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

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.


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. 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.