say you are going to incorporate student voice, what better place to show this than in the assessment of learning skills? Considering the age and stage of the learners, student voice should be included in the learning skills.  Use quotation marks and have the exact words of the child sharing with their families what they are working towards for the next term.  Making our goals public not only increase our chances of success because they are known, it also provides the opportunity for others to get involved in helping us. (there you go, parent involvement!)

Even if you don’t include direct quotes from the student’s voice in regards to their goals, the making of an action plan is an important growth opportunity and having a student work on it in collaboration with the teacher is another wonderful opportunity to strengthen this important relationship.  Students should be assisted with identifying their own strengths and needs as a learner and how to select the strategies that will assist them.  Throughout the term there should be opportunities for monitoring and discussion.  All of this process can be captured in the learning skills comments and/or shared with families during conferencing.

A comment could be as clear as:  (name) has identified an important goal in the area of independent work, she stated, ‘…….’  This is a wonderful goal for (name) and she will be supported with….in order to reach her goals

The next steps within the learning skills comment can focus on the child’s goals for next term, the teacher’s professional judgment on what is required for future success but must focus on the concept that learning skills are not an after thought, they are continually taught and students are provided with lots of opportunities to know and understand them. Therefore next steps indicate to families that there will be continued attention given to the development of learning skills, and the strategies that will be taught, practiced, and monitored 

So much time is invested in the creation, development, and writing of report cards. Work with your staff to create a document that every one can be proud of, that further supports your school messaging but most importantly a document that will truly benefit your students and their families.


Your School Leadership Team

Interesting Ideas

Who are your leaders?  Who do you ask to assist?  Whose opinion do you want?

One of the topics that often comes up in conversation during principal training is the formation of a leadership team.  People will ask me how I chose the adults that are going to be on an equity lead team, or the math team, or the school effectiveness team, etc.  I’ve heard stories of good people being passed over and then holding a grudge that others were selected ahead of them. They are uncertain of the criteria, and they were never provided with an explanation.

This activity of finding the people to lead and discuss key initiatives at the school is vitally important, because it sends a message to the staff on who is valued. It is imperative that it is done well because you want the right people helping with decisions without causing insult to others.  There is that common analogy that in a school you want the right people on the bus and in reality you want the right people in the right seats on the bus.  

How do new people get an opportunity if roles are historically taken by veteran staff?  What about new people coming to your school from other locations?  What if you do not have the luxury of a large staff and as a smaller school you have the same people always doing the same leadership roles and they are not appropriate or become burned out?

I once had an experienced principal share with a group their leadership team structure.  It was an elementary setting with three key initiatives or pillars in the school (let’s list them as equity/well being, mathematics, literacy).  The principal selected one representative from Kindergarten, one from the primary division, another from junior and finally one staff to represent the intermediates.  As a cross classification chart this would be 12 individuals as a leadership team, responsible to inform others on their team about the work that is being done in these areas. (a different kindergarten staff member in each of equity/well being, mathematics, literacy). How do you pick?  Who are your favourites? Why them and not others?  How do staff now see these educators?  Do you want those that ‘have it’ or those that are going to ‘learn it’?  Isn’t it all about implementation? These decisions have a huge impact on your staff climate and culture. 

My solution was a structure we called School Directions.  It was based on sharing leadership and utilizing the power of the talents in the whole school not in a selected group of individuals. Your staff is filled with many different talents, skills and abilities and the opinions of many need to be shared, welcomed and acknowledged.  Some of your best solutions are found within those that must be invited to share.  Give them this opportunity.

On a fairly regular basis we would have a School Directions meeting.  One Topic-One Hour.  Advertised well in advance, everyone is invited and attendance is based on interest.  

You are planning your professional activity day for the following week, school directions.  

You are planning your assembly for the last day before a holiday, school directions.  

You are sharing your school budget and how it has been allocated, school directions.  

You are sharing new guidelines for the staff in regards to websites, school directions.

You are purchasing math manipulative for a shared cupboard of resources, school directions.

When staff arrive for the meeting, thank them for their time and introduce the topic in more detail.  Attendance is based on interest and it was not uncommon for me to find people in the school in the days before and ask them if they were going to attend.  Depending on the topic there are certain people that I want at the meeting.  Asking them if they plan to attend or suggesting to them that I would love to see them is very different from selecting them to drive the decision or that they represent the entire division or section of the school.  I suggested to many of our aspiring leaders that they should attend the meeting in order to participate in the conversation but also so I could model the running of such a meeting. So yes, behind the scenes I did try to get some key contributors to attend.

School directions was an opportunity for me to listen.  Staff need to know right at the start if they are the decision makers (content in the assembly) or they are consulting (budget allocation) because some topics are not part of their accountability.  However, I want them informed.  If people come to the meeting believing the decisions have already been made and it is not a good use of their time, they will not attend, or worse your leadership will be questioned because you are just giving the appearance of collaboration, when in fact nothing is going to change.  You need to be up front, how much of the decision making process do the staff control?  Explain what will happen after the meeting, provide the rationale.  It was not uncommon to hear me say, ‘I am going to take everything I hear tonight and come back with a decision about the direction we will go.  I need you to help me see things that I do not, or share with me aspects that I may be unaware of and you can shine some light.  But today, you are in a consultative role not a decision making role’.  

Besides providing the background information for the meeting it is important to create together, and review often, the norms and expectations.  Just because we are all in education and work with students we cannot assume that simply putting adults together in a space to share important information or make a decision that everyone is going to get along.  You may need to develop strategies about raising hands, having a ‘talking stick etc.  Always finish with next steps.  WWWH-Who is going to do What When and How.

In the book Radical Candor, Kim Scott shares the strategies of loud and quiet listening.  I really found the concept of ‘loud listening ‘ to be helpful in school directions meetings at the beginning of our hour together.  To be a loud listener is to state ‘a point of view strongly’, ‘it also prevents people from wasting a lot of time trying to figure out what the boss thinks’.  Therefore a sentence starter could be, ‘I’m thinking of (doing this) because…” And then ask for views, counter arguments and other pieces of information that will help with the decision.  If you are open and transparent at the start, respectful of people’s view, you will receive high quality conversation because staff feel safe with you.   But you are ‘on’ because the moment you turn on someone’s idea or allow poor group dynamics the work you are doing to foster this collaborative culture will be ruined.

Big idea.  I did School Directions meetings as much for the modelling and watching of the adult dynamics in the school.  It gave me a very interesting perspective on staff personalities.  It helps build leadership, and forges positive interactions while discussing tough issues.  There is a process and the product in every School Directions meeting.  You must give as much attention and thought to the process (the people) as you do the product (outcome)

We have to trust in our staff that they have a vision of how they want the school to be for the students and the adults that call it home.  Their perspective matters and it gives you an intimate look at where some of them are coming from.  Don’t close yourself off and only welcome the thoughts of a few chosen ones.  This allows you to see the leadership potential in others, because as leaders they will need to learn to work with adults.  You will see your staff interacting with students quite a bit, and  you will see your staff being collegial with each other.  Watching your staff doing the harder work of collaboration is so important to school culture.  I believe our best teachers with students may not be the best leaders of adults.  One hundred percent I believe our best leaders are wonderful with students and staff.  

Find your leaders, cultivate and grow their ability to work with the adults as well as the children.  New administrators say to me all the time that they had no idea when they started in administration that so much of their time would be taken by the adults in and out of the building.  They knew they would be working with and for students, the percentage of time with staff and families, a surprise.

At a school directions meeting I am going to make my thinking visible so staff can see that I am focused and determined to get the best results by utilizing the strengths of the people in the building.  I am showing I am open and transparent as much as I can be.  And I am going to be honest on the decisions that sit completely with me and share as much of the decision making as I can.  It builds leadership in others to see how this is done, managed etc and it is transparent, inclusive and empowers staff to be part of the professional learning community and not just a select few.

What direction are you going to take with you staff?


Getting Things Done

Interesting Ideas

I wanted to share with you training that I have received that made a profound difference in both my personal and professional life.  I truly wish I had done this training much earlier in my career.  

We all want more hours in the day.  I think back to how inefficient I was at the beginning of my leadership journey and all the time and energy spent on just keeping myself organized.  I thought I had a good ‘system’ in place but every once in awhile I would miss deadlines, or miss opportunities for myself or my school.  The stress created by the volume of the work can, at times, be overwhelming. 

Getting Things Done (GTD) is training provided by Crucial Learning (formerly Vital Smarts).  I have provided the link to Getting Things Done at the end of this blog so you can investigate it more thoroughly.

In order to be transparent I will share that I am a licensed trainer with Crucial Learning and GTD is one of the programs that I can provide for individuals, teams and organizations.  I have trained countless individuals in the beauty of GTD in both virtual and face to face training sessions. It is training that has had a huge impact on me and feedback from participants has indicated to me it is a game changer.  I would not train with Crucial Learning if I did not believe in its benefits to others.  I welcome any inquiries about how we can get you and your team trained in this career changing, life changing program.

It is based on the New York Times bestseller, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen.

For most of us we don’t need more things to do. The training is not about addition.  It is not about getting more things done, it is about efficiency and how to properly engage with the items that do take your time and create time pressure stress.  You will learn to work more effectively with all the inputs that come to you and not miss important items.  The training will free up your mind to allow it to do what it does best, be creative, problem solve, work on relationships, plan and dream. Your thoughts will be clearer when not trying to remember what needs to be done and therefore, decrease the stress of trying to continually keep your commitments straight.  A common training phrase is, ‘get it out of your head and into a trusted system” And the gold standard phrase that summarizes the training nicely is, ‘your mind is for having ideas not holding them.”

Want to get your inbox to zero? GTD

Do you use your calendar effectively? Does it contain the right items?   GTD

How many of your next steps rely on someone else to do something first before you can proceed? GTD

How many times do you realize that a situation came back and blew up because it was not handled well when first seen or heard?  GTD.  Learn to give items attention when they first show up so you don’t have to give way more attention to it later, when it blows up.

We all have our way of doing things, and some of these skills you may already be doing.   Guaranteed, you will learn additional tactics and the science behind why you should be changing some of your organizational habits.  You could have the best tools, applications and programs, but if not used well, they are just bright shiny objects and toys.  It is about the habits not the calendar, app or organizational tool.  Change your habits, change your behaviour, you don’t need a more sophisticated system. 

The best part of the training is that you are shown these new behaviours using your own life, and your current organizational system.  You are not working with a fictionalized individual. You use your calendar, your phone, your computer, and your own to do lists to learn important skills.  You are your own content.  It is training where I want to see people on their phones and on their devices!  You will walk away with your schedules, emails, lists and commitments on the path to a structure and clear organization that works for you and the skills to maintain it.

In the feedback I have received from graduates of the course they have identified some new key behaviours in their routine that have been the biggest blessing for them.  Learn more about these ideas.  

They include:

– Calendar first, then email in the morning. It is a way to avoid the newest and loudest because our tendency is to have something new arrive and make it our priority.

– Determine what items mean to you when they first arrive. We can only do 6 different things with the inputs that bombard us each moment of each day.  We can: File, Incubate, Trash, Delegate, Do Now, Do Soon

  • Set up a proper inbox (physical and electronic)

– Unsubscribe from unnecessary emails as soon as they are seen

– The 2 minute efficiency rule.  It takes less than 2 minutes to do, less time than to write it down or worse, try to remember to do it.

– Not one, large, unruly to do list.  Instead to do lists are organized by context. 

– Continuing to go through my email and make those decisions in the moment whether to unsubscribe, trash, or file. Commit to not reflag emails as unread.  

– A weekly review.  A scheduled meeting with myself to look forward to the next week and to go back and look at the week that just past.  Review your lists, clean up your lists, make sure nothing is dropped. 

And to conclude,

In my feedback method I invite participants to create an advertising blurb based on their experiences and ask permission to use their name within the organization.  My past participants are my best influencers for others in the organization.  Since this blog is going outside our internal organization I have removed the names. These are eight of my most current comments received and have not been edited.

“Peter I loved the online platform, which surprised me….I’m all zoomed out but this had so much participation and action, I felt engaged the whole time. What can be done to make all online learning work this way?”

“I thought I was a pretty organized person until I took GTD and then realized how much more efficient I could be with work and home life.  I have always believed in the saying “It might be hard, but it will be worth it” and tweaking and changing how I manage my “stuff” is game changing for me.  GTD is practical, hands on and truly for everyone. “

“By acknowledging that my brain is for having ideas not keeping them – the 2 min jobs that normally occupy my brain and stress me out are not going to anymore. They are happily going to be DONE and off my brain!!!-“

“This course addresses a really important aspect of our professional lives, our use of time. The GTD method is logical and can make a huge difference to people professionally as well as personally. “

“GTD allows one to continue to learn effective ways to utilize time.  The training embeds time to look at the effectiveness of our brains, the pitfalls that we encounter and then supports you with the steps to take to do things differently.”

“Getting things done is a toolkit of skills that helps you change your behaviour and use calendars, email and list management tools effectively.”

“I truly have enjoyed the GTD program and cannot believe the difference it already has made, helping to clear my mind by capturing thoughts.  My goal this summer is to dig a bit deeper into the program and also read the eBook.  I think the concept and “new lifestyle” will help me with all the different aspects of my new position and also with staying on top with my home life.”

“Peter was a great facilitator, clear, concise delivery and he truly believes in and uses the GTD philosophy!”

Could not have written it better myself!

Thanks for reading everyone, be well. I’ll ‘see’ you next week.

Reach out if I can assist you in finding out more about the benefits of Getting Things Done.


Staff Meetings

Interesting Ideas

I want to thank those that have been reading my blogs and sending messages.  I love your support and how you have introduced my ideas to others.  I appreciate you.

Way back in 1938, John Dewey wrote in Experience and Education, ‘We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience’.  This is one of the reasons why I have been writing my ‘Interesting Ideas’ blog each week.  Since retiring, and moving to new chapters in my life I have been thinking back to the leadership opportunities that were provided for me and how I have watched others grow into amazing leaders themselves. My hope is that you find these ‘ideas’ ‘interesting’ and give some of them a try.  I welcome any comments or feedback.

This week, I want to discuss staff meetings.

How are your staff meetings?  Truly. Ever participated in a great one?  Bet there are a few where you wish you could have that time back!  As a leader consider every staff meeting as an opportunity.  

Our meetings were never left to chance and planning for them started long in advance of the actual date.  If you are limited in the number of times you can bring everyone together to hear, see and experience the same messaging, why would you not elevate the importance of this gathering? Too many of us have experienced awful staff meetings, that served little purpose and only made withdrawals from the pool of positive cultural experiences you have been trying to build with your staff. Every staff meeting says something about your climate and culture.  Use them as a way to multiply the positive aspects you wish to see in your school.

My goal each time was simple.  The time we are going to spend together must add to our shared understanding of the important work we do together and/or build on our relationships we have within our group.  At the end of the meeting, if the people don’t have a deeper understanding of the work, purpose, rationale, or school mission and/or don’t have a deeper appreciation of the great people they are working with, then you have wasted their time.  In fact, a meeting that does not do at least one of these (purpose/relationships) may actually do more harm than good. Too often we have meetings where at the end we have less understanding about what we need to do, more confusion and we are not liking the people all that much either.

The staff will never believe in their collective capacity unless you give them opportunities to share with one another.  You cannot complain about staff working in isolation if you never provide opportunities for them to be together.  You cannot complain about them not getting along if you simply throw them together and expect them to get along.

Our staff meetings are professional learning meetings.  We are going to learn together.  We are going to have fun together.  We are going to learn to appreciate each other.

Get all the ‘paper work’ out of the staff meeting and find a way to provide this passive information to the staff in another way.  There are ways that staff can be held accountable for required content, especially if you find creative ways to provide them time outside of the staff meeting to read, review etc.  Make staff meetings about learning together, building relationships by having lots of interactions and put all your announcements, due dates etc in some other format.

Set up a shared document early in the year that organizes the staff learning meeting agenda by month.  Encourage your staff to add their ideas that they would like to share, the amount of time they would like and the suggested month they would like to present.  Praise your staff and nudge them to get involved.  As you walk through the school and notice great things happening in your school ask the staff member to share with others at the next meeting.  Encourage!  How does it feel to have someone notice your good work and acknowledge that it should be shared with others?  Some staff have said no thank you, but with a bit of coaxing almost all have come around.

The week heading into the staff learning meeting we would create a ‘conference schedule’ and it had all the options that were going to be available at the meeting the following week. Each meeting staff had conference choices throughout the building.

We would always start together in a central gathering spot and this was for two main reasons.  Those presenting could do a quick 30 second elevator speech about their topic and from a management stand point it made sure everyone was there on time.  If you start with the conferences in different locations, you may notice people not beginning on time, but having to come to a gathering spot where you are located helped with this accountability.  Very infrequently if we had any face to face announcements they could be done at this time.

There might be 5 different choices for the first half hour, then three choices for the next quick 15 minutes and ending with another choice of 15 minutes.  It might require a bit of organization going into the week to coordinate the lengths of sessions (15, 20, 30) but short and sweet were often the best use of our time.  Also, presenters could share their classroom and knowledge twice, so more of their colleagues could attend.  Often our staff put in so much work it was nice that they were able to present their ideas and materials more than once during a meeting.  Members of the grade teams were encouraged to divide and conquer In order to go to as many different presentations as possible.

Some sessions were done by master teachers. Some were done by beginning teachers trying things out and wanting to get some feedback. Some were used to share a resource or technology tool.  The spread of the content was impressive and it was not uncommon to hear someone try something the next day and report back to the presenter.  This social persuasion is powerful, peer pressure can be a positive thing if done in the proper manner.  It is important to note that as the administrator you want to be aware of the content and what is being shared.  Having staff share without being aware of the messaging or content is a recipe for a major clean up after and a bit of front end work allows you to have great conversations with staff about what they wish to share.

More about the workshops.  The English Language Learner Team presenting almost every month, as well as the special education resource teachers.  These session were not large overwhelming content but instead a few strategies for things they had noticed in classrooms that they really wanted to highlight to benefit students.  They were aiming for strategies that could be utilized the next day.  We had classroom teachers present about community building, Significant 72 or their program. When the calendar indicated we were getting close to a reporting period we had open space where teachers could go and have a facilitated discussion on reporting.  Think of the leadership training you can provide by having your aspiring leaders being asked to facilitate difficult conversations.  They are coached ahead of time, given a protocol to follow but they need opportunities like this.

In this past year we have had sessions on:

Community members came in and spoke about days of significance that our students and their families would be observing.  Every year we had conversations and presentations close to Ramadan.  We had sessions on topics such as Halloween, Christmas and other long held school practices that needed to be examined and discussed for classrooms in 2021.  Mental health and well-being. Equity. The health curriculum. Culturally Responsive and Relevant Pedagogy. Indigenous Education. Discriminatory and Harmful Language. Technology Enhanced Learning. Mathematics.

Often our board of education would provide professional development in a train the trainer model.  When we put out the request to see who might be interested we would receive way more interest than spots available.  People began to understand that if you went to a system training you would return and be asked to help run a staff learning session during our monthly meetings.  Staff that were away for a day on professional development knew they were coming back to share.  Going to the staff development their focus was different, knowing they had this responsibility.  I would love to present to an audience where everyone knows they have the responsibility to go back and share with others.  Captive audience for sure.

I will speak about it more in an upcoming blog but as an administrator what do you do with your teacher’s annual learning plans?  In the province of Ontario, teachers are asked to create a document outlining their personal plan of growth for the school year.  Administrators, do you use these?  Do you read them and respond?  Think about the data you can gather from these that can then be used for your staff learning meetings. These documents can provide you with the content.  Not only can you find individuals that can assist others that want to learn about particular topics but knowing your staff you can match up needs with expertise.  Someone wants to know more about readers/writers workshop, someone wants to improve their website, someone wants to add more hands on activities in mathematics/science.  One person may request it, and you find the person that is doing it. When the ‘expert’ shares the topic that you have asked them to present because they are living it, many staff will attend their session because these are universal needs and not just for one person. Some of our final meetings of the year were sessions run by people who made great changes in their program and we wanted to celebrate and share their learning with others. Celebrate the successes.

I set aside funds each year in our staff development budget for books and resources.  If any staff were interested in a resource and let me know I would purchase the resource for them.  I would purchase two copies in fact.  One copy would go to the staff member and the other copy would be placed in the professional resources section of the library.  Do you have a professional resources section for staff in the library?  Who decides what is purchased for the collection?  Do staff use the resources that are there?  Ours do!  They use the resources because their colleagues have selected them.  Inside the front cover of the library copy of the book is a book plate with the staff member’s name because they are the ‘expert’ for this book. They have their own copy, they wanted their own copy AND they did a presentation at a staff learning meeting letting others know about this great resource that is now available to all of them in our professional section of our library.  That’s a good deal.  A new resource for a presentation on the resource.  I’ll make that deal every time. You will collect great books, you will have wonderful presentations and two things will happen.  You have increased the staff’s knowledge/commitment to the work you are doing in the school by sharing with them a current resource and you have invested in your people. A win/win.

One of my favourite ideas was to go on a field trip.  The first session after the beginning gathering might be going on a ‘field trip’.  This is when I would take the entire staff to a location in the school and we would stand in the spot to have a look.  Do you know there are places in your school where some of your staff have never travelled?  Do your kindergarten teachers even step out of the kindergarten area?  Do your senior teachers ever move down to a primary classroom?  Have your teachers seen some of the amazing specialty rooms you have in the building?

Of course this is all set up with the teacher that works in this location, they know we are coming.  When we get there I ask everyone just to stand silently and look around. They can move a bit if they wish but I want them to look at how this teacher has created their learning environment, how it works for students and to think about any questions they may have.  And then we do the same three steps..

  1. share with us one thing you noticed that is really impressive in your mind and why = a comment, no response, but the person gets their bucket filled
  2. ask the person something about the room, why they have done something, or the purpose = a question, that requires a response and others learn from the response
  3. and finally, the person themselves shares with everyone else a challenge, or dilemma they have in their room, or with their materials etc = a comment that others can now assist with

Not only do you start to see great practices start to blend into other locations of the school, but you see solutions to common road blocks being solved collectively.  One of the most heartwarming was a new teacher commenting that she is slowly adding to her personal classroom library resources that are appropriate for the reading levels in her room by going to book sales and yard sales.  By the end of the week donations from experienced staff in the building, that still had materials they were no longer using due to a different assignment, came pouring in.

Most times when staff members encounter difficulties, they are not coming to you as the administrator first. They may come to you in time.  They may come to you if you have a relationship with them built over time, but most times your staff are going to each other, and that’s what you want.  Staff learning meetings allow you to highlight the great practices in your school that you want replicated. Give everyone the opportunity to see that the expertise is in the building.  Your school building is full of hard working, dedicated and caring individuals

I love the work that the central office team does. The curriculum and program departments, special education departments etc all do fabulous work and they are specialists, but they ‘live’ outside your building. If every time you have a ‘bump’ in the road, and sometimes, you must go outside your building, but the support can not come quick enough.  Staff need to know they work in a building where the support, care and knowledge is just across or down the hall.  

Have trust in your teachers that they have the capacity to know/share/care and explain.  Hand over the meetings to them.  Put your staff meetings on paper/electronic.  And use every opportunity you can to have staff ‘learning’ meetings.  The change in school culture will be the immediate.

Remember, we are better because we have deeper understanding of our work and we have a deeper understanding of each other.  Every time we get together that is our mission.  Staff learning meetings accomplish both these goals.


Build Climate Through Visuals

Interesting Ideas

I want to share three bulletin board ideas for the front hallway of your school close to your entrance, or as a front display case. These visuals will add to your climate and culture with staff, students and their families.  During regular times when parents entered our school prior to the pandemic these boards would be prepared for the beginning of the year and curriculum night/Open House evening in high traffic areas in order to invite participation and get some great feedback for you and your school.  Plus, they are just fun.

Ask staff to participate with you in an ‘Ask Me About…’ board.  We asked staff to provide a photograph and we gave an index card to each of them.  On the index card they would write a topic that they had an interest in, and/or knowledge about, that others might not realize they had this interest.  Some were very factual and detailed and others were put up for fun.  Across the top of the bulletin board in large letters we would write, ‘ASK ME ABOUT…” and then below would be the photographs of staff and the cards showing their interest. Staff would include travel destinations, gardening, sports etc.  Not only does it show another side of the staff and you can have some fun with it the students and staff can make connections with others.  The number of times that staff shared with me that students approached them and mentioned that they also had an interest in or love for their topic was numerous. You can also have great fun with the staff that sometimes are a little slow in handing things in!  I often made up staff interests, used a staff photo from our school files and put up my own pictures of staff.  They were very curious when students would come up to them and ask them about their knowledge of ‘animals that start with the letter ‘P’’ or ‘world’s best water slides’.  When complete you can see the great variety and talents of the adults in the building.  Families that come into the school could see another human side of the great people that care for their children and the positive climate we have in the building.  It is important for your parents to see that the adults in the school care and support each other and it is a positive place to work.

The second idea is a blank slate.  Provide a bulletin board that is empty and covered in paper so students, staff and families can post positive comments, affirmations, quotes etc.  If the heading on the top of the board is something like ‘Our Positive Comment Board’ and you have a few staff begin the process you will be surprised at the high quality of comments that you receive.  As a graffiti board you can encourage diagrams, and sketches as well.  Have staff introduce it to the students in their class and have them share the intent of the board.  It can change over the course of the year, during special events, to encourage sports’ teams, days of significance etc.  You will need to monitor the board and be prepared to attach paper over top of any section where inappropriate messages may appear.  In all honesty I have not had an issue with this idea as long as staff pre-teach the purpose behind it and students are well aware of the expectations.  Students loved walking by and seeing their work and the comments, sayings of their classmates.  Consider having a space for the students to leave their impressions for sharing.

And finally, a place for your community to leave their warm wishes and thoughts.  During open house we would have a graffiti board similar to the idea above just for parents.  We would write above the board something like, ‘What are your hopes for your child this year at school?’ Or ‘What opportunities would you like to see this year for your child?’ Or ‘How can we be the best school for your child?’  You get the idea.  This would be a place for parents to put down their thoughts and share for staff what they see in our school.  Another way to accomplish the same outcome is to send home with students a paper with a star or the school logo and ask students to assign to their parents the homework of putting their answers on the paper that is provided.  When the papers are returned they are tiled up on the board for staff to read the comments, and this way you can select and edit the comments you wish to post.  Another way to accomplish the same result is to post on Twitter, or send out a survey, blog and ask parents to respond to the question in some manner letting them know you are going to print out some of the responses and display them in the front hallway of the school with names, or no names depending on your views.  Some families signed their names on the board or on their paper and some did not, so if done electronically I would give them the option to have their name included or not.  In my experience the vast majority of the parent responses were in the category of being safe, having fun, feeling heard, belonging, having opportunities, making friends and not specific to areas of the curriculum.  Staff need to see this, it reinforces the time and energy we invest in the important work of relationships, equity, belonging and mental health.  As parents we do want the same things for our children. The knowledge that they are attending a school where the adults care for them, get to know them as individuals and see all their strengths, desires and assets. Let your community and staff see what others see as the vision for the school.

If you use any of these ideas during the course of the year I would love to see visuals.  Send me a photo, I’d love to see it in action once again.  

Come on back next week for more leadership interesting ideas!

Be well.


Significant 72 – Part 3

72 Seconds Each Day That Really Make a Difference

Interesting Ideas

For the past three weeks I have been blogging about Significant 72. Check out previous posts below if you want the full story.  I also encourage you to visit the Significant 72 website at https://www.significant72.com to read more from author Greg Wolcott.

The third aspect of Significant 72 refers to 72 seconds each day.  Make a difference for a child in 72 seconds.  What are the actions that EVERY adult in the school can do for 72 seconds each day that will profoundly impact the lives of students?  

Positive interactions lastly approximately 72 seconds, done consistently, day after day have a huge impact on the mental health, well being and sense of connection our students have to our schools.  Every child needs to know, ‘I see you’.

Many schools have programs where staff will identify students that would benefit from a caring adult taking an interest and connecting with them each day.  Some of these programs are called SOS (Save One Student), Playground Buddies, Teacher’s Little Helpers etc and these are all great.  These programs that focus on connecting with students are valuable additions to the initiatives we have in our school to “love up” our students, especially those students that need that extra bit of loving.  However, all of our students need to feel connected to the school.  Remember that in our School Effectiveness Plan we want 100% of our students to answer in the school survey that they feel they belong and are safe and comfortable in the school.  It is not good enough to target ‘some of our students’.  Significant 72 is good for all, essential for many.

And this is not the work of one adult, or a few adults, it takes all of us. We all know staff that try to do it all on their own.  Have you ever had to have a conversation with a staff member providing guidance about looking after their own health and well being because they are trying to do too much for students and their families?  Significant 72 needs to be adopted school wide.

Significant 72 works so much better when we have a team approach.  In order to support the needs in our community it is going to take our entire staff, and the benefit to the staff cannot be understated.  Our plan done consistently by everyone, creates and sustains our common understanding that we are a talented team.  When we see others doing it, staff jump on board.  It is wonderful to work in an environment where you are surrounded by others that care deeply about the children in the school.  We know we have a good thing going when we hear staff comment that they would want their own children in the school in order to be taught and cared for by the adults.

Yet, we all know of stories where it only takes one adult to make a world of difference.  If every child has an advocate in the school, their chances of success are so much greater. So every adult is asked to give students Significant 72 (seconds) each day.

Significant 72 done each day, by each adult can be a difference maker in your school.  It is simply a matter of changing our view of interactions with students.  We want every interaction with students in the hallways, outside on our fields and entering our school and coming into our classrooms to be a positive one.  We are glad to see you! We are so happy you are with us!  Today is going to be a wonderful day.

Significant 72 can be the 72 seconds in the classroom where students are doing engaging activities, revisiting some get to know you activities and finding out more about their classmates and their teachers.  At our school we extended the concept of 72 seconds to mean the interactions between staff and students in all other parts of the school.

Think about the times you have interacted with someone in retail or hospitality and they have provided exceptional service.  I am guessing your positive feelings about it are connected to how they made you feel, how interested they were in assisting you or simply being in a cheerful mood.  Positive comments are spoken here! We had posters with this comment inside our common staff areas reminding everyone the importance of our interactions with each other and with students and families.

We asked every adult in our school building to make sure they had multiple Significant 72 moments with students in a day.  It is a guarantee that the adults boosted their well being and sense of purpose each time as well.  They may have thought they were doing it for the students, when in fact Significant 72 has a definite beneficial impact on both the giver and the receiver.  The overall school climate feels different when staff commit to speaking and interacting with students in this way.  And this school feel or atmosphere is what keeps your adults coming back, they want to work in a positive building. 

When staff see the school as having a positive culture they will join in and do all that they can to maintain and participate in that culture.  Staff that are feeling a bit like Eeyore, don’t stand a chance surrounded by Tiggers!  Significant 72 is contagious. It was not uncommon for visitors to our school to comment about the ‘feel’, the ‘vibe’ and the creation of this was not left to chance.  It was the dedicated adoption of Significant 72.

We ask the adults to engage with students and really listen.  It could be the most important 72 seconds in that child’s day.  Those 72 seconds with you could be the best part of the day for that student.

Do the interactions always last 72 seconds?  No, but the rationale behind it is what is most important.  Our students get the best from us each and every day.  Starting the day, coming back from a break, there is not a happier place to be then moving through the hallways and into our classrooms.

When our staff are outside, at the buses, or on the field in supervision we can all sense the child that needs some comfort.  The child may be ‘walking the fences’ not engaged in play or simply off on their own.  Staff were asked to move around their area and engage with the child.  Ask questions, be curious, engage in conversations.  For 72 seconds give this child the best of yourself

Last week I shared the three actions that were part of our School Effectiveness Plan in the area of safety, well being, community and culture.


  • Significant 72 – first 72 hours, 72 minutes each month as community circles, 72 seconds each day
  • Community Circles done in every homeroom
  • Outside/Hallway Welcome (P1, P3, P5) and Doorway greetings (P2, P4, P6)

These three strategies really are Significant 72 written in a different way.  Strategy number two is 72 minutes a month and strategy three is 72 seconds a day.

This third strategy is Significant 72 for 72 seconds.  All the staff that have a class are asked to be outside or in the hallway when the bell rings and instructional time begins.  We no longer have transition time built into the schedule, so when the bell rings it is ‘classtime’.  

Teachers are with students when the bell rings, so teachers go outside to greet their class, or they are in the hallways as students enter.  Everyone not on preparation time, is ‘on’.  As a team you could have one teacher go outside to assist with entry, but the rest of the team is on the stairs, in the hallway.  They are present and they are visual.  No staff member is on their own in the classroom once the bell rings.  It is the start of instructional time so everyone is involved in Significant 72 and making the children feel warm, welcomed and safe. Everyone is Significant 72 committed!

We don’t have a lot of movement during the day, but if a class is moving during periods 2,4 or 6, teachers are in the hallway/door frame of their classroom and welcoming students to their room.  By being in the threshold of their doorway they can see out into the hallway and into the classroom.  And best of all, they can smile, say hello and welcome each child that enters that room to let them know they are glad to see them (high five, fist pumps etc)

How do you like to begin your day?  We all have routines.  Imagine the routine for a child entering a classroom of an educator that is over the top excited that they are spending the day with them. What is it that you need to get your day started and how can I show you I am glad you are here and part of our classroom community?  See the two posters below, second one used during Covid restrictions.

I’ll finish my Significant 72 piece with my favourite example of how all this hard work has its benefits and solidified for me the power of Significant 72.  Walking outside during a recess break I came across Fatima, a lovely grade one student off on her own not engaged with others in her class.  Wanting to walk the talk and show any of the staff outside what we mean by Significant 72 and being with students as we supervise I struck up a conversation. 

With her mask on and her piercing blue eyes looking deeply up at me I heard her say, ‘Mr. Marshall, can I tell you something?’ 

I took the bait and said, ‘Absolutely’. 

‘Mr. Marshall, you remind me of home’. 

There it was, the moment!  In my final year, after continually emphasizing relationships, relationships, relationships I had one of our youngest students prove to me the work was all worth it.  She was ‘home’. 

I was so touched and thanked her for her beautiful comment.  Being an educator I ‘double clicked’ in order to go deeper and asked, ‘Why do you feel it is like home’. 

And then a lovely voice from beneath the mask replied, ‘You kind of remind me of my grandpa’.



Significant 72 – Part 2

72 Minutes Each Month

Interesting Ideas

For those that read last week’s blog on Significant 72, thank you very much and as promised here is the continuation of our Significant 72 story.  If you missed last weeks’ ‘first chapter’ scroll down and check out part one in the previous blog.

As you recall there are three main aspects to Significant 72 (72 hours, 72 minutes and 72 seconds).  Last week, it was all about the first three days of school; 72 hours.  Let’s talk about how we used Significant 72 for 72 minutes a month to really impact the climate, culture and student voice and experience at the school.

When our school first formed we established in our goal setting and plans three key indicators from the School Effectiveness Framework: A support for school improvement and student success.  We were going to invent in relationships first.

Indicator​ ​2.5​: ​Staff,​ ​students,​ ​parents​ ​and​ ​school​ ​community​ ​promote​ ​and​ ​sustain​ ​student​ ​well-being​ ​and​ ​positive​ ​student​ ​behaviour​ ​in​ ​a safe,​ ​accepting,​ ​inclusive​ ​and​ ​healthy​ ​learning​ ​environment. 

Indicator​ ​3.3​: ​Students​ ​are​ ​partners​ ​in​ ​dialogue​ ​and​ ​discussions​ ​to​ ​inform​ ​programs​ ​and​ ​activities​ ​in​ ​the​ ​classroom​ ​and​ ​school​ ​that represent​ ​the​ ​diversity,​ ​needs​ ​and​ ​interests​ ​of​ ​the​ ​student​ ​population.

Indicator​ ​6.2​: ​Students,​ ​parents​ ​and​ ​community​ ​members​ ​are​ ​engaged​ ​and​ ​welcomed,​ ​as​ ​respected​ ​and​ ​valued​ ​partners​ ​in​ ​student learning. 

Using these indicators to inform our Safe School’s Plan and our School Effectiveness Plan we created yearly goals focusing on literacy, numeracy, and health and well being (climate & culture).  Goals were created in each of the three areas and the three indicators above (2.5, 3.3, 6.2) were key in each area.

Our school goal focusing on climate and culture was based on our belief that all children are important.  When we said all, we meant all.  100% of our students indicate they have a strong sense of well being and sense of belonging.  How could we in good conscience say it is okay to have 80% of our students feel this connection to the school.  Nope, we have the ambitious goal of reaching every one of our students.

The cumulating data we used for our well being goals can be found within staff, community and student surveys that are used to generate important school context information.  Two common surveys we have used are Tell Them From Me (TTFM) and Have Your Say.  Usually these are done during a scheduled time in the year and data is retrieved quickly to be used by the staff.  These are all very valuable.  However, we wanted faster, focused, easier to administer data and we tied this need to hear from our students in with Significant 72.

Our SMART goal was stated as this:By June 2020, 100% of students will indicate they have a strong sense of belonging and well being assessed by the TTFM data. The use of three key strategies (Significant 72, Class Community Circles, Greetings) will significantly impact these results.  Monthly monitoring of key questions will allow for the implementation of improvement strategies between survey dates.

There were three key actions mentioned in the goal.


  • Significant 72 – first 72 hours, 72 minutes each month as community circles, 72 seconds each day
  • Community Circles done in every homeroom
  • Outside/Hallway Welcome (P1, P3, P5) and Doorway greetings (P2, P4, P6)

These three strategies really are Significant 72 written in a different way.  Strategy number two is 72 minutes and month and strategy three is 72 seconds a day.

I’ll speak about the third strategy (Outside/Hallway Welcome) next week when 

discussing Significant 72 as a daily occurrence.

Significant 72 each month is about relationship building. 72 minutes each month dedicated to strengthening the connections we have to each other and to the work we are doing with our students.  This work is important and not just left to the first 72 hours of the year. We revisit on a consistent monthly basis the importance of relationships first.  But we also did something in addition to this to strengthen our data, provide opportunity for student voice and to really walk the talk in regards to our school effectiveness goals.

I’ll tell you what Significant 72 each month is not.  It is not a movie put on because the students ‘earned it’ or accumulated ‘class points’.  It is not a reward that is given, it is a regularly scheduled effectiveness strategy carried out in each and every classroom.  Instructional time is too valuable not to be used fully.  Great educators realize they do not have enough time to do the things they wish to do.  It is 72 minutes a month to get reconnected, and to remind each other why we are there and why each person is important.  It is also 72 minutes for the students to share with us how we, as the adults, are doing.

Each month our teachers were asked to hold a community circle with their students.  Staff could hold more if they wish or when something happened in class and they wanted to do some restorative work or collaborative problem solving.  But as a leadership team we wanted a defined community circle once a month, Significant 72.  The circle would be to relationship build, not just done in the first 3 days and forgotten, but as 72 minutes a month to get us some valuable information from our students. Using this student voice provided us the opportunity to make changes as we needed and not have to wait until we received our data in the larger regularly scheduled survey.  I would also suggest including students in this manner assisted us with student perception when they did come around to doing the surveys.  Our students understood their voice and opinion mattered.

Staff were first instructed on how to operate a community circle, how to set the expectations for student input and listening skills so that a community circle could run effectively.  Those that had received training took staff through the proper steps as well as some volunteered to go into a classroom and model for the teacher how to run an effective class circle.

The first week of every month during our staff development learning meetings we would share our question of the month for staff.  Staff were asked to conduct a community circle meeting some time during the rest of the week and record the responses from the students.  As well, in our meetings we would review the responses from the previous month to potentially make changes or refinements if needed.  The data was topical, changes could occur quickly and we did not have to wait for the cyclical nature of results from our other surveys.  What a novel idea! The staff meetings have student voice in them.

Some of the questions we have asked our students: (and some responses)

How do your families hear about what you are doing/learning in school?

What do you really want to learn this year?

What can adults at Boyne do to make you happy? Do well in school? 

What opportunities would you like to see happen in/for the school this year?

How do we welcome new students into our classroom? What will we teach them, and show them so they feel included, welcome and safe?

From Grade 8

What will you do to welcome a new student? How will you make them feel welcome and safe?

  • Say hello
  • Ask about their old school or where they came from
  • Introduce myself and tell them something about me
  • Ask them things they like and are interested about
  • Ask them to hang at recess
  • Ask to be their buddy for the week to get them used to the school
  • Be their tour guide and show them around the school and introduce to teachers
  • Introduce them to my friends in other classes
  • Ask them to sit with me
  • Get them to join a team or club
  • Ask them to work on a project or in a group
  • Talk about how great Boyne is
  • Tell them the teachers they can go to if they need help or to talk to someone
  • Make sure I check in with them everyday to see how they are doing
  • Get to know them
  • Tell the what I do if I need a break or where I go to clear my head
  • Ask them if they want to hang with us at recess and after school
  • Get them involved in the school to feel apart of Boyne
  • Show them what it means to work hard, be nice and make a difference

Are there places/spaces in our school or on property where you do not feel safe?

From Grade 7=

Where do you feel safe, comfortable? A place where you feel you can be most like yourself? 

– at break playing soccer with friends

– Serenity – games, quiet space, choice of activities

– homeroom

– band practice

Where do you feel unsafe or uncomfortable with what you see, what you hear or how you feel? 

– in the hallways when the bell rings – groups of students socializing at lockers means you have to push through crowds

– at break playing basketball – “trash talk” 

– at lockers after school 

– girls washroom/change room – girls eating lunch in stalls and leaving food behind

– bathrooms – younger students peeking through the cracks and under stalls

– on the stairs coming inside from break – people pushing 

How can we make a difference? 

– continue to line up outside of class

– more teachers in halls between classes

– schedule time at the basketball nets for grades

– have more activities available at break – 4 square painted on blacktop 

What do you see or notice the adults doing at Boyne PS to make the school a welcoming, safe place where you want to be?

Grade 6=

The adults in the school help us to feel safe by:

-working to help solve problems we bring up (e.g., phones in the bathroom, they still see it happening but agree we are trying to help)

-take their opinions into account (e.g., phone apartment)

-celebrate and education about religious events (e.g., Eid)

-support their needs in having a prayer room/prayer space (e.g., cricket tournament)

-push them out of their comfort zones (e.g., play day)

-build trust and reliable relationships

-help solve social problems fairly

-listen to concerns 

-encourage them to solve problems with our support

-ask about their weekend/day

-community circles

Teachers were free to adjust the question slightly in order to match the age and stage of the children in their classroom.

Teachers would record the responses and hand them in before the end of the week.  I would copy and paste all the responses into a master copy, take photographs of classroom generated charts etc.  These responses were then reviewed by the admin. team, our safe schools team and the entire staff in the following monthly meeting.  Besides providing valuable data the comments gave staff a huge complement for their hard work, it put smiles on their faces and showed that all the hard work was making a difference.

I don’t want you to think that this is the only use of community circles in the school, they are used by many staff and in many situations, but this monthly Significant 72 classroom circle became a required element

Because in Significant 72, you can’t just do the first three days and think the work is done. These 72 minutes a month allow us to remind each other about our commitments.  It is an opportunity for some fun activities and getting to know you ideas from the beginning of the year, as well as an opportunity to hear from our students.

Dig deeper into Significant 72, it will make a profound impact in your school.


Significant 72-Part 1

Interesting Ideas

For the next three weeks I want to share with you the Interesting Idea of Significant 72.

Significant 72 was introduced to me many years ago by friend, mentor and colleague Tom Hierck, @thierck as I was planning the opening of a new school.  Not only are the ideas within Significant 72 an important part of building and beginning a positive, inviting and joyous culture, Significant 72 continues to remain a major part of ‘how we do things around here’.  Significant 72 sustains the culture that has been created, and Significant 72 can change a culture needing a refresh in order to support all children in your school.  I strongly recommend that it become something you adopt for your school.

The ideas are simple, and the phrase ‘Significant 72’ has such a nice sound to it.  When understood, the words mean so much. It is important to have common language in a school.  Walk into the school and ask staff, what is Significant 72?  Every adult will be able to answer you and share its importance at the school.

Greg Wolcott @GregJWolcott has done marvellous work introducing Significant 72 to thousands of educators and has a best selling book: Significant 72-Unleashing the Power of Relationships in Today’s Schools.  You should check it out, in fact on the Significant 72 website there is a quote from someone named Peter Marshall, who has written,

“Significant 72 has been a major influence to the development of our new school.  It was a key aspect in the creation of our mission and vision.  At Boyne PS we understand the importance of beginning the year well, celebrating each month as individual classroom communities and making strong connections to students each and every day.  The concepts within Significant 72 are foundational within our School Improvement Plan and Safe Schools Plan.  Every adult in the school commits to these ideas in order to provide a safe, welcoming, caring learning environment for our students”

Today, I wanted to share how we actualized Significant 72 at our school. There is so much more that can and should be done, but really just wanted to give you a sense of the idea in action.

The three key uses of Significant 72 relate to 72 hours, 72 minutes and 72 seconds.  This week let’s talk about the first 72 hours of the school year.  Future blog posts will share with you how we operationalized the 72 minutes and the 72 seconds.

How you begin the school year with staff, students and families is incredibly important.  This year brings on added significance (see what I did there? Significance!) due to the journey we have all been on for the last 19 months. 

Tom Hierck describes it best.  There will be tremendous pressure on all educators to teach curriculum after our disruption to learning, and we both dislike the phrases “learning loss”, or “learning gap” as we all need a positive outlook as we return, and words are important.  We have in front of us tremendous learning opportunities, and chances to provide ideal conditions for content yet learned.  As educators we are up for the challenge, look at all we have done for the last two years?

Relationships are critical for student success.  Content and relationships, are both so important, but more important is the order in which they are stressed.  We must focus on relationships when we return to our schools and Significant 72 is key to this.  We have a much better chance at being successful with our curriculum goals when we have our relationships tightly formed. Students need the relationships with each other and the adults in our schools more than ever before.

At Boyne PS the first 72 hours, the first three days were all about relationships.  Student to student relationships, staff to student, student to staff and connecting with families.  Our focus was on building our classroom and school community.  Our focus was on having staff really begin to learn the ‘stories’ for each child.  Using lots of getting to know you activities allow our educators to really focus on what each child is going to need during the course of the year in order to be successful.

We did not hand out resources, texts or jump into the curriculum in the first three days.  Go slow in order to go quicker later.  ‘Really, it’s okay that you don’t start right away’. Locker distribution was put on hold, handing out unnecessary materials was put on hold, all so we could learn about and with each other.  What makes each of us unique? How do our differences make us stronger as a unit?  What are the gifts that others have to offer?  and how are we going to function as a community for the next ten months.  Classroom agreements and commitments were formed using our motto of ‘Work Hard, Be Nice, Make a Difference’

“In our classroom, what does it look like and sound like to Work Hard, Be Nice and Make a Difference?”  All adjusted for the age and stage of the learners, but every classroom displayed their agreements by the end of the first week.  School assemblies occur in order to bring the entire school population together, in our case two assemblies due to our size and no assemblies last year due to our safety plans.  However, as an entire school what are we going to do together this year and how do our commitments translate to common areas such as the playground, play fields, washrooms, library, gymnasium etc.  It is important that our students leave each day excited to be coming back, sharing the positive energy with family members at home and when teachers contacted families early in the school year further strengthen the parents’ belief that their child was in a warm, welcoming, accepting classroom.  Every child needs to know they are wanted and they are going to have a great year.  Families need to hear this too.

The most important aspect of the first three days, the first 72 hours, is the building of relationships within the homeroom classroom model.  We stayed in homeroom classes on the first day of school, students did not travel through the school to meet every one of their teachers.  Homeroom teachers used the Significant 72 hours to form their family.  On the second and third day, students did meet their specialty teachers, but no curriculum was taught.  Our specialty teachers, and coverage teachers continued to work on relationships and commitments.  

A school of our size had so many new students each year, and there were new teachers to meet.  So many creative, engaging activities were developed and shared, there was never a lack of ideas. Grade teams, and division teams would share activities with each other and most often the end of the week was an opportunity to bring the entire grade or division together in some culminating activity.  One of my favourite memories was seeing our graduating grade 8 classes begin their final year in celebration, together as a group, as they would be at the end of the year when we say goodbye. Beginning your final year in the school in this manner is a special feeling.

Two questions I often get asked by other administrators:  Did teachers lose their preparation time if you asked them to remain with their homeroom class for the first three days?  And. What happens if you have to reorganize the classes and move some students into other classes?

First, yes, teachers did lose preparation time.  It was recorded and paid back when we were able.  Not a single teacher complained, publicly at least, as they saw the benefit of starting the year in this manner.  Our specialty teachers would move through the school and visit classes that they were going to teach, often giving homeroom teachers a break.  When staff come to see the benefit and know that you will return the time to them it becomes a non factor.  After year one, the teachers did not ask for the time back.  Three days (72 hours) of time spent building and forming their classroom community was worth the investment.

And yes, sometimes we needed to reorganize and move students at the end of the first week or the first month due to enrolment numbers and this was difficult but proved to us the impact the staff had on students in this Significant 72 process.  However, you know what happened, right?  The new classroom not only welcomed new students into their community, the receiving teacher went out of their way to ‘love up’ the student(s) that needed to move.  Not long after the change, everything was fine. It is less of a worry when you move into an equally lovely learning community.  In a short amount of time, students and families saw that our classrooms are not a lottery, where you ‘win’ the best one.  All the classrooms provide the environment that make students and families feel welcomed, cared for and accepted.

One noticeable difference from previous years and previous schools!!!  The number of requests to be in different classes, with different teachers disappeared.  Here is what happens.  On the first day of school, sometimes before the first day a principal will receive a parent request to have their child be in a different classroom.  No changes can be made in this first week until we were certain of our numbers and who had moved away during the summer or how many new registrations come in the first day of school.  So families were asked to give us the first week to see our numbers and we would be in touch. Sometimes, not always, I would share with the teacher that a student in their class wanted to be in another, most often due to friendship groups.  Not only will the students see each other during non instructional time, but the teacher has done such a great job on the first three days of Significant 72 that by the end of the first week, another email or phone call will come in from the parent asking to leave the child where they are.  Another benefit of Significant 72

Consider Significant 72.  

The first planning activity that teachers do together as a grade or division team is how to build relationships with students! What a wonderful thing.  Before they talk curriculum, before they create long range plans, they talk about how they are going to make their classrooms places where students feel safe, feel heard, feel represented and will thrive.  Teachers start their professional conversations discussing relationships!  Brilliant.

Put an emphasis on the first 72 hours, first impressions for students and families.  It will reap benefits for the entire school year.

I look forward to writing to you each week.  I hope as a leader you are able to use many aspects found in these Interesting Ideas.

Next week…Significant 72 in regards to 72 minutes each month, because  you just don’t do great work for the first 72 hours and think all the work is done!!!