Dean Shareski recently posted a request for educators to talk about Watershed Moments in education. I was inspired to take up his offer and write a few watershed moments from my life as a school administrator. These are moments that define our actions and beliefs or as Dean stated "Watershed moments are those occasions where there the lightbulb came on or something profound was shared or understood."
First moment: In the second year of my first VP job I was meeting with students who were being removed from classes due to attendance. It was October and a couple of teachers came to me with lists of students who had accumulated the magic number of absences - I believe it was 14 - and they wanted to clear the students from their courses. I distinctly recall sitting with a young man who had moved down to Winnipeg from a northern community to attend school, this was the third time I was removing him from the same courses. He was sad because it would be his last time trying and he would be moving back to the reserve. In three different semesters this young man had taken the same intro units of the same courses from the same teachers and then was removed due to absences. I realized that there had to be a better way to engage students who didn't fit in the system the way it was being run - this young man and many others were not being given the supports necessary to survive in school; teachers were more concerned with their courses than they were with the students. From that day I have preached that we all teach students - not subjects and will do everything possible to scaffold success for all students.
Second moment: Watching a family of elementary students being apprehended from school by our child protection agency and seeing the fear and sadness in the face of the elder two and a happy unknowing innocence in the face of the youngest made me realize that for many students school is their familiar, calm, and safe place. I will do everything I can to make our schools into this type of space for all children. I strive to collaborate with our education specialists, police service and child protection agencies in order to create as much continuity as we can for our students who become at-risk.
Third moment: Attending an ASCD conference 9 years ago I listened to Michael Fullan describe the power of the PLC . He gave me the framework for putting my beliefs around teamwork into action in the school. That has become one of the most pivotal leverage tools that I have adopted in my practice - unleashing the power of a high performing PLC - for teachers as well as any other staff in the school. When we believe together, we are able to do far more than when we are separate.
Fourth moment: Early in my current job (9 years ago) I was reading about the upcoming Truth and Reconciliation Commission and I spoke about it with my friend, an indigenous woman who worked at the school. In the course of the conversation I decided to say to my friend "As a public school principal I want to apologize to you for any trauma that your family experienced." This was met with an emotional response that bonded our friendship. That moment made me realize that my position as a school principal in Canada inherently carries with it a shadow of the residential school system and that I need to be vigilant and sensitive to that dark legacy. I work hard at creating a welcoming environment that speaks to all our students and their families through the physical spaces and my own interactions.